Carcass disposal is a messy subject. Let that horse's body lie there too long and it will start to bloat, then stink horrifically as it rots. It will attract bugs, scavengers and even your dogs will feed off the meat.

The final responsibility that we all have as animal owners is to ensure that the body of our animal is properly taken care of--both for our personal sanity, and to maintain the environment. Depending on where you live, that scenario will be different. Out west, if a horse dies in a pasture, it might be cleaned up by vultures and coyotes within a matter of days. In the east, it is more common to render, compost or bury your animal in a backyard, cemetery or landfill; while some people choose the more expensive (and less green method) of incineration. In the case of a trailer wreck or other emergency, there may be fewer choices available.

It pays to think about this now - what you want for your horse, and what methods are available to you. Don't be this guy--waiting for a backhoe for a few days.

Remember, we are not talking about a small problem. There are around 9.2 million horses in the USA right now, which means that over the next 30 years that is roughly 300,000 horses a year that will need to be buried, composted, rendered, or fed to predators (human or otherwise). Assume for the purposes of argument that 0 (zero) more horses will be born in that time, about 3.4% of those horses die each year for a variety of reasons; and that the oldest lives to be 30 years of age. (Yes, all of us know that every year in reality there are many more horses born, which will increase these estimations significantly, and some horses live much longer than 30 years.) Just use this to estimate the problem.

That is a lot of horse bodies, and it is significant tonnage. Assume that the average horse weighs 1,000 pounds; that would mean that approximately 150,000 tons annually of flesh, bone and tissue is being recycled: either through the gut of another animal (predator or scavenger); broken down by bacteria or fungus; rendered into products for cosmetics, horse hair and leather; or burned to ashes. Where does all this go?

Those are the kind of numbers that makes veterinary disaster planners lose sleep at night, and environmental biologists start doing calculations estimating the volumes of excess nutrients, euthanasia chemicals or atmospheric carbon being introduced into the habitat (whether it be buried in a hole in your barnyard over the aquifer, rotting in a landfill, or up the stack of an incinerator.)

Find the number to the local rendering plant, landfill, and the soil conservation service or extension agent can tell you whether it is even legal to do so. If your horse is euthanized with lethal injection solution, the animal's carcass must be buried quickly after death so that other animals won't attempt to eat off the carcass and get poisoned by it. It is illegal to leave it laying there, huge fines have been imposed on veterinarians who didn't ensure that an animal was buried, and then a bird of prey or other animals died because of the toxicity of the meat.

Don't wait until an emergency to look for a backhoe operator or someone that can come pick up your dead horse. In horsey areas - it is easier to find renderers, compost operators, or emergency ambulance services to come pick it up and carry the animal to processing or burial. Find that number today for peace of mind later on.

I know that this subject is going to generate some horror stories for the people that have seen horses improperly handled after death. Yes, it is dead. No, it can't feel pain. But there are good and poor ways to handle the body of the animal itself. Come on, readers! What are your stories? Next week we will talk about how to physically handle the carcass to move it for transport to processing or burial.