Latest posts by Sam Schipani
- How To Raise Black Soldier Fly Larvae For Chickens - April 5, 2019
Chickens love bugs. If you ever let your chickens free range, you have probably seen them pecking around for tasty snacks around your yard.
Bugs are nutritional superfoods for chickens, with the ideal ratio of fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals to keep chickens healthy and strong. They also contain a range of amino acids that are essential to the health of your chickens that they may not be able to get from conventional feed alone.
Luckily, you can easily ensure your chickens have a steady supply of bugs by raising black soldier fly larvae.
“I think the main reason why black soldier fly larvae are so good for chickens is that they’re very much inline with the chicken’s natural diet,” said Robert Nathan Allen, founder of Little Herds, an edible bug educational non-profit organization based in Austin, Texas. They’re not going to replace chicken feed per se, but they will be able to provide chickens with a lot of that nutrition that conventional feed may not have much of. ”
Feeding insects to chickens helps diversify their gut microbiome, which helps improve the functioning of their immune systems.
“There is a strong case for black soldier fly larvae when it comes to the gut health of chickens,” said Pat Crowley, founder of Chapul. “If they have a more diverse gut biome, they are much healthier and have stronger immune systems.”
The idea of raising bugs might make some homesteaders squeamish, but black soldier flies are particularly sanitary and friendly.
“They look like small black wasps, but they are completely harmless,” said Michael Place, founder of EntoHack7G. “They have no mouths they don’t bite. They don’t carry any diseases. The overall colony will be helpful to fighting other pests. They eat so fast that you’ll very rarely have smell from putrefaction of waste.”
How to start a black soldier fly larvae farm
You can easily start raising black soldier fly larvae with a few materials that you can purchase at a local hardware store. All you need is a plastic tub, corrugated cardboard, wire mesh, PVC piping, a bucket for collection and compost as a substrate for the bottom of the bin.
Drill two holes on the side of the bin for PVC pipes and set them up to empty out into the bucket. Fill the bottom of the bin with compost and add the larvae.
Place said that both regular compost and vermicompost are complementary to raising black soldier fly larvae.
The bugs also need warm, humid conditions in order to mate and lay eggs.
“Temperatures ranging ideally up into 80s and above for optimal breeding,” Place said.
One of the most important things is to give the adult flies a place to lay their eggs. Place corrugated cardboard or plastic, which have the perfect sized holes for the black soldier flies’ eggs, near a food source in the bin so females are attracted to lay their eggs there.
“The only thing that’s important for the adults is leaving egg traps inside to ensure lay in the right place,” Place said. “It’s all super simple stuff as long as there’s a little place for them to deposit the eggs.”
Unlike mealworms and crickets, it is recommended to raise black soldier fly larvae outside so the grown bugs can fly freely and you do not have to deal with the smell.
“It’s not recommend to raise black soldier fly larvae inside unless you have ventilated garage,” Allen said. “You’ll probably want to keep it outside.”
What to feed black soldier fly larvae
You can feed your black soldier fly larvae with any food scraps that you normally add to your compost.
“You need a steady supply of waste,” Place said. “The ideal type stuff is coffee, fruit and vegetable waste, or any kind of food waste.”
Place said that black soldier fly consumes any kind of organic waste such as compost, food scraps, coffee grounds and animal manure. Animal products such as fat and meat are best avoided. You should chop large scraps into small pieces so the flies can consume them faster.
Where to buy black soldier fly larvae
You can easily purchase black soldier fly larvae online from reputable dealers and have it shipped directly to your house.
“Order them online,” Place said. “You can buy them live. The younger, the better.”
Place recommended starting with several thousand flies at minimum.
“The biggest hurdle for any DIY backyard black soldier fly farm is to make sure you have enough larvae in your compost bin,” Allen added.
How to harvest black soldier fly larvae
If you aren’t squeamish, feeding your chickens black soldier fly larvae is easy.
“You could literally scoop a handful out and toss them to your chickens,” Allen laughed.
Luckily, there is an easier way. Black soldier fly larvae will self-harvest, crawling up the PVC pipes emptying out into the bucket in your bin. Place food scraps at the bottom of the bucket to attract the grubs.
“They’ll self-harvest if you leave them to do so,” Place said. “It’s a unique aspect of their pre-pupa stage. They’ll leave the waste stream behind if you give them a properly angled exit on their own, which is good for people who are squeamish about wet waste. People build the ramps to head right into a feed through into the chicken coop.”
Allen said that larvae should be ready to harvest every two or three weeks. You can also harvest the casings for fertilizer.
“The poop plus shell casings are really great soil amendments,” Allen said. “Every couple of months, I scrape off first couple of inches, move into bin and the inches below that is beautiful soil amendment.”
If you follow a few simple steps, you can easily provide your chickens with a sustainable source of disease-fighting feed in the form of black soldier fly larvae.