(09/30/19) HOMER, La. — Poultry producers heard about methods of disposing of chicken carcasses during the LSU AgCenter Hill Farm Research Station poultry field day on Sept. 26.
It’s inevitable that a small percentage of birds in chicken houses will die, and disposing of them can pose problems, said William Owens, resident coordinator at Hill Farm.
Farmers use open-air composting or incineration, but both practices have their drawbacks, he said.
At the field day, producers saw the Ecodrum, a large plastic container that slowly rotates and completely breaks down the carcasses.
Ecodrum representative Byron Irwin said the carcasses are placed in the drum with wood shavings, and air is pumped into the container. A series of fins inside the drum move the deteriorating material to one end in about two weeks, he said. Very little of the birds’ remains are obvious.
Irwin said the system eliminates biosecurity concerns, and the final compost product has no fecal coliform or disease.
Burying dead chickens is illegal without obtaining approval from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Owens said a large die-off of chickens might require that practice.
He said after the avian influenza killed numerous flocks of poultry in the upper Midwest, there was concern that the disease would be spread by migrating wildfowl to commercial poultry flocks in Louisiana.
“We were all scared to death,” Owens recalled. “We were afraid it was coming this way.”
He said a method of disposing thousands of birds would be needed if the worst-case scenario transpired, and the LSU AgCenter, Natural Resources Conservation Service and LDAF conducted an experiment to find an effective disposal method.
Simply burying the birds did not result in satisfactory decomposition, he said. “You’ve got to have a carbon source, and you’ve got to have some air.”
Wood shavings were added to a shallow trench, and air was pumped into the burial trench, he said. That increased the heat level of the carcasses and accelerated decomposition.
Instead of pumping air into the trench, a grid of perforated 4-inch plastic pipe with vents was used. Owens said that seemed to work well, resulting in complete decomposition in a few months.
He said carcasses buried 15 months ago without air and a carbon source have yet to deteriorate fully.
But the method has not been tested on a large scale, and additional studies are needed.
Amanda Norman, a veterinarian with LDAF, reviewed biosecurity measures. She said dead chickens should be removed from houses daily and disposed so they don’t attract insects, wild birds and rodents that could spread disease. Chicken houses should be sealed against those pests also, she said.
Norman reminded producers that LDAF audits poultry operations every two years to make sure regulations are being followed.
Jacob Paul and Stephanie Paul, of the NRCS, reviewed different programs available to poultry producers to help with litter storage, energy efficiency and composters.
Jason Holmes, AgCenter regional cattle specialist, said chicken litter is a good source of fertilizer for pastures, but he said both the fertilizer and soil should be tested. A soil sample only costs $16, he said.
“I’m still amazed when people just buy fertilizer without a soil sample,” Holmes said.
Chicken litter should be tested for its nutrient content as well as moisture level, he said.
Bill Owens, research coordinator at the LSU AgCenter Hill Farm Research Station, uses a shovel to scoop a sample of wood chips and composted chicken carcasses processed in the black plastic composting unit, called the Ecodrum. At far left is Ecodrum representative Byron Irwin. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter
Jason Holmes, LSU AgCenter regional livestock specialist, far left, talks about using poultry litter as a fertilizer for pastures. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter