Grazing Dung Beetle Trials

What do dung beetles have to do with water quality?

Up to 80% of nitrogen in cow pats is lost to the atmosphere, surface water or groundwater if left on the surface.

But the Malanda Beef Group knew that dung beetles could help reduce this loss by burying it and cycling the organic matter and nutrients back into the soil.

This recycling of nutrients means that less fertiliser needs to be used for pasture maintenance.

Another major benefit is the reduction in buffalo fly.

One of the farmers involved in this trial, Gladys Borgert, says that in 18 months her Buffalo Fly problem was at least halved.  Full story below...

Nineteen cattle properties were strategically chosen as “seed properties” for the southern Atherton Tablelands dung beetle introduction and environmental evaluation project.

The project was supported by Terrain NRM through funding from the Australian Government's Reef Rescue Innovation Funding Program.

Six species of dung beetles were released across the properties and their survival rates, spread and effectiveness are being monitored.

An active dung beetle population has the potential to cycle nutrients and organic matter back into the soil within 24 to 48 hours, instead of it being lost to the atmosphere, surface water or ground water.

This can reduce the need for fertiliser and also combat the buffalo fly by destroying its cow dung breeding ground.

Malanda Beef Plan Group president Bruce Carcary says grower support is needed across the region in switching to dung beetle-friendly fertilisers so dung beetle larvae is not wiped out and the population can spread across many farms.

There are different species of dung beetles and the varieties released on the Atherton Tablelands copes well with the dung of introduced animals like cattle.

One of the main drivers of the project, Rob Pagano, says some beetle species were already in the area.

“They were there but they are not active in all seasons or across all properties, soil types, rainfall zones and the like. What the project has done is introduce a greater diversity of species to see if they can survive, thrive and expand across the region under those varying circumstances.”

Grazier Gladys Borget says beetles have multiplied and spread prolifically on her farm: “I wasn’t very interested in beetles beforehand but I have become very passionate about them. In the last 18 months the buffalo fly problem has at least halved – they are doing their job”.

Rob Pagano expects it will take up to three years before it can be determined whether species have successfully established themselves on the southern Atherton Tablelands.

For the Malanda Beef Plan Group it is now a matter of patient monitoring and encouraging the use of dung beetle-friendly worming formulations by livestock farmers.