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How To Compost A Dead Horse

By Jeffrey Rolo

Note: if you haven't yet read Should I Consider Composting A Horse Carcass I recommend you do so before reading this article. There are very important legal and practical considerations to keep in mind before making a decision to compost a dead horse.

Although composting large animal carcasses can be an environmentally-friendly and effective manner of disposal, make no mistake: it's not as simple as tossing some organic materials on a corpse and calling it a day. Composting is a science, and it requires certain “rules” and “formulas” be followed in order to execute a safe and efficient composting process. If you decide to go the composting route, don't take shortcuts; make certain you know what you are doing every step of the way, and be sure to monitor the results as they occur. Composting, when done incorrectly, can cause negative effects such as water contamination, nasty odors, as well as the attraction of flies and vermin.

Select The Compost Site

You don't want a compost pile to be a within a couple feet of your home, barn, or a well-trafficked area, not just for aesthetic reasons, but also practical ones such as odor, vermin and potential decomposition run-off. The ideal site will contain a natural geographical buffer of sorts (such as vegetation, a hill, etc.), but even keeping a compost pile a good distance away from trafficked areas is generally enough.

Be mindful of water and/or food sources, and avoid placing the compost pile on a hillside where water and decomposition materials can run down the slanted terrain into trafficked or important areas.

Although it may be tempting to place a compost pile in the furthest corner of your property, that may not be practical either. A water source must be readily available throughout the composting process since proper moisture levels will play a critical role in the safe decomposition of the horse carcass. Balance your needs to keep a compost pile (and by default any odors, flies and vermin that may come with it) away from important areas, while also keeping the pile near enough to allow a hose to reach it.

Selecting Your Compost Materials

In order for the composting process to take place properly, you must use carbonaceous materials that possess a carbon-nitrogen ratio (C:N) between 10:1 to 20:1. Typical C:N ratios when composting manure and other organic material is generally 30:1 to 40:1, but these levels are far too high when composting an animal carcass. Exceeding 20:1 will result in significantly higher odors.

Now the above probably sounds like a foreign language to much of us (hey, I warned you that composting dead horses is a very scientific process with clear formulas to follow), so here are some materials that tend to work well when composting an animal carcass: sawdust, peat moss, horse manure that is very well-bedded, and wood shavings and chips.

It's important to also contain a carbonaceous bulking material in your pile. Wood fragments/chips with a diameter of approximately two inches will work nicely. The bulking material allows for adequate oxygen and air flow throughout the pile, without which the composting process would not proceed properly.

Why is bulking material important? The composting process demands a lot of oxygen, plus enough air flow must be allowed for gases and excess moisture to escape the pile. As the carcass decomposes, the pile will naturally consolidate over time. If your carbonaceous materials are too compacted (such as manure that doesn't possess a lot of bedding), over time the consolidation of the pile will no longer allow for enough flow of air.

This is a problem for two reasons: first, without oxygen, the process cannot take place properly. Second, without allowing a compost pile's excess gases and heat to escape, the pile could overheat and even spontaneously combust!

As unpleasant as it sounds, you will likely need to turn-over the pile from time to time to ensure the pile can “breathe” properly. This necessity will only become more urgent and frequent if you opt to leave out the necessary bulking agents.

While this first step is not absolutely necessary, I recommend first placing the carcass on a layer of carbonaceous material. Next apply about a pound of fertilizer over the carcass (fertilizer is a good source of nitrogen, which is critical to achieve composting). Then cover the carcass with your carbonaceous matter.

If you think at this point that the process is over, think again. Be sure to check out Composting A Dead Horse: The Process, because we're a long way from finished.

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