Sunday, May 5, 2013

BONELUST BONE PROCESSING Q&A: I want to start collecting bones/animal remains but I'm concerned about disease.

Excited About My New Respirator Filters & Getting My High Quality Gloves Again. Otherwise Even I Couldn't Have Dealt With The Nastiness I Did Today. Didn't Smell A Thing & No Need To Double Up Gloves!

What sort of safety precautions do you take while removing flesh from bone?

Good questions that I think not enough beginning bone collectors think about. Well obviously be super sanitary about each step of it. Here are some steps I take to stay sanitary:

Wear a respirator or at least a surgical/dust mask when you have concerns about airborne disease. I always wear high quality well fitted latex gloves when handling any remains until they are completely sanitary AFTER the hydrogen peroxide bath, which is the final step of processing. You can get every size imaginable in boxes of 100 on Amazon.com. You don't want cheap gloves tearing open while you're handling rotting carcasses. If you only have cheap gloves, double up.

Take care not to do processing where you eat or bathe. Every time I see a photo of a skull in a bathroom sink with their toothbrush and glass nearby I cringe. Keep your processing tools separate from your kitchen tools AND wash separate. Yes, these things would seem like common sense but I've seen bone collectors do things you wouldn't believe. Also, do not let your pets drink maceration water, peroxide bath or chew on dead things. I've seen far too many photos where people think this is funny. It can be VERY bad for your pets to do any of these things. Would you let your child drink/chew on these things???

Also, wash your hands/arms, hair and clothes/shoes after possible contamination. After I've gotten myself into some REALLY nasty stuff I put my clothes (shoes included, I wear Chucks so I can) into the wash and take a shower myself. When you're working on maceration tubs or handling dead animals you can expect a certain amount of contamination of your clothes/shoes. Splashback from maceration baths is very common. If you have long hair like me, take care to pull it back and keep it out of the nastiness. Likewise, wash down your processing work area and maceration tubs after use. The only time I use chlorine bleach in relation to bone processing is when I clean out maceration tubs when they get really bad. Although most of the time I let everything sun sanitize. Because I don't want bleach killing off my maceration bacteria colonies. So if you do use bleach rinse VERY well.

When picking up dead animals to process watch out for gases and liquids escaping the body. Which will almost always happen when you move the body. If you don't have latex gloves with you use a plastic bag to handle it and flip it right into that same bag. Don't lay dead animals in your car without a plastic bag or you'll be sorry. That smell will stay around and leave a very unsanitary stain where it laid. Keep hand sanitizer, gloves, and bags in your car so you're always prepared.

I could go on but that covers the basics and a little extra, just use common sense. Stay safe and sanitary friends.

28 comments:

Crystal said...

I found an dog, in the early stages of decomposition (metallic smell, bloated, and maggots crawling, most of the body still intact), on the railroad tracks near me. I'm worried someone will take him or he will get more mutilated, but I would love to let him decompose more. I live near a big city and a decomposing dog in my backyard with MY LIVING DOG would NOT fly. Especially with my roommate...who is already thoroughly not pleased with my new hobby. What should I do?

Jana Miller said...

Hi Crystal! If you are lucky vultures will arrive very soon and within a day they will completely clean it to the point it can go straight to maceration. All you may have to do is pull the skin free. Or cut it free. Otherwise yes, it will likely be scavenged by other animals taking limbs away and chewing on the bones/skull. Also, if it is literally ON THE TRACKS and trains are active where you are you need to pull it out neck to the tracks instead of between the tracks. Or the trail will continue to destroy it. Other than that your only option is to find somewhere you can put a bone cage to deposit the carcasses you find that won't be disturbed and let nature do its thing. Good luck!

Crystal said...

Not sure that vultures will find it, if they havent already. It's been a couple weeks, I was told by someone. It's under a bridge with heavy traffic (overpass)...so it looks like I WILL have to move it, and MAY have to cut the meat off. This will be my first time doing this so I am a bit nervous. Whew.

Jana Miller said...

That's really strange. In a couple weeks time it should easily be completely decomposed or have been scavenged already. Unless of course it froze. Don't know where you are located but here in Florida is what I'm going by. Even in the Winter. There is seriously no way even I would cut that open as bloated as it sounds. It is literally filling with gases. A kind of rotting stink bomb. If you even move it watch out for gases/liquid escaping! I HIGHLY suggest wearing a high quality respirator otherwise you may get sick just at the smell. Other thing you could do which I absolutely NEVER recommend and stopped doing myself over 25 years ago is burying it and digging it up later on. You can losing bones that way, having bone decay set it and staining. But if it really has been there for weeks and isn't decaying that is really strange.

