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Dung Beetles: Your Other Pasture Manager

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
July 2, 2014        
           
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties


Dung Beetles: Your Other Pasture Manager
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (07/02/14) — Cow-calf producers know the importance of managing their pastures, but what about the other critters managing your pastures?  I’m talking, of course, about dung beetles.  Dung beetles are beetles that feed partly or exclusively on dungs or feces. They possess exceptional dung disposal capacity and one dung beetle can bury dung that is 250 times heavier than itself in one night.  Many dung beetles, known as rollers, roll dung into round balls, which are used as a food source or brooding chambers. Other dung beetles, known as tunnelers, bury the dung wherever they find it.  The beetles then lay their eggs in the dung, where the larvae will hatch, grow, and continue the cycle. 

Dung beetle activities greatly benefit the land on which they are acting.  Buried with the manure are flies and parasites, forever enemies of cattle, horses and other livestock.  Dr. Jody Wade, professional service veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. says, “Dung beetles help reduce pest populations that affect cattle herds.  One manure pat may contain close to 80 adult horn flies. But healthy dung beetle populations have been shown to reduce horn flies by as much as 95 percent. They can reduce nematode infections by up to 90 percent and nematode populations 75-93 percent.” 

Dung beetles offer additional benefits to pastures.  These include:

  • Breaking up manure, increasing forage availability. Dung beetles can bury more than 75 percent of manure on a pasture. There are estimates that this could open 1 million acres or more of usable pasture.
  • Tunneling through the soil and incorporating manure into the soil, improving soil fertility. “Research shows that with a good dung beetle population, soil is better aerated, and nitrogen content is much better,” Wade says. “Close to 200 pounds of residual N can be attributed to dung beetles. There is also more phosphate available.”
  • Tunneling helps improve soil infiltration and water retention. Water penetration is about 130% deeper than in pastures without beetles.

Unfortunately, dung beetle populations have been heavily reduced by the use of some dewormers that control internal parasites.  By using avermectin parasite control products, which kill dung beetles, producers may have lost many benefits the beetles bring to pastures.  However, cattle can receive excellent parasite control from products that contain moxidectin, which has little or no effect on dung beetles.  Talk to your vet or local sales rep about dewormers with moxidectin, and leave the dirty work to the dung beetles.

 

 

Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University

 

Contacts

Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
krek0033@umn.edu
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