farm waste materials: from dead
animals to scrap metal
Recycling on the farm, be it a family-run operation or
a corporate enterprise, has always been a reality in
terms of protection of the land and to maximize economic
While nearly 70 percent of the State of Kansas’ population
lives in urban areas, the bulk of the state’s revenues
are generated by agriculture, primarily through wheat
and corn production, as well as the raising of cattle
and swine and dairy production. These various agricultural
sectors generate various types of waste that are recycled
and are subject to a variety of regulations and requirements.
With the growth in the production of ethanol for fuel,
the crops, as well as the leftover vegetation, is sought
and purchased by the ethanol industry. The agricultural
debris is also used by farmers as ground cover, as well
as used by manufacturers as an ingredient for various
Dealing with the carcasses of slaughtered animals (including
those that died naturally) and the manure that those
animals generated, is of prime importance to various
state agencies and to the farmers themselves. The key
is to prevent these materials from leaching into the
water table and contaminating the soil.
“In Kansas there are several things that help,” says
Ken Powell, an environmental scientist with the Kansas
Department of Health and Environment’s Bureau of Waste
Management. “For carcasses, we still have a good rendering
system. There are several renderers that will take the
dead animals as long as they are in good shape. The system
probably takes 90 percent plus of the dead animals.
“For the other 10 percent, some go for composting,” he
adds. “We like the composting part of it, especially
for swine operations. A lot of them go into composting
and they can do it on the site, and real fast. If it
is done right, it is very environmentally sound.”
Regulation KAR-28-29-25D regulates the composting of
dead animals, while KAR-28-29-25C regulates the composting
of manure. There are also regulations regarding composting
of other organic materials – what can be used, how it
is done and where the operations can be sited.
Every February, Powell organizes and leads two regional
training sessions, accompanied by composting experts,
that address farmers to provide them with information
on how to compost correctly.
“We found that strategy to be effective and even more
effective than having regulations in place,” he says.
“When you train them how to do it right, you end up with
a better operation. We make sure that it gets handled
correctly from an environmental standpoint.”
Powell, whose specialization is composting, also does
some on-site visits to individual farms to help get composting
operations in place.
In 2007, compost-generated leaves and grass and various
yard wastes – collected in cities and counties – reached
the 80,000 tons plus level. Records are not kept for
compost generated by the agricultural sector.
“I just know from the farms that I dealt with that we
are probably over 80,000 tons of manure and dead animal
composting,” says Powell, who notes that every ton of
compost generated naturally by recycling reduces the
amount of chemically and fuel-based fertilizers that
are imported into the state.
This also reduces green house gas emissions in terms
of production of fertilizers and the transportation of
those fertilizers to farms.
Rendering ensures that carcasses are recycling and 90
percent of the material generated by renderers is used
to create meat and bone meal, which is used for livestock
feed and goes into dog and cat food products.
“We still sell a lot of this feed to overseas markets,
with much of it going into poultry and swine feeding,”
says Powell. “It’s a high quality protein.”
The blood is converted to blood meal, which is used for
Renderers generally collect the carcasses (dead, weak
or old animals) from farms and when processed, are placed
in a pressure cooker that is employed to reclaim the
protein and other materials.
Most of the large meat packing plants also operate their
own rendering operations. Smaller packing plants, of
which there are many, send the bones, offal and hides
to rendering plants. The hides, depending on how they
are treated, are valuable and many of them are shipped
Powell stresses that farmers and the agricultural community
in general, have always practiced recycling – using what
they can to maximize revenues in processes and procedures
that make economic sense.
“That is where we end up looking at composting,” he says.
“We do have on-site burial of animals, but we don’t like
to see that. It’s a pretty small number and simply done
because it is the most economical measure.”
The KDHE’s Bureau of Water is behind much of the regulations
regarding the use of manure on fields and how composting
is done and where such operations can be located. The
regulations are designed to ensure that the spraying
of manure is based on the principle that the plants consume
whatever is sprayed (based on agronomic rates) and that
there are no leftover materials that could potentially
contaminate the water table by seeping into the water
table or flow into open pipes, streams or rivers.
“Manure has nitrate and if you put too much nitrate on,
then you end up with your wells being contaminated, blue
baby syndrome and other health hazards that can effect
seniors and adults,” says Powell.
Due to the increasing price of scrap metal, scrap dealers
are now actively seeking material from rural states such
as Kansas, seeking old machinery that can be found on
“There is a tremendous amount of old machinery that gets
generated on these farms and now that scrap iron prices
are going up,” says Powell, “I’m seeing a lot of it disappear.
That’s a good thing. It gets it out of the pastures.
My folks, who have a farm, have decades of old machinery
and are actually talking about having someone come in
and clean it all up.”
He adds that this material should be recycled and that
more and more scrap dealers are visiting farm country
in search of metal.
Rodney Ferguson, public service executive of the KDHE’s
Waste Reduction, Public Education, and Grants Unit, appreciates
the efforts of farmers to recycle their agricultural
“It is often said that the farmer is the best steward
of the land,” he says. “There is a quality there that
has been passed from generation to generation that you
have to take care of the land. That would include off-farm
activities such as recycling household materials.”