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The retrieving and cleaning of bones from roadkill

Mountain Witch

From our own Honeythorn:



1. Before you start


What body parts are you looking to retrieve from the animal?


You need to ask yourself this question before you collect it. No good scraping up anything flat, it will be of no use to you. Skull shattered? did you want the skull? If not, what else can you collect from the animal?


How long do you estimate it to have been there?


If you only want bones, this doesn't really matter. But if you want skin/fur/paws/tails/wings/feet/whole heads , then you must not try to preserve anything over a day dead. It will have begun to decay and the smell will linger even after drying. The fresher the better


2 - Scrape it up.


For those of you who are able to drive, I would reccomend that you keep plastic sheeting in your car.


For those like myself, who are not able to drive, I personally always keep a few plastic grocery bags in every handbag I use on a regular basis , and also my workbag. You simply never know when you'll find something dead, and thus you will always have a bag or two handy.


Disposable gloves may be needed in the case of larger animals.


To pick up a small-ish body - It's exactly like scooping a dogshit. Put your hand in the grocery bag ( turn the bag inside out and make sure it has no holes or rips ) , pick up the body, and turn the bag the right way. This way you can retrieve the body quickly and cleanly, without touching it barehanded.


For larger animals - This will require the plastic sheeting and gloves . The best way would be to roll the animal onto the first third of the sheet, and then roll it up in the plastic before hoisting it into your car.


Things to watch out for


Bodily fluids and excreta - Blood, guts and shit basically. Make sure your plastic bag or sheet has no holes or rips !!! The body may be gassy or bloated depending on how decayed it is. Bloated bodies have been known to explode when moved, you are forewarned !


Smells - This will depend on how long the body has been there, and the level of stench in older bodies will be affected by heat and cold. The hotter it is, the smellier it will be.


Traffic - If the thing is in the middle of a busy road, LEAVE IT THERE. No matter how desirable it may be, no dead animal is worth getting mowed down for, and you may be arrested for obstructing traffic and distracting drivers. If you really must have the thing, return in the small hours of the night, when roads are quieter and usually safer, and retrieve the body as quickly and safely as you are able. Be aware that it's condition may be worse than when you first saw it, as people may have driven over it even more during the elapsed time.


Police officers - To my knowledge it's not illegal to pick up roadkill. It saves the local road cleaners a job if nothing else. But if you are unsure, check with your local authorities beforehand. They will probably think you are insane.



3. Interrment


Burial - I have an area of my garden where I bury my bodies, those with limited or no garden space should find buckets or large plastic storage tubs ( the deep lidded sort you put old crap in and stick in the attic ) to be a cheap and easy option. I dig a hole about 8-10 inches deep. For a bucket, put it close to the bottom about 1/3 of the way from the base.


Soil . The type of soil you have may affect the speed of decay. Very sandy/salty coastal soil or boggy peat rich soil, may slow down the decay of the body. Human bodies have been found on/near beaches and peat bogs, effectively preserved by the type of earth they are buried in ( some are over 2000 years old, such as the Lindow bodies ) If you have such an unsuitable soil, then buy yourself a cheap bag of potting soil or compost to put in your buckets.


Additions and helpers - Got ants nests? Use them ! Bury your body close to the nest, the ants should help with stripping the flesh away. You could also try purchasing some fishing maggots, chuck them onto your body, and cover with a few inches of soil. If you do choose to do that, don't bury the body quite so far down as the maggots will become flies in a few weeks and will need to escape.


I also pour a couple of jugfulls of warm water over the site of burial after a few weeks. Nothing speeds up decay like moisture and heat.



4. How long to wait?


For anything rabbit sized downwards, 4-6 months should be enough to take most of the flesh off. Weather and time of year may cause this time to change in either direction. In summer ( and also warm summer rainstorms ) the heat will speed it up, winter will freeze the body and slow it down.


I usually check on the body after a couple of months to see how it's doing.


Larger animals will take a year or more depending on what/how big they are. It would be a good idea to skin, gut and remove as much flesh as possible from larger animals to help speed the process up. I cannot advise on the best way to do this, as I have never done it. But information should be easily googled, or if you know anyone with experience, ask them to tell you or do it for you if they will.


