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Farming Insects to Feed Chickens?

I keep a small flock of chickens at my home, mostly for eggs, yet my wife is now interested in getting some meat birds. I hate having to be reliant on the farm stores to buy commercial chicken feed. Does anyone raise insects as a feed source for other animals? What are your thoughts regarding the sustainability of this approach? How do you think the cost would compare to buying bags of chicken feed?

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  • I raise BSFL (black soldier fly larvae), earthworms, and I have annual supplies of LOTS of grasshoppers. While we don't raise those, we do collect and harvest them for feeding the poultry (chickens, quail, guineas) in the winter. I'm currently experimenting with mealworms, as well, to see if they can thrive on other low-quality feed (like bran, alfafa meal, manures, etc) for a protein supplement for poultry.

    You'll need more than bugs for your chickens. But, protein is usually soy or fishmeal in chicken feed. Both of those are relatively low quality and not really like what a chicken wants to eat. I feed grains + protein + pasture. Raising your own protein does save money, but the larger bulk of feed is the grain portion. Also, sprouting grains increases their digestibility, and that can help reduce the amount, too.

    You'll save on money, but increase your labor. If you can set things up so that the chickens can self harvest their feed, the lower your labor will be. BSFL are good for that, and earthworms can be, too. Mealworms are more efficient in terms of feed to live weight, so they may offer an advantage IF you have a source of mealworm feed. BSFL and earthworms eat manures, which are easy to find if you have chickens and/or other animals (rabbits are great for this).

    The key to reducing your feed cost is to take advantage of the local waste streams in your area. What sort of local resources (breweries, bakeries, waste food, manure supply, grain mills, etc) do you have nearby? With that information, then you can pick species that are appropriate for your setup.

  • Black Soldier Fly (BSF) are natural where I work & here are links on different feeding options. For those thinking they can't breed them because live where it is too cold please see the last link below on how can operate. ***Regarding the different feeds for BSF using kitchen waste/vegetable waste/green banana/manures, see chart 5 at end of this free full pdf (2009) "Conversion of organic material by black soldier fly larvae: establishing optimal feeding rates" = http://www.organicvaluerecovery.com/studies/studies_htm_files/Swiss feeding rate.pdf **** Regarding how much manure is ideal to feed BSF see data from abstract of (2008)"Development of black soldier fly (Diptera: Stratiomyidae) larvae fed dairy manure" = http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18348791 *** Regarding those near fishing scraps try (2007) "Fish Offal Recycling by the Black Soldier Fly Produces a Foodstuff High in Omega‐3 Fatty Acids" free full pdf = http://forensicentomology.tamu.edu/pdf/St Hilaire fish offal 2007.pdf *** To improve results from what feed BSF consider the boost from BSF own gut Bacillus subtilis, as per (2011) "Inoculating Poultry Manure with Companion Bacteria Influences Growth and Development of Black Soldier Fly (Diptera: Stratiomyidae) Larvae" free full pdf = http://forensicentomology.tamu.edu/pdf/Yu et al 2011.pdf *** An overlooked feed source is: Quote: "...liquid fraction ... vegetal and food scrap waste ...feeding off ... leachate... neutralizes ...acidity...volatile organic acids... recycling carbon, nitrogen, and phosphate ...valuable biomass" ; from abstract of (2011)"Using Black Soldier Fly Larvae for Processing Organic Leachates" in Journal of Economic Entomology 105(2):374-378. *** Impressive dissertation by L. Alvarez on BSF production outside of natural temperature zone; with informative charts including production analysis if thinking of budgeting your own operation (ex: like charts#17 & #18 detailing seasonal energy inputs kilo Watt hr./water/etc.): (2012) "The Role of Black Soldier Fly ...in Northern Climates" ; free full pdf = http://scholar.uwindsor.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1401&context=etd&sei-redir=1&referer=http://scholar.google.com/scholar?start=90&q=black+soldier+fly&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5#search="black soldier fly"

  • @dwechsler, I also have chickens (Us Australians call them chooks) They do need mostly the bought food as it has everything they need, but live bugs are an EXCELLENT extra. They enjoy the hunt and it's so natural. ~:>

  • Most omnivores, like chickens, can thrive on a variety of feeds, and they most definitely do not require purchased food or even grains:

  • @VelaCreations, great video, it came up as the video showing a movable pen. You may have meant to post "how to grow chickens without buying them grain... "

  • If your chickens are laying soft shelled eggs you will need to add calcium (shell grit at the pet food store) unless they are young and practicing. Nurture your young hens, it's hard for them, sometimes they call out in distress if an egg is quite big, this is also the time they are most likely to lay double yolkers (poor babies!).

  • Feed chickens some milled snail shell & get better feeding ( birds end weight more ) than supplementing with limestone. Data on 8 weeks fed snail shell chicken's ate 5,863 gr., while others in 8 wks. fed limestone took in 5,433 gr. (2011) "Growth response, nutrient and mineral retention, bone mineralisation and walking ability of broiler chickens fed with dietary inclusion of various unconventional mineral sources"; link = http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21272094....In the forest wilds birds get most of their calcium from snail shells; it is the reason why those birds do not suffer defects with their eggs' shell. Waterfowl, like the Pintail, also seek out abandoned snail shells for the calcium....Distinct from snail shell the snail meat made into meal was fed to chickens for 45 days is as other good a common chicken foods. As per (1991) "Performance of broilers fed with snail (Pomacea caniculata) meal as substitute to fish meal or meat and bone meal".

  • Snails being bred,in return, can then be fed the offal from slaughtered chickens. 100% chicken kidney/liver/gut/proventricus/oesphagus can replace fish meal without any loss in productivity, nor change in feed conversion ratio....Table 4 assess relative cost benefit. Fish meal with no chicken offal cost 116.4 units of Nigerian money per Kg of weight gain on a snail. In contrast just chicken offal with no fish meal lowered the feed cost to 90.5 units of Nigerian money per Kg of weight gain on a snail....see: (2008) Journal of Central European Agriculture, Vol. 9, No.3; "Nutritional Value of Chicken Offal as Replacement for Local FIsh Meal in Growing Snails". Link to full free pdf can be found on webpage = http://hrcak.srce.hr/index.php?show=clanak&id_clanak_jezik=55895&lang=en

  • Thanks @gringojay, I had to freeze then shell my first snails as my "dumb-bum" chickens refused to eat live ones. Now they have the taste for them I'll freeze, then just crush the shells and feed them 2 chickens so they get the benefit of the shell. - I have to wonder Why they wouldn't eat live snails? Seems they have co-dependancy issues with their Mum (me) and just can't get back to nature!!! 8-}

  • what's the FCR for snails?

  • Sorry, I have problems with acronyms... what is FCR? 8-}

  • Feed conversion ratio. As in, if I give them 1 lb of food, how much live weight of snails does that convert to?

  • ITEM: (2005) "The Use of Poultry Droppings as Snail Food" found a feed conversion ratio of 1.3 - 2.8; free full text available online, originally published in Journal of Animal & Veterinary Advances, 4(8)... ITEM: Research on 5 different diets determined food conversion ratio ranged from 1.3 - 4.8 FCR. It was the diet with2.8 FCR that actually resulted in greatest final snail weight. See free full text available from several providers for specifics in (2004) "Performance, proximate and mineral analyses of African giant land snail (Archachatina marginata) fed different nