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Dung Beetles Provide Extra Ranch Income
You wouldn’t really expect an attractive ranch lady to spend her day collecting dung beetles out of manure piles to sell, but then you probably don’t know Sandra Marvel. A few years ago this Florida rancher learned there was a significant market for the little critters, so she started her dung beetle business.
  First step: find them. Second step: trap and identify as many as 300 to 400 a night. Third step: keep them happy and well fed in 5-gal. containers with screened tops for a week or more. Fourth step: sell them to livestock producers, zoos, pet owners and fellow ranchers. Fifth step: ship them overnight in ventilated plastic containers with shredded bedding and cooling packs. The going price: 400 for $100, or 25 cents apiece.
  Graduate students occasionally buy beetles for research and pet owners are making more requests every year.
  All of Marvel’s beetles originate on the Marvel Ranch, where she and her husband Dan raise registered Red Brangus cattle. Their stock operation is first class, producing 3 national breeding champions in recent years. They sell animals, semen, embryos and now dung beetles.
  “It’s probably not the business everyone wants to get involved in, but there’s definitely opportunity,” says Sandra. In the past few years she’s sold about 35 to 40 orders a year. She says there might be as many as 39 different types of beetles on her ranch, so collecting and sorting them is important. She sells the Ohthophagus gazella and the Ohthophagus taurus beetles, both of which are tunnelers. The gazella was imported from Australia in 1970 to improve pasture conditions in Texas. Since the beetles reside in manure and can fly, and cattle are transferred from one area to another, there are dung beetles just about everwhere there are cattle.
  Marvel says a healthy population of dung beetles will quickly devour the fecal matter in a fresh patty in 10 to 12 hrs. If the patty’s on fresh pasture, the cattle will be eating where the patty was in 2 weeks or less. It’s a win-win situation for ranchers because the beetles break up fly and worm reproduction, so pest populations are reduced.
  Marvel says beetles tunnel into the ground and move the manure down with them. The tunnels aerate the soil and allow moisture to infiltrate easier, and roots then absorb the recycled nutrients. Other types of beetles dwell in the dung patty or roll the fecal matter into a ball and move it.
“Nature has some really incredible creatures and beetles are a part of the mix, just like earthworms and microbials,” says Marvel.
  Preserving and enhancing a dung beetle population requires management. “Cattle producers should rotate the types of de-wormers they use and only de-worm one part of the herd at a time,” Marvel says. “That way the beetles won’t be decimated by chemicals that pass through animals’ digestive systems.” Also, there are beetle friendly de-wormers that are safer to use during the warm months when beetles are more active.
  Marvel says the healthy dung beetle population on their ranch cuts down on horn flies and face flies. They limit de-wormers when ambient temperatures are in the high 60’s or higher, when dung beetles become active. During winter months the beetles are inactive.
  “I’ve heard that I’m the only person selling beetles in the U.S. so the door’s really wide open for a little competition,” says Marvel.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Sandra Marvel, 28616 N.W. 142nd Ave., High Springs, Fla. 32643 (ph 386 454-3488; marvelfarms@windstream.net; www.dungbeetles.biz).

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2014 - Volume #38, Issue #5