Dung beetles

Last month I got introduced to some of the people behind the website www.dungbeetlesforfarmers.co.uk

I was told about the introduction of dung beetles to Australia. Here the native dung beetles were only able to deal with dung of marsupials and not that of livestock which got introduced in the 18880’s. This was one major reason why the continent was plagued by flies. It was not until the late 1960’s that other dung beetle species were introduced.

Dung beetles are a major contributor to soil health. Some species tunnel down 1-1.5m below the surface which helps with drainage and soil compaction. There is increased earthworm activity around dung pats with dung beetles but also there are also more fungi around all adding to soil health.

On the day we spotted a dung beetle which was covered in “insectivorous” mites. These mites predate on fly eggs and maggots and so help to keep the fly population in check.

In ideal conditions dung beetles can make a dung pat disappear underground within 3-4 days. This not only get the nutrients into the soil but also buries worm eggs and larvae of cattle and sheep (gut) parasites helping to reduce the worm burden of the species that affect our livestock. Also dung buried under the surface will emit less greenhouse gasses.

What can be done to help the poor dung beetle you might ask? First of all dung beetles should not be deprived of a food source. Although it might sound obvious but housing livestock for 5 months of the year doesn’t help here. Also a nice stiff pat is much preferred over a sloppy pancake. High grain diets or mono cultures of rye grass should be avoided. But probably the main thing that both vets and farmers can do to help the dung beetles is to reduce the use of avermectin wormers. These wormers are not only convenient and highly effective to treat gut worms but they have a detrimental effect on all the creepy crawlies that live in or around dung pats.

We have made a huge improvement in reducing antibiotic use so let’s continue that with responsible anthelmintic use when we review your health plan this year.

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