Guidance for on-farm burial of carcasses in an Emergency Animal Disease outbreak
This guidance has been developed to help land managers and livestock owners plan for and respond to
an emergency animal disease (EAD) outbreak where large numbers of carcasses need to be buried and can be done so on-farm.
If an EAD outbreak is declared, Agriculture Victoria is responsible for the destruction and disposal of animal carcasses as required, including those that can be buried on-farm.
An essential part of an emergency animal disease (EAD) eradication program is the disposal of carcasses after destruction, as well as animal products, materials and wastes, as soon as possible, to prevent the spread of the disease. It is important that burial is done in a way that minimises the spread of disease and any adverse effects on the environment, public health and the community. On-farm burial is an important option where possible, as it removes the risk of spreading the disease that may occur if carcasses and other products were taken off-farm for disposal. The extent to which on-farm burial can be used will depend on the size, location and characteristics of the farm and the number of carcasses that need to be buried.
By using this guidance, land managers and livestock owners can make sure their biosecurity plans include details about if, where and how carcasses can be buried on their properties if necessary. If the property does not have an area that meets the criteria in this guidance, carcasses would have to be disposed of elsewhere. By doing this planning, you can help with timely decision making in a response and support Victoria to be well prepared to respond quickly to any EAD outbreak if it occurs.
Agriculture Victoria is the agency responsible for the control and eradication of emergency animal diseases. If your farm is impacted by an EAD outbreak, Agriculture Victoria or other representative will be on-site and direct the safe destruction, disposal and decontamination of infected and at-risk livestock and property. The necessary activities will be directed by Agriculture Victoria but may be carried out by others including property managers or owners, contractors or government employees.
Agriculture Victoria representatives will work with you and EPA Victoria as required to ensure that pit locations are suitable and necessary approvals for the burial pit(s) and burial arrangements are in place.
Agriculture Victoria will also discuss with you the size and technical specifications of the pit(s) to be built, depending on the number of animals to be buried and the area’s characteristics, including soil type, slope, tree cover etc.
EPA Victoria’s on-farm burial criteria, as outlined in this guidance, will inform approval decisions and are in place to maintain the safety of the local environment and public health.
Burial site assessment
Trench burial is the most suitable form of on-farm burial. Trench burial involves excavating a trench (or pit), into the ground, placing carcasses and other materials in the unlined pit and covering the materials (backfilling) with excavated earth. Typically, this takes place on the farm where animals are from.
Standard trench sizes and designs are recommended. Depending on your property and the number of livestock to be buried, multiple trenches may be needed in safe, spaced-out locations.
A burial pit should be located:
- on clay soil of low permeability and good stability
- on elevated land but with a slope of less than 5% (preferably less than 2%)
- above the one in 100-year flood level
- away from surface water drainage features, low points or areas at risk of erosion
- at least 200 metres from any surface water (creek, river, lake, spring), excluding dams that are not seeping into groundwater or flowing off-site
- at least 200 metres from any groundwater supply (stock and domestic bore)
- at least 200 metres from the boundary of neighbouring privately owned land
- at least 200 metres from another burial area
- at least 2 metres above the water table level (measured from the bottom of pit)
- at least 300 metres from any sensitive use (such as a neighbouring house)
- away from underground and above-ground infrastructure (such as a powerlines, telephone and fibre optic lines, gas line, waterpipes, sewerage)
- out of view of the public (by either being far away from public areas or by screening).
Soil structure, composition, stability
Soils with clay subsoil are most suitable for burial trenches or composting areas. Soils with high permeability (sand, gravel or rocky soils) are to be avoided where possible.
Where soils are higher in permeability, try to stockpile clay from excavations or obtain clay from nearby sources to line the pit base.
Underground and above-ground infrastructure
Ensure pits are located a safe distance away from underground and above-ground infrastructure (such as powerlines, telephone lines, fibre optic cables, gas lines, water pipes and sewerage pipes). Have a farm map detailing the location of this infrastructure readily available or a copy stored with your biosecurity plan to ensure these locations are avoided when digging pits or accessing the site.
Proximity to conservation areas and Aboriginal Cultural Heritage areas
The burial site must be far enough away from conservation areas and areas of cultural sensitivity (such as midden sites and scar trees) to preserve the values associated with these areas. Check the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Register and Information System to find out where these sensitive sites are. If you find Aboriginal Cultural Heritage on your property that isn’t currently registered, you need to report it to First Peoples – State Relations.
It is important to consider your local Traditional Owner group’s cultural values. There are no specific indicators that apply to all groups the same way, as they are geographically and culturally specific to individual groups. Sites of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage should be identified in your farm plan or map as part of developing your biosecurity plan. This will help with ensuring pit locations are well away from such sites and will assist with timely approval of burial pits during an EAD outbreak. You can find out which Traditional Owner group your property is within via this interactive map.
