Dung beetles do a lot of the dirty work for cattle producers.

They improve pasture quality, and reduce horn fly and internal parasites larvae found in manure by methodically rolling it into balls then burying it. Unfortunately, dung beetle populations have been heavily reduced by the use of some dewormers that control internal parasites.

By using avermectin parasite control products, which kill dung beetles, producers may have lost many benefits the beetles bring to pastures, says Dr. Jody Wade, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. professional service veterinarian in Johnson City, Tenn.  However, cattle can receive excellent parasite control from moxidectin ­– the active ingredient in Cydectin® dewormer – which has little or no effect on dung beetles.

Monte Tucker, a Western Oklahoma rancher, has seen the rebirth of dung beetles on his mostly Angus cow-calf operation after he began using Cydectin several years ago.

“I run a commercial Angus operation with my dad and grandmother,” he says. “We also have a few black-baldies and run some stockers. We retain ownership and feed-out most calves.

“Last year I put calves on 10-acre tracks and the manure was just disappearing, thanks to the growth in dung beetle populations,” he says. “There was a lot more forage for grazing.”

Dung beetles have been laughed at over the decades. Wade notes that many who grew up around a farm or ranch likely remember seeing dung beetles 20-30 years ago. “They were common around the barn, corral or pasture,” Wade says. “They basically lived in manure pats and laid their eggs there.”

The manner in which they benefit pastures remains the same. Hatching dung beetle larvae dine on manure. The crawling critters eagerly roll around balls of manure. One species, dung beetle tunnelers, bury the balls containing their eggs.

Buried with the manure are flies and parasites, forever enemies of cattle, horses and other livestock.

“Dung beetles help reduce pest populations that affect cattle herds,” Wade says. “One manure pat may contain close to 80 adult horn flies. But healthy dung beetle populations have been shown to reduce horn flies by as much as 95 percent. They can reduce nematode infections by up to 90 percent and nematode populations 75-93 percent.”