An animal mortality compost pile at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center.
Photo Credit:
Mary Keena

Hope, Resilience and Animal Mortality Disposal

Authored on

As an animal owner, mortality disposal isn’t always something you want to think about or plan for. You much prefer to care for them alive than plan for what to do if they die. While routine mortalities are a little easier to deal with, it’s the mass mortalities that can catch you off guard.

Mass mortalities can occur for a number of reasons including diseases, weather related deaths or poisoning due to consumption. This year, in North Dakota, we unfortunately experienced all three of these instances. There were mass mortalities due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, the late spring blizzard, freezing rain and flooding events and from blue-green algae poisoning during the summer.

I’m writing this on December 12, 2022, and the freezing drizzle has given way to snow in the James River Valley. Now we await accumulation and wind. With calving and lambing right around the corner for many of you, and Mother Nature proving to be unforgiving this year even before winter has officially started, I want to share a few resource reminders concerning livestock mortality disposal.

  1. If you need to talk to someone about stress management or mental health call 2-1-1 anytime. More information on North Dakota First Link can be found here:
  2. Livestock disaster mortality disposal methods can be found in this video: Please note, these methods work for both routine mortalities as well as mass mortality situations.
  3. 4 Easy Steps for Composting Dead Livestock publication:
  4. You can always contact me ( or 701-652-2951) or your local Extension agent ( with mortality disposal questions.

After a year of helping animal owners deal with both routine and mass livestock mortalities, I assure you, I am ready to say goodbye to 2022. I coached many of you and your advisors through how to deal with uncharacteristic animal deaths that were out of your hands. I watched grown men cry in their payloaders while composting their animals and put my sunglasses on in an attempt to disguise my own tears. I watched emotion run across teenagers’ faces as they tried to make sense of the fact that while they very clearly understand that sometimes animals die, the situations this year seemed incomprehensible.

In October, I saw a social media post that said, “regardless of outcome,” and that phrase has stuck with me. Aside from the boots-on-the-ground lessons I learned this year about mass livestock mortality disposal, I was also reminded of the resilience and hope of our animal owners in the state. Regardless of outcome, you will warm that calf in the bathtub. Regardless of outcome, you will doctor that ewe. Regardless of outcome, you will raise another turn of birds. Regardless of outcome, you will continue raising animals. And this resilience goes far beyond a profit margin.

So, to our North Dakota animal owners, thank you for the lessons in 2022 and the hope I now carry into 2023.

Mary Keena
Extension Specialist/Livestock Environmental Management