At Ennerdale we are extremely conscious of animal health – we also care about the environment, like most farmers we are keen to protect what we have. In 2014 we introduced a colony of over 4000 dung beetles into the farm paddocks.
A dung beetle is a beetle that feeds partly or exclusively on dung or faeces. They possess exceptional dung disposal capabilities, as one beetle can push a dung ball up to 50 times its own weight. In one night a beetle can bury dung that is 250 times heavier than itself.
An average cow produces between 10-12 pats or 18 kg per day. Over a fortnight in the right climate each pat has the capacity to produce around 3,000 flies, not to mention the locked up fertilizer which could be providing nutrients to the grass. Imagine a small herd of 30 head producing 3.7 tonne of pats a week - it's dung beetle heaven just out in the paddock!
Dung beetles prefer fresher cow pats, so the beetle will fly from paddock to paddock to follow their food source. The beetles squeeze the nutrient rich moisture out of fresh dung and then dig tunnels under the cow pat and take the dung down into the tunnels for reproduction purposes. They will bury it regardless of the soil type. In digging the tunnels they take dung nutrient rich matter to the root systems of the soil and thereby dispose of the dung.
As well as fertilizing the soil theses tunnels also allow water to reach deep underground. The aeration of soil from the beetle tunnel system together with the buried dung produces a healthy environment and stores massive amounts of carbon. This enables grass and other plant root systems to penetrate more deeply into zones which could not otherwise be accessed – especially compacted soils.
♥ Dung Beetles aerate the soil
♥ Dung Beetles re-locate nitrogen and phosphorus in the dung to the grass root
♥ Dung Beetles deepen the topsoil layer by slowly cultivating and turning it over to a depth of 300mm, thereby producing aerated nutrient rich environment in which microbial activity thrives
♥ The Dung Beetle activity provides a habitat and food supply for earthworms
♥ The tunnels created by Dung Beetles increase rain-water penetration and improves ground-water retention
♥ The tunnels created by Dung Beetles allows more nutrients and chemicals from herbicides and pesticides to penetrate the soil. This results in insecticides, wetting agents fertilizers and organic matter remaining in the paddock rather than entering waterways and dams
♥ The dung beetle tunnel system enables the locked-up phosphate already in many Australian soils to be made available for plant utilization
♥ The rapid burial of dung reduces internal parasite loads in pastures
♥ Dung Beetle activity reduces bush fly populations up to 99% (CSIRO research in Western Australia)
PLUS - Research in the USA revealed that 80% of the nitrogen in dung when left on pastures goes off into the atmosphere. When dung is well buried by dung beetles the loss is 20% with 80% being placed in the grass root zone.
It is unfortunate that dung beetles do not bury chicken and geese droppings as they are too acidic. Other small pelletised droppings such as alpaca do not have enough moisture for the dung beetles needs.
When drenching your Highland Cattle be aware to use dung beetle friendly products as some can kill your beetles!