Biocontained carcass composting for control of infectious disease outbreak in livestock.
Intensive livestock production systems are particularly vulnerable to natural or intentional (bioterrorist) infectious disease outbreaks. Large numbers of animals housed within a confined area enables rapid dissemination of most infectious agents throughout a herd. Rapid containment is key to controlling any infectious disease outbreak, thus depopulation is often undertaken to prevent spread of a pathogen to the larger livestock population. In that circumstance, a large number of livestock carcasses and contaminated manure are generated that require rapid disposal. Composting lends itself as a rapid-response disposal method for infected carcasses as well as manure and soil that may harbor infectious agents. We designed a bio-contained mortality composting procedure and tested its efficacy for bovine tissue degradation and microbial deactivation. We used materials available on-farm or purchasable from local farm supply stores in order that the system can be implemented at the site of a disease outbreak. In this study, temperatures exceeded 55 degrees C for more than one month and infectious agents implanted in beef cattle carcasses and manure were inactivated within 14 days of composting. After 147 days, carcasses were almost completely degraded. The few long bones remaining were further degraded with an additional composting cycle in open windrows and the final mature compost was suitable for land application. Duplicate compost structures (final dimensions 25 m x 5 m x 2.4 m; L x W x H) were constructed using barley straw bales and lined with heavy black silage plastic sheeting. Each was loaded with loose straw, carcasses and manure totaling approximately 95,000 kg. A 40-cm base layer of loose barley straw was placed in each bunker, onto which were placed 16 feedlot cattle mortalities (average weight 343 kg) aligned transversely at a spacing of approximately 0.5 m. For passive aeration, lengths of flexible, perforated plastic drainage tubing (15 cm diameter) were placed between adjacent carcasses, extending vertically along both inside walls, and with the ends passed though the plastic to the exterior. The carcasses were overlaid with moist aerated feedlot manure (approximately 1.6 m deep) to the top of the bunker. Plastic was folded over the top and sealed with tape to establish a containment barrier and eight aeration vents (50 x 50 x 15 cm) were placed on the top of each structure to promote passive aeration. After 147 days, losses of volume and mass of composted materials averaged 39.8% and 23.7%, respectively, in each structure.