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The Benefits of Dung Beetles

During the 1990s my organisation, called Rivers Australia, held seminars and meetings designed to help address damage to river systems. During that time, government agencies were publishing reports on the dung beetle’s effect on removing cattle waste from the soil, as they observed occurring in Europe. The Australian species is capable of removing kangaroo and other droppings from native species but not cattle.

WHAT THEY DO:

1. BURY THE MANURE. They transport the manure underground. In videos they are shown rolling dung into balls and then pushing it into their burrows where it is stored as a food source. Manure is often eaten by animals, such as dogs, because there is food in it. Research has shown that they transport 90% of the nitrogen in this material underground.

2. IMPROVEMENT OF SOIL QUALITY. By putting the waste on the land they effectively improve the soil so that better crops can grow. Ranchers often pen cattle and grow wheat, barley, or other grains to increase their income and produce food for their herds. They also harvest hay from the ground. The difference between hay and straw lies in the cutting time of the product.

The hay is harvested before the seed pods appear so that it retains the natural benefits that the animals derive from the diet. Hay, on the other hand, is the stalks left after the thresher has gathered the wheat. It can then be used for bedding, fertilizer or garden bed protection in the horticultural industry.

Improved soil helps increase the yield of all these crops. Studies have shown that the essential metals nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur were 80% higher where dung beetles are active.

3. REDUCE FLY STRIKE. The manure cannot be used by the flies for breeding purposes and this reduces the number of insects that are such a pest around farms. The benefits from this aspect alone are so valuable because sheep are prone to fly to where worms hatch from eggs laid around their hindquarters. They are then eaten by them as they ripen.

4. WORM CONTROL. Experiments have shown that they reduce the populations of infectious worms breeding in manure by up to 85%

5. IMPROVEMENT OF WATER QUALITY IN RIVERS. Thanks to the dung beetle there is less excrement that pollutes rivers and suffocates native plant and fish species.

6. LESS CHEMICALS IN THE ENVIRONMENT. Due to the ingestion of pesticides by animals prone to fly strikes and the use of other chemicals, these materials were washed into rivers. In places where fish settled, platypods and other native species died. By reducing their use they return and the rivers have improved water quality.

7. IMPROVED SHEPHERDS: Cattle do not feed where dung accumulates and excrete about 12 patches from this day per animal. Then it takes a long time to break down. This meant that farmers had to move cattle around to keep their feed fresh. This is no longer a problem as the waste is removed and thus saves farmers time and money.

SUPPLY OF POOR MANURE

This seems to be another industry connected with that of agriculture, as the beetles are reared in commercial quantities. The cost of a thousand is about $700, and for large farms this is expensive, since many times this number is required.

Estimates of around 160 different beetle species are needed to cover Australian conditions, which vary so much from place to place. Temperature, drought, floods and such were just some of the problems they would face. CSIRO used their laboratories in Pretoria, South Africa to carry out most of their research.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that farmers were able to access the beetles and reap their full benefits. The amount of research and time it took to meet all the requirements was extensive, but so many other considerations were required before they could be successfully released with confidence that they would not harm the native beetle or cause other problems.

Now people can dine outside without barbed wire around them, and the other problems farmers faced have been greatly reduced. Thanks to the insight of Dr. Bornemissza, who came to Australia from Hungary in 1951, Australian farmers can now enjoy the benefits of these imported and genetically modified dung beetles on their properties.

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