Crystal said...

Well, I went to Home Depot and a lady who was familiar with this hobby, as well as the art school I go to, helped me out quite a bit. I got a HQ respirator (that worked wonderfully I might add), as well as trash bags, gloves, and goggles. I went to move it and the thing has so many maggots, it looked like cheese on the underside of its face, and the mouth and jaw looked still pinkish...so it probably has only been a week at most, if that (I am NO expert). The guy may not have been "all there" when he mentioned it. Most of the fur and top layer of skin just fall off when touched (with a stick) and I will spare you the details, as you probably have dealt with such atrocities, but I managed to move the 50 or so pound thing off the tracks (some how..I only weigh 107 lbs) and into a ditch by using metal chicken wire and plastic twine where I then tied it to a honeysuckle bush and covered it with an abandoned blanket so no one would bother it. I don't trust leaving it out or it will get carried off before vultures come near train tracks probably. We have a BUNCH of dogs around the neighborhood, and many run loose....Which is how this baby got hit in the first place. It has also been rainy all week which may be the reason why nothing has come to eat it yet. I live in Nashville TN, so it's nowhere near freezing here, but it has been unusually cold this season...I don't mind it, though, that's for sure!

I will check back in a couple days to see how it is, and let you know!

Jana Miller said...

Sounds like you did GREAT to me Crystal! A+ for being sanitary. Yeah, sound like about a week old. Those maggots are your best friend. They will deflesh it for you fast as well as lots of other carrion insects. So them being there is a good thing. Haha, you could have sent me photo and I'd not have flinched. No much bothers me visually or how it smells at this point. Tying it to the bush was a great idea. As was making a bone cage with chicken wire/twine and dragging it out of sight. You'll figure this out in no time. Rain won't stop scavengers or any weather for that matter, just the speed of the decomposition. It was just somehow not found yet. Only concerns I have with your setup is that if it is a drainage ditch and it floods bones may wash away or get lost in the mud. You DO want it to rain on it and get some sun, that's all part of the natural bone cleaning process. You may not even need that blanket on it. You want insects to be able to get to it. Also is limbs are very close to the edge of the cage they can still be grabbed by hungry scavenger arms/teeth. Fingers crossed for you!

Crystal said...

Thanks!
The blankets isn't over the entire thing, just in front of it to prevent people who walk the train tracks to mess with it. I plan on reconstructing the bone cage as it is very makeshift and it turned out that the dog was bigger than what I had, so I will add more tomorrow! I guess I just need all the luck I can get that it won't get discovered by someone or something who takes it away or destroys it. As far as I know the bones are in pristine condition. I don't know what killed it other than impact of a train. Hopefully the bones aren't crushed. I can glue together broken ones. Oh, and the ditch isn't very deep. It's only a few inches deep, and i dont know that water would even set there, as it just stopped raining after a few days and there is no water around that area. Have you ever put anything on your roof to decompose? I wouldn't until it is much farther along, but would that be any good to do? I know cats and birds may try and get at it so it may not be a good idea.

Crystal said...

Here are links to photos if you are interested what I'm working with (anyone, really):

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/87492792/Trainkill%20Dog/image%20(1).jpeg

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/87492792/Trainkill%20Dog/image%20(2).jpeg

Jana Miller said...

Oh WOW, thanks for the photos! That dog sure appears to have been killed by the train and I can only hope it died instantly on impact. The places where the fur has fallen off/split appear to be the impact marks as are the long lines in the fur on the side. The yellowish areas almost appear as if to be burned/bruised... or just skin pulled off my impact or dragging and then pooling blood. I knew I should have been something in the forensic field. Fascinates me so much. Am I imagining the eye still being there? If so, this has really not been there more than a few days at most. Looks like maggots have only just started by going into the mouth/nose. If it was there for over a week the whole gut would be maggots too. If it was struck my a train you are going to probably find a lot of broken bones. Fingers crossed though. Good idea about the blanket if it is somewhere people pass. If there is a way to hid behind/in a bushy area that would be even better. Good luck!

Crystal said...

Yes, the eye is still there, and very cloudy. I don't know if the other eye is there or not. I am going to go check on it today and see its progress, and hopefully get it better secured. I'm so down over the whole thing. After seeing that poor boy lying there, and then going home to see my beautiful blue eyed baby girl (dog) stare at me with her sad eyes, I couldn't bear the thought of something like that happening to her. I have to keep telling myself I'm doing the right thing in collecting this dogs bones and making art out of them. I am doing it with as much respect as I can possibly give. But this being my first venture into something so unorthodox in comparison to my usual hobbies is a bit jarring, but I'm sure it will get easier with experience.
And you should! Forensics have always interested me, but I am not sure if it is my true calling...but who knows! My mom also used to tell me that she regrets not getting into forensics, herself!
If you think about it, you are kind of in the field of forensics, but with your own style and know-how, and that is something that should be much more special to you. (though I'm sure it is). Keep doing what you are doing, its too cool!

