Our farm tour season has officially started for the 2019 year, and I am not ready. The snow piles have finally melted into a muddy, squishy driveway that seems to keep seeping. The rains on the frozen ground leaked into our basement. Flooding seems to be the talk this year.
    This past winter has caused serious problems for farmers all over the United States with flooding in Nebraska, snow storms in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and all the way east to New York. With all of the weather extremes, there has been a huge loss of cattle.
    I saw photos of carcasses that were taken from the flooded areas and piled until they could be dealt with. I was curious. What happens when there is not a dead stock truck to pick up the animals? They compost them.
    It so happens that the last snow storm in our area put the dead stock company out of business when their roof collapsed. We found out about that when we called when we needed their services to take one of our cows that we had to put down. We were left searching for another company which put us on a list, and pick up took over two weeks. Thankfully it was cool weather, and we could cover the carcass with a tarp.
    Waiting for the pick up, I began to look into what it would take to compost a cow. I learned so much. Having another option instead of waiting was a huge relief. The materials used to compost are available on our farm: used bedding, crop residues or even wood chips. Manure also helps in the decomposition and is not that complicated.
    Composting is an aerobic, natural process in which microorganisms convert organic material into a stable product called compost. This can also be done year around, because the process heats up as it breaks down the carcasses. I could not help but think about how our corn silage and haylage heat up to ferment, but we eliminate the air and water so it does not decompose and rot because it is covered with the tarp and tires.
    In the past, we have put dead calves, chickens, goats and lambs in the tree line, thinking the coyotes would take care of it for us. When our dogs bring back animal parts, this becomes a problem. Burying them was also used, but that can be an issue for ground water, and there is not enough air to help the carcass break down; it mummifies. These are not solutions to the problem of how to get the animal to go away so I do not have to look at it, and our visitors do not see it when they come for a tour.
    There are step by step instructions online on how to compost. It is safe, manageable and inexpensive. When done properly, there are not odors, and it does not attract flies or other critters.
    Composting takes from seven to 24 weeks for carcasses to degrade and for the compost to reach the finished stage. The amount of time required depends on the materials used, temperature, moisture, management and the size of the animal.
    The product that is created afterwards is a nitrogen rich, dark soil like product that can be spread on fields. Composting turns a waste into a beneficial fertilizer and soil amendment, resulting in on-farm nutrient recycling.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin.  They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.