Manure Manager

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Editorial: Let the beetles do it


August 4, 2009
By Marg Land


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Every month or so, my husband waits with much anticipation for his favorite tabloid newspaper to arrive in the mail. The publication, which features agriculture-related inventions created by everyday farmers, is popular in our household and never appears to stay in one place for very long. As soon as it appears in our mailbox, my husband starts flipping through the pages, taking in the photos, diagrams and stories. Soon, he is hatching plans for self-propelled wheelbarrows and self-stacking hay bale wagons. After all, nothing breeds innovation like reading about innovative people.
Every month or so, my husband waits with much anticipation for his favorite tabloid newspaper to arrive in the mail. The publication, which features agriculture-related inventions created by everyday farmers, is popular in our household and never appears to stay in one place for very long. As soon as it appears in our mailbox, my husband starts flipping through the pages, taking in the photos, diagrams and stories. Soon, he is hatching plans for self-propelled wheelbarrows and self-stacking hay bale wagons. After all, nothing breeds innovation like reading about innovative people.

So, my husband was the person who instantly came to mind as I was reading an article recently about dung beetles being imported into New Zealand to deal with manure issues. My husband is the official horse stall cleaner in our household, a job he loathes and tries to get out of at all costs. He is constantly mumbling and complaining as he forks dirty shavings into the wheelbarrow and dumps it onto the growing pile located adjacent to the barn.

Dung beetles might just be the answer to his dirty stall dilemma.

According to New Zealand television, researchers in the country are planning to introduce five to 12 different species of exotic dung beetles to the islands to help clean up manure left by pastured animals. Although New Zealand has its own native dung beetle species, they are mostly found in forested areas and aren’t much help when it comes to managing manure issues in agriculture.

Scientists are so enthusiastic about the project, they are predicting dung beetles might be “one of the biggest changes to our farm management since we first imported cows into the country.”

Dung beetles are marvelous little manure managers, feeding partly or exclusively on feces. They roll the dung into little balls and roll them about, eventually burying them as a future food source or as a place to lay their eggs. After the eggs hatch, the resulting larvae feed on the surrounding dung.

Dung beetles can be found in many different habitats around the world, including desert, farmland, forest and grasslands. Unfortunately, they cannot tolerate extreme cold or dry weather. They are attracted to the manure by smell and have been known to roll up to 50 times their own weight.

According to the American Institute of Biological Sciences, dung beetles save the U.S. cattle industry about $380 million each year in clean-up and manure spreading costs.

Just imagine what a few thousand dung beetles could do for my husband’s horse stall dilemma! No more wheelbarrow, no more pitchfork, no more mulch turning or dumping copious bags of shavings. Just a long line of dung beetles working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to move out manure balls.

Those Kiwis might have the right idea!


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