University of Missouri Extension

WQ210, Reviewed January 2009

Dead Poultry Composter Project: Bill Harvill Composter

Charles D. Fulhage
Department of Agricultural Engineering

A grant of EPA funds was made available by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in October 1990 to selected southwest Missouri poultry producers representing each of the five major poultry processing companies. The purpose of the grant is to demonstrate the feasibility of composting dead birds in an environmentally sound manner. The grant is administered by Southwest Missouri Resource Conservation and Development, Inc., with technical assistance provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and educational activities provided by MU Extension.

Bill Harvill, of Stark City, Mo., representing Tyson Foods, agreed to participate in the demonstration project. Harvill's concerns about environmental considerations, economics of managing dead birds and future regulations pertaining to dead bird disposal were factors in his decision to participate in the demonstration project. This guide describes the composting project relating to Harvill's poultry operation.

Production facilities

The Harvill broiler operation consists of five buildings in which 6 flocks per year are grown to a market weight of 4 pounds. Table 1 outlines the characteristics of each building. Average mortality rate in these facilities is about 4 percent, with peak rates at 8 percent.

Table 1
Building type and bird capacity in the Harvill operation

Building type Number of birds Weight in Weight out Time in building
growout 21,300 0 pounds 4 pounds 45 days


The Harvill composter is different from the other composters in the project in that concrete is used in the composter bin walls rather than treated wood. This alternative was selected to compare the relative durability of treated wood and concrete in this application. This composter uses an "umbrella" type construction, with bins open on either side. Holes formed with 3-inch PVC pipe are provided in the bin walls to allow air movement.

Primary and secondary bins are 9 feet wide, 5 feet long and 4 feet high, with a capacity of 180 cubic feet in each bin. There are three primary bins and three secondary bins in the composter (Figure 1).

Plan view of the Harvell composter Figure 1
Plan view of the Harvill composter.

Primary and secondary bins are accessed from either side of the composter, with a concrete slab work area in front of the bins on either side. A 9-by-11-foot area at one end of the composter provides storage for litter and straw.

The composter building is pole-type construction with an "umbrella" configuration (Figure 2). The roof of the composter provides a 5 foot overhang on either side to provide partial coverage of the concrete working area in front of the bins. The ends of the composter building above the bin walls are enclosed with corrugated metal for rain protection.

Cross section of the Harvill composter Figure 2
Cross section of the Harvill composter.

Operational characteristics

Harvill estimates 30 to 45 minutes per day are spent layering dead birds and ingredients in the composter. He uses a tractor with an 8-foot wide bucket on a front-end transfer and load finished compost. Table 2 shows a laboratory analysis of the finished compost fertilizer value from the Harvill composter.

Table 2
Analysis of litter and finished compost in the Harvill operation

Fertilizer nutrient Litter Finished compost
Dry matter (percent) 67.5 67.9
Nitrogen (pounds per ton) 13.5 18.9
Crude protein (percent) 43.2 60.4
P2O5 (pounds per ton) 58.6 67.7
K2O (pounds per ton) 37.7 28.1


Composter costs depend upon many factors such as site characteristics, composter design, size, etc. Table 3 shows costs incurred for the Harvill composter as constructed in June 1991.

Table 3
Cost associated with the Harvill composter (June 1991)

Item Cost
Materials $5,430
Labor $1,000
Total $6,430
WQ210 Dead Poultry Composter Project: Bill Harvill Composter | University of Missouri Extension

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