If you're into horse ownership for the long term, chances are you will someday have to deal with the death of a horse. Disposing of a large animal's carcass can prove challenging, but composting allows owners to dispose of their animals and at the same time naturally improve the soil conditions on their properties, according to Stephen Higgins, PhD, director of Environmental Compliance for the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Kentucky's (UK) College of Agriculture. The Agricultural Experiment Station serves as the research arm of UK's College of Agriculture.
Composting involves locating an appropriate site on a property, then leveling that site to accommodate the burial. Once an owner had determined and prepared the site, he or she should put down a three-foot-thick bed of wood shavings as a base for the equine remains. Situate the carcass on the wood shavings base, then cover it with an additional three to four feet of wood shavings to create a pile approximately six to eight feet tall.
"A pile of this size should provide about two feet along the sides of the carcass," Higgins said.
Done properly, the burial will not attract vermin to the composting site because they will be unable to smell the carcass inside the pile, Higgins said.
"It has to do with beneficial bacteria scrubbing the putrid gases," he said.
Higgins said it should take between six and eight weeks to compost a 1,000-pound horse with some large bones remaining. In addition to horse carcass disposal composting is also an option for disposing animal manure and bedding, afterbirth, and other animal mortalities, he said.
Owners can use materials derived from composting as a low-grade fertilizer source to enhance soil's friability (ability to be reduced to smaller pieces with little effort) and water retention capabilities. Higgins recommends using the material in a variety of ways.
"The composting material can and should be reused to compost additional carcasses, but it can also be land applied as a soil amendment," he said. "Reuse it a number of times to compost additional carcasses, and then land apply the material to a row crop or fallow field."
In some states environmental regulations recognize composting as a legal way for owners to dispose of their horse's carcass. Other states might require owners to obtain a specific permit before composting a horse. Higgins recommends that owners consult local authorities before composting a horse carcass on their property.
"The state veterinarian should be able to advise owners about permitting requirements," he said.
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