Contemplation On A Dead Chicken



A neighbor showed me a neat way to get rid of dead animals which I think we mentioned here some time ago. He buries a dead old hen in a pile of horse manure and in a few months, voila!, it disappears, bones and all. I imagine this works better with horse manure than most other kinds because it heats up faster and hotter. I almost burned our barn down in my more ignorant years when I made a big pile of horse manure right in the horse stall.

Composting dead animals as well as manure has become a standard practice on farms and works fairly well. But as you can surmise, the more animals involved, the more problematical the process becomes. Last year, when avian flu struck and millions of turkeys and chickens had to be disposed of, what a horrid mess that meant. When I think about it, I return again to my dismay over the tendency to increase the size of farm operations unendingly. The reason for doing so is to increase profits of course or mostly to keep up with costs. Industrial economics can’t work any other way. Production must be increased steadily, or the system won’t work.

There are four ways to get rid of several million dead chickens. 1. Burn them. This is very expensive and it’s hard to find an incinerator of sufficient capacity. 2. Bury them. But many areas where big chicken farms are located in areas that have high water tables which means possible ground water contamination. 3. Landfill them. But that means risking the spreading of the disease to other areas during transportation.

So that leaves composting as the best alternative and it is not usually being done with speedy horse manure . Composting is a very expensive proposition when lots of animals are involved. To compost 150,000 chickens properly requires a mound of sawdust, woodchips or other carbon-rich amendments seven feet high by 100 feet wide and 100 feet long with the dead chickens sandwiched in the middle, says  this article I am reading from. And profit-eating time, of course. If you have to try to compost several million chickens you can imagine what a colossal undertaking would be involved, and I daresay that no matter what the composting experts say, it would stink to high heaven.

Can any biological operation like producing chickens and eggs be truly profitable in an industrial manufacturing process? The evidence against the “industry” seems to me almost absolute. All the subsidies governments hand out to farmers trying to do it the industrial way seem to provide proof.  Composting manure in chicken factories is very costly and then the compost must be transported to farm fields far away. Just one cost that is not counted into the operation is the upkeep of country roads that the trucks full of compost tear up on the way to farm fields. The county has to do that.

Many statistics undermine the profit claims of industrial agriculture. I read that we are using about two dollars worth of petroleum based inputs to produce four dollars worth of crops. In 1930 we used one barrel of oil to extract 100. In 2013, one barrel extracted 11. Two calories of fossil fuel energy are used to produce one food calorie. I read that if all costs are counted in, it takes 10 to 12 calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food on our plates. A study done in 1930 in China claimed that for one calorie invested, farmers harvested more than 40. I suppose industrial agriculture can supply countervailing statistics but surely all this points to something going haywire in our industrial food philosophy.

The profit per egg from a big egg factory is a tiny fraction of a penny. I sell a few eggs for a dollar a dozen and not only think of  that as almost pure profit, but as increasing the value of the land and the exercise I employ doing what little work is involved. More significantly, tens of thousands of small flocks of hens, as part of tens of thousands of small farms’ production, can produce organic eggs at at least three cents worth of profit, I’m sure. And provides more market stability and food security than factory eggs. Can industrialists ever face up to the notion that they just might be wrong about food production? Or could I ever face up to the notion that I might be wrong? And life goes on.


Here is some solid information on dead livestock composting.

Goat Mortality Composting

Mortality Composting Resources for Extension and Conservation Educators: Teaching the Benefits and Opportunities to Producers

Gene, I have composted two Percherons several cows, two saddle horses untold chickens and many piles of offal and I am never having any problems with odors or flies. I believe that the manure helps the whole breakdown process and the animal protein helps the manure break down better too. I will tell you it is much easier than borrowing someones backhoe every time something dies. If I had my druthers they could do the same for me when my time comes!

Madalyn : I try to answer all queries on my blog, but I am leery about saying much on a situation where I do not live or know anything first hand. I have admired the authorities for moving slowly on this issue. I think most problems could be cleared up without violence if everyone would be calmer. I think you are right that this is really about the age old question of who owns the land. Not to toot my own horn, but I have an article in the winter issue of the current Draft Horse Journal entitled “Who Really Owns The Land”, not about the Oregon thing but just from the standpoint of farming in general. Might be helpful for you. Gene

I have it on good authority (my Russian friend) that Russian “dachniks”, who live in cities and go out to their dachas on weekends and vacations, raise enough vegetables and fruits on their tiny plots to feed their families all year long, organically and without the need for large farm machines. They reportedly number in the millions and grow more produce than the whole commercial agriculture apparatus all told.

Of course, theirs is a culture accustomed to scarcity and survival through tough times. Let us hope that Americans can learn from that example and turn many of those urban lots and suburban lawns into gardens to feed their families.

The amount of land required to feed the industrialised animal production is the same as for pasture raised. It is just that the two operations are separated, usually by many, many miles. Subsidies also keep industrialised farmed products cheap, which could instead be used to subsidise people’s incomes.

Another aspect is that by taking animals out of the rotation on arable land the soil (dirt) structure has deteriorated and is of serious concern to soil scientists. This does not bode well for future production of crops

Matthew Hillebrand January 8, 2016 at 7:01 pm

In 1950, 12% of the population were farmers

Stanton, I too am hopeful. Everywhere you turn people are talking about small-scale farming. There is a whole, growing movement that is just by-passing Agribusiness and getting it done little by little.

Sometimes I feel like many things are buried in deep sh**t these days (Pardon my French), let’s hope they can compost as nicely as those dead chickens.
Interesting post, thank you.

