Horse Health

After the End

August 5, 2010

Disposing of a deceased horse is not easy or inexpensive.

Even at the difficult time of your horse's death, to be a responsible horse owner means to dispose of the body in an environmentally friendly manner.

By Becky Newell in America’s Horse magazine

When people talk about being responsible horse owners, the disposal of a deceased horse is the segment of “Horse 101” that we like to think will never happen. But what can you do with the 1,200-pound body of your deceased equine loved one?

  • Cremation: Cremation is one of the most biosecure methods of carcass disposal. It can cost between $600 and $2,000, depending on the area of the country and the price of propane.
  • Backyard Burial: Individual carcass burial regulations vary from state to state. In general, you’re required to cover the body in three to four feet of dirt. Many states mandate that the burial site be at least 100 yards from wells and streams. With horses, you’ll typically need a trench that’s seven feet wide and nine feet deep. This requires the services of a backhoe, which can range from $250 to $500.

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  • Local Landfill: The local landfill is an alternative to burial on private land in some states. It can cost between $80 to $150. However, not all municipal landfills accept horse carcasses. Some do not accept horses that have been euthanized with an injectable drug. Euthanizing drugs are super concentrations of anesthetic agents. They render the horse unconscious, stopping its breathing and also its heart. The horse’s body tissues, especially the internal organs, then contain high concentrations of the drug and can cause death in any wild or domestic animal that feeds on the carcass.
  • Pet Cemetery: There are about 600 operating pet cemeteries, according to the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories’ website. Many pet cemeteries also offer grief counseling. Cost of the burial service varies, depending on the state and the level of services provided.
  • Helping Science: Another option is to donate the deceased horse to veterinary research so that more information can be learned from the horse’s condition.
  • Composting: Composting is defined as controlled, sanitary decomposition of organic materials by bacteria. When mixed with the right amount of vegetative material and moisture, it can take nine to 10 months to compost an intact horse carcass – bones and all. When properly performed, composting is safe and produces an end product that is a fairly odorless, spongy and humus-like substance that can be used as a soil supplement.

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  • Rendering: Rendering involves cooking the carcass to destroy pathogens. Renderers that accept horse carcasses will generally pick up the animals. They charge between $75 and $250 for their services. However, there are only rendering plants in roughly 50 percent of the United States, and their numbers are declining.
  • Biodigester: Another cooking process uses a biodigester, a giant pressure-cooker-like machine, to turn a horse carcass into a pathogen-free, liquid solution of small peptides, amino acids, sugars, soaps and powdered bone. Many veterinary colleges and universities have biodigesters. Because the remains are sterile and pose no risk to the environment, they can be taken to the local landfill. Costs vary from a couple hundred dollars if you include the carcass with other animals being disposed of to $1,000 if you want your horse processed by itself so you can have the remains returned to you in an urn.

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