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What to do with a dead deer: compost it

July 5, 2012

ITHACA, NY — Composting isn’t just for veggie scraps. It’s often the best way to deal with roadkill, livestock mortality and even large-scale animal deaths due to floods, fires or other catastrophes.

Many people, including some farmers, assume it’s best to bury animals underground. In fact, it’s safer and kills pathogens more effectively when carcasses are composted in unturned piles, according to Jean Bonhotal, director of the Cornell Waste Management Institute.

“Most of the time they get buried, but that brings them 6 feet closer to the water table,” Bonhotal said.

Carcass fluids from improperly disposed animals can leach into wells, creeks or drain pipes, spreading bacteria and viruses.
“Composting is a fairly forgiving process. If we do it well, we can make a 1,200-pound animal disappear in three months. The bones will still be there, but the carcass will be gone,” Bonhotal said.

But there are instances when composting is not appropriate. For example, animals with a prion disease, such as mad cow or chronic wasting disease, need to be incinerated or chemically treated. Cornell’s alkaline hydrolysis digester, which uses high heat, high pressure and a chemical bath to quickly digest animal carcasses, is the state-designated facility to dispose of animals with prion diseases.