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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Dead Pig Disposal: An Unpleasant but Essential Topic

Livestock Update, June 2003

Allen Harper, Extension Animal Scientist Swine, VA Tech Tidewater AREC

Even on well managed hog farms, some animals die before being marketed. For example, a 1,200-sow farm that produces 2.2 litters per sow per year and sells weanling pigs can have need for disposal of 36 sow carcasses and 7,920 stillborn and other dead piglets annually. A finishing farm producing 10,000 market hogs annually requires disposal for approximately 300 pigs each year (Table 1). These examples are based on a 3% annual mortality rate for breeding sows and market hogs and the loss of 3 stillborn and nursing piglets per litter produced. Farms with lower mortality rates will have lower disposal needs and those with higher rates will have higher disposal needs. But the point is obvious. A practical, cost-effective and environmentally sound means to dispose of routine death losses is essential on all hog farms.

Table 1. Typical Swine Mortality Rates*
    Percent mortality at performance level :  
Production stage Weight range Excellent Good Poor Your farm
Birth to weaning 3 - 15 lbs. < 10 % 10 - 12 % > 12 % ___________
Nursery 15 - 45 lbs. < 2 % 2 - 4 % > 4 % ___________
Growing-finishing 45 - 270 lbs. < 2 % 2 - 4 % > 4 % ___________
Breeding sows 300 - 525 lbs. < 2 % 2 - 5 % > 5 % ___________
*Adapted from Mayrose and co-authors, 1991.

Traditional disposal methods include burial, on-farm incineration and transport to rendering plants. Mortality composting, which was initially developed as a means of disposing of dead birds on poultry farms, has recently become an accepted method of dead swine disposal in many swine producing states. Table 2 provides a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of traditional methods and composting for dead swine disposal. For producers willing to learn the principles of composting and provide adequate management, composting is an effective method of dead swine disposal that is safe, bio-secure and environmentally sound. If certain standards are followed, USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding may be available for establishing composting facilities on farms. Local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) representatives can provide information on EQIP cost-share opportunities. A publication on composting swine mortality is available from the State Extension Swine Specialist (757-657-6450, ext. 106, email:

Table 2. Advantages and Disadvantages of Swine Mortality Disposal Methods
Method Advantage (+) or Disadvantage (-)
Burial (+) Prompt burial gets dead stock out of public view.
(+) Prompt burial coverage prevents odor, flies and scavengers.
(-) Poor or delayed coverage can result in odor, flies and scavengers.
(-) Burial pits can collect rain water.
(-) Depending on burial location, ground water could be contaminated.
(-) Virginia law prohibits burial of poultry mortality, similar legislation could be passed for livestock mortality.
(-) Burial pits can be difficult to dig in winter.
Incineration (+) Prompt incineration gets dead stock out of public view.
(+) Modern incinerators reduce carcasses to ash and are biosecure.
(-) Older, less efficient incinerators may generate smoke and odor.
(-) Modern incinerators have initial capital costs and fuel requirements of 1 to 2 gallons/hour.
(-) Virginia law requires incinerators to be equipped with an "afterburner" for pollution control.
(-) Virginia law requires a separate Department of Environmental Quality Permit for on-farm incinerators.
Rendering (+) Rendering converts animal mortality to useful by-products.
(+) Prompt transport to rendering plants removes dead stock from the farm.
(-) Storage of dead hogs in "dead boxes" or other methods prior to hauling can attract odor, flies and scavengers.
(-) There are only a few rendering plants that process dead stock in Virginia.
(-) Some rendering plants charge fees for accepting carcasses.
(-) Vehicles and personnel traveling to and from the farm and rendering plant can compromise biosecurity.
Composting (+) Proper composting generates minimal odor, fly or scavenger problems.
(+) Proper composting has low potential for pollution and produces a final product that can improve soil tilth and fertility.
(+) On-farm composting is considered biosecure.
(-) A readily available supply of carbon-rich bulking material such as sawdust, cotton gin trash or other suitable material is required.
(-) Some initial capital cost is necessary for construction of composting facilities.
(-) Poorly managed compost units (inadequate bulking material, delayed carcass coverage, etc.) will result in odors and attract flies and scavengers.

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