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Australia

Dung beetles: essential to pasture quality

Australia’s 30 million head of cattle drop more than half a million tonnes of dung across prime grazing land every single day. This provides both an opportunity and a threat to cattle producers across Australia as ongoing dung build up can have a detrimental effect on pasture quality and availability.

Dung beetles: essential to pasture qualityEnhancing Soil’s Chemical Levels

The beetles’ tunnel system aerates the soil and deepens topsoil by slowly cultivating it and turning it over, producing an environment in which microbial activity thrives. This stores massive amounts of carbon, but it also relocates the dung’s natural nitrogen and phosphorous content into the grass root zone, resulting in a natural fertilisation process.

In fact, the dung’s nitrogen content would be largely lost without dung beetle activity. Rapid burial by dung beetles allows upwards of 80 per cent of the dung’s nitrogen to be stored below the ground, offering the plants’ root system a nutritious food source. Most of this nitrogen would be lost into the atmosphere if dung was allowed to dry on the surface.

The beetles can burrow into extremely compacted soils, enabling grass and other plant root systems to penetrate more deeply into zones that could not otherwise be accessed. By promoting deeper grass root penetration, the beetles help reduce the effects of soil acidity and salinity as well as locking up more carbon.

Rain Water Retention

Additional benefits from dung beetle activity include an increase in rain water retention (via the beetles’ tunnels), improving sub soil moisture. The tunnels also allow more nutrients and chemicals from herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers and wetting agents to remain in the paddock rather than entering waterways and dams.

Careful Drenching

As worms and flies breed in cow dung, rapid dung burial can prevent these parasites from completing their lifecycle, reducing the risk of infection and disease.

These beneficial insects are often lost as a result of the essential cattle drenching process. Specifically, some of the ML (macrocyclic lactones) group of drenches often associated with pour ons and injections can have a severely detrimental impact on dung beetles, particularly at the larval and immature stages.

Therefore, it’s critical to select drenches that don’t impact dung beetles to ensure the beetles can continue their amazing work while still protecting the cattle from parasites.