G’day readers! Today we’d like you to meet one of the smallest and yet most helpful soil regeneration specialists in the world — the dung beetle. On Australia’s grassfed cattle and sheep properties, these plucky little guys break down an impressive quantity of “cow” pies — one adult cow will drop 12 in a day! Dung beetles roll them into tiny balls, dig tunnels into the soil, and actually bury them in the ground, where they lay eggs that hatch into larvae and then use the balls for food. This simple and natural action has a sh*t-ton of benefits. Aerating the soil helps retain moisture and rainfall, reducing runoff, and literally carrying nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus into the soil. As a nice side benefit, it also dramatically reduces fly populations, which is a serious plus as fly larvae can cause diseases in sheep and other livestock.
Cindy and Steven Scott use dung beetles on their property in New South Wales, Australia. Cindy knew the power of the beetle first-hand from growing up in South Africa, where beetles adapted to large animals and their dung to thrive. Her husband was not so sure. “But the visibility of beetle activity – with dung pads broken down in 24 hours – quickly convinced him,” says Cindy.
Today, “It is rewarding to drive around our paddocks and see how quickly the beetles are breaking down and burying dung, transferring nutrients underground, and how their tunneling aerates the soil and reduces run-off — not to mention lessens flies,” she adds.
The work of the beetle is particularly important in Australia, where 70% of our beef production and about 95% of our lamb production is entirely grassfed. That means a lot of grazing, and a lot of natural and improved pastures for farmers to manage. In fact, a lot of our farmers think of themselves as “grass farmers” first, and no they don’t mean that funny kind you Yanks out there are growing in Washington and Colorado! Being a grass farmer means actively managing your land and natural resources to keep grasses growing and providing nutritious feed for your animals year after year.
It’s a big job, but one that’s just right for a humble little bug that lives, eats and breeds in piles of… well…poop.