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Rendering plants gone, butcher turns to composting

LAKEVIEW, Ore. (AP)--A Lakeview ranching family is using low-tech methods to transform waste from their custom butchering business into high-grade fertilizer.

Ross and Kelly McGarva own Lakeview Lockers, featuring custom-cut meats and specialty food items and are working with the state Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Quality to use butcher waste to improve soils.

Kelly admits he was skeptical but says it shows tremendous potential as a commercial fertilizer.

"I was the hardest person to sell on the concept," he told the Klamath Falls Herald and News.

Christopher Anderson, who served as technical adviser for the agriculture department, said the concept of composting carcasses, internal organs, bones and fat waste from slaughtered livestock has the "ugh" factor but that he likes the results and potential.

"It showed us we can use some pretty low-tech solutions," Anderson said.

He said custom processors have been handicapped by the closure of Southern Oregon's only two rendering facilities in 2006.

The closest remaining ones are hundreds of miles away, and producers face rendering charges of more than $200 per ton plus transportation costs.

"We would like to see somebody take this and go full-scale," Anderson said of composting butcher waste.

The McGarvas have composted the remains of about 500 cattle, 400 hogs and 150 lambs. Last year, composted fertilizer was used on about 40 acres.

"We have found it to be a simple, low-impact process," Ross McGarva said in a report.

Major concerns going into the project were worries by the McGarvas and neighbors about possible odor plus visual and vector factors.

The waste is placed in windrows about 100 feet long, 12 to 15 feet wide and 5 feet tall on a base layer of wood chips and wood sawdust. The waste is covered by a protective 18-to-24-inch sawdust cap.

Perforated aluminum pipes provide passive aeration.

The first fertilizer, which Kelly McGarva said was black and clean smelling, was applied to selected pastures.

Because the work is a state-funded pilot project under Gov. Ted Kulongoski's Oregon Solutions Byproducts program, the owners cannot sell the resulting fertilizer.

Anderson said the process might be duplicated on eastside ranches, but probably not west of the Cascades because heavy rains could disturb the composting process.

"It's been really successful," Anderson said. "All in all," Kelly McGarva said, "it's been a fantastic project for us."

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