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What is the right way to deal with livestock mortality?

Dr. Brandon Gilroyed

Headshot of Brandon Gilroyed

We need to have prepared strategies to help minimize the risks and effects of livestock mortality on humans, animals, and the environment.


Livestock mortality management is not something most of us think about on the daily – let alone the environmental, economic, epidemiological and mental health implications of our current management methods. Luckily, a One Health researcher is on the case.

Dr. Brandon Gilroyed is an Associate Professor at the University of Guelph’s School of Environmental Sciences. He’s trying to figure out the best way for farmers to safely manage animal mortality, so that dead livestock do not become a health hazard to humans, the environment, or other livestock.

The project emerged in 2015 after the outbreak of avian influenza in the United States. Fifty million chickens and turkeys had to be depopulated to limit the spread of the disease and taking care of the aftermath was a massive undertaking.

“We spoke to farmers and first responders that were involved, and the mental health impact of the loss was huge” says Gilroyed.

In response, Gilroyed and his team, funded by Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance and the Egg Farmers of Canada, developed a process called ambient alkaline hydrolysis. After an animal dies, this process can be used to solubilize its body – getting rid of any pathogens and stopping putrefaction (decay or rotting that can create toxins). This process also takes away the time pressure of managing mortality; if millions of birds die within weeks of each other like they did in 2015, it is very important to manage the dead stock before they become a health threat.

“Because we have this growing population, food demand is going up, and the only way to meet that is with increase in agriculture and livestock production.” Gilroyed says “and as we increase the intensification, we increase the risks associated with livestock production. We need to have prepared strategies to help minimize the effects on humans, animals and the environment.”

Now Gilroyed’s team is investigating uses for this solubilized animal mixture. After all, it is extremely nutrient-dense stuff. However, it’s high pH and salinity poses several challenges. They are investigating the mixture’s potential role in anaerobic digestion and the possibility of using it to create renewable energy, it’s capacity as a fertilizer, and finally, it’s potential use as a growth medium for industrial microbial processes, such as ethanol production.

By: Marilyn Sheen

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