dead animal disposal
Dead Animal Disposal

Iowa regulations require that dead livestock be disposed of as soon as reasonably possible by rendering, incinerating, burying, or composting. “Reasonably possible” is generally considered to be within 24 hours of death.


Options for Disposal of Dead Animals

If the facility is not on a regular route, the producer should contact the rendering service as soon as possible to arrange for pickup of any dead animals. Though a dumpster or “dead box” is not required, they are recommended to help prevent runoff and scavenging.

Contact your local sanitary landfill to determine if they accept dead livestock.

Dead livestock may be incinerated in an engineered incinerator. Homemade incinerators may not be used. Open burning of dead livestock is not permitted.

Composting must be done on an all-weather surface of compacted soil or granular aggregates, asphalt, concrete, or other similarly impermeable material. Though not mandatory, a roof over the compost structure is recommended to prevent excess moisture accumulations and runoff. Dead animals must be incorporated into the compost pile and completely covered within 24 hours of death.

Maintain a base layer 12-24 inches thick, depending on the size and number of dead animals. Use 6-12 inches of bulking agent between carcasses and an additional 12 inches of cover material to reduce leachate, odors, and scavenging. Measures should be taken to prevent water from running into the pile and prevent leachate from leaving the composting facility. Limit storage of finished compost to 18 months, and land apply finished compost to cropland in a manner that minimizes runoff.

Required Separation Distances:

  • 500 feet from an inhabited residence.
  • 200 feet from public wells.
  • 100 feet from private wells.
  • 50 feet from property lines.
  • 100 feet from flowing or intermittent streams, lakes or ponds.
  • Outside of wetlands.
  • Outside 100-year flood plain.
Further guidance on composting is available from Iowa State University Extension & Outreach.

Burial of dead livestock is permitted only on the premises where they originated. Burial pits must be no greater than 6 feet deep. The carcasses must be immediately covered with a minimum of 6 inches of soil and finally covered with a minimum of 30 inches of soil. Burial must be in well drained soils and be at least 2 feet above the highest groundwater elevation.

Burial shall not exceed the following limitations per acre per year:

  • 44 butcher or breeding hogs
  • 7 slaughter or feeding cattle
  • 73 sheep or lambs
  • 400 poultry carcasses
  • 2 carcasses for other species
  • Animals that die within two months of birth can be buried without regard to number.

Required Separation Distances:

  • 500 feet from an inhabited residence.
  • 200 feet from public wells.
  • 100 feet from private wells.
  • 50 feet from property lines.
  • 100 feet from surface water (flowing or intermittent streams, lakes or ponds).
  • Outside of wetlands, floodplains, and shoreline areas.
To determine if an area is suitable for burial of livestock, use our online mapping tool for Burial Zone Siting. Ensure that the Regulatory layer is turned on, which will show any areas were burial is prohibited. The Advisory layer shows areas of high, medium, and low risk for burial.

Standard burial trench design:
burial graphic


Mass Mortality Events

Most of the disposal methods listed can also be used for mass mortality incidents.

Depending on the circumstances of the incident, the producer may find it necessary to request a temporary waiver or variance from specific rules (e.g. the limitation on number of animals that can be buried per acre). Contact your local DNR Field Office for further assistance.

See the Disaster Assistance page for additional information regarding responding to foreign animal disease outbreaks.