Safe and Legal Carcass Disposal  
Maxine Kinne

The live, healthy animals in our care will not always be so. Each of them will come to the end of life - hopefully a good, long, healthy one, and we will have to deal with their remains.

Because losing an animal can be a traumatic emotional experience, each farm needs to decide on a safe, legal way to deal with it well in advance of the need to do so. The method of carcass disposal depends on many factors, such as state and county regulations, weather, soil type, land features, proximity of predators and other considerations.

At the farm where we first had the goats, we had a pet graveyard. Before long, I realized that disposal was going to be an ongoing concern and that what the goats left me with in memory was more important than how I disposed of their earthly remains. I know they went where all good goats go.

The first thing you should do is find out the legal ramifications of taking care of the dead stock on your own. Your county extension agent can either tell you whether specific regulations exist or direct you to the agency that knows.

In light of the recent BSE and Scrapie controversy in cattle and sheep, respectively, rendering plants now refuse dead sheep and goats. This has been more of a problem for the sheep industry than for goats. This affects the way we handle dead animals, making it almost imperative for us to deal with it on the farm level.


Burial is the obvious, traditional choice. Cold and other kinds of inclement weather may make it impossible to excavate a grave. Rocky soils and clay types can make hand-digging difficult. Topographical considerations are also important, especially the dead animal's proximity to wells, streams and other places which could be contaminated due to leaching or run-off.

The diameter of the hole required depends on the animal's size, usually between 24" to 30" for an adult Pygmy, and depth should be about 5'. Before interrment, generously sprinke agricultural lime in the hole. A generous amount should also be sprinkled on top of the carcass after it is lowered into the grave. This hastens decomposition and reduces the chance that predators will violate the grave site.

I know a producer who has rather bad luck (management) and needs to bury many goats during the winter. In the summer or fall, he uses a backhoe to dig a trench for the coming season's dead and fills it in as needed.


When death is due to an infectious disease process, burning the carcass can prevent the spread of the disease. A deep pit can be dug for this purpose and covered over when the process is finished. It is necessary to first lay in a lot of wood, then the carcass, and then drench the wood and the carcass with a gallon or so of oil. Above-ground incinerators can also be made of a 50-gallon drum or stacked tractor rims.

If you aren't willing to do this yourself, maybe your local humane society can perform this service. Also, there are pet crematoriums in some areas. This may be a choice for an especially beloved pet.

Your Veterinarian

Veterinarians charge to dispose of remains. When my vet performed this service for one of our dogs, I asked for specifics. He said that the carcasses and other animal parts are taken to a special area at the county dump. While this method may seem ignoble and disrespecful, it can be a good choice.

Many goats die due to unknown causes or ineffective treatments. A veterinary school may do a necropsy so you can find out why the animals died. They will also dispose of the remains. This can be a chance to learn the cause of death so you can institute mangement changes and avoid further losses.


The heat and bacterial action of composting is a good way to break down a carcass. Like incineration, this is a good way to destroy transmissible diseases. If you have a big manure/bedding pile, the carcass can be buried there for one year. Another method is to deeply layer straw, lime, carcass, lime and a thick top layer of straw. Sawdust can be substituted for the straw. Either type of composting should feature a waterproof topping, such as a roof or plastic tarp to avoid getting too much water into the composting process. Make sure that composting is done in an area that won't flood or leach into wells or other water supplies. The end product is a useful soil amendment which may be applied to gardens or fields. There may be legal ramification to composting, so be sure to check with your local extension office.


Related Reading

Euthanized Animals Can Kill Wildlife
National Euthanasia Registry


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