The 5th International Symposium on Managing Animal Mortalities, Products, By-Products and Associated Health Risks was held Sept. 28 – Oct. 1, 2015 in Lancaster, Pa. Through presentations, tours, hands-on activities and networking opportunities, participants were able to discuss effective plans and methods aimed at protecting animal health, human health, economies, communities and our environment during routine and emergency animal mortality management. Symposium participants also were encouraged to strengthen new and existing networks in order to identify current gaps or capability challenges in animal mortality management and work together to develop solutions.
“We wanted our participants to think about creating systems that work effectively and quickly to manage mass animal mortality events,” said Dale Rozeboom, Ph.D., Michigan State University professor and extension specialist and Symposium Chair. “Gaps can exist in many areas – from depopulation, disposal and decontamination to administration of response, funding availability and communication between national, state and local government agencies.”
Keynote speaker Tim Goldsmith, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine assistant professor and co-director of the Veterinary Public Health and Preventative Medicine Residency Program, explained the
importance of understanding risk in planning for and responding to catastrophic animal disease and how meetings like the Symposium are crucial for providing the tools needed to manage risk.
“Risks associated with catastrophic animal disease go beyond the health of the animal – it affects people, communities, and industries,” Goldsmith said. “Zero risk is not possible and we shouldn’t strive for zero, but, we need to look at the risk management possibilities out there for activities with significant risk in order to lower those risks to an acceptable level for all stakeholders involved in the management of a disease event.”
Tim Rueter, Ph.D., Livestock Research Branch of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, spoke about managing high-risk pathogens through composting. Another plenary speaker, Patrick Webb, DVM, director of swine health programs at the National Pork Board, explained lessons learned in the swine industry and its recent experience with an outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus. Webb described response strategies and methods used for managing mortality and morbidity during an emerging disease outbreak significantly impacting swine production and the effects of the disease on U.S. pork producers.
The Symposium began with a day-long tour of Pennsylvania’s diverse agriculture industry – including dairy, beef, poultry and swine operations. Participants were able to see biosecurity procedures, routine composting, anaerobic digestion and in-vessel mortality composting at different local farms. Tour locations also included livestock truck wash sanitation stations that are vital to biosecurity and the health of people and animals involved in the farm’s operations.
Attendees also visited the Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Landisville, Pennsylvania. Demonstrations were hosted by experts and showed emergency windrow composting, carcass reduction, portable vehicle wash systems, wastewater treatment systems and humane euthanasia methods for livestock and poultry. The demonstration of techniques and challenges of foam euthanasia of poultry was particularly relevant, as many of the participants have been actively involved in response to the recent Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak in the U.S. flock.
HPAI was further explored through a producer’s viewpoint with plenary speaker Mark Van Oort, complex manager for the Center Fresh Egg Farm – one of America’s leading egg producers. Van Oort guided Center Fresh Egg Farm through the 2015 outbreak of HPAI with a response that included large-scale euthanasia, carcass disposal, manure disposal and virus education through composting, control of a quarantine zone to control virus spread, and large scale cleaning and disinfecting.
“Immediately, I had planned to compost the birds,” Van Oort said. “We had dabbled in composting a bit before but not with 7.3 million birds – more like seven. We had to develop a cookbook and become resourceful . . . There were many lessons learned throughout this crisis and it’s certainly something that we hope to not have to deal with again.”
In order to understand the issues and to apply research opportunities and lessons learned from the 2015 HPAI outbreak response, the Symposium’s emergency exercise focused on response to a notional HPAI outbreak. Through breakout sessions and participating in facilitated scenario discussions, participants analyzed the notional outbreak on multiple levels (single farm, multiple farms, state, nationally and internationally) and identified issues and research opportunities related to depopulation, disposal, cleaning and decontamination and business continuity plans for the management of realistic issues that may occur during an outbreak.
Symposium planning committee members Edward Malek, Ontario Operational Specialist for Animal Health, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Duncan Worsfold, Statewide Specialist in Animal Emergency Preparedness, Agriculture Services and Biosecurity for the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport & Resources of Echuca, Victoria, Australia, served as moderators for the exercise. The two envisioned that this emergency exercise would not only allow the participants to understand lessons learned, but also better prepare attendees to gather information and concepts for the development of collaborative discussions that may apply should an outbreak like this happen in their area in the future.
