LIBERTY — Where do dead cows, horses and goats go when they die?
Brent Woodrum hopes the final resting place for many of them will be his 750-acre farm in Casey County, where Large Animal Composting of Kentucky — or LACKY — will soon be in operation.
The Kentucky Agricultural Development Board on Friday signed off on Woodrum’s proposal to create what is believed to be the first such large-scale composting site in the state. Woodrum will receive $22,500 in tobacco settlement funds from Casey, Marion, Adair and Russell counties and will more than match that amount with investment from his family’s farm, he said.
“Casey County has no dead animal removal program. People just pull them to wherever they want and leave them,” said Woodrum, a former Boyle County magistrate whose family has farmed in Casey County for 75 years. “This is a green solution to a big problem.”
Compacted gravel for a foundation that will cover 26,000 square feet — space enough to hold between 600-700 large animal carcasses at a time — will begin being installed this week at Woodrum’s farm on Ky. 49 about seven miles from Liberty. If things go well, he hopes to be open for business in 60 days.
Woodrum explained that the dead animals will be stacked three high on a bed of sawdust upon the foundation and then covered with more sawdust. Heat up to 160 degrees, combined with chemical reactions and flesh-eating bacteria present in the animals, will dissolve even the bones within 50 days, he said.
“It’s better than the buzzards,” he said. “You might find an eartag or two when it’s done.”
There are “zero” odor or health issues that arise from the process, Woodrum said. The composting operation is going in next to the farm’s main shop and not far from a nice fishing lake, he said. The leftover material, called offal, can be recomposted four to six times, he said, and eventually be spread on his fields, not as fertilizer but as erosion control.
Will Stallard, Casey County’s extension agent for agriculture, said farmers in counties without dead animal removal programs in place often have to deal with their lost livestock in less than ideal ways.
“You really don’t like to think about what happens when there is no program available,” he said, acknowledging that dead animals are sometimes discarded in the Green River and other waterways.
“A lot of producers have what they call their own boneyards on the back 40 where they take them and cover them up or let the buzzards clean them up,” he said. “But farmers have an obligation to care for their land and water. With what Brent’s doing, it’s a positive, green environmental way to dispose of deceased animals.”
Some counties, such as Lincoln and Boyle, have programs in place that remove dead animals and dispose of them at no cost to farmers.
Lincoln County uses its road department employees to pick up about 3,000 dead animals a year and pays about $23,000 annually to dispose of them at Tri K Landfill, Judge-Executive Jimbo Adams said. Boyle spends about $60,000 a year contracting out the removal and disposal of its carcasses, Woodrum said.
“I learned just how expensive it is when I was a magistrate,” Woodrum said.
LACKY has not yet established its fee schedule. There will a composting fee for farmers who bring the animals to the operation and an additional fee if LACKY picks them up, Woodrum said. Casey County farmers will pay lower rates because Casey Fiscal Court contributed $10,000 to the project, and because they are closer, while farmers in the other counties, which contributed amounts between $2,500 and $5,000, will pay higher rates, he said.
It is also yet to be determined if the fiscal courts and various farm groups such as cattleman associations in the counties will contribute additional funding to help farmers cover the cost of composting each animal. Stallard said it’s important to establish a fee schedule that farmers — many of whom currently dispose of their fallen animals their own way at no cost — will find tolerable.
“People have to be able to afford to use it to make it work, both for the farmers and the Woodrums,” Stallard said.
Woodrum hopes LACKY will generate some income for the farm, which was operated for many years by his late father Billy Woodrum and is currently being managed by his son Bart Woodrum.
“We’re not looking to get rich off this, we’re looking to be able to stay on the farm for another generation,” he said.