How small on-farm changes could lift dung beetle numbers

Dung beetle handbook big step in producers helping dung beetle population

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Producer David Ferguson with Russ Barrow of the Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers.

Producer David Ferguson with Russ Barrow of the Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers.

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Dung beetles have a big role to play in farm systems.

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Plans to transform livestock dung into multi-million dollar benefits for the livestock industry are now focused on educating producers on identifying and growing dung beetle populations on their property.

Altering the timing of conducting a drenching program is one of the many management changes producers could make that would go a long way in building numbers.

Identification will be even easier with the release of 'A Pocket Guide to Introduced Dung Beetles in Australia' by Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers featuring waterproof pages includes information on all the dung beetles that have been released by CSIRO across the past 55 years.

Gundagai producer David Ferguson runs 6000 Meat Plus composite sheep and 200 Angus breeders on Kimo Estate.

Gundagai producer David Ferguson runs 6000 Meat Plus composite sheep and 200 Angus breeders on Kimo Estate.

The DBEE project is a national research campaign led by MLA and aims to correct distribution of beetles in southern Australia and create a supply and distribution pipeline to access beetles.

Dung beetles can improve soil in grazing systems, reduce the spread of disease and insects such as bush flies, increase pasture health and reduce nutrient run-off into waterways.

Gundagai producer David Ferguson runs 6000 Meat Plus composite sheep and 200 Angus breeders on Kimo Estate and welcomed an on-farm testing site on the property.

Dung beetles have been present on their property for some time and interestingly seem to present all year round rather than seasonally.

Gundagai producer David Ferguson was interested to improve his own understanding of dung beetles.

Gundagai producer David Ferguson was interested to improve his own understanding of dung beetles.

"It's pretty good country anyway but you can see they have buried down into the ground and are putting the manure down into the lower soils," Mr Ferguson said.

"It is turning the soil over for us a bit and where they are active they are active on our better country and I don't know which came first."

Having volunteered for trial work in the past, Mr Ferguson said the findings would help to understand the population and better ways to manage them.

Producer David Ferguson.

Producer David Ferguson.

"They go about their business here and we regard them as part of the furniture," he said.

"Nobody is a perfect farmer and everybody can gain something from this as well as us. But certainly those people who don't have them introduced on their country it sure would be beneficial to the land and pasture."

Dung beetle species can have seasonal variances with a current gap in the population in spring.

As a result of the early assessments, a number of new species dung beetles are being bred in captivity to be released and fill the gap.

Dr Paul Weston, senior research fellow at Charles Sturt University and pocket guide team member, said a lot of their efforts had been developing educational materials and identifying species.

Dung beetle species can have seasonal variances.

Dung beetle species can have seasonal variances.

Producers could help in managing the long term population growth simply by changing their drenching programs.

"The different species of dung beetle are active at different times of the year at different time of the day so knowing what dung beetles we have on a property could tell you if you might benefit from having other species introduced," he said.

"There may be gaps that could be filled by other species that currently don't exist on your property.

"Getting a handle on what you have got and what you might do to help preserve dung beetles could mean you might refrain from using a toxic wormer at a time of year when a particular species is more active because the dewormers and drenches for cattle parasites and other livestock parasites are toxic in the dung for a period of time after they are excreted from the animal.

"We can lessen the negative impact on dung beetles by applying those dewormers at the appropriate time of year and be less of an impact for dung beetles."

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