By Tony Parra
People in the dairy business from eastern New Mexico and those in the livestock business attended a seminar on Wednesday to see what composting of carcass options would be legal and viable for their business.
Hillary Sullivan, a dairy specialist with the New Mexico State University Extension office, spoke at the 13th Annual New Mexico Ag Expo to those who were interested in finding out more about a common problem for dairies in eastern New Mexico — getting rid of dead calves and cows.
Sullivan stated many people in the dairy industry have to deal with cow deaths due to old age, injury and calving. She noted 19.8 percent of the dairy livestock die of unknown causes, 17.4 percent of calving and 17.1 percent of mastitis (breast infection in dairy cattle).
There were 175,000 downer (diseased or defected) cattle last year in the United States and 95 percent of those were dairy cattle.
Sullivan informed the attendants of the options and reviewed the pros and cons of each method of getting rid of animal carcasses. Sullivan said it is important to dispose of animal carcasses within 24 hours, typically, and carcasses should not be left exposed for more than 48 hours.
One of the options is composting — a method used to accelerate the natural decay process. The technique converts organic wastes to a mulch which is used to fertilize and condition soil, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Web site. Sullivan said the most popular form is using sawdust. Other options are straw and wood chips.
“Sawdust is the gold standard in composting,” Sullivan said. “Sawdust is cost-efficient and very absorbent. It’s high in carbon.”
Sullivan said because of the moisture in carcasses, sawdust can absorb the moisture. Also, there must be a proper balance of nitrogen and carbon for the carcass to decompose adequately.
She said some dairy workers have the option of a landfill, such as the one in Chavez County. The cost is $18 per carcass, but its usage is an emergency situation, not a long-term one.
Steven Dallas, co-owner of Frontier Meat Processing plant in Portales, said he was curious about the composting options to see if it could be an alternative for his processing plant. Dallas said he doesn’t believe the composting option is a viable option because of the time needed to compose and the frequency in which he needs for it to be done at his processing plant.
Dallas said processing plant workers have to take guts to the nearest rendering plant, which is in Hereford, Texas.
According to Sullivan, the common practice in the United States is a rendering plant, which is an association or corporation which engages in the disposal of dead or fallen animals and is licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
At rendering plants, slaughter by-products and diseased animals are turned into protein feed, oils and other products, according to the Center for Food Safety Web site.
Sullivan said a problem with rendering plants is the frequency in which they show up to dairies such as the ones located in Roosevelt County. She said sometimes plants may only come out once every six days to pick up dead carcasses, when it’s recommended to dispose of the carcass within 48 hours.
Another factor, Sullivan said, is the cost. She said it costs an average of $14 to $35 per carcass to dispose in New Mexico — much cheaper than the national average of $75 per carcass, but still a huge expense for dairy farms.