Dispose of chicken carcasses properly so other members of the flock aren’t affected by possible diseases.
If a chicken in your flock dies unexpectedly, it’s important to take caution when disposing of its carcass. Do not just toss it someplace into the woods or a remote area of the farm; the chicken may have died of a disease, and if a wild animal or dog drags it onto another farm, the disease will be spread. A lot of large-scale producers take care to compost their animals or bury them deeply in a pit to contain any diseases. A backyard-flock owner must be just as diligent. There are several things you can do with the carcass.
Burying the chicken carcass is reasonable for most people. You must bury the carcass at least 2 feet deep so animals won’t dig it up. Cover it with powdered lime, which will promote decomposition and keep down odors so animals won’t smell it. It might not be feasible to bury a chicken if you have hard clay soil or if it’s winter and the ground is frozen. You can freeze the carcass and wait for a time when you can dig a hole. If you don’t have a freezer available and it’s winter, you can freeze it outside in an enclosed cooler until the ground softens. Don’t bury in sandy soils or near a septic tank, a well or a body of water, including livestock ponds, creeks, irrigation canals, aquacultural units or manure lagoons, where the decomposing chicken carcass can percolate into the water aquifier. And never dispose of a chicken carcass in a body of water because some organisms, like avian flu, last under water, especially cold water.
You can incinerate the chicken carcass on a bonfire, but it smells terrible. You can also contact your veterinarian to find out if he offers chicken-carcass pickup. In this case, you can pay to have it disposed of.
The easiest way may seem to be to put it in the trash, but it depends on your county rules regarding carcass disposal. If your county doesn’t say it’s forbidden, triple bag the chicken so none of the feathers will escape and blow out of the landfill. (Feathers can carry diseases, too.) You can also compost chickens the same way you compost organic matter, but you need enough moisture content and enough heat to be able to create breakdown. If you’re doing it right, it shouldn’t smell bad, but carcass composting can be an intensive undertaking for small-scale hobby farmers.
—Patricia Wakenell, DVM, PhD, associate professor of avian diagnostics/comparative pathobiology and co-head of Avian Diagnostics at Purdue University
About the Authors: Sharon Biggs Waller is an award-winning writer and author of Advanced English Riding (BowTie Press, 2007). She lives on a 10-acre hobby farm in northwest Indiana with her husband, Mark, 75 chickens, two Lamancha goats, two horses, and an assortment of cats and dogs. Dr. Lyle G. McNeal is a livestock specialist in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences at Utah State University.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of Hobby Farms.