Dung beetles

Dung Beetles

C. hispanis on dung pad

Restore the Soil: Prosper the Nation

"Restore the Soil: Prosper the Nation" are the words, and the vision, of Major General Michael Jeffrey, the 24th Governor General of Australia, the federally appointed National Soils Advocate from December 2012 to August 2020, and the founder of Australia's Soils for Life program.

Healthy and productive soil is the foundation for agricultural productivity, sustainability and food production.

At Creation Care, we believe dung beetles have a major role in "restoring the soil and prospering the nation".

The late Major General Michael Jeffery releasing O. vacca beetles in one of Creation Care's dung beetle nurseries

Vision for Australia

By using dung beetles to bury cattle dung, there is the potential in Australia to:

* Increase pasture dry matter by up to 30% (1) in many regions of Australia.

* Increase soil carbon levels and improve soil health (2). There is the potential to place millions of tonnes of carbon, nitrogen and other nutrients contained in cattle dung, into the soils, every year, across Australia.

Other benefits of Dung Beetles include: 

* Reduction of fouled unpalatable pasture around dung pads

* Reduction of bush fly levels

* Anecdotal evidence of savings on pasture fertilizer costs

* Anecdotal evidence of savings on cattle drench costs, due to dung beetles interrupting the life cycle of cattle intestinal parasites

1. MLA Report B.ERM.0211. “The pasture growth and environmental benefits of dung beetles to the southern Australian cattle industry. Meat and Livestock Australia.

2. “Dung Down Under” (2014) by Bernard Doube and Tim Marshall.

Creation Care: Dung Beetle Achievements

Creation Care: 

In 2002 began breeding research and farm establishment of dung beetles;

Is the largest dung beetle mass-rearing facility in Australia, producing over 40,000 beetles per year, and currently scaling up to produce 100,000 per year;

In 2019 and 2020, established 37 O. vacca, 38 B. bubalus and 3 C. hispanus on-farm dung beetle nurseries in Southern Australia. This is the largest on-farm dung beetle nursery program in Australia;

Is using on-farm dung beetle nurseries for rapid distribution of dung beetles across southern Australia, and to develop site suitability guidelines for dung beetle species across a wide range of soils, topography, rainfall and temperatures in Southern Australia;

Supplies dung beetles for Southern Australia and supplied 20,000 O. vacca beetles to the national "Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers" project to support their farm releases and breeding program (see the "Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers" project link below)

See About Us for dung beetle publications by Creation Care.

Mass Rearing

At Creation Care we are currently rearing Onthophagus vacca, Bubus bubalus, Copris hispanus, Onitis aygulus, Onthophagus gazella, Euoniticellus intermedius, Onitis pecuarius, Onitis alexis and Geotrupes spiniger in our mass rearing facilities at Strathalbyn, South Australia.

O. vacca, B. bubalus and C. hispanis are spring active species, and O. aygulus is autumn active.

We are achieving up to 20-fold generational increase with O. vacca and 9-fold increase with B. bubalus: plus another 10-40% B. bubalus beetles emerge in their second year.

We are producing smaller numbers of the other species at this stage.

Inside our mass-rearing facilities the dung beetles bury brood balls in the soil.

The eggs in the brood balls hatch, the larvae develop and eventually pupate and mature into fully formed adult beetles, which are harvested, cleaned and packed in sterile coir peat, then delivered safely across Australia using "live freight" transport systems.

On-farm Beetle Establishment

In 2002 and 2003 Creation Care worked with the Fleurieu Beef Group to release Bubus. bison, Onitis caffer and Geotrupes spiniger dung beetles on the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia.

The historical method for establishing dung beetles on farms in Australia has been to release a colony of 1,000 or more beetles into open paddocks and wait several years before knowing whether the released species has successfully established on that site.  A wait of 5-7 years is usually needed before the beetles have increased to sufficient numbers for harvesting from that site and redistributing the beetles to other sites.

An “on-farm nursery” is when a small number of beetles are put into a cage and bred in that cage for future releases on the farm.

Creation Care began on-farm dung beetle nursery work in 2003.

Jason Pattullo, of Kuitpo South Australia, started with 100 O. vacca dung beetles in an on-farm nursery in September 2019.

In September 2020, Jason removed the beetle holding tent, to release 1,200 O. vacca that were bred on his farm.

The released beetles were in prime breeding condition and a ‘hot-wire’ has been used to keep the cows close to the release site, so there is plenty of dung close by for the beetles to feed on and begin their next breeding cycle.

Three weeks after this release, Jason reported finding active O. vacca in nearly every dung pad up to 50 metres from the release site.

Jason Pattullo (left) releasing 1,200 O. vacca

James Ryan (Creation Care) counting B. bubalus beetles from the successful breeding site on the property of David Ambrose, Inman Valley, South Australia.