The Symposium’s focus extended beyond the U.S. borders through an international panel of experts who convened to discuss their perspectives and experiences on animal mortality management. This session included a plenary address from Heekwon Ahn, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Animal Biosystems Science at Chungnam National University in South Korea, who discussed his experiences and the response of the South Korean government during the 2011 South Korea Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak. The panel included representatives from: Vietnam, the Republic of Georgia, Australia, South Korea, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, Canada and Nigeria.
Technical presentations explored new and emerging technologies for euthanasia, carcass treatment and disinfection, carcass management, federal and state planning, disease mitigation strategies, depopulation and disposal and all hazards. The Symposium also included exhibits and software demonstrations.
Though the Symposium has concluded, the group’s work continues. Over the next year, the planning committee will produce a white paper for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and continue to collaborate with participants in order to advance the preparedness of the industry for a mass animal mortality event.
The Symposium was hosted by Penn State Extension. To learn more about the Symposium, go to http://animalmortmgmt.org.
In 2006, the Bullard family was growing crops and raising hogs and decided to expand their operation by raising turkeys. In less than a year, they were raising 64,000 turkeys and this year they won the North Carolina Poultry Federation Grower Environmental Excellence Award.
The Bullards are not strangers to farming. Collins is a fifth-generation farmer who runs the Bullard farm with his parents and wife, Alison. With the addition of turkeys, they also have three houses for the operation’s 3,000 hogs and farm 1,500 acres, where they grow corn, wheat, beans, watermelons, and this year, a new crop – sorghum.
Quick move to turkeys
When the Bullards decided to add turkeys to their portfolio, the idea became a reality in an incredibly short amount of time.
They approached Prestage Farms about raising birds for them and discussions began immediately.
“Prestage put together numbers and we looked at sites – trying to figure out where exactly we wanted to put things. Over about a six-month period we were up and running,” says Collins.
Getting up and running required the construction of eight, tunnel ventilated barns to house the turkeys from four to 20 weeks of age and around 42 pounds. Each barn is 50 feet wide by 500 feet long, or 25,000 square feet, and holds around 8,000 turkeys.
The barns are state of the art, says Collins.
“They provide superior environmental control for optimum bird comfort, with a cooling system in each house.”
The houses have a central computer system, which allows not only viewing of all eight houses, but also monitoring via a laptop. And an extensive alarm system will alert Collins if there is a failure in the feed, water, ventilation or other system.
“We were the first tunnel farm for Prestage, and one of the first tunnel farms in this area,” says Collins. “At the time, Prestage didn’t know exactly how these things were going to work and neither did I. So, there were some growing pains in the beginning. But we worked through things.”
Part of the learning process involved the computer system and learning what it could do and how to set it up to do what Prestage and the Bullards wanted – for example, adjust to temperatures that can vary substantially from day to day.
“Today, we still have to put in the programs, and the program depends on the size of the bird,” says Collins. “Everything is on a memory card. You insert that into the computer and the computer will automatically
Computers also play a part in litter handling. The Bullards raise about three flocks a year. To handle the majority of the litter, Collins uses a caking machine, moving the litter from near the feed and water lines, where the bulk of the waste accumulates.
“When it’s time to remove it, the litter is a little on the damp side and that’s when our sheds come into play,” says Collins.
The farm has two sheds – one 50 feet by 100 feet and the other 50 feet by 200 feet, with a total of 14,000 square feet to keep the litter covered and off the ground.
“We’ll go in weekly and turn it and by turning it we’re drying it out, also breaking it up, making it easier to spread.”
The litter can be stored in the sheds for as long as necessary, until it’s time to apply. This year, the Bullards will pull about 2,880 tons, which will be either immediately applied or stored.
Before any application though, Collins performs grid soil sampling.
“It gives us a better idea of what nutrients need to go where and to land-apply the litter based on of those soil samples. The litter has a real high phosphorus content and it works well with a wheat and corn and beans rotation.”
