It’s great to see stock out again at the start of what we hope will be a fantastic grazing & growing season. It is often easy to forget what other life is also working hard for us in our fields, such as the humble dung beetle (bee & earthworm among others!) Rob Howe unearths some facts…
Did you know?
There are approximately 60 species of dung beetle native to the UK. Worldwide, they are classed into three groups based on their poo-related behaviour.
The most well known are the ‘Rollers’ (Telecoprids). These make a dung ball and roll it away to be used as a food source or for brooding chambers. Rollers are tropical species, there are none in Britain.
African dung beetles (above) can roll dung balls 50 times their own body weight, vast distances. These guys can use the stars of the milky way to navigate!
In the UK we have ‘Tunnellers’ (Paracoprids) and ‘Dwellers’ (Endocoprids). Tunnellers dig, burying the dung up to 3 feet below ground, where they lay eggs and where their larvae can develop safe from predation. ‘Dwellers’ neither roll, nor burrow. They simply live their entire lives in manure, the lucky beggars! These guys are also found in the UK, pictured above on a local sheep farm.
Every species has its own habits, which are important in that the more species you have on farm the better, since they work synergistically to provide their full array of benefits.
Why are dung beetles so good for our farms?
- Increase soil organic matter by dragging down dung (fertilises soil)
- Improve the productivity of the land (more grass)
- Increase soil aeration & structure (through creation of tunnels)
- Improve rainwater infiltration (reducing erosion & flooding)
- Speed up dung removal (reducing numbers of nuisance flies, parasites & therefore animal diseases, which further reduces need for treatments)
- They are FREE!
Money Saving Experts
Dung beetles are estimated to save the British cattle industry £367 million a year, primarily by encouraging the growth of healthy grass1. Compare this to what is often quoted as the UK annual cost of BVD at £40 million a year and it is quite staggering!
The true value of dung beetles is likely to be even higher than the estimate above, because despite many assumptions in modelling, they provide more services that were not included in this model such as; flood mitigation, increased carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity & reduced reliance on expensive wormers, fertilisers & pesticides.
You may have heard the news stories about rapidly declining insect populations. Dung beetles are in decline and like bees, are absolutely critical to farming productivity and our ecosystems.
Unfortunately, the active ingredients in many convenient ‘pour-ons’ (avermectins) can be lethal to aquatic life, birds, and many insects. This includes the critically important dung beetles. Not only are these active ingredients lethal at very low doses, but they also stick around in the environment for a long time.
The use of avermectins is one of the biggest problems for dung beetles, and therefore, the benefits they provide to us. Check out your cow pats and see how many holes appear within a couple of days. They should be riddled with holes if you have a good population of dung beetles.
It is likely these products will be subject to further legislation and reclassification in the future, so if you use them, it would be as well to begin to think ahead now.
Fortunately, there are plenty of effective alternatives available, many of which are also cheaper. Changes in chemical use could save a potential extra £1.36 – £4.36 per cow each year according to the study cited earlier.
What can you do?
Remove unnecessary treatments. For example adult dairy & beef cattle should be immune to gut worm burdens so avoid treating adults. According to studies, simply not treating adult beef cattle for gut worms would save British farming an additional £6.2 million a year! However, please speak to your vet to ensure adults are still protected against important parasites such as fluke and lungworm.
Remember we offer our ‘Infectious Disease Check’ bulk milk monitoring service. It is one way to track fluke exposure. There are many other non-chemical ways to protect stock, including Lungworm vaccination and management strategies. For our beef herds & sheep flocks, we need muck samples to keep track of fluke and worm burdens and many of you have already taken up this monitoring service via our health plans.
Our VetTechs offer a FEC monitoring service – find out more here.
Avoid products in the avermectin group between March & October when animals are grazing. These products are still useful. But we should be aware their lengthy persistence in muck can have negative effects on the farm’s productivity.
If we decide we need to use avermectins we can opt for sub-cutaneous routes since these reduce overall doses. Creating ‘sacrificial paddocks’ well away from watercourses is another way to reduce their impact.
Also keeping dogs out of rivers if they’ve recently been treated with spot ons.
Want to do more?
Get in touch if you would like to know your worm burdens and manage this important area in a more integrated way. Our VetTechs can easily and regularly collect muck samples or you can drop them in. Your vet can use the information as part of a full parasite control plan that will likely be able to save you on treatments as well as increase farm performance in other areas by creating a much bigger, more diverse population of dung beetles that help reduce compaction, improve your soil organic matter, productivity, drainage, biodiversity and carbon sinking.
Do a Dung Beetle Survey
These are quite easy to do and one way to assess soil health. Interested in seeing how many dung beetles are on your farm?
The “Dung beetle UK Mapping Project” aka DUMP (haha!) would be interested in knowing what you find (www.brc.ac.uk/irecord).
If you are interested in this article and would like to discover more about regenerative agriculture in general, you may be interested in ‘Groundswell’ on the 26th & 27th June. It’s a farmer led conference and we can obtain discounted tickets if making a group booking. Call Rob Howe for further info.