Canadian Poultry Magazine

Routine deadstock disposal

By Treena hein   

Features Barn Management Compost Equipment Poultry Equipment

The recent avian influenza outbreak has underscored the important of routine deadstock disposal. This article highlights best practices for keeping potential disease vectors and pests away.

Erv Wiens recently installed two composters as part of an effort to move away from incineration. PHOTO CREDIT: McDermott Farms

Make no mistake, says Al Dam, provincial poultry specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), “Improper management of deadstock is an invitation for biosecurity disaster.”

That is, if you’re not making sure to carefully manage ongoing mortalities properly – keeping them away from the interference of a wide range of potential pests – “you’re inviting disease like avian influenza (AI) onto your farm,” Dam says, “and there’s a good chance you will be spreading AI or other diseases into wildlife populations and/or onto neighbouring farms as well. 

“There are various options for routine ongoing mortalities disposal that you can use, but whatever system you choose, you need to make sure you are doing it right in terms of proper deadstock handling and preventing scavenger access to carcasses.”


Indeed, in the wake of last year’s highly pathogenic AI outbreaks, OMAFRA released an info-sheet in May 2022 called “Prevent the Spread of Avian Influenza with Proper Deadstock Management”. In addition, Dam reports that this year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has flagged deadstock management as an aspect to consider when AI outbreaks occur on farms.

Vector access
As Dam explains, proper routine disposal is identified as one of the keys to keeping vectors – wild birds and other animals potentially infected with AI – away from your farm. “If you think about what will eat deadstock, it’s the whole gambit,” he says. 

“Dogs and cats are an important group, whether feral or pets. They will certainly scavenge dead birds and can easily travel to neighbouring farms. We know of a dog that died in Oshawa this spring from AI, from eating an infected dead wild goose.”  Other wild canid species like foxes, coyotes and wolves have also died from AI, as well as skunks, racoons, mink, and other mammalian scavengers.

Rodents like rats are another potential disease vector, as are many categories of birds. “Gulls will eat deadstock and they are colony nesters,” Dam says. “These colonies with so many birds in them are almost like a barn, and we know AI and other diseases spread through those colonies every year. 

“Then there are the birds of prey like hawks, eagles, and turkey vultures, and also the corvids, crows and ravens. Birds in all these groups carry AI and continue to die from it. So again, if you are not managing your deadstock properly and infected wild birds have access to it, they may infect your flock with disease, and you also might spread disease back into the wildlife population and potentially also to your neighbours. It’s a serious issue.”

Proper routine disposal
There are several options for proper deadstock disposal, and burial is one of them, although it’s not permitted in some areas of Canada due to factors such as sandy soil or nearby high water tables. 

Incinerators are well-suited to larger poultry farms, although they may become less popular due to their large carbon footprint, ongoing regulated operational requirements and the relatively high capital and operational costs. Disposal vessels or dead pits are a potential option, Dam says, but not recommended for poultry. 

There is also truck pick up of poultry carcasses in some areas of Canada for rendering, but the deadstock should be kept in a freezer until the truck comes. However, Dam notes this strategy can be problematic if for some reason a farm experiences more mortality than normal or the truck is delayed.

Composting is a good on-farm disposal option. In-vessel composters are convenient, and come in various sizes, in manually turned and automated versions (automatic regulation of aeration, mixing and discharge). 

Foster Farms in southern Ontario installed an Actium composter in 2020 through the provincial Environment Farm Plan cost-share program.
PHOTO CREDIT: McDermott Farms

Disposal at work
Erv Wiens in southern B.C. manages several poultry operations that are currently moving away from incineration to vessel composting. 

“We can’t bury dead birds here at all due to potential groundwater contamination,” he says. “We’ve been incinerating for many years and also doing some composting in structures on a cement pad, moving the material from bin to bin, but mostly using incinerators. It’s been clean and easy, but we were getting close to the end of their lifespan. 

“We decided we’d like to do something greener, to be more sustainable and also avoid the higher costs of buying new incinerator units as well as the costs of maintenance and the natural gas. We researched vessel composters and found that their lifespan is quite long. We also talked to other local poultry producers who have them and like them.” 

Wiens just recently installed two types of vessel composters. A larger Ecodrum was purchased for Rockwall Farms/Wall’s Farms (a layer and broiler operation), a smaller Ecodrum at an organic layer farm called Border Poultry and a Green Machine at a turkey operation called McDermott Farms. Wiens wanted to try out two different products and also support the Canadian farm equipment industry (the Green Machine is made in Canada).

Foster Farms in southern Ontario has also gone to vessel composting. An Actium composter was installed there in 2020 through the provincial Environment Farm Plan cost-share program. “It’s a good size for our single barn,” Rob Foster says. “It could be a bit bigger at the end of the flock. It works well all year long. It’s a little slower in the winter and there is a heater option but I didn’t buy that. I add some shavings and turn it manually every time I add deadstock.” 

Vessel composting aside, Dam says regular manual composting is also a very effective way to deal with deadstock, either through windrow or enclosed bin systems. 

“Windrow compositing is viewed as being for large amounts of birds, but it’s fine for small ongoing numbers,” he explains. “You need at least one foot of substrate on top to keep predators away. It greatly reduces the smell and it’s a physical barrier. You have to manage it properly and turn it, but it works very well. 

“The three-bin compost system is similar in process. But again, no matter what system you choose to use, you need to prevent access from any type of scavengers. Dead birds need to be dealt with right away, either buried in your home-made composter, incinerated, stored in the freezer until pick-up, and so on.”

Dam also recommends that, wherever you are located in Canada, you should check with your province or territory for deadstock regulations and disposal funding opportunities (such as the Environmental Farm Plan). 

“Also review your emergency large-scale disposal planning regularly,” he says. “The Poultry Industry Council has recently launched an Emergency Response Binder that provides guidance on that and there are other resources as well. it’s very important that each operation is prepared in case of catastrophic losses.”  

General reminders for proper routine dead bird disposal
Highlights from the OMAFRA info-sheet “Prevent the Spread of Avian Influenza with Proper Deadstock Management”.

  • Do not cross contaminate clothing or equipment when handling deadstock. 
  • Do not leave any deadstock directly outside your barn. Move it directly to your deadstock disposal site to prevent scavengers from accessing it and potentially spreading disease.
  • If you see scavengers on your property, you know that your disposal site is not being managed properly. 
  • Whatever system you choose, ensure that composting is occurring at a proper rate and that no dead birds are being accessed by scavengers. Check what you are doing against best practices outlined in various resources.

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