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Fewer Takers of Livestock That Become Deadstock

Rendering plants get more selective with animal disposal.

Remember the olden days when you had a farm animal die and you placed it at the end of the lane for the rendering plant to pick it up?

Things have changed in the deadstock collection business. Renderers, for solid business reasons, are getting pickier about which dead animals they will pick up.

For instance, recently a southern Iowa cow/calf operator, choosing anonymity, contacted a rendering plant to pick up a bull that had died.

The cow/calf operator was told that the pick-up service is no longer available and that he’d need to bury the dead animal, deliver it to a processing plant – one that, in this case, was nearly three hours away – or take it to the local landfill.

The first thing that went through the livestocker’s mind was the exchange that might occur with the local landfill office clerk.

Landfill office clerk: OK, sir, I have your load weighed. Now what did you bring in today? Appliances, old tires, sheet metal, yard waste, or tree brush?

Cattleman: No, just a bull.

Landfill office clerk: I’m sorry, did you say that you have cans of Red Bull?

Cattleman: No, I said a bull! A dead bull.

As one can imagine, the exchange could get awkward, at least, and some might even think highly ridiculous.

Deadstock collection issues stretch from Iowa to Wyoming and into California, industry experts say.

To be sure, livestock confinement operations and cattle feedlot operators do not face this deadstock collection dilemma. Those types of operations have regular visits from a rendering service.

It’s mainly those cow/calf, hog, and horse farmers who only need periodic service and may not be able to completely verify the cause of the animal’s death.

SupremeFarm, a member of Agriculture.com’s Cattle Talk discussion group, runs cattle in northern Texas. “If one of our bovines dies for an unknown reason and we are concerned it could be the start of a herd health issue, we will haul it to a vet, have it posted, and pay the vet the posting and disposal fees. Otherwise, we bury the dead bovines – if we get to them before the coyotes finish dinner.”

BSE Changed Everything

There are several reasons why rendering services have changed a lot in the last decade, according to David Meeker, senior vice president of the National Renderers Association (NRA).

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the neurological disorder of cattle that results from infection by an unusual transmissible agent called a prion, sparked the first major change in the rendering of animals.

“We had a couple cases of it 15 years ago. And that led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the animal feeding rules,” Meeker says.

Rendered products have many uses, but the main use is to recycle proteins and fats back into animal feed including pet food.

The rule change that occurred 15 years ago involved not allowing these materials to be fed back into livestock feed, particularly for ruminant animals, because that was the root cause of BSE.

“So, the FDA ruled that any deadstock bovine animal a renderer would pick up that was 30 months old or older would have to have the brain and spinal cord removed first,” Meeker says. This has to happen before you can render the rest of the animal.

Additionally, the carcass must be in good condition to undergo the removal process, according to the University of Nebraska Extension. “Deteriorated carcasses will likely be rejected,” the UN Extension noted in a white paper titled “Disposal Methods of Livestock and Poultry Mortality.”

Unprofitable Business

Deadstock makes up only 5% of all the raw materials that get rendered. Rendering plants use all materials that are not used for human food consumption.

“The vast majority of rendered materials taken from the slaughter meat animals include offal, bones, blood, and trim: None of this is normally used as human food,” Meeker says.

Another reason there are fewer rendering options for livestock farmers involves industry consolidation.

“We’ve had consolidation in our industry, just like farming, car dealerships, and everything else. So, there are fewer companies doing all of the work. And they (renderers) are traveling longer distances to do their work.”

Meeker adds, “The profitability on deadstock was marginal at best. Now, rendering companies have to charge for the picking up of the animal and the disassembly of the animal required by the FDA.”

In fact, some renderers have exited the business because deadstock collection has gotten to be more hassle than it was worth, the NRA leader says.

New Rules and Even Less Service

In recent months, in addition to the economics and the BSE rule, now there is another reason that some dead cattle, but mainly dead horses, will be picked up much less often.

Pentobarbital, a drug used for euthanizing horses and pets, has been found in pet food.

“As a result, many of our renderers that would have picked up an occasional horse probably won’t. They might pick it up if it was put down by gunshot or some other method not related to drugs. But the industry can’t afford to have drugs like pentobarbital in the rendering system. I’ve heard that some cattle are put down with this drug, too,” Meeker says.

Between pet food demands, food safety demands, and the care that is being required with raw animal materials, the sad fact is that farmers are getting less rendering service.

Still Some Service

There are a few companies that still offer deadstock collection.

Agriculture.com reached out for comments to rendering companies such as Darling Ingredients, Sanimax Corporation, and Farmers Union Industries, LLC. The companies have not responded to our request for comments. 

Searching For More Uses

Research is being done for different uses for proteins, including fertilizer use and other outlets, Meeker says.

“If we can develop some other markets for these rendering companies, we can get services like deadstock collection back in gear,” Meeker says.

Some companies do have a service that will pick up the deadstock and take it to the landfill.

“But the price of that gets insulting when you have already lost a bull,” Meeker says. “I used to be a farmer, so I understand.”

It’s important to note that not all landfills accept dead animals.

“It depends on the landfill. Some counties have different groundwater regulations than others in different states. So, it’s highly variable.”

Rendering Industry Supports Agriculture

The rendering industry is helping agriculture be a sustainable business, Meeker says.

If you use all of the animal-rendered by-products for something useful, it is a lot better than just sending it all to the landfill in that dead animal.

“Nearly 50% of every animal slaughtered for food is not considered food in our society,” Meeker says. “Whether it be turkey, chicken, pigs, or cattle, that portion, through rendering, is put to very good use. We need to protect that fact, despite having fewer rendering services at the farm location.”

State Burying Laws

According to the Iowa law, the maximum number of dead animals that can be buried on 1 acre in one year are: seven cattle, slaughter or feeder; 44 swine, butcher or breeding; and 73 sheep or lambs.

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