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Mass mortality planning

By David Cook, M.Sc., P.Eng., Regional Engineer, Saskatoon

February 2019

Planning for a mass mortality event may seem counterintuitive, since no one plans to lose their livestock, but mortality losses occur on a regular basis on any livestock operation. As the saying goes, if you have livestock, you will have deadstock.

Mortality losses are usually small in number, such as losing a few calves during calving season. These day-to-day losses can be managed as they occur easily enough. However, livestock operations have the potential to experience extreme or total loss of their livestock population. This scenario can be much more difficult to manage if there is not a mass mortality plan in place.

There have been infrequent occurrences of barn fires in Saskatchewan in recent years, causing entire livestock populations to perish. The cause of these barn fires are often ascribed to electrical failures. Diseases such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, Bird Flu or Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea could also cause significant or even total loss. These types of events create a significant waste stream that must be managed appropriately and in a timely manner.

The key is to be prepared for this type of event. Livestock producers can expect to experience significant stress during a mass mortality event. Having fire insurance will assist in repairing or replacing the barn, and livestock insurance and PDAP programs may be available to assist in the event of flooding or extreme weather events. Having a predetermined mass mortality plan may further reduce the stress level that producers experience and will allow mortalities to be managed quickly. A quick response will reduce nuisance and prevent the spread of disease, ensuring water resources are not harmed.

Mortality management plans are required as part of an application for approval for an intensive livestock operation under The Agricultural Operations Act (the Act). Whether or not your operation requires approval under the Act, it is still prudent to have mortality management plans in place. Mortality management plans typically will include rendering, composting, burial or incineration.

Rendering is only available for swine and poultry. In the case of a barn fire, rendering is usually not an option due to the condition of the carcasses. Composting in-barn is a suitable option within the poultry industry. This would be most applicable to a disease occurrence so that the disease can be contained and the inside of the barn can be cleaned and sanitized after the composting process is complete. Composting is not usually practical as a mass mortality plan for medium to large livestock species; burial is the best option if the geological conditions are suitable. 

A containment system can be designed for environmentally sensitive sites. This would typically include a synthetic or clay-lined containment system that is partially or fully underground. Funding may be available for developing mortality management plans through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP). Details about available funding and the application form can be found on our Beneficial Management Practices information page.

Having a predetermined mass mortality plan will prevent problems and improve recovery time. Please contact your Regional Agricultural Operations Engineer if you have questions or need assistance.

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