( Skinning and gutting can of course be done with smaller animals too, I mean to try this at some point of mother allows it )


5. Dig it up


Ok so you've waited your time, now to dig up your body. I use a small Plastic narrow trowell for this, as always, wear glovs. Dig carefully, no jabbing or hacking at the dirt, you could damage your bones.


It helps to try and remember how far down you laid the body, and in what position - take a photo at the time of burial if needs be, so you know what should be where when you shovel it up.


Buckets could be tipped out onto a large plastic sheet if you don't want to dig. You can re-use the dirt and simply put it back in the bucket ready for the next visitor.



Condition - Are there remnants of flesh left on the bones? Some brains left in the skull? No problem, there is a way to remove remaining bits of flesh.



7. Maceration


Ok so now you have your dug up bones, but any further flesh remnants need to be removed. This can be done with maceration. I use the cold water style. This is literally a bucket of water. Chuck your bones in, and leave the bucket for a week , preferably in a warm spot out of direct sunlight. Change the water each week. It should take about 1 month , though more of course of there is a fair bit of flesh remaining when you dig up the bones.



After all flesh is gone and skulls are empty, don your disposable gloves once more, and take the bones out of the bucket. I initially dry mine on kitchen paper.



NOTE - You can macerate a body from the getgo instead of burying it. I have never done this myself at home as mother will not allow me to do so. The water does become quite smelly. You should skin, gut and deflesh as much of the animal as you can before submerging it in water. This is better suited to fresh bodies, not decaying ones .

I did however do a water maceration by accident, when a blackbird fell into a waterbutt down the allotments and drowned ( my brother found it floating ) . I left it in there and placed fine mesh under the submerged body to catch any bones as the flesh rotted away. The process took well over a month ( close to 2 and a half ) as I didn't remove or touch the body, and of course the guts and all the flesh had to decay ( had I removed and gutted it, this would have been quicker )



8 . Further drying


After drying with kitchen paper, the bones will still not be quite dry on the inside where you cannot reach. To dry the insides, I bury the bones in salt, in a carboard box ( I use a shoebox ) Use enough salt to cover the bones by about half a centimeter. I use basic table salt for this. It's cheap and it works.



I leave the bones in the salt for a couple of weeks. After this, they are ready for use






The drying of wings, feet, heads,tails, paws ect.



Remember, the animal MUST be one day dead or less.


Remove wings by cutting where the wing joins the body. I use a craft knife and wire cutters for this. I pluck the feathers around the site of the cuting beforehand to make this easier.


For whole bird tails, breasts or sections of skin with feathers attached ( that you wish to remain attached ) , you need to remove the piece of skin that the feathers are attached to. Inspect the feathers around the area to see where they join, then pluck and cut slightlyabove that area. A sharp craft knife should be fine for this. Remove as much fat and flesh from the underside of the cut skin as you are able. This will help speed up the drying process ( less flesh to dry ).


Heads, Tails and Paws. You may need the wire cutters to get through any bones. Slice through the skin and muscles first with a knife. For heads, carefully cut as close to the skull as you can where the neck joins it.



Drying -


Again, I use salt and a shoebox. You will need more than for bones, you really need to cover the parts. I do know that in the US Cornmeal is also popular as a drying agent for this sort of work, so feel free to try that. I have no idea if it can be found in the UK though I shall have a looksie. I would personally use a mixture of both.


1 month should be enough time for lean parts such as skin sections, tails, legs/paws and small wings to have dried. 2 months is best for large wings and heads.


Check the parts . If they are still flexible, squishy in the slightest ect, put the back and leave for another month.


A very very faint meaty smell is normal in dried parts. But if you pick up any whiff of rot or decay, bin the part at once, it cannot be saved ( and it means the body was older than you thought it was and had started to decay ) .


Use an old toothbrush or small paintbrush to brush off encrusted salt or cornmeal.



Your parts should now be ready for use :)



It's a long process, but worth it and has always worked for me well enough so far. Hopefully I've explained it all clearly and as thoroughl as I can. I don't think I left anything out.....


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