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Where do all the cow pats go?

The other day, an extremely interesting talk, organised by Natural England, was held at the home of the Speckles Albions in Kent: -

About dung beetles.

An average cow makes 9 tonnes of fresh dung per year & yet it is rare that we find much of this in their fields! Dung beetles can smell dung from afar & will fly & land on a chosen dung pat within 24 hours of it being passed. Within a matter of days, the dung pat can be sucked dry and pulled deep into the ground, making the composting of a dung pat possible in less than two weeks!

Amazing dung beetles.

Sucking the cow pat dry has the added bonus of reducing the moisture for the survival of parasites and fly maggots.

Grazing on the huge amounts of permanent pasture in this country, using native breeds such as Albion cattle, really encourages dung beetle activity. The Albions graze varied species of herbs and grasses, producing quality dung pats which attract many species of dung beetles. With so many beetles at work, many are eaten by other insects, birds & bats, so very good for the wildlife. The activity of dung beetles also attract earthworms under the pat bringing further aeration & fertility to the soil. Dung beetles put the carbon straight back into the soil so when people wish to blame cattle for global warming, it can be pointed out that grazing permanent pastures can act as a sponge to absorb carbon and could be a great help for farmers wanting to become carbon neutral.

Inspecting cow pats.

Using simply a trowel & gloves, why not take a closer look? A dig under a cowpat revealing many earthworms taking what is left down into the soil is a sign of dung beetle activity, you may notice many worm casts around as well. By breaking apart the dung & looking carefully, hopefully you will find dung beetles; as a general rule, if it moves fast then it is not a dung beetle! You may recognise maggots from fly eggs which are not good. Usually dung beetles are small & there may be many small tunnels into the ground through the pat. Sometimes you might find the huge black dung beetles, about an inch long; when found these often pretend to be dead- so don't be fooled if you see this- just put it back & don't disturb! Try conducting your own experiment by buying a couple of hoops in the local pound shop, place over your chosen pat you wish to observe & compare how quickly it disappears noting if it is with or without dung beetles.

Out wintering Albions.

Leaving a few cows out all winter (they can have a ring feeder, etc) can also be beneficial. Dung beetles can then keep feeding & breeding over winter with many larvae in the soil ready to hatch out in spring, sniff out dung pats (up to 2 miles away) and make a quick start in the new grazing season.

Take care with fly treatments & worming as dung beetles do not like the chemical residue in the pats & this follows up through the food chain affecting animals like bats. Maybe worm cattle at housing or 2 to 3 weeks before turn out.

We all learnt so much, having never even considered the importance of dung beetles before. With our native breeds, including Albions, grazing on permanent pasture, or indeed, any pasture, we are encouraging many & varied dung beetle activity,, The dung decays much more quickly, the natural way of breaking the pat down in to the soil for fertiliser, improving the soil without even harrowing! We are also reducing parasites & flies and increasing the sequestration of carbon. For more information, check out 'Dung beetles for Farmers' and CLICK HERE!

By S Mannerings


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Blue Albion Cattle; The History       (With kind permission of Mr A. Cheese.)

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