If spreading requires going off the turkey farm, the Bullards contract haul it with litter trucks.
“If not, we have a BBI 20-ton spreader that we can load that is used on the tractor,” says Collins.
The farm has also incorporated GPS with its grid soil sampling to help them stay right on target and avoid over applying.
“And all the tractors have auto-steer on them,” adds Collins. “Because of that, it’s essential that the material is broken up so it spreads evenly.”
The hogs’ manure management system is completely different. The hog houses have a slatted floor and the waste is collected in a pit below. The waste is gravity fed to a lagoon where the water is recycled to wash out the house, and it is also pumped onto the hay fields when needed.
It’s all automated, says Collins.
“The tanks pump two or three times a day and constantly wash out the underside of the house. In the lagoon, we have markers that give us our low point, high point, and acceptable water.”
As with the turkeys, the Bullards take samples of the lagoon waste as well as soil samples and apply the manure based on the results. With the pigs, however, the waste is liquid and much easier to handle than the dry turkey litter.
One of the things that sets the Bullard farm apart, and helped them achieve the 2012 environmental award, is its forced-air compost system, which was installed in 2010 by Advanced Composting. The system not only is an environmentally friendly way to handle mortalities (versus burying or burning) but also provides an end product.
Under a covered structure, any turkey mortalities are layered between organic matter, such as shavings and roadside grass clippings. The rows are kept at a specific moisture level and a temperature between 150 to 160 F for 30 to 45 days.
During that time, air is pumped in, rotating from bin to bin, and monitored via a computer.
“We also wet it and recycle the juices that come off of the animals as they break down, and we introduce some enzymes to that material, which helps with the breakdown process,” says Collins.
By the end of the 45 days, the bird carcasses are completely broken down, except for the harder bones, which are ground down.
“The finished product comes out a real even fertilizer; about a 15/15/15,” says Collins. “It’s also really a dry product, easy to spread, and easy to manage.”
One of the reasons for the composting facility is that the Bullards could see there would soon be regulations coming from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state on dead stock disposal. It made good business sense to be proactive.
“We felt it was a good time figure out what we were going to do.”
The benefits of this system turned out to be many. The finished product is comparable to commercially available fertilizer. It acts as predator control and helps keep coyotes, dogs and buzzards away from the turkey houses. The high temperatures also help reduce pests, such as mice and flies.
Cutting down on commercial fertilizer
The Bullards continue to buy some commercial fertilizers, such as liquid nitrogen for corn, but their overall purchase of commercial fertilizers has gone down significantly.
“I don’t think we’ll ever replace fertilizer completely, just because the litter doesn’t have a uniform nutrient content. For example, if we pull a load out from under the feed line, it has … more nutrient value than what’s in the center of the house where there are more shavings,” says Collins. “That’s why we mix it a lot and why we use the grid soil sampling. It’s a good way of keeping up with how much you’re putting out there from year to year and if you need to back off of a certain area for some time.”
The composting and litter storage facility both keep odors down, but it can’t be completely eliminated, especially during application.
“We try to be courteous neighbors,” says Collins. “When we are land-applying, we work it into the ground with a disc right behind the litter spreader.
Thumbs up for technology
It’s obvious that the Bullard farm embraces technology. Some other farmers shy away from it, but Collins welcomes it. Technology is one of the reasons the farm has been able to grow. Collins’ great-great-grandfather started with about 40 acres; today the farm is at 1,500 acres and requires only Collins, his dad and two employees to manage everything.
“If we didn’t have any problems, two people could manage this farm,” he says.
“I like the technology. I think if you don’t try to keep up with technology, you’re going to get left behind. The technology is there; you might as well use it because everything is heading in that direction. We want to stay in this business and, in order to do so, we have to be productive. I think technology helps the productivity of this farm.”
Point of pride
Collins is a next-generation farmer and the awards he is receiving are the proof. Not only has he received the North Carolina Poultry Federation Grower Environmental Excellence Award but he has also won the Young Farmer of the Year from the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, Outstanding Young Farmer from the County Farm Bureau. Another environmental award is pending.
