This producer-managed project demonstrated the practicality of carefully reducing pesticide use while still practicing good and profitable animal husbandry. Groups of cattle in a commercial beef herd were subjected to a reduced pesticide strategy using non-chemical controls, integrated pest management or IPM, grazing rotation and monitored with fecal sample analysis, horn fly counts, and short films. The role of the grassland ecosystem in livestock production was emphasized in the strategies and in the outreach. Pesticide resistance and reduced pesticide parasite control were documented in the project ranch. Practical methods for producers to study their own pastures were refined and described for use in “A Dung Beetle’s Place on your Ranch” published on the SARE website. A number of other information products were created and uploaded to this project website. The services provided by dung beetles were demonstrated in relation to parasite control in cattle, nutrient recycling and fly control. The project included a trial of an actual Walk Through Horn Fly Trap built from plans from the University of Missouri. It was used for non-chemical control of horn flies on cattle and deployed successfully. Other non-chemical controls demonstrated were Nzi traps, which is a trap for flies, and grazing rotation. Fortunate timing of research on dung beetles by ARS/SDSU/Blue Dasher Farms supplied photos and scientific documentation of dung beetle species and populations at work within the project area and is reflected in media products published on this project’s SARE site. https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/fnc14-977/
Because a pasture depends on multiple species of plants and animals to produce forage from soil, air, sunlight and water, it can be viewed as an ecosystem. The essential functions of the ecosystem for grazing animals must be preserved in order for livestock production to be efficient and profitable. The sanitation of grazing areas and plant nutrient supply is enhanced by fast dung break down/ decomposition, which is accomplished by a healthy population of dung beetles in northeastern South Dakota and the North Central Region along with many other organisms in pastureland. Flies are a major economic drain and main pest of cattle in the North Central Region costing millions in lost beef production. Parasites of cattle also reduce production by millions each year in spite of wide use of chemical pesticides targeted toward internal parasites. Coccidea / Eimeria species of microscopic parasites are a major cause of lost production in pastured calves and chemical control is usually impractical and somewhat ineffective. The pastureland ecosystem provides the majority of pest control and forage production, making it the engine of grassland livestock production.
Finding ways to enhance and protect the functions of the ecosystem for livestock production was the focus of this project. Dung beetles were found to be a major player in two out of three of the project pastures. Even with limited data the expected connections were seen.
The main objectives of demonstrating non-chemical pest controls and finding ways to study dung beetles and pests were reasonably accomplished. The field day June 18th , 2015 was well attended and some short films were made and posted on YouTube for follow up. An actual Walk Through Horn Fly trap was built and used to take horn flies off of 80 cow calf pairs. The success of the trap was shared in the SARE information products and at the field day. The plans for the Nzi trap had been offline but are once again available on this project’s site thanks to the courtesy of Steve Mihok, PhD, one of the lead scientist in Nzi trap creation and study. Producer input during the project indicated that producers are interested in alternatives to pesticides, reducing pesticides, and in the benefits of dung beetles, but they don’t have enough information to take action. The most common question heard was “how do I know if I have dung beetles?” and posting instructions on a valid method to take dung samples and check them for dung beetles might be the most valuable part of the project. The list of dung beetles species found by Jacob Pecenka that is also part of “A Dung Beetle’s Place on your Ranch” should encourage producers in the North Central Region to look for dung beetles on their land. The fly traps and grazing rotation suggestions should help them reduce pesticide use and preserve or enhance dung beetles to reap the benefits of faster nutrient cycling, better sanitation, and pest control that dung beetles are known to provide.
Formal plans available from well researched and documented sources such as the University of Missouri and USDA/ARS and peer reviewed journals were used for the activities in the project. Where no formal methods were known the producer manager proceeded by trial and error to develop methods that were practical for other producers yet valid. All the methods are described in detail in ” A Dung Beetle’s Place on Your Ranch”.
Information products associated with the project include plans, photos, films and descriptions.
It was a real pleasure to be able to spend time exploring the mostly unseen or unnoticed interactions between pests, partners and plants with cattle using common materials and innovative designs contributed by so many people.
An email list from the field day includes over 30 people who are waiting for the final results of the project.
The project produced information products that will be offered to producers by SDSU Extension Service where appropriate. Because so much of them are available online at no cost to either SDSU or the producer, wider distribution will be possible.
The “Walk Through Horn Fly Control Trap” and the Nzi traps will be available to non profit groups who wish to introduce non-chemical controls of flies. Neither of these were available for display or demonstration before.
Impact of Results/Outcomes
Thanks to the SARE system many documents relating to dung beetles and non-chemical fly control are easily available for free to producers and producers can read about actual demonstration trials in the project pastures.
The “Walk Through Horn Fly Trap” built for this project seems to be the only one built according to the specifications proved to work by University of Missouri staff in Missouri in decades. It is probably the only one ever deployed at pasture in the North Central Region, where it was shown to work better than pesticides in the project pastures.
The literature review for writing of ” A Dung Beetle’s Place on Your Ranch” brought together some diverse sources into one location for the use of grass based livestock producers. Ranchers’ interest in ecology is a natural fit because they depend on natural growth of forage to feed their producing animals. Their interest in better fly control can lead to understanding of the whole ecosystem and a more efficient, safe and secure way of grazing. All land managers can profit from understanding dung beetles because dung is everywhere animals are found so any bridge between commercial livestock production and ecology is a bridge that will be used. At the field day commercial ranchers and public land managers stood side by side and learned from each other.
I wish them the best and hope profits and animal comfort and happy grassland ecosystems increase to the benefit of all.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The information products listed cover a range of topics on this project. The main publication is “A Dung Beetle’s Place on Your Ranch” for the project. The other publications available as information products with this project may be very valuable in specific producer or educator situations.
North Central Region producers can now look at Jacob Pecenka’s research and learn about dung beetle species that they should hope to see and perhaps they can add more to the list by co-operating with local entomologists. They can also see how eye opening fecal analysis of cattle dung can be and help avoid pesticide failure and learn from mistakes and successes of the commercial beef producers in this project.
News of the success of the “Walk Through Horn Fly Trap” will continue to spread, if current cattleman interest is any indication. Since the plans are public domain there is potential for any beef producer to build and use the trap.
Pesticide use will be more careful and reduced on the project ranch because of what was found out so it’s possible that other producers will do the same when they use the information products found here.
It is now very easy to direct veterinarians, pesticide vendors, extension personnel and producers to practical descriptions of reduced pesticide practices and dung beetle monitoring ideas that have been tried out on a real ranch cattle herd.
Producers can drive the search for ways to protect and enhance the grassland ecosystem on their own pastures in their necessary quest for profit. Ranch practices can be a win for both the ecosystem and the business of livestock production. The monitoring methods and the non-chemical controls should continue to be used to ensure the win win of reduced pesticide use and efficient livestock production can be proven to last.