Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dung beetles

One of the issues that face people raising livestock is internal parasites. Any type of livestock is susceptible: horses, sheep,goats, cows, alpacas, pigs---you name it, they have parasites. These parasites can sometimes cause health issues or worse: kill the animal.
One thing we learned when we started to raise cows, then sheep, is that organic control of these problem pests takes more.....effort.
I don't mean effort in the sense of more work---but it does require more brain power.
The easiest way, and least brain powered way, to control parasites of livestock is to feed chemical wormers to the livestock. Of course if you are certified organic you aren't suppose to. Naturally, sustainable or pasture raised doesn't really come with restrictions on these chemicals however knowing the farmer you purchase your food from will tell you a lot about whether or not they use them regularly, occasionally or never. The government tells us that these chemicals are fine for us from anywhere to immediately after the animal ingest them, or for some, after the withholding of milk or slaughter for certain periods of time after ingestion. However---if you read my blog regularly you will know---I am skeptical of any chemical the government says is fine for me. to naturally, sustainable, organically control these little boogers?
Many many ways exist but one of the really good ways (that also helps with pasture fertility along with flies and other pests that spread through manures) is the DUNG BEETLE. Yes, I highlighted it so that is would stand out---I am not yelling :-) Here are some pictures of dung beetles so you can recognize one if you see it: Here is a female Onthophagus Taurus also known as (I believe) bull headed beetle---hence the taurus in the name. And also a few of Onthophagus Gazalla---which I do not know why it's called that. Notice the males of both species have horns.

Now these types of beetles are not indigenous to the U.S. They came from elsewhere but are not considered problematic since they do not interfere or cause problems with other native species. As a matter of fact---more places would like to have them. They are slightly different than some of the other types of beetles that help deal with manure. These beetles actually dig holes and bury the poop. Both of these things help with: pests of all types, aeration of pasture soils by improving moisture retention and compaction, and fertility by "feeding the soil" (a bit of a basic way to put it but..)

Now you can learn lots more about these guys than I could ever tell you----and how ALL chemical wormers will kill them in animal poop---by looking on line or reading Charles Walters book Dung Beetles & a cowman's profits.

The main thing I wanted to tell people here----since most will not find this on line and probably won't buy the books----is how to propagate them.

According to research done by students at Texas A&M this easy way will increase your dung beetles easily:

They would start late in the fall (I am sure you could do it in the summer too) with a 5 gallon bucket of soil, topped by a cow patty. More than likely sheep, goat or horse poo would work as well---if their burying it in your pasture I am sure they will bury it in the bucket. However quantities and moisture may need to be adjusted? Anyway---add 5 or 6 pair of beetles (or as many as you can collect--search on line for how to collect, but usually pit traps with a bit of manure pat inside are used ( Nobody said it was going to be a clean job).
After a week or so the pat will be eaten. Collect your dung beetles with a small amount of dung in a cup, and move them to a new bucket and repeat. Each pair produces between one and two brood balls per day. Here is a link about hatching and pupation: Here.

Most people will not do this BUT (big but here) you never know who might. So to all of you out there who might try this to help your pastures and parasite problems: Good Luck. The power of poo to you :-)


Robbyn said...

That is interesting!

Hayden said...

wow. I'm speechless. fascinating.

do you find that de works? I hear a lot about folks using it.

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

Hayden---we do find that since we have limed and organically improved our pasture that we have more beetles and earthworms. Both beneficial for soil and plant health and hopefully helping with parasites. We are just starting to see more of these critters---last summers drought really put a crimp on them.


Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Hi Monica!
You've inspired us. The dung beetle is definitely a permaculture solution and I'd like to read more. I don't know about you but I'm a inveterate book-buyer and so, aware of my affliction, I wanted to know from you whether I should buy Charles Walter's book? What I'm after is the detail of how to encourage and increase my dung beetle population and how to avoid doing things that upset them, by, for example, chemically worming our animals. Just say the word and I'm going book-buying!