Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More Kentuckians involved in animal composting | courier-journal.com | The Courier-Journal

Composting expert Steve Higgins stands near a pile of compost at the University of Kentucky's compost area near Versailles. (By James Crisp, Special to the Courier-Journal) Dec. 1, 2010

More Kentuckians Involved in Animal Composting

Oldham to begin program in January
By Andrea Uhde Shepherd
When an electrical wire fell on her Springfield farm in April and electrocuted 20 beef cattle, Frances Medley figured she’d have to bury the animals — they’d been left too long to be butchered, and her livestock pickup service had closed.
Then Washington County offered to compost the carcasses — something it had never tried. The experiment worked, making Washington one of the state’s first counties to compost animals. Now more farmers and counties are following its lead.
Oldham County’s Animal Control department will begin composting its euthanized animals in January, and 39 landowners applied this year to a new funding program from the state Division of Conservation to build a foundation for animal composting.
“This is the ultimate recycling,” said Barbara Rosenman, director of Oldham County Animal Control. “It’s as green as it gets.”
It’s also a cheap and safe way to dispose of dead livestock and road kill, said Steve Higgins, an animal compost expert and the director of environmental compliance for the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture.
Animal composting has been allowed in Kentucky for more than a decade, but state lawmakers eased the process this year by removing a requirement that large animals be cut up before composting.
In Kentucky, 14 farmers or groups have permits from the state veterinarian’s office to compost animals, though Higgins estimates 600 more farmers started composting livestock before the permits became available in 2008.
Across the nation, interest in composting has been growing, especially since 2008, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration instituted stricter regulations that targeted mad cow disease and required companies to remove the brain and spinal cord of cows over 30 months old before using the carcass to make other materials. The rules forced businesses such as Kentucky’s Griffin Industries to stop livestock pickup because it was too expensive to meet the FDA rules.
Cutting costs
Most livestock and road kill in Kentucky are dumped in landfills, incinerators or rendering plants that turn them into such usable items as fertilizer. Animals also are often buried or left to decompose, which can pollute water.
Dave Harmon with Harmon’s Dead Animal Pickup in Warsaw, Ky., said about 10 counties pay his company to pick up dead animals and take them to landfills in Boone County and Southern Indiana.
Washington has spent more than $30,000 a year on pickups, and Oldham paid Harmon’s more than $8,000 last fiscal year.
Eliminating such expenses was one reason Washington County Fiscal Court began looking into composting last year, Judge-Executive John Settles said. He expects the county, which has about 11,300 residents and is an hour southeast of Louisville, to save $15,000 to $20,000 a year by composting livestock and road kill.
“The way we were doing it, it was not sustainable,” said Washington County Extension agent Rick Greenwell. “It was too much money.”
A composting permit costs $25 a year and is required to ensure that it’s done correctly, officials said.
Jefferson County doesn’t offer financial help with livestock pickup on the county’s 475 farms, said Wayne Long with the extension office. He said most farmers bury the animals, pay for them to be picked up or let them decompose.
Animal composting is an option the county needs to consider, Long said.
The Kentucky Highway Department’s Middletown site composts animals and is applying for a permit, spokeswoman Andrea Clifford said. It also takes road kill from Oldham and its other location in Jefferson County, she said.
The six other sites in District 5, which includes Louisville, bury the animals on their property or take them to a landfill, Clifford said.
Micro-organisms used
In animal composting, the carcass is buried above ground, using wooden material similar to chips, which has micro-organisms that eat the carcass and generate heat. That both sterilizes and speeds up decomposition.
Complex chains of smelly gases break down so no smell is emitted — only water in the form of steam. There also is some carbon dioxide emitted and a hint of ammonia.
The bacteria scrubs the air so “people, dogs and buzzards can’t smell” the carcass, Higgins said. “We’ve done this for years, and we haven’t attracted a critter.”
Within six months, the animal carcass turns into a dark mulch-type material; all that’s left are a few brittle bones. It can be used as mulch or used on future composting piles. Higgins said he started composting animals at UK’s “experiment station” — a farm in Versailles — several years ago but began doing it on a wider scale last year after some rendering companies stopped picking up dead livestock and state agriculture officials voiced concern about options for farmers.
Higgins said he and others saw a need for animal composting and pushed for a change in the state law to allow people to compost whole animals weighing more than 300 pounds; previously, the animal had to be cut into four parts, Higgins said.
“Until the statute changed last session, it (composting) wasn’t really practical on the farm,” said Kevin Jeffries, a beef cattle and grain farmer in the Ballardsville area of Oldham County.
Jeffries said he plans to establish a composting area on his farm next spring.
At Oldham’s Animal Shelter off Ky. 393 in Buckner, the concrete has been poured for a composting site, and Rosenman said her department is waiting on its permit.
Rosenman said the composting initially will be for the 200 to 300 animals euthanized at the “low-kill” shelter each year. If that goes well, the department may expand to composting road kill, large livestock and even residents’ pets if they aren’t able to bury them, Rosenman said.
The compost material eventually will be used for a garden and walking area for the shelter’s animals.
“I’m trying to make something positive out of something sad and negative,” she said.
(Source: courier-journal.com)
More Kentuckians involved in animal composting | courier-journal.com | The Courier-Journal

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