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When buying time runs out

SDSU Extension swine specialist outlines steps producers will need to take for proper burial, disposal.

Ann Hess

April 23, 2020

4 Min Read
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National Pork Board

Smithfield, Sioux Falls, S.D.; JBS, Worthington, Minn.; Tyson Fresh Meats, first in Columbus Junction, Iowa, then Waterloo, Iowa, and Logansport, Ind. — the list of pork processing facilities that have had to pause production at some point due to COVID-19 continues to increase each day. Each time a packing plant shuts down, the impact ripples through the pork supply chain from farrow to finish. For those producers who rely on those plants to market their hogs, buying time has never been more critical as they make every effort to avoid euthanasia.

"I think pork producers have done a really good job about doing everything they can to avoid having to do that," says Bob Thaler. "I mean they're double-stocking, they're holding the heavier weights, they're doing about everything they can. Packing plants have stepped up and helped move through some of that kill, but we're going to get to a point where that's not enough."

When that time comes to make difficult decisions, the South Dakota State University professor and Extension swine specialist says producers will need to work with two different entities. In South Dakota, the first call will need to be to Dustin Oedekoven, South Dakota state veterinarian.

"Before you dig a hole you need to contact Dr. Oedekoven's office at the Animal Industry Board so those plans can be approved because there are parameters about where they can be buried if you decide you want to go with the burial route," Thaler says. "Any plan for carcass disposal must first be approved by the South Dakota Animal Industry Board."

Thaler, who has been conducting an above-ground burial research project at SDSU, says that could be an efficient option for producers. Thaler's research team began the project last June to address how to effectively dispose of carcasses infected with a foreign animal disease from a commercial swine production unit without contaminating the environment and further spreading the disease. The process involves digging a two-foot deep trench, laying down 20 to 24 inches of organic matter, such as corn stalks, and then placing the animal mortality on top of that and filling the trench with dirt. 

However, he says there are a lot of different ways to do composting. In Minnesota, research has been done with grinding the carcasses with a mixture of either cornstalks or wood chips and that has also been effective. While rendering may be an option now, Thaler cautions that industry may soon be overwhelmed, and incineration is most likely not going to be an option.

The second entity SDSU Extension urges producers to contact is their county National Resources Conservation Service. Thaler says there could be some funds available, such as Environmental Quality Incentives Program dollars, for carcass disposal, but the rates will differ depending on if the producer goes with burial, composting, incineration or landfill.

Regardless which burial method producers choose, Thaler says before producers take any of these actions, they need to work with their veterinarian.

"When you have a large number of animals that have to be euthanized, other things come into consideration, so obviously your herd health professional, your veterinarian should be the first one you would reach out to," Thaler says. "I would also suggest reaching out to the National Pork Board. They're a great resource when it comes to a lot of things like that — in every one of those decisions animal wellbeing has to be at the forefront."

Thaler, who started his career in 1988 and has seen his share of downturns in the pork industry, says this experience is much worse, as it impacts producers both financially and emotionally. He has already fielded several calls from producers about those difficult decisions that may lie ahead.

"You can tell that's in the back of their mind, and they want someone to talk to, and so I think the emotional and mental strain of having to euthanize animals that you've cared for their entire lives is going to be much worse than the financial burden," Thaler says. "Again, mass euthanasia is certainly going to be the very, very last resort. Producers are going to do everything they can to prevent that, but when that finally happens, it will be the very last option they have available to them. We need to keep those people in our thoughts and prayers, and to reach out to our friends and neighbors who are going through this situation. It's going to be very difficult for a lot of people."

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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