Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 78, Issue 2, pp 177–187 | Cite as

Greenhouse gas emissions during co-composting of cattle mortalities with manure

  • Shanwei Xu
  • Xiying Hao
  • Kim Stanford
  • Tim McAllister
  • Francis J. Larney
  • Jingguo Wang
Original paper


Following outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), fewer cattle mortalities are being rendered. Composting may be a viable on-farm alternative for disposal of cattle carcasses. A study was conducted to assess feasibility and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during co-composting of cattle mortalities and manure. Using a tractor-mounted front-end loader, windrows were constructed containing manure + straw (control; CK) or manure + straw + cattle mortalities (cattle mortality; CM). The composting process lasted 310 d. The windrows were turned twice, at days 93 and 211, using either a tractor-mounted front-end loader or a specialized shredder bucket. Maximum windrow temperatures were >50 °C for 36 out of 92 d (before first turning) and 142 out of 208 d (after first turning) for the CM treatment and cattle mortalities were completely decomposed except for a few large bones. The cumulative CO2 and CH4 emissions were significantly affected by the mortality treatment, but not by the turning technology or their interactions. Significantly higher CO2 (53.6 g d−1 m−2) and CH4 (2.204 g d−1m−2) emissions were observed during the co-composting of cattle mortalities than manure composted with straw (23.0 and 0.742 g d−1m−2 for CO2 and CH4, respectively). Similarly, N2O emissions were higher with mortalities than without and, for the CM treatment only, higher with shredder bucket than front-end loader turning. In the final compost, CM had higher TN and NH 4 + -N contents than CK while TC and the C/N ratio were higher with compost turned with the front-end loader than with the shredder bucket. In conclusion, composting was an effective means of disposing of cattle mortalities, but did increase GHG emissions and the N content in the final compost. It is not known if GHG emissions are different than those that would be released from natural decomposition of carcasses. The higher N content in compost containing mortalities would increase its agronomic value.


Greenhouse gas emissions Cattle mortality Compost windrow technology Beef feedlot manure Compost quality 



This project was funded by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Environmental Technology Assessment for Agriculture (ETAA) Program. Technical assistance was provided by G. Travis, B. Hill, P. Caffyn, A. Olson, G. Wallins and H. Zahiroddini. The authors also acknowledge P. Morrison of Roseburn Ranches, High River, AB for granting access to their premises, supplying all materials, and constructing and maintaining composting windrows. This is Lethbridge Research Center Contribution 38706040.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shanwei Xu
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Xiying Hao
    • 1
  • Kim Stanford
    • 2
  • Tim McAllister
    • 1
  • Francis J. Larney
    • 1
  • Jingguo Wang
    • 3
  1. 1.Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Lethbridge Research CentreLethbridgeCanada
  2. 2.Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural DevelopmentLethbridgeCanada
  3. 3.College of Resource and Environment, China Agricultural UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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