What do I do when my horse dies?

What do I do when my horse dies?  This is a question that most people don’t want to think about.  But in reality, everyone should have a plan in place beforehand because trying to make those decisions when your heart hurts is very difficult.  While most owners consider their horse’s pets, your state may consider them farm animals.  The options for pets and livestock can vary, sometimes a considerable cost difference. What do I do when my horse dies?

Horses are considered farm animals, and Tennessee considers farm animals as solid waste.  Dead livestock should be disposed of within 48 hours of death in one of the following manners.  If you have a high mortality rate of more than 10,000 lbs, you must contact the state veterinarian at (615) 837-5120.

  1. Burning
  2. Composting
  3. Incineration (Cremation)
  4. Landfill
  5. On-Farm Burial
  6. Pick Up Services


Section 1200-3-4-.04 of TDEC-Air Pollution Control Rules provides various exceptions to the general ban on open burning.  Specifically, Section 1200-3-4-.04(1)(f) allows for the burning of dead animals:

“Fires solely for the burning of bodies of dead animals, including poultry, where no other safe and practical disposal method exists.  Priming materials used to facilitate such burning shall be limited to #1 or # 2-grade fuel oils, vegetation grown on the property of the burn site, and wood waste, as defined in the rule.”

Most farms that use the Burning method are burning smaller livestock like Chickens and other small animals.  This is not an excellent way to dispose of your horse in Tennessee.

This method of removal is inexpensive.


Composting large animals on your property are allowed. 

The composting process will work best when the moisture content is 50% to 60% by weight (similar to a damp sponge with no free water present).  Water is added when the compost is turned.  In Tennessee, a permit is not required if the horse is composted where it lived.  For best results, wood chips are preferred over manure, stall waste, or straw.  Composting costs can be as low as $50 to $75 for those with access to free additive material.  I live in Rutherford County, Tennessee, and there is a free mulch plant nearby; if you choose to compost, check and see if there is one near you.

The only equipment necessary is a front-end loader.  Composting may not be a viable option for those with small acreage farms, but it is convenient and inexpensive for those with access to a more massive acreage farm.  When your animal is euthanized using pentobarbital, there is potential for the drug to remain in the composted material.

Here is a video of how the process is done (with a cow).

This removal method is inexpensive, but you do have to move the animal into the compost pile.

Incineration (Cremation)

There are several cremation services in the Tennessee area.  Most only service small animals, but All-Tenn Horse and Pet Cremation will also take care of full-size horses.  I have used All-Tenn for several miniature horses, and my friend has had them take care of her full-size horse.  All-Tenn is amazing.  Unfortunately, I had to have a mini put down on Christmas afternoon.  I wasn’t even thinking, and I called them, and they came right over.  They are compassionate, professional, and courteous.  I really can’t say enough good things about them.

You can call or text them at 615-828-7924.  They will come to pick up your horse and deliver the urn back at no extra charge.  The price I have paid for miniature horses and the amount my friend paid for her full-size horse are fair and not budget-breaking.  Below are the photos of the Urns I have returned with my horses.  (Yes, I have a fuzzy pet sitting on one of them).

As you can see, these Urns are very lovely.  I highly recommend All-Tenn Cremation for its services.  The cost of this option is the most expensive of all the disposal options.  The plus side to this option is that you get to keep a part of your horse forever.


In Tennessee, one of the options for disposal is using a landfill.  Not every landfill can take horses, and you must use a class 1 landfill for this service.  I will come back at a later date and add a list of landfills after I do more research.  Be sure to contact your landfill before showing up to make sure they accept horses.  Here is a list of current dumps in Tennessee.

There are a few restrictions, even when using a landfill.

  1. Transfer the animal within 48 hours of death.
  2. Make sure the animal is completely secured and covered with a tarp.
  3. Call ahead and schedule drop-off for early in the morning.
  4. Have a disposable and sturdy rope tied to the animal for easier offloading.

The cost of taking your horse to a landfill is approximately $35 per ton, and this is also an affordable option for many people.

The downfall of using this option is that you have to transport your horse to the facility and load and unload it onto a trailer.

On-Farm Burial

Burying significant animal mortalities can be a safe, inexpensive, and convenient disposal method, mainly if excavating equipment is owned, and acceptable burial sites are readily available.

The following restrictions must be used to choose a burial location; in addition, it must be located well away from sensitive areas to protect them further as follows:

  • Three hundred feet from wellheads (150 feet if the burial site is down-gradient from the wellhead).
  • One hundred sixty-five feet from property lines (the burial site should be discretely located).
  • One hundred feet from surface water (wetlands, streams, and ponds).

Consider landfilling or composting the carcass if an acceptable burial site can’t be found.

Pick Up Services

I have been lucky enough to live in a county that has a pick-up service.  All Around Underground, Inc currently does the service.  You can call them at 931-306-2014 to set up a pick-up.  If you would rather, you can email them at allaroundundergroundstock@gmail.com.  The phone is answered Mon-Fri from 6 am to 2 pm.

The following counties in the state of Tennessee have a Pick-Up service available for free.

  • Bedford
  • Coffee
  • Franklin
  • Giles
  • Lawrence
  • Lincoln
  • Marshall
  • Maury
  • Moore
  • Rutherford

Your animal must be within 25 feet of the roadway and must be ready to be picked up with the call made.  The program is through the South Central Tennessee Development District.

The pick-up is done by a professional that considers your horse a loved one.  They have been very gentle and careful when picking up my horses (and llama) in the past.

So to answer the question: What do I do when my horse dies?  Many options help you with your loss, and you must choose the best one for your situation.  I hope you do not have to use one of these options for a long time.  If you live in another state other than Tennessee, please use these options as a guideline to help you research your options in other states.


Contact your University of Tennessee county Extension agent for more information on equine disposal options in Tennessee.

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