What Collins is most proud of is the farm’s consistency.
“We continue to produce a quality bird for Prestage Farm.”
After five minutes with Jason Diestel, you quickly learn there is more to compost than meets the eye.
Jason is the director of sustainability for the Diestel Turkey Ranch, located near Sonora, Calif. His grandfather founded a 50-acre turkey farm in 1949. Customers back then (and now) lined up for the turkeys grown the old-fashioned way and thought they tasted better. The farm continued in that direction. In 1980, Jason’s dad took over and today the 200-plus-acre farm processes 200,000 organic turkeys a year – all grown in the old fashioned way – and sells them to stores throughout the West.
Quality is key for the Diestels, whether it’s turkeys or compost. “My great uncle Ernest taught my grandpa about the concept of quality – not rushing the process and allowing time to develop the highest quality possible,” says Jason.
Senior project and compost
When the Diestels started processing in the 1980, everything could be taken to a rendering plant, but today the State of California won’t take the feathers. With 200,000 turkeys, that’s a lot of feathers. Jason says there’s also no market for them. “The only option in California is to take it to a landfill.”
By the time Jason was in college at Cal Poly in the 1990s, applying raw manure had also become more regulated. When it came time to choose a senior project, Jason wanted to find a way to turn their byproducts into something productive.
“I started looking for something that made sense to me,” says Jason. “I started going to U.S. Composting Council and BioCycle and other areas and I heard the same thing over and over: “Compost is great stuff. Put it in a pile, turn it a few times, it turns black. Compost is compost.”
This didn’t make sense to Jason. “We have successfully differentiated ourselves for [more than] 60 years in the turkey business and you’re telling me that all compost is created equal? There had to be more to it.”
Jason’s search led him to Midwest Bio Systems, a company out of Illinois that focused on creating compost from the plant’s perspective – on humus-based soil fertility, which is the practice of building long chain polymer carbons in a very efficient 10-week composting process.” And, Jason says, corn and soybean farmers who were paying $120 per ton for humus compost and outperforming other soil fertility practices with better yields and lower input costs.
“That really caught my eye, not only from a profitability standpoint, but also if they were selling a product of such high value, it has to work or they’d be out of business.” And it was this realization that led Jason to take a year away from the farm to work for MBS, to explore soil fertility, and learn what he needed to do at the farm to make the system work.
Breaking down feathers
Back at the Diestel Farm, the challenge was composting 12-inch turkey feathers, which refused to break down. “We tried doing it with a loader bucket and we weren’t able to keep the moisture,” says Jason. “The other problem was, we had no way of releasing carbon dioxide and weren’t getting the breakdown process needed.” The answer turned out to be an Aeromaster Compost Turner from Midwest Biosystems.
“The Aeromaster Compost Turner is extremely efficient,” says Jason. “It removes carbon dioxide and applies water at the same time and does a great job of aerating. The tines spin slow enough that it’s not pulverizing the product and that allows for the humus chains to be built. It also doesn’t take a lot of horsepower to get through the rows. It flips the material backwards and allows CO2, which is heavier than air, to release from the bottom of the row.”
After the Diestels started using the turner, they were able to adjust their water application and keep it consistently at the necessary 45 to 50 percent. “If you can keep a consistent moisture throughout and not just the first few inches of the row, you can really break down some organic matter,” says Jason. “And after you break down the organic matter, you can start building up humus.”
As with the turkeys, Jason and his family focus on quality compost. Their goal is to make the highest quality possible. To do so, they also use windrow covers. It’s a little more labor, but saves some water and a couple of turns by keeping the environment stable.
Jason says they also have the luxury of having extremely good quality control over what enters their compost.
With the addition of humus soil fertility technology, Jason feels there is a big opportunity to increase soil organic matter by percentage points in as few as three years, balance mineral ratios, increase nutrient availability and improve soil structure.
“All this can be done with fewer truckloads of compost over more acres of farm land,” says Jason. “Now that is sustainable when you consider that most of the cost of manure or compost is typically in the transportation.
