Dead stock disposal


2 min read

Dead stock Why disposing of dead stock appropriately is important The principles of dead stock management Evaluate your disposal options Do's and dont's of burial and offal holes Advice by region Composting Dead Stock

Dead stock management is the process of dealing with farm animal fatalities. It is important to appropriately dispose of carcasses to avoid spreading diseases, contaminating water, and harming the dairy industry's public image. Contact local authorities or use collection services if you have too many dead animals or can't dispose of them on your farm. Various disposal options are listed, including collection services, burial, offal holes, composting, and burning. Always remember, improper disposal can pose serious risks, so you should follow the listed do's and don'ts.

Even the best animal husbandry will not prevent the odd animal death. Care needs to be taken to avoid odour and seepage when burying dead stock and other refuse in pits. Proper disposal of dead stock is important to protect human health and the environment.

Dead stock

Using a collection service is the most common and easiest method for responsible stock disposal. Alternatively, correctly constructed offal pits or compost bins.

Collection service

Some companies will charge a collection fee for the animal, others will pay for certain stock for example, dead calves (with specifications).

A number of licensed commercial operators provide a collection service for dead stock.

The collection service needs to be notified as soon as possible so the animal can be collected on the next available pick up. Animal hides also need to be in good condition.

Offal pits

Offal pits should be well away from waterways, wetlands, bores, property boundaries and the farm dairy. They should also be shallow enough that groundwater will not enter.

Surface water should be directed away from the pit using cuttings or nibs. Good practice is to seal the pit with a concrete slab or an airtight cover-plate - which is also important for health and safety. Organic matter produced on the farm should be the only material in the pit.

There are strict rules around the placement and construction of offal pits. They should be more than 46m from the farm dairy. For more information contact your regional council.

Why it's important

  • Decomposing dead stock is a source of disease producing bacteria and other organisms, e.g. salmonella, streptococcus and tuberculosis.
  • Poor carcass disposal can result in contamination of groundwater and waterways, which may be sources of human and/or stock drinking water.
  • Sight and smell of dead animals creates a bad public perception of the dairy industry. Slinks or dead calves can be particularly distressing for the public.

Principles of dead stock management

  • Dispose of the animal as soon as possible to reduce risk of disease spread.
  • Utilise dead stock collection services if available.
  • Do not leave dead stock on the roadside or within public view. Most collection services prefer to pick up inside the farm gate.
  • The carcass must not be left within 45m of the farm dairy or within 50m of a water source
  • Keep dead stock out of waterways.

Evaluate your options

Collection services are the preferred option. But if there is no collection service available, there are other disposal options to consider.

Collection service


  • Simple
  • Minimises risk to groundwater
  • Maximises utility of the animal


  • May be a cost per animal
  • Animal must be fresh and hide in good condition



  • Simple
  • Cost effective
  • Out of sight


  • Do not use this method if groundwater level is high
  • Predator and vermin control is necessary
  • Do not bury stock within 50m of a waterway

Offal holes


  • Simple
  • Cost effective
  • Easy to manage
  • Out of sight


  • Do not use this method if groundwater level is high
  • Most efficient when using small and infrequent amounts of offal
  • Predator and vermin control is necessary
  • Do not bury stock within 50m of a waterway



  • Can use in areas of high groundwater
  • Useful product generated
  • High composting temperatures destroys pathogens and disease
  • Can re-use sawdust from calf sheds.


  • Reliable source of sawdust required
  • Requires an understanding of composting
  • Must fence off compost pile from other stock
  • Do not spread finished compost on pasture grazed by stock
  • For more information about composting see Composting dead stock.



  • Carcass is destroyed quickly
  • Any pathogens present are destroyed


  • Requires extremely high temperatures to burn
  • Can cause odour and smoke nuisance
  • Bones remain after burning
  • Last resort

Burial and offal holes


  • Slit the stomach of the carcass to allow the intestines out for faster decomposition
  • Puncture the rumen on its left side to release the gases to prevent toxic gas build up
  • Add a small amount of bacteria starter such as effluent sludge to speed up the decomposition process
  • Cover offal holes securely with a lid at all times
  • Once an offal hole is full to within 1m of the surface it should be retired and filled up with earth compacted and regrassed.


  • Do not site offal holes or bury stock near waterways, property boundaries or areas with high groundwater.
  • Do not add lime to an offal hole or burial area as this slows down the decomposition process.
  • Do not use an offal hole as a rubbish dump.
  • Do not dispose of chemicals in offal holes.
  • Do not light fires anywhere near offal holes.
  • Do not locate offal holes and burial sites within 45m of the farm dairy.