The location of each burial site will be recorded by Agriculture Victoria for future reference using a global positioning system (GPS).
For further information
- Underground infrastructure - Before you dig
- Conservation Areas - Digital Twin Victoria
- Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Register and Information System
- Traditional Owner group area map
- Aboriginal places and objects FAQ sheets
- Protecting Aboriginal Heritage during land development
- Fact sheet: Aboriginal places on private property
- Aboriginal Heritage Identification Guide
- Aboriginal Heritage Planning Tool
- Visualising Victoria's Groundwater (VVG)
Pit construction and carcass burial
In the event of an EAD outbreak, Agriculture Victoria will arrange for burial pits to be dug and for the burial of animal carcasses to be undertaken in a safe and appropriate way, in line with safe construction requirements and the burial procedure outlined below.
Where possible, Agriculture Victoria will undertake humane destruction activities close to the burial site. This will depend on accessibility to the site for machinery and equipment and the ability to move and handle livestock at the site.
- The typical method of digging a pit is to construct a deep, narrow, vertically sided pit (trench burial), but this will be dictated by the soil stability (see Figure 1).
- Where soil stability is of concern, a battered design is used to enhance operator safety (see Figure 2).
- Where possible, pits will be lined with carbon materials such as hay, straw and wood shavings to absorb some of the liquids that will leach out from the carcasses.
- Carcasses will not be piled over 3 metres deep.
- Carcasses will be covered with at least 2 metres of soil.
- Pits will be covered with a low permeability clay mound after backfilling to allow for subsistence over time and to reduce rainwater going in.
- Pits will not be compacted heavily as this can slow down the natural decaying process.
- Where necessary, cut-off drains will be excavated upslope of the burial pits to direct surface run-off away from the pits.
- Wherever possible, rehabilitating the burial area will be undertaken promptly after burial (for example, seeding with grasses native to the area) and if required, additional erosion controls put in place until the area is vegetated.
Distance to other pits
Depending on the number of animals to be buried, multiple pits may need to be dug. Agriculture Victoria will arrange for these on-farm earthworks to be undertaken in a safe and appropriate way, however for planning purposes, note that multiple pits of the dimensions described below, in any one burial area, should be spaced more than 10 metres apart and each burial area spaced at least 200 metres apart.
Separating the pits is needed to ensure safe access to the area and maintaining the land’s stability. The positioning of the pits will depend on soil type and other land characteristics (such as slope).
Example diagrams of burial pits
As a guide, Agriculture Victoria will fill a burial pit with a certain number of carcasses based on the type of animal and size of the pit, then modify the number planned to be in future pits using observed dimensions occupied by the first carcasses disposed2. For planning purposes, the following volumes can be used to estimate how big a pit needs to be:
- 1.5 m3 per mature cow
- 0.3 m3 per mature pig, goat or sheep (3−4 animals/m3)3.
Table 1 – Burial pit dimensions and backfill volume
4 to 5 metres (depending on reach of machinery, soil stability and depth to water table). Base of pit to be at least 2 metres above water table level
preferably not greater than 3 metres wide (to allow for even spread of carcasses in pit)
depends on number and size of carcasses to be buried (volume)
2 metres of backfill to be placed over carcasses
Monitoring and future land use
The landowner is responsible for ongoing monitoring of the burial site and ensuring that appropriate action is taken if there is surface breakout of contaminated liquid, excessive subsidence (sinking of the ground because of underground material movement), ponding of water, erosion, seepage or other problems. However, the burial pits should not be disturbed beyond essential maintenance requirements.
Agriculture Victoria will work with you to develop a 6 – 12-month monitoring schedule.
Other disposal options if on-farm burial is limited
Carcasses that cannot be buried on-farm will most likely be taken to a landfill. Agriculture Victoria will arrange for carcass transport and disposal at the most appropriate landfill.
Agriculture Victoria is responsible for the movement of all EAD waste, including carcasses, that may need to be taken off-site for disposal, ensuring that risks to the environment and public health when handling and transporting carcasses are reduced.
- Animal Health Australia, AUSVETPLAN Operational Manual – Disposal, version 5.0, 2021, accessed 2 November 2022
- Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR), Disposing of carcasses in response to bushfire, flood or drought, AgNote, Victorian Government, accessed 2 November 2022
- Environment Protection Authority (EPA SA) and Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA), EPA 682/16: On-farm disposal of animal carcasses, South Australian Government, updated February 2016, accessed 2 November 2022
- Environment Protection Authority (EPA Vic), ASR15500 Applied Science Advice - Assessing the suitability of mass animal burial sites during an EAD emergency, Victorian Government, 2022, accessed 2 November 2022
 https://animalhealthaustralia.com.au//wp-content/uploads/dlm_uploads/2021/12/AUSVETPLAN-_Operational_Disposal_Manual.pdf, 2015, Appendix 6
 AUSVETPLAN Disposal Manual, 2015