“By changing, or optimizing, the soil structure, we’re optimizing the biological balance from a fertility perspective and that’s also allowing the nutrients to cycle more efficiently,” explains Jason. “You can’t sustain good biology in the soil unless you have a good soil structure. By utilizing the humus technology, we’re addressing all that.
Jason believes soon farmers will see that they are losing a lot of fertility value in manure by not converting it into something more stable like humus compost. And they can take care of odor issues at the same time.
“Typically, I want to see my nitrate be much higher in my finished compost than my NH4, which is ammonia. That tells me that we’re on the right track for making a quality product and that’s essentially stabilizing nitrogen rather than nitrogen attaching to hydrogen. We want to attach it to oxygen and that stabilizes it, but then also the next step of that is to buffer it with humic acid — the long-chain polymer carbon of humus — which will hold that nitrogen in the soil stable where it’s not going to leach and won’t volatilize into the air.”
In short, with this process Jason is able to keep 96 percent of the nutrients in the root zone, whereas with manure 60 percent of nutrients are leached or escape as odor.
The 10-week process is straightforward. First, manure, feathers and some brown material (ground wood) are combined. During the next two weeks they turn the row every day, except Sunday. The following weeks they reduce the number of turns with a total of 20 to 30 turns during the life cycle of the row.
“We decide whether we’re going to turn a row based on the temperature, CO2 and moisture,” says Jason. “We have critical control limits on each of those areas and if they fall out of the limit, then basically there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”
For example, if the compost goes over 140 F, it could hurt some of the beneficial microbes, so they will quickly turn the row. And if the carbon dioxode is above 10 percent then they know that half of the oxygen is used. “If I’m testing every day, and half of the oxygen is used, then I turn so I don’t use up all my oxygen to keep everything aerobic.”
Two employees work full time on the compost. They use a digital temperature probe as well as a standard dial temperature probe to track the temperature. They also use a carbon dioxide meter, but haven’t found a good moisture meter yet and test by hand. If it feels like a sponge, but you can’t get a drop of water out of it, it’s at about 45 percent moisture.
All the manure and the feathers from the processing come to the centrally located, 15-acre composting site. Fall and spring are normally the busier time, but the Diestels compost year round. The final product is OMRI listed and the company is also a U.S. Composting Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance (SAT) member.
Selling the product
The farm uses a small portion of the compost on its pastures, but the majority is sold.
“We deliver small quantities and we work with other guys to haul it,” says Jason. “We’ve had a lot of success in the gardens, backyard farming, and with community supported agriculture (CSA) farmers. Also large commercial nurseries are including it in their blend because they’re seeing some noticeable benefit.
Getting those first sales wasn’t easy though.
When I first started going out, nobody had heard of me, the product or what we were doing. I just kept lining up all these contacts and saying, “Hey, I’m still here, and I’ve got stuff that works.”
“It was about a year before I sold them some product,” says Jason. “Fortunately, I was young and I didn’t really know what it meant to get a product off the ground.”
While Jason was building up a customer base, compost was building up at the farm. Diestels made arrangements with larger farmers to take the compost.
“We actually got a little business out of that,” says Jason. “They saw that it was different and it changed the soil in a better way than manure did.”
Quality compost requires a diligent site manager who is going to make the critical calls every single day. It also requires investing in the right equipment. “The efficiency gained by being able to handle material efficiently is well worth it and we went along for a while trying to avoid that reality,” says Jason.
Jason expects it won’t be long before people see how compost can make a big difference and become more willing to make the investment in our soil.
“The most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced was seeing this concept working – one that 99 percent of folks have no idea is out there. It’s an incredible technology.
“I think that in our culture, we have a very mechanical view of the world. If the wheel bearing goes out on your car, you can wait a year or two years. It’s still going to be broken; it’s a mechanical organism. Our farms and our manure and our composting systems aren’t mechanical organisms – they’re biological organisms, which means that they are self healing when the right conditions are available. Farmers understand this process. It’s exciting to have people come back to me who are using the compost and have them say: “I reduced my water usage by 25 percent and I doubled my yield!”
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