Regional Advice


Under Auckland Council rules offal holes, shallow trenches and composting are permitted provided:

  • where stock does not come from a commercial animal processing business
  • the material to be composted does not create odour or pest problems
  • there is no discharge into any surface water body, or contamination of groundwater.

You can check regional rules (5.5.34 and 5.5.35) here.


Digging offal holes is a permitted activity under the Waikato Regional Plan, provided:

  • it is not within 10m of a sink hole or cave entrance
  • it is not within 100m of a bore or water body
  • it is not on a river floodplain or some types of wetland
  • the base of the hole is at least one metre above groundwater depth
  • the hole is covered, and only animal or perishable household waste is disposed of there.

You can check regional rules (rule here.

Bay of Plenty

Digging offal holes is a permitted activity under Bay of Plenty Regional Council Regional Water and Land Plan rule 26 provided:

  • it is not within 50m of a bore, waterway, geothermal surface feature, coastal marine area, or in a flood plain
  • there is at least 2m from the base of the offal hole to ground water; and is properly sealed.
  • Only animal and vegetable material from normal farm operations on the property where the hole is located may be discharged into the hole. You can read more here.

Hawkes Bay farmers

If there are too many dead animals for you to deal with, or conditions don't allow for on-farm disposal, contact Hawkes Bay Regional Council on 06 835 9200 or 0800 108 838. The council will coordinate collection and appropriate disposal.


Environment Canterbury rules in addition to these requirements for pits are:

  • It must be 50 m3 or smaller, and is designed to prevent surface runoff, or animals, from entering it
  • Animals disposed of in it must be from the same property
  • It must have at least 3m of soil or sand between offal and the seasonal high water table
  • Only one pit is allowed per 100 hectares per year
  • When the pit is filled to within 0.5m of the surface, or no longer used, the contents must be covered with at least 0.5m of soil, or the pit covered with an impermeable lid
  • It does not cause an offensive or objectionable odour beyond the property boundary
  • It is not within a Community Drinking-water Protection Zone or Christchurch Groundwater Protection Zone or on an archeological site
  • It must be more than 150m from any sensitive activity outside the property (such as homes, sports grounds, churches or beaches) unless it is completely covered by soil or impermeable material.

Your local district council may also have specific rules, particularly about odour. So please check with them about your plans.


Otago Regional Council has the following requirements for pits, in addition to those above:

  • it is not constructed within 100 metres, horizontally, of a well which provides water for domestic purposes or drinking water for livestock
  • leachate from the pit does not enter any water bodies
  • it is dug to avoid groundwater seepage into the pit
  • it is not within 50 metres, horizontally, of a property boundary.

Your local district council may also have specific rules, particularly about odour. So please check with them about your plans*.*

Southland proposed Water & Land Plan

Putting a carcass or offal into or onto land is a permitted activity provided:

  1. The animal is buried on the same land it died on
  2. The only contaminants in a offal hole are carcasses, offal or a compost bulking agent, and the carcass or offal is not buried between a river and flood banks
  3. The site isn’t within a riverbed, artificial waterway, ephemeral waterway, lake, gully or a swale. The offal hole should be a minimum of:
    • 50 metres from a natural wetland, waterway or waterbody including the coastal marine area (or 150 metres if the burial is on loose gravels)
    • 100 metres from a water abstraction point (or 200 metres if the burial is on loose gravels)
    • 100 metres from a dwelling, assembly or property boundary
    • 250 metres from a drinkable water abstraction point.
  4. Stormwater is directed away from the offal hole site
  5. The offal hole does not intercept a subsurface drain and is not below the water table
  6. The carcass does not touch natural limestone rock
  7. Burial of a single animal must also comply with Environment Southland rules. If covered by soil or organic material, the burial must not occur within 20 metres of surface water, an abstraction point, a dwelling, a place of assembly or property boundary.

Environment Southland recommend using a Shallow Trench, keeping the carcass decomposition in the top soil layer to avoid groundwater contamination. More information about good management of offal holes is available here.

If you cannot meet these permitted activity criteria then you will need to talk to Environment Southland about a resource consent.

For specific rules in your region, refer to the Federated Farmers website.


Composting is an effective way to dispose of dead stock while creating a useful product and minimising the potential for groundwater contamination. If managed well, composting can be low cost and relatively odour free.

Composting involves micro-organisms breaking down carcasses to form humus that can be spread over non-productive areas such as domestic gardens and shelter belts.

The process requires using a material high in carbon, for example sawdust or straw, as a bulking agent. This is layered with the dead animal in bins. Sawdust from calf sheds or chip from feed pads can be used as a bulking agent. The process may take up to six months depending on the size of the animal.

Last updated: Sep 2023
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