Daddio I must respectfully disagree. We do not “need” (i.e. something that is required or essential) most things from a factory. What we need is food, shelter, and clothing. When most people talk about affordable food they are really talking about cheap food. I would suggest that cheap food is much more costly in the long run when you consider the health care costs of chronic diseases associated/caused by cheap food. Fairly priced good quality food from small farms will be much more affordable in the long run.

As to the concerns for little profit in small scale farming at least there is profit! Without all of the subsidies and government pay outs (i.e. social welfare) to “normal” farmer large scale farming is extremely unprofitable. Also if more people were working on small farms unemployment (and all of the social costs associated with unemployment) would be greatly reduced. Talk about a win win win situation!

Finally to the amount of land required to feed people There are urban gardens and farms popping up everywhere. If everyone who has a lawn (even quarter acre lot) grew a garden and sold, shared, or preserved what they grew; the bounty of food would be tremendous. The key to filling the land with souls who have the strength to feed the world is to get young people involved in small farm sustainable agriculture. That responsibility falls squarely on all of our shoulders. I for one am incredibly excited about the future and what it holds for all of us!

Gene, if you face up to the notion that you are wrong be prepared to accept that you might be wrong about being wrong. Remember that even the Pope is not really infallible (only my mother was).

As some author wrote a while back, the power of manure is legend and is a holy thing. Your essay this week brought back the memory of a Mo’ Earth News photo from way back. It showed a manure based compost pile that was some 15′ round and high with a pipe coil in it to supply the hot water for the pile’s tender. Now that’s some hot shit!

Stay warm and enjoy the wintry scenes through a window pane while dining on home raised eggs.

I tried it once with mixed success, Let me explain: while I”ve seen it work on a dairy farm, in my own experience predatory critters seem to be unable to resist the smell of a decomposing animal which smell might be undetectable emanating from a compost pile to our human noses but the predators can find with ease. They have the bad manners to leave exposed whatever carcass parts they don’t consume immediately which leads almost back to square one: what to do with rotting, stinking carcasses.

I even received one complaint from a neighbor to a dairy farm that her dogs were digging cow parts from the dairy compost pile and bringing them into her yard. The obvious response, in my opinion, would be to keep her dogs in her own yard. The second most obvious response is: if one chooses to compost deadstock critters, keep predators away that can dig up carcass parts.. n my case I’ve a dog with strong jaws and teeth that won’t really eat a critter until he considers it properly aged, whether buried in dirt or a compost pile, then he’ll dig it out then consume it all with gusto, which does wonders for his breath, skin and the smell of dare I say it DOG FARTS. Oh the joys of country living!!!.

Last April a Western NY a women tried this with her deceased husband. He didn’t decompose quite fast enough according to the police.

Hello. Im curious to know if you have comments to share on the Oregon rancher standoff. I host a radio program in my town and Im on the air this Monday. I have been hearing a lot about the Bundy family and their activities and the race issues, but I think the real news are issues with land use, subsidies, possession 9/10 of the law, etc. Thank you for your time. Respectfully, Madalyn

Madalyn Warren t. 607-326-6177

Gene: Glad to see you promoting using manure to compost deadstock (“if you have livestock you will have deadstock”) I tried for years to compost our offal from butchering, mortality, etc. with sawdust, woodchips and just about any other carbon source I could find. Despite the compost gurus assuring us that a 25:1 ratio would compost most efficiently it doesn’t seem to work with biologicals. Maybe something to do with the microbes in the manure.

Well Gene, you are probably wrong. We need factory food farms for the same reason we need factories for everything else, hundreds of millions of people need things and food delivered to them at an affordable price. We can no more survive eating food produced on small organic farms than we could give everyone a hand crafted automobile.

There is little profit in small scale farming. In 1950 half the population was involved in agriculture. Have you calculated how many sq ft each of your chickens has use of and how many man hours it takes to tend each chicken and collect each egg? Multiply that by 300 million. How much to rent that much land and hire enough people to produce eggs that way?

Personally while I have plenty of land to run chickens and grow my own food I do not have the strength to do so and millions of people do not have land or strength. I see where animal welfare laws have caused eggs to increase in price by $.20 each! For now factory farms are the only way to feed us. To do it in any way close to sustainability will require most of the population to relocate onto or near a farm. Luckily you and me are already there but most will not feel lucky to join us.

I grew up on a chicken farm . My mother would throw the dead in a buried old bin that used to be a feeder. It stank really bad when you walked by it. Later during a heat wave thousands of birds died and were hauled to the dump not only my her but hundreds of other commercial farms…. some were fed to hogs . These days the manure often full of mumified carcasses are hauled to a local factory where they are heated powdered and turned into”organic ” fertilizer. What a joke!!!!! I never buy fertilizer. I keep horses chickens and rabbits and make my own . I sure don’t sell eggs for $1/dz. I have to buy organic feed and country my lalor buiding pens and pasture I get $6.00/dz for them . My food is not cheap either . I charge min. wage for my time.

The buzzards take care of things here. It takes them only 2 or 3 days to clean up a deer carcass, so a dispatched coon or possum and the chickens they have killed are gone in minutes. Don’t tell anyone, but I haul my “deadstock” out to the end of the drive when nobody’s looking. It just looks like roadkill for a little bit till the buzzards clean it up. Of course this would not work on a grand, industrial scale–that would be real horror movie fodder.

I’ve heard about composting “deadstock” in manure before, i’ve heard it favorably compared to composting in just cover material like woodchips or hay. But on a pastured farm, don’t the animals spread the manure everywhere? Although I hope to have a farm someday, I’ve never had experience with one yet, so please forgive me if the answer is obvious, but it seems silly to me to go out and collect animal manure from the pastures just to compost “deadstock”?

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