Characteristics and Sodium Pentobarbital Concentrations of Equine Mortality Compost Piles in the Upper Midwest

Hannah L Lochner, Mark L. Hutchinson, Melissa L. Wilson, Alex Bianco, Lee J Johnston, Jessica L. Prigge, Krishona L. Martinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Recent changes in rendering availability for chemically-euthanized animals have created a need to explore composting as an equine mortality management method. The objectives of this study were to evaluate equine mortality composting in the Upper Midwest during fall and spring, document sodium pentobarbital concentrations throughout the process, and determine nutrient content of finished compost. During each season, four horses were euthanized by intravenous administration of sodium pentobarbital. Carcasses were positioned at the center of a woodchip and shavings base and covered with a 2:1 mixture of horse stall waste and cattle feedlot waste. Data loggers were placed at 46- and 91cm depths to record pile temperatures every 8 hours. At turning (44–50 days) and trial conclusion (181–216 days), compost piles were sampled for sodium pentobarbital and nutrient composition. Piles contained large bones after 6 months of composting. Sodium pentobarbital remained detectable at trial conclusion (<0.002–1.49 mg kg1 dry matter); however, composting reduced the estimated quantities of sodium pentobarbital by ≥94% (P ≤ .001). Compost from each season met ideal land application values for organic matter (45%–48%), pH (7.3–7.6), and electrical conductivity (3.3–3.4 mm hos cm−1). Low NPK and high C:N ratio (20–30) indicate compost could partially replace synthetic fertilizers when land applied. These findings suggest equine mortality composting is an effective management practice during fall and spring in the Upper Midwest. While remaining sodium pentobarbital residues were minimal, further research is needed to determine environmental implications of composting chemically-euthanized equines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104000
JournalJournal of Equine Veterinary Science
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this project was provided by the Rapid Agricultural Response Fund, established by the Minnesota Legislature and administered by the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022


  • Carcass management
  • Composting
  • Equine
  • Sodium pentobarbital


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