Options for Managing Poultry Mortality

What do you do with your mortality? Let's talk about a few different methods for managing poultry mortality.
Options for Managing Poultry Mortality

One could argue that one of the biggest impacts of the antibiotic-free environment in poultry has been on mortality. When antibiotics were being used in the past, mortality rates were typically around 2–3%. In the antibiotic-free environment, it's common to see a mortality rate of anywhere from 8–12%.

Farmers have increased their density and have accepted that higher mortality. But the question remains: what do you do with all those dead birds? Poultry farmers have a few options.


1. Burial (not allowed)

We're mentioning burial here because it was widely used in the past and many farmers are familiar with it. But currently, it is outlawed in most cases.

Aside from a few farms that have been grandfathered in, burial is really not much of an option these days. Burial is an easy and cheap option, but comes with undesirable consequences that have led it to not be an option for most farmers.

2. Rendering/Freezing

Rendering is basically freezing mortality. This is pretty big in Alabama and some other areas. With rendering, you take your mortality, put it in a freezer and a service will come pick them up and they take them to the rendering facility.

Being able to use rendering for mortality requires you to have a rendering facility in your area. Now, if you've got a a processing plant in the area, it's likely there is also a rendering facility.

While convenient, rendering does have associated costs. You have to buy a freezer, pay for the power and, of course, pay for the service of picking up the birds and the rendering itself. Obviously in the summer, you're going to have to pay a little more to keep that freezer running. But, it's mostly dependent upon the service that will come out and pick up the frozen birds and take them on.

3. Incinerating

Incinerators have grown in popularity recently. You may wonder if incinerators raise environmental concern, but they are actually more eco-friendly than you may think. Incinerators basically burn the birds without making much smoke, and then you do have some byproducts you've got to deal with.

Now, what's the cost on that? Well, the incinerator is one expense. And depending on what size houses you have, you may need multiple incinerators or larger incinerators, so the price can vary widely depending on the farm. And an incinerator will require a gas bill, whether it's propane or natural gas.

4. Composting

Composting Drum

Composting drums have also gained popularity in the last few years. With a composting drum, you just feed in the mortality and it has a slow turning mechanism. The drum slowly turns and by the time it gets to the end, you've got a composted, broken down bird. Drums still create a byproduct that has to be dealt with.

With a composting drum, you have to pay for not just the drum, but a concrete slab, a roof for over the drum and then the electricity to run it. 

Compost Shed

The most common method for dealing with mortality is the compost shed. This includes stackhouses and standalone compost sheds. Check out our video on stackhouses for more details on how they work.

The NRCS will help subsidize some of the costs associated with building a stackhouse. You can qualify for grants, but they have to mandate how it's done. But even if you don't get any help, a compost shed can be a lot cheaper than some of the other options we've mentioned. The tradeoff is that it's a little more labor intensive; you are going to have to turn it and pile it. But overall, stackhouses are a little more economical.

New Option: Dehydration

There's also another option that's on the horizon but not widely used yet: dehydration.

Basically, these machines dehydrate the bird and grind it. You still have a byproduct and you still have to buy the machine, which is pretty pricey. But it's an interesting method and we're excited to see where this goes as an option for mortality.

Contact Us

We hope this helps you consider your different options for dealing with mortality. If you have any questions or ideas for future videos, reach out to me at allen@southlandorganics.com. To stay up to date on our content made just for poultry growers, subscribe to our Poultry Biosecurity YouTube channel.

About the Author

Allen Reynolds

Allen Reynolds

Poultry Sales Manager

This was written by Allen Reynolds, Southland Organics’ Poultry Sales Manager. Allen spent years working on poultry farms, from installing equipment to dumping chicks. He has been helping poultry farmers overcome obstacles since 2014, focusing on poultry farm strength in the antibiotic-free environment since 2017. He has traveled thousands of miles and worked closely with hundreds of farmers during his time with Southland Organics. Allen is known by even more farmers from the YouTube channel Poultry Biosecurity, where he regularly appears in videos that educate farmers on topics like bird health and farm business.

Learn more about Allen Reynolds

Isabella (Izy) Dobbins

Marketing Manager

This was edited by Isabella (Izy) Dobbins, Southland Organics' Marketing Manager. Izy has devoted her education and career to communicating science-related topics. With an enthusiasm for sharing accurate and honest content relating to science and agriculture, she ensures Southland Organics' publications are as informative as they are interesting. Izy graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's degree in advertising, minors in both Spanish and environmental health science and a Certificate in Sustainability. She has been working at Southland Organics since 2021.

Learn more about Izy Dobbins

Izy Dobbins
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