Composting urged for carcass disposal Alternatives sought to renderers' fees

August 11, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Seeking a way for local farmers to dispose of dead animals, members of Carroll County's Agriculture Commission have recommended locating a composting site at the Northern Landfill.

The proposal, presented to the commissioners by the Agricultural Commission's Dead Animal Disposal Committee on Monday, is a result of high fees charged by renderers to pick up animals.

Committee members also said they are concerned that burying the bodies could contaminate the county's ground water supply.

The committee's report stated that about 1.5 million pounds of animals die in Carroll County each year.

"The renderers do not pick up all classes of livestock," said Carroll County extension agent David Greene. "The economic impact to smaller farms of picking up a calf or a half-grown pig is substantial.

"We also have a number of smaller farms that are limited in the number of sites they can bury."

The county commissioners said they would not take action on the proposal until after they visit a Tennessee composting facility in mid-September that accepts dead animals, sludge and yard waste.

Committee members suggested that the county should build a covered, concrete pad at the landfill for farmers and citizens to drop off animals during normal working hours.

Renderers could have a contract with the county to pick up what they could use, the committee said. The rest could be composted with the aid of consultants from the University of Maryland and disposed of with the county's yard waste.

"The technology is there," Mr. Greene said, referring to studies by professors at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore who have composted chickens, cows and swine.

"We have stumbled and halted [for six years] waiting for technology to catch up with us, and it has happened."

Chicken composters, such as the one at County Fair Farms in Silver Run, are now regularly used in the broiler industry, Mr. Greene said. Also, extension agents are encouraging large-scale farmers to build their own composters.

However, county public works director Keith R. Kirschnick said he was concerned the proposal might endanger the health and safety of his landfill employees. He also said he was worried that the process might harm citizens if the topsoil used in the process contained any pathogens.

Pathogens are micro-organisms that can make people ill.

"These are professors running tests, and they caution that there would have to be more tests before they'd recommend it," Mr. Kirschnick said. His comment referred to a Delmarva Farmer article about the University of Maryland studies in animal composting.

Committee members had distributed the article for background information.

"If we do this wrong and don't kill the pathogens, we could have a real mess," he said, noting that landfill workers have not been trained in composting. "I would not recommend this until we've hired someone with an [agricultural] background to run it."

The committee members said a consultant should be hired to supervise dead animal or sludge composting. They also explained that it is rare for humans to become ill from the same diseases that kill animals.

"There are very, very, very few zoonotic diseases [ones humans can catch] on farms," said Mr. Greene. "If catching diseases was a problem, why wouldn't farmers get them?"

Committee members also said landfill employees wouldn't have to touch the dead animals.

"I have to drag it out by hand," said committee chairman and Taneytown farmer Frank Feeser said. "At the collection point, it can be handled by machine."

Currently the two local renderers -- Valley Protein and MOPAC -- charge about $25 to dispose of a cow, said Mr. Feeser. The companies raise their fees to about $150 for a horse or goat to recoup the cost of picking up the animal, he said.

"They can resell the hide or the meat [to a dog food company]," Mr. Feeser, a Taneytown swine farmer, said of the lower fees. "A lot of our smaller farms have horses, and they [renderers] figure they've got the money."

Committee members said they realized burying animals is not an option after they visited a Lancaster County, Pa., farm that composts. In digging footers for an expansion, the owner found chickens that had been buried on the site up to seven years before.

"We thought burying took care of the stuff," said Mr. Feeser, noting that a lack of oxygen prohibited the animals' decomposition. "That got us to thinking what it will do to the ground water. We can't overlook the dangers."

Carroll County Humane Society director Carolyn "Nicky" Ratliff said county officials need to consider regulations about burying animals.

"There should be some logic as to who can bury what where," she said. "But, it's hard to tell somebody they can't do something if you don't give them an alternative."

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