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Taking a fresh look at deadstock

Producers have options, but industry needs coordinated approach and investment

By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation

It’s a reality of livestock farming that animals sometimes die on the farm. When that happens, those animals must be handled and disposed of responsibly and properly – but for decades, there has been little change in the available tools for farmers to do so.

In Ontario, the livestock industry primarily relies on rendering, but increasing restrictions are making on-farm management of deadstock challenging. Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC), with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), is currently leading a study to revisit the deadstock issue in the province in hopes of finding new solutions to this long-time challenge. 

The project focuses specifically on day-to-day mortality on the farm and not mass casualty events like disease outbreaks where large numbers of animals must be disposed of; planning for these scenarios is taking place through separate processes.

Driving forces behind the deadstock – or fallen stock as it is also called – challenge include escalating costs that have made on-farm pick-up uneconomical across a large part of Ontario, and limited pick-up options for animals euthanized with barbiturates. 
The landscape started changing dramatically after BSE hit in 2003, leading to increasing regulations and restrictions on what was acceptable for collection, as well as limiting products of value produced by rendering. 

Study lead Jennifer MacTavish has consulted with close to 70 individuals and organizations over the course of the project and has completed an international scan as part of her search for information and solutions to the issue. 

“Ontario farmers have options; none of them are great, but we do have options,” says MacTavish. “And in looking outside of our borders, nobody has a silver bullet or a solution that we’re not already doing or haven’t already thought of.” 

Rendering remains the preferred solution for deadstock, a biosecure process that kills pathogens and results in usable end products. Other solutions include burial and composting, which are used by many Ontario producers but come with the caveat “if done properly” and aren’t feasible options in the winter months. 

Incineration is another option, but one that is no longer allowed in some countries like the UK due to negative public perceptions. 
Considering One Health, which is the interaction of human, animal and environmental health, more than just the agriculture sector should be sitting at the table, including groups like Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, or Ministry of Natural Resources, for example. 

According to MacTavish, her research has shown there is a lack of consistent investment in developing capacity, regulations impacting handling and disposal of deadstock lie within five different provincial acts, and there is no coordinated approach or consistent solutions across the livestock sectors. 

“We have 12 different groups that touch deadstock in some way, but they don’t necessarily touch each other, and nobody is talking to each other,” says MacTavish, adding that one of the hoped-for outcomes of the project is to bring all the stakeholders together to contribute to a search for solutions. 

Labour and profitability are challenges for everyone, and the sector is also at the mercy of international decisions, such as when the European Union decided to decrease the volume of hides it is willing to import. 

Ontario is a large province, so logistics and transportation costs are key factors that influence the availability and affordability of deadstock services for producers. Analysis shows that the cost of a pickup more than 192 km away from a rendering plant is not economically feasible, for example. 

However, there is value in deadstock through a variety of end products ranging from animal feed, biogas and renewable diesel to collagen, furniture and clothing. As well, finding solutions for deadstock has the support of government, and there is the potential for developing a new circular economy around rendering.

“There’s a need to think about the return on investment of deadstock when considering solutions, especially if the industry relies on for-profit businesses to provide these services,” she says. 

Companies currently providing deadstock services in various regions of Ontario include Barn Angels Composting in Georgetown, Atwood Resources in Atwood, and Sanimax ABP in St. Albert. Darling Ingredients out of Dundas also provides services, but only for swine and poultry. 

The project was funded by OMAFRA in response to a request from Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Veal Farmers of Ontario, Beef Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Sheep Farmers and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture for help in addressing the livestock mortality issue with both short-term relief for farmers and long-term options that will result in practical and sustainable solutions. 
Recommendations stemming from the research are currently being developed and a final report is expected by early summer. It will be available from LRIC once released.

This article is provided by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation as part of its ongoing efforts to report on research, innovation and issues affecting the Canadian livestock industry.  It was published in the June 2023 issue of Ontario Dairy Farmer. 

Source : Livestock Research

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