Cleaning Up After Hurricane Matthew: Info for Poultry Growers

Hurricane Matthew has flooded several chicken farms in eastern North Carolina and left many without power. When disaster strikes like this, farmers face losses or major damage to their homes, to their land and essential farm equipment, and a long road to recovery and rebuilding. On top of that, as the flood waters receded chicken and livestock farmers will face another dilemma: They may have lost entire flocks, which can amount to hundreds of thousands of dead birds. In these catastrophic situations, farmers’ contracts with poultry companies make it clear that, even though the companies technically own the birds while they are alive, the farmers themselves have to take on the burden and risk of disposing of the carcasses in a timely and safe way.

Cleanup efforts like this can be challenging and expensive. In the past, our organization has looked into the cleanup services available to farmers in order to help them better understand their options. We’ve combined our research with information circulated by NC State Extension about the options currently available to farmers and how to find out more.

What to do if you have lost birds:

Step 1: Document everything

Document your losses before you start cleaning up. Take photographs of damage, write down details like the total number of carcases. After you begin cleanup, keep a log of hours spent and receipts for any work done. You will need this information to apply for programs such as the Livestock Indemnity Payments and others that can help cover your losses. Click here for more information about federal programs available to help with your recovery costs.

Step 2: Report losses

Even if you already have a plan for how to dispose of the carcases, catastrophic losses must be reported. (Catastrophic mortality would be considered to be losses 20% of commercial farms (poultry and swine) and greater than 10 head in cattle operations.) To report losses and request assistance or information regarding disposal, contact:

NCDS&CS Agriculture Weather and Emergency Hotline: 1-866-645-9403

You should also call your local FSA office to report losses, as they will be able to help you identify resources and support available.

Step 3: Choose an appropriate method for disposal

There are six main options for disposing of a mass mortality. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

  1. Rendering applies heat to carcasses to convert them into useful commercial products.  Rendering does not affect the land, but may be impractical and expensive for large numbers of birds. Call the rendering plant to find out the maximum number of birds they would take at a time, transportation fees, and any other costs and restrictions.
    • NC Extension Services reports that Valley Protein will accept birds for render IF not too much mixed with litter and birds are no more than 48 hours down.
  2. Landfill burial is less environmentally risky than some other options, but can be very expensive and may not be allowed in all areas and with some diseases.
    • NC Extension Services has prepared and circulated this Excel spreadsheet of landfills that are willing to accept animal mortality.
    • Call 24 hours ahead to let them know you are coming and how much you hope to bring.
    • NC Extension Services asks that if farmers want to take birds this weekend (Oct. 15-16) to please contact them, they can assist in contacting landfills. Contact for extension: Margaret Ross, Eastern Area Specialized Poultry Agent –, 252-670-8254 (call/text)
  3. Composting is simple, inexpensive and biosecure. It produces a useful end-product. In 2009 North Carolina developed a policy on alternative outdoor composting for poultry mass mortaltities (PDF) and the process for getting it approved. You will need to mix a carbon material with carcasses – NCDA is currently sourcing carbon for this purpose. Contact Maragaret Ross (contact info above) or Pat Harris for information: and 919-715-6097.
  4. Burial is quick but is not recommended in the coastal plain and where the water table is high. It can contaminate soil and water. Burial sites must be at least three feet below the ground surface, three feet above the seasonable high water table, and 300 feet away from an existing stream or public body of water.  Burial sites would need to be evaluated and approved by the NCDA&CS – call the hotline directly to learn more: 1-866-645-9403.
    • Also note: A record of the location of the approved site and the burial history, which includes the date, species, head count and age, must be kept by the owner and reported to the Local Health Director.  Burial sites should be disclosed if the land is later sold to avoid potential liability disaster.
  5. Incineration: While this option does exist, it has not proven to be very useful in catastrophic loss situations, and can be very expensive due to fuel costs.

For more information about these options, review this Mortality Management Plan produced by NCDA & CS, and contact the NCDA&CS Agriculture Weather Emergency Hotline directly: 1-866-645-9403

Feel free to contact us with questions: Sally Lee, 919-323-7587.