Emergency Animal Disposal Guidance

Hereford cows in a California stockyard.In 2006, the Southern San Joaquin Valley experienced a larger-than-normal number of dairy and other animal mortalities due to extreme temperatures. In response to the heat event and the intermittent operation of key rendering plants in the valley, a series of recommendations were developed and approved by CalEPA and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

The following summary of the Emergency Animal Disposal Guidance prescribes the following hierarchical set of animal mortality management practices:

Temporary Storage of Carcasses for Transport to Rendering – This is the preferred means of animal disposal offering a relatively safe and integrated system that complies with the fundamental requirements of environmental quality and disease control.

Disposal at Permitted Landfills – If rendering capacity is exceeded or suspended, permitted landfilling offers the next best environmental solution to the disposal of carcasses. One local facility that may accept mortalities is the Kettleman Hills landfill. Please contact the Kettleman Hills facility at (559) 386-9711 to make arrangements for transport of carcasses. (No self-haul to Kettleman is permitted.)

On-Site Composting – If the condition of the carcasses precludes transportation to the landfill or the cost of transportation and disposal is prohibitive, on-site composting offers the next best solution. This alternative applies only to composting of animals that died on the owner’s property and that will be composted on the same property (no off-site transportation). Effective composting requires technical expertise, the right equipment and proper use of materials and methods. On-site composting should only be attempted if the operator has the know-how, space, supplementary carbon sources, cover material and on-site use for the final product. Additionally, the final product from the composting must not be transported off site.

On-Site Burial – This is the least desirable and environmentally safe alternative. This alternative applies only to on-site burial of animals that died on the owner’s property and that will be buried on the same property (no off-site transportation). On-site disposal should only be attempted after consideration of proximity to ground and surface water including domestic wells, drinking water reservoirs, and surface waters. Bury the animals in shallow trenches. The more shallow the burial, the less concentration of moisture that can percolate to groundwater. Do not bury the animals within 100 feet of a well. Also, any trench should provide at least five feet between the bottom and groundwater. Bury mature bovine animals no more than two deep, lime the carcasses, and then cover with three feet of soil. Do not irrigate over the disposal pits. Water added to the location will cause fluids to migrate downward. Record numbers by type of animals buried (calves, heifers, cows, etc), depth of pit, depth of cover, and location, and keep the records in a safe place for your use. Unconsolidated waste buried in this matter not only poses a risk to water quality, but also can affect future use of your property. The location may need to be excavated in the future to remedy the groundwater threat or to support foundations, etc.

Local Government Guidance

Several breeds of cattle at Harris Ranch feedlot.This guidance was developed and approved by CalEPA and CDFA in 2004 for the management of animal mortalities on farms and ranches under a declared emergency (PDF). Intended for use by dairyman, ranchers, feedlot operators, poultry farms and other confined animal facilities when normal rendering services have been suspended or there is a declaration of emergency (either local or state).

Other Resources:


Emergency Response and Disaster Preparedness