Dung beetles work their magic on Lockington farms

By Sophie Baldwin

The humble dung beetle might be small in stature, but it packs a mighty punch as a busy little farm worker relocating nitrogen and phosphorous.

As farmers look to regeneration and more natural ways to improve their soil, Lockington Landcare Group took things a step further and organised a delivery of 16 dung beetle colonies to local farmers in December.

Lockington farmer and Landcare member Wendy Sims said the two varieties — Alexis and Pecuarius — were bred especially for the climate and will be monitored over the next three years to check on progress.

“Each colony has 850 dung beetles and we are hoping they will spread and multiply across our area — no dung means less source of food for flies and hopefully smaller population in our future,” Ms Sims said.

Lockington dairy farmer John Wright, who is president of the Landcare group, took part in the project — even though he already has an active dung beetle population on his property.

“I was interested in a different variety because I don’t have any summer active ones,” Mr Wright said.

He said the colony was still establishing itself but so far things were going well.

“I have noticed the beetles are starting to move out into a bigger area as there are a lot more disturbed pats so they are certainly working away.

“They take a ball of manure with them as they dig down into the soil, which lock nutrients into the root zone, increase fertility and aerate the soil.”

Mr Wright said it was great farmers from Tennyson, Echuca and Lockington all participated.

“If we can establish strong dung beetle populations in the area it will be a good thing,” he said.

The dung beetles were bred by expert John Feehan and made their way to Lockington from Canberra.

Mr Feehan has a goal to see at least 10 species actively working on every farm by 2050.

“There are some pockets where this has been achieved but many regions have less than three or four species,” he said.

And with an average cow producing about 10 to 12 litres of dung a day, dung beetles become an effective management tool with a range of soil benefits.

Mr Feehan said a study in the United States revealed 80 per cent of nitrogen in dung, when left on the pasture, is lost to the atmosphere, while well-buried dung retains 80 per cent of the nitrogen at the grass root zone.

Benefits include:

● Deepening topsoil by slowly cultivating and turning it over to a depth of 300 mm.

● Providing habitat and food supply for earthworms.

● Increasing rainwater penetration and improving groundwater retention.

● Reducing internal parasite and fly burden by decimating breeding sites through rapid dung burial.

● Unlocking phosphate in the soil.

Ms Sims said the Landcare group was hoping to obtain funding to subsidise the cost of bringing more dung beetle populations into the area, including a species more suited for winter conditions.