Jana Miller said...

Not sure how you found me but you're welcome to add me at FB, sometimes the comments don't work here. This is actually the longest/best conversation I've ever had here! haha

https://www.facebook.com/jana.miller.photography

Part of why I started collecting and processing road kill was because it upset me so much to see it laying there. It is normal for it to be somewhat upsetting to you. After over 30 years of collecting/processing I've been kind of desensitized by seeing death so frequently. Doesn't mean I'm not still sad about it, I've just found some comfort in honoring those lives lost. Just as you are now learning to do. take care! jana

Ann said...

Hi Jana,

I've been following your Instagram for a few months and I really admire your work!

I don't have an interest in bone collecting necessarily, but this is my question: our pet mouse recently died, and we buried him in a box in our backyard. I'd love to be able to make a necklace with a couple of his limbs in a small vial (inspired by the necklaces I've seen you post).

I noticed you mentioned above that you don't recommend burying the carcass and digging it back up; seeing as I've already done that (wish I would have saw this post earlier :P), what next steps do you recommend? It's been less than a week since we've buried him, and I'd like to be sure he's decomposed a great deal before unburying.

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

Ann

Jana Miller said...

Hi Ann! I don't honestly know exactly how long it would take for him to decompose fully. There are a lot of factors involved. Your location, weather, his size, decomposition rate, how deep buried, soil type, what he was buried in and etc. I guess just leave him there for a month or so then dig him up and see what's left. That's about all I can suggest without being there and doing it myself. Then you are welcome to send him to me and I will finish processing his bones. And I can absolutely put him in a pendant. I do already offer that custom order option at my Etsy Bone Lust shop with supplied teeth. I'd just replace it with bones. But these are special circumstances you'd do best to message me direct at my shop to discuss the details rather than publicly here on my blog. If you wanted me to make you something that is. Wasn't sure if you were saying you'd make it or you were wanting me to. Good luck!

SnappyDragon said...

Hi Jana,

I'm sorry if this question has already been asked but after going through a lot of posts I cave!

I recently was given some owl pellets to go through which was super fun however I was wondering if I need to put them in a little maceration tub before the H202 bath? A few of the bones have some bits of tendons still attached so I wasn't sure if that's something that would be safe to toss in the H202 bath.

They are for the most part no bigger than a nickel so I'm worried about damaging the bones.

Thanks for the help! I follow you on Instagram and Etsy. I've always loved animals bones and I love that you're here to give advice!

-Sarah.

Jana Miller said...

Sorry for the delay Sarah, super busy lately. I will do an owl pellet post eventually but haven't yet. You do not want to macerate them. In fact you never want to macerate bone that small. They would very likely turn to mush. Once you carefully sort through the pellets and pull the bones out toss them right into the peroxide bath. It should hopefully loosen what little pits of flesh may still be on them (which is very strange and I've never seen any one bones in pellets) and you can pull it off. Be very aware the owl pellets are VERY unsanitary. Read about that here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellet_(ornithology) - good luck!

nicole mcgrew said...

I am new to all this but have always been interested in collecting bones. I live in the hills in southern California and while walking, came across a dead horse that was illegally disposed of (covered by a tarp). So heart breaking being that I have two of my own. My first thought was to call animal control, but I feel like this is a great opportunity to further indulge in my interest for oddities such as this. It is no more than a couple days old. My main question is how long will it take to decompose. I am not sure how I can move her to hide the body from ATVs so no one will mess with it. I have found large animal bones in this area before, but ppl or coyotes have obviously scattered them. Any suggestions would be great. Im at a loss with what to do with such a large animal.

Jana Miller said...

Hi Nicole… It really seems like someone has already covered it with a tarp with the intention of returning for the skeleton themselves. When people dumb animal carcasses they don't normally cover it in any way, they just leave the area quickly. So you may return to find someone else checking in on the skeleton as well. Something that large could take days to weeks to decay down to a stye that you can start parting the body to take home to macerate. All depend on weather, scavengers, location etc. Otherwise the only way you can be sure someone else or scavengers don't take off with limbs is to actually sit there and cut them/the head off yourself. Which I've done before on deer or boar. But nothing as large as a horse. One thing that's not good about the tarp is that it is also hiding it from the vultures. And besides maggots they clean it free of flesh faster than any other carrion cleaner. I love their help on larger animals. They never damage the bones. That's about all I can suggest. Good luck!

nicole mcgrew said...

