Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Reviewing disposal methods for poultry mortalities

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By Gillan Ritchie

Poultry Times staff 

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — The poultry industry in the Midwest has faced the loss of 48 million egg-laying hens, pullets and turkeys since the beginning of the year. Production facilities deal with the disposal of farm mortalities every day. Even though farm mortality is common, appropriate handling is required to help prevent the spread of disease, odor and pest problems and possible contamination of water.

According to Dr. Casey W. Ritz, Extension poultry scientist at University of Georgia, a production farm with 25,000 broilers will average a 3 percent mortality rate which will produce 2,000 pounds of carcasses during a six-week period.

Production farms in Georgia must have a disposal system approved by the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) to prevent the spread of disease to healthy poultry.

There are five types of disposal and each poultry production farm must determine which method is best suited for their operation. According to Georgia law, deceased poultry must be disposed of properly within 24 hours of death or discovery.

The traditional method of disposal for birds is a burial pit, which is the simplest and most convenient available to production farms. Burial pits are the primary or secondary disposal method for more than 90 percent of poultry farmers in Georgia. However, there have been potential problems with burial pits such as pathogen and nutrient pollution of groundwater.

Personnel from GDA must approve burial pit sites before construction can begin on poultry farms. Soil must be evaluated by a certified GDA employee or soil classifier.

Pits must meet these requirements: maximum depth of 8 feet and 4 feet wide; minimum 1 foot above high groundwater elevation; must not be located where the ground slopes; must be sealed to prevent entry of rodents, exit of insects and exit of odors; must be located at least 100 feet from any proposed well, water line or high water elevation and cannot be located 100 feet within 100-year flood plain.

If a production farm’s mortality rate exceeds the farm’s capacity, farms have the option of disposing carcasses at landfills.

Another method to a burial pit is composting and is considered the best alternative for mortality management. In order to compost, a covered area with concrete flooring — to prevent rain or storm water from reaching the compost — is required. There should be eight to 12 inches of fresh litter with 40 to 60 percent moisture on the bottom of the bin as a starter supply of microorganism. Production farms need to keep carcasses away from side walls or tops of bins by a minimum of 6 inches and should cover daily mortality with 6 to 8 inches of fresh litter. Stacks shouldn’t exceed 5 feet in height and the internal temperature of the compost should be maintained at 130 degrees F to inactivate pathogens.

Using incinerators on poultry production farms is the safest method for disposing morality carcasses. Incineration reduces the carcasses to ash which will not attract pests or other animals. Even though incinerators can be managed easily, they burn slow and can sometimes be expensive to operate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Georgia Environmental Protection Agency Division must regulate and approve all incinerators.

Poultry production farms can use a heating process, or rendering, to extract recyclable ingredients from carcasses. Farms must take carcasses to an approved rendering facility within 24 hours of death unless the mortalities are refrigerated or frozen and delivered in covered, leak-proof containers. While rendering is the most environmentally-safe method of mortality management, the spread of pathogens during pickup and transport of dead poultry from site to site is possible.

In Georgia, it is unlawful to dispose of carcasses in manners that aren’t approved by the state. Poultry production farms should have a secondary, or backup, method of disposal to help alleviate higher-than-normal mortality rates.

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