STERLING, Ill. — Training is important for livestock producers using a composting system for animal mortalities.

“You need to do a good job or we won’t have composting as an option,” said Ted Funk, agricultural engineering consultant for the Illinois Beef Association and the Illinois Pork Producers Association.

“You need to do something within 24 hours after the animal dies,” Funk said during an Animal Mortality Composting Workshop, hosted by the University of Illinois Extension.

There are several rules in the Illinois Dead Animal Disposal Act that must be followed by livestock producers who are constructing a composting facility.

“The facility must be 200 feet from the nearest potable water supply, keep it out of the 100-year floodplain and build it one-quarter mile away from the nearest residence that’s not part of you facility,” Funk said.

“Build the composter where it is convenient to get the animals in it, but compatible with the street view,” Funk advised. “Put a roof over it.”

The regulations require livestock producers to keep records for their composting system. “Keep track of the quantities, temperatures and nutrients going on the field,” he said. “Send a sample of your compost to a lab so you know how much nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium you are land spreading.”

Funk advised producers to choose a carbon source for the system that has small particles with a lot of surface area. “But if the particles are too small, that cuts off the air,” he added. “Some people are using landscape trimmings but if you have really coarse mulch, the microbes won’t have as much carbon available compared to small particles.”

The finished compost can be re-used as a carbon source. “You can re-use up to 50% of the carbon source going into your first bin,” Funk said. “Then you don’t have to buy as much carbon or spread as much compost.”

More bins and more timely turns of the compost will speed up the process. “Don’t skimp on the number of bins or turns,” the ag engineer stated. “With more aggressive management to make sure the carbon source, moisture and temperature are right, you can move the system along a little faster and not take as much space.”

In most cases, Funk said, moisture seems to be enough between the carcasses and the carbon source. “You don’t need to add much moisture if you’re operating it right,” he added. “The larger risk is if you don’t put a roof over it, you’ll have leachate which is a problem.”

Therefore, it is important to slope the pad in front of the facility to contain the leachate. “If the compost gets too wet, you might not be using enough carbon,” Funk said. “Make sure you seal the back of the bin.”

Finished compost should feel like good silage, Funk reported. “You have to figure it out for your own carbon source and it takes practice,” he added.

“A compost bin that is too deep could cause aeration and compaction problems because you might not get good compost action in the back,” he said. “Build more bins that are shallower.”

It is important for livestock producers also to plan for space to store the finished product. “Don’t make the final step the forgotten step,” Funk stressed. “You must have a contingency plan because weather doesn’t always cooperate.”

Producers can receive cost-share assistance to build a composting facility through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “If you want to build a composter with Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds, you must have a comprehensive nutrient management plan for your farm,” Funk stated. “Go to your local NRCS office for more information.”

The U of I has developed a compost calculator to help livestock producers figure out the size of facility needed for their operation. The calculator can be used for swine, poultry, beef or dairy operations and it is found at go.illinois.edu/icompost.

Martha Blum can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 117, or marthablum@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Blum.

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