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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Deadstock Removal Program continues in the Waterton Biosphere Reserve

Deadstock bin

Dr. Andrea Morehouse, Science and Stewardship Coordinator for the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association -
 Southwest Alberta is ranch country, and many people in this corner of the province make their living from raising cattle. The unfortunate reality is that when you have livestock, you have deadstock. Natural losses of livestock are unavoidable. In the “old days” carcasses were often left on the rancher’s property to decompose, sometimes in an on- farm designated area or “boneyard.” Once a rendering service became available, more ranchers used these companies which removed deadstock from ranches free of charge because the carcasses held commercial value to the rendering company. Things changed, however, with the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canadian cattle in 2003.

Post-BSE changes to regulations now require separate disposal of specified risk material (SRM), tissues that are capable of transmitting BSE. This has increased costs for carcass rendering companies and livestock producers are now charged for carcass removal. Current costs of deadstock pickup by the rendering company are $0.14 per pound with a minimum charge of $120. These charges are often prohibitive to producers, which has resulted in an increase in on-farm disposal of deadstock. Although the use of on- farm carcass dumps or “boneyards” is a legal disposal option under the Alberta Animal Health Act, deadstock can be an attractant for bears as well as cougars and wolves – particularly during the spring calving season.

To eliminate this attractant, the Waterton Biosphere Reserve’s (WBR) Deadstock Removal Program was designed to remove livestock carcasses from the landscape. The program is part of WBR’s Carnivores and Communities Program (CACP), which works to help landowners find ways to mitigate the conflicts that can arise when people and carnivores share the landscape. Building on previous efforts, WBR’s Deadstock Removal Program has grown to include free deadstock pickup for producers within our designated large carnivore area, which includes over 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) in the municipalities of Cardston, Pincher Creek, Ranchland, and Willow Creek. Since the program began in 2009, over 3,100 carcasses have been removed.

WBR Deadstock Removal Program area

The deadstock program is different in each of the four municipalities, but funds from CACP supporters are used to ensure that deadstock removal fees are covered for producers that live within the large carnivore area. The municipalities help with administration of the program, the dispersal of funds, and bin maintenance. On-farm pickup by a rendering company is available in all four municipalities; in Pincher Creek and Cardston, there are also twelve bear- proof steel bins where producers can drop off their deadstock, particularly calves. The bins are placed on private property or road allowances and are maintained on a regular basis by volunteer landowners and/or the municipality. Landowners that have signed up to participate place deadstock in the bins (in accordance with Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) procedures) and the bins are emptied by a rendering company as required. Cattle, horses, mules, and bison are accepted by the program; sheep, llamas, and goats are not accepted.

On average from 2013-2016, this program cost the WBR approximately $41,202 per year. For that same time period, the average number of carcasses removed per year was 247 in the M.D. of Pincher Creek, 300 in Cardston County, 31 in the M.D. of Ranchland, and 14 in the M.D. of Willow Creek. It should be noted, however, that rendering company fees increased substantially in 2015, and the Deadstock Removal Program cost approximately $52,300 in 2016. The funding for the deadstock bins and rendering company fees currently comes primarily from a grant from Alberta Environment and Parks, but other funders have included Environment and Climate Change Canada, Shell Fuelling Change, Nature Conservancy of Canada, and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

Relying on funding agencies, however, to provide support for deadstock removal can be challenging. WBR has explored options for decreasing the cost of deadstock removal and believes composting of carcasses can be an efficient and cost- effective option. In 2012, Cardston County partnered with Alberta Environment and Parks and Growing Forward to build a carcass composting facility; the first municipal deadstock composting facility in Canada. The facility is modelled after a successful carcass composting facility managed by the Blackfoot Challenge in Montana as part of their carnivore attractant reduction program.

In January 2013, Cardston County started to compost cattle. A Cardston County staff member collected animals from the deadstock bins as well as provided on-farm pickup of carcasses when called. In 2013, a total of 444 carcasses were composted. In 2014, a total of 407 carcasses were composted, but the compost facility operated for only 4 months that year. The compost facility was heavily used by the community and the number of carcasses picked up in Cardston County during 2013 and 2014 was approximately three times the number of carcasses picked up in 2015 and 2016. As a pilot project, the municipal composting program had to overcome several budgetary and regulatory issues. In April 2014, Cardston County felt it was best to suspend the program until these issues were resolved.

Since then, a rendering company has once again been contracted to empty dead stock bins and do on-farm pickups. While open, the composting facility accepted all animals that the rendering company accepts, but also accepted sheep, llamas, and goats. Operational costs for pickup and composting were paid by the WBR Deadstock Removal Program. WBR is actively working with Cardston County to reopen the compost facility because it is viewed as an efficient, safe, and cost-effective means of carcass disposal.

Cardston County Compost Facility
During the 16 months that the compost facility was in operation, the average cost per head to compost an animal in Cardston County was approximately $37. Comparatively, the current average cost per head to remove an animal from Cardston County under the WBR’s deadstock program is $102 (the average cost per head across all four municipalities is $104). The majority of composting costs are related to the transport of animal carcasses; other disposal options such as incineration would continue to have transport costs.

Although the Cardston County compost facility is an enclosed building, that level of infrastructure is not required. For example, the Blackfoot Challenge compost facility in Montana is entirely outside. There is minimal liquid waste from compost other than precipitation runoff and finished compost can currently be used in cell reclamation at the Cardston landfill or the compost itself can be landfilled. Current research, however, is considering new uses for end-product materials.

The CFIA has regulations around the disposal of SRM material, and at present composting is not an approved method of destroying BSE prions. Consequently, regulations recommend that compost should not be used in areas that will produce crops for livestock or human consumption for a period of six years. Incineration has the potential to destroy prions provided temperature requirements are met. However, if temperature requirements are not met, then ash will have to be handled as SRM. Regardless, all ash from an incinerator is subject to several regulations on its disposal.

Current compost research is quite promising, and compost is viewed as having great potential as a tool for disposing of animal carcasses and destroying pathogens, including prions if present. For example, recent research has found that composting can reduce BSE prion infectivity by at least 90% and is a viable method for SRM disposal in Canada.

The removal of deadstock from the landscape is an important component of WBR’s Carnivores and Communities Program because it helps eliminate a major attractant for large carnivores. Reducing large carnivore access to attractants is an important component to helping carnivores and people share the landscape.

For more information on the current program please refer to the WBR Carnivores and Communities Technical Guide on the Deadstock Removal Program.

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