SDSU researchers test above-ground burial composting

While the first phase provided some useful data, Thaler says above ground burial won't be an easy feat for any commercial operation during an FAD outbreak.


Ann Hess, National Hog Farmer

Nov 08, 2019


South Dakota State University professor and Extension swine specialist Bob Thaler is currently working on a research project he hopes the U.S. pork industry never has to reference 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.


"We think we're safe with the borders of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but when you take a look at what's happened in the Philippines, East Timor, which is right by Australia, we can't guarantee that, so it's certainly a possibility," Thaler says. "When you think about it logistically, if it hits, the two big issues that we have to deal with is first how do we euthanize millions of animals in a humane way and then secondly, how do you dispose of those carcasses, where we are not contaminating the environment and increasing the spread of that."


During the SDSU Swine Day this week in Brookings, Thaler shared the latest updates on an above-ground burial research project a project that came to fruition after industry input at last year's Swine Day event. Above-ground burial composting involves digging a two-feet-deep trench, laying down 20 to 24 inches of organic matter, such as wood chips, and then placing the animal mortality on top of that and filling the trench with dirt. Previous research had been done in this area by Gary Flory at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, but nowhere near close to the climate and commercial conditions of the Midwest.


Thaler, along with Flory; John McMaine, assistant professor and SDSU Extension water management engineer; Amy Schmidt, assistant professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and Diego Diel, formerly at SDSU and now associate professor at Cornell University, began their 2 x 2 factorial design trial this past June to see how effectively the compost pit would work in a South Dakota summer and winter. Each pit was dug 8 feet wide, 60 feet long and 22 inches deep. For organic matter, they decided to test wood chips as well as corn stalks, since South Dakota and most states in the Midwest would more likely have an abundance of stalks than wood chips during an FAD outbreak.


Research parameters included carcass temperatures, water samples at 6, 18 and 36 inches for nitrates, bacteria and Seneca Valley virus, and visible carcass decomposition. Each of the three well poles that were placed in the pit to collect water were sealed with bentonite so no leaching could occur along the well pipe.


All 88 carcasses (44 carcasses per pit) for the research project were market weight pigs. Once the carcasses were placed in the pit, thermal probes were placed in six body cavities.


After much industry input, the researchers decided...