The rules currently in force within the Member States of the European Union do not allow composting as a method of disposal for dead pigs on farm. This contrasts with the situation in countries such as the US and Canada, where cadavers are commonly converted to compost.

Perhaps it is time for Europe to reconsider, suggests Ciaran Carroll, of the Moorpark pig unit, run by the Republic of Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority, (Teagasc).

He believes that there is a case for undertaking further research into the option of composting, as the cost of dead pig disposal has risen to a level where it is now a significant expense for all units.

On-farm composting reduces the biosecurity risk compared with allowing outside trucks onto the unit to collect dead pigs, he says. It is also beneficial in that it reduces the time that carcasses need to be kept on farm awaiting collection.

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“Composting uses organic by-products, for example dead pigs, straw or sawdust, and converts them into odourless, inoffensive, generally pathogen-free product that can be used as a soil amendment or organic fertilizer. It is very similar to composting garden waste. Bacteria, fungi, etc, feed on the organic substrates to produce carbon dioxide, water, minerals and a stabilized organic matter called humus.

The speed and efficiency of this aerobic process depends on the temperature, nutrients, moisture, availability of oxygen and particle size. A temperature greater than 55C is optimal.

“In North Carolina, US, research compost piles have consistently reached such temperatures, killing most of the Salmonella and all of the Erysipelas in broth cultures placed throughout the pile,” he adds.