That's a good thought. Someone may be watching it as well. I just thought they would've hidden her better. There are other large animal bones in that area as well so maybe that's what they do, I never find the skulls. I recovered the poor thing with the tarp this afternoon. There are maggots everywhere, so I'll keep checking on their progress throughout the week. I'm really determined to get that skull, I've had horses all my life and would love to own a skull that large. Thanks for responding. I will keep you updated.

Brittany C. said...

Okay, I was in the woods and found some small animal and deer bones. They were almost totally picked clean so, having no gloves on me, I just carried the bones home bare-handed. Really stupid, I know. In the process of handling them, I realized I had a small cut on my thumb from earlier. I'm usually super careful, so this is making me freaked out. What types of illnesses should I be worried about? Thanks.

Jana Miller said...

Brittany C I honestly think you'll be fine. One of few things I've heard about involving game type animals is this - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brucellosis

lngarrison said...

Hi Jana,

I picked up a half buried sun bleache black rat skull with my bare hands and my son and his friend touched it too.

They washed their hands afterwards and I put the skull in hydrogen preoxoide in a cup in the bath after I rinsed it with soapy water.

Should I be concerned of disease or if the rat died by rat poison? Should I be concerned for residual rat poison? Should I remove it from my bathroom?

Thank you!

Jana Miller said...

Hi, you really probably don't have much to worry about. It sounds as if the skull was fairly natured cleaned and anything you'd have to worry about would more likely be found on a newly dead animal or at least the decaying. Sounds like you've been quite sanitary other than initially letting your child and his friend touch the skull before putting it into a peroxide bath to sanitize it. Take care, jana

Digbee Thatcher-Bedford said...

Hi. You don't have to actually post this, I just have a question. I have a fairly large collection, which I may have to leave behind when I move out of the US. I would like it to stay together, and to go to someone who will enjoy it as much as I have over the last 40 years, but don't know where/how to sell it. Any thoughts?

Jana Miller said...

Digbee Thatcher-Bedford, I would contact Skulls unlimed they buy collections - http://www.skullsunlimited.com/

ChocolateBarbiFoReal said...

Hi Jana,
I've just become brave enough to try and do some processing for myself. Earlier today a neighborhood wild kitten was hit on my street and I wanted to try and save its skull, it doesn't seem to have been crushed. I used a couple of plastic bags to pick it up and now it's in an outdoor freezer that we don't use for food because I'm not exactly sure what to do next. Since this is my first time I don't think I could stomach skinning it myself and I would like to go the bone cage method but I'm not sure where to begin on building it or even where to put it. I live in a neighborhood and I'm not certain how much a small animal decaying would smell. Would it be completely awful? If you have any advice I would love to hear it!

Jana Miller said...

Hi ChocolateBarbiFoReal… I will be honest in saying you may be starting with a harder animal to process because it is not an adult. A kitten may not process very well using my current processing steps suggested here, depending on age. Juvenile animal skulls often are not yet fused and will fall apart using maceration in particular (that's the step after the bone cage). Likewise, I do not suggest burial processing but it may be your only option. It may be a job best for dermestid beetles. Yes, decaying flesh of any kind will smell very badly. Your neighbors will likely notice. The more you gut/deflesh the animal the better. The bone cage part should go faster. Take a look at my bone cage post here to get an idea of what it should be like. Sorry, I have not yet made my HoTo on making one. Good luck! jana

Barbara Lenore said...

My neighbor is a bone collector. She doesn't follow any health precautions, just tosses roadkill into crates in the weeds at the edge of her yard. We have to deal with the stink, and now reading your post has got me worried about health concerns. I've called animal control and the police and been told there is nothing they can do. We live on a family farm and this cousin totally ignores the wishes of the rest of the family. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Jana Miller said...

Hi Barbara Lenore... What I do is close to what your neighbor/cousin does. Difference is I have the animal remains in a cage that animals/children can not get to AND I do not have neighbors/family to offend. You probably only have health concerns if you have pets/children getting into their dead stuff or if there is some kind of cross contamination going on namely in the kitchen area. If you do have something going on like this I would stress to them that area needs to be fenced off. That may also help keep the smell to a smaller area. I'm sorry I don't have any suggestion to completely remedy the smell issue. I do know that some people I know that have farms and let animals that pass decompose outside put straw/hay on top of the carcasses. They would still decompose and may even help them decompose faster AND may help with the smell. Perhaps make that suggestion, Another idea is maybe to give them a designated part of the property far away from everyone else/the main house to do their work. Good luck!