Counting beetles from on-farm nursery

Site Suitability

Creation Care is using on-farm nurseries to assess the site suitability for dung beetle species. This research is ongoing, with participating farmers.

We currently have 78 on-farm nurseries on which we are assessing the site suitability of O. vacca, B. bubalus and C. hispanus: 39 in South Australia (3) and 39 in Victoria.

On-farm nursery locations

3. Of the South Australian on-farm nurseries, 16 were established in collaboration with the Fleurieu Beef Group and with funding support from the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board, and 15 were established with funding support from the South Australian Dairyfarmers Association (SADA).

We assess the reproduction and survival rates of beetle species in different soils, topography, rainfall and temperature conditions.

We have been achieving up to 15.3-fold generational increase in on-farm nurseries, and this is telling us a lot about where each species breeds very well, moderately well or poorly.

We are also finding out how the weather and soil conditions at different locations affect the timing of the beetle life cycle stages. For example, at Mount Jagged, South Australia, healthy B. bubalus at the third-instar larvae stage of development were found in September 2020, whereas at other sites the beetles had fully developed and emerged by this time.  The Mt Jagged larvae are unlikely to emerge in 2020. They will likely go into diapause and emerge in 2021 or even 2022.

Understanding the life cycle of each beetle species is important for management decisions. 

B. bubalus third-instar larvae at Mt Jagged, Sept 2020

The benefits of on-farm dung beetle nurseries

Low number of beetles required

Only 100 - 200 beetles per farm are needed, instead of 1,000 beetles/farm.

Low Risk

Managed on-farm nurseries eliminates the risk of releasing 1,000 beetles in an open paddock in a year of excessively low or high rainfall in which the beetles may not survive well.

Early evaluation

By managing on-farm nurseries farmers will find out how successful a beetle species will be on their property within one or two years, and will not have to wait 5 – 7 years for that knowledge.

Knowledge

By managing on-farm nurseries farmers learn:

* about the life cycle of the beetles on their own property,

* the locations and conditions on their farm that are best suited to each dung beetle species.

This is valuable knowledge for determining future locations for dung beetle establishment on the farm, and for dung beetle management decisions.

Reusable system

One of the main attractions of using on-farm nurseries is they can be reused to quickly spread the beetles over a whole property, or to other properties in a region.  For example, if a farmer starts with 100 beetles in a nursery and they multiply at least 10-fold each year, then in 2 years the farmer will have 10,000 beetles.  This is sufficient to set up more nurseries in other locations on a farm, or farmers can work together to put nurseries on neighbouring farms.

The alternative method of spreading beetles using paddock releases, requires a wait of 5-7 years, or more, from the first releases, for numbers to breed up sufficiently so that beetles can be harvested for distribution to other farms.  This is one reason why widespread distribution of many dung beetle species has taken decades in Australia, and is still far from complete.

Successful breeding of O. vacca has been achieved in an on-farm nursery (right) and holding tent (left) on the property of Nick Brokenshire, Mt Compass, South Australia.

Nick Brokenshire's on-farm nursery

A scenario for Southern Australia

There are approximately 25,000 beef and dairy farms across southern Australia that are in climate zones which are suitable for O. vacca, B. bubalus and C. hispanus.

Establishing these spring active dung beetle species on 10% of these farms gives a target of 2,500 farms.

Beetles established on 10% of the farms in a region will spread to other nearby farms - either naturally, or with assistance.

The number of beetles needed for 2,500 farms depends on the establishment method used.

Paddock releases

If the historical method of releasing a colony of 1,000 beetles per farm into open paddocks is used, then 2.5 million beetles are required to establish one colony of beetles on each of 2,500 farms.  It would take many years to breed up and distribute this number of beetles, and even if this breeding and release did occur, it would take decades before the beetles would be redistributed to other farms.  Redistribution is reliant upon the beetle numbers increasing sufficiently to harvest from farms to distribute to other farms, and upon people committed to the harvesting and redistribution.

On-farm nurseries

If on-farm nurseries are used to establish dung beetles on 2,500 farms, then, with 100 beetles per nursery, only 250,000 beetles are required. Creation Care can produce up to 100,000 dung beetles per year, so the beetles for 2,500 farms could be supplied within a few years.

Plus, by using on-farm nurseries landholders will be equipped to distribute the beetles in their regions.

 

Dung Beetles
Scenario for Southern Australia

Creation Care is passionate about spreading dung beetles across as much of southern Australia as possible.  We believe on-farm dung beetle nurseries are the quickest way to achieve this.

Dung Beetle links

Dung Beetle Solutions International - Dr Bernard Doube

http://www.dungbeetlesolutions.com.au/

 

SOILCAM: The Dung Beetle Expert - John Feehan

https://dungbeetleexpert.com.au/

 

Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers

https://www.dungbeetles.com.au/

 

Meat and Livestock Australia

https://www.mla.com.au/research-and-development/Environment-sustainability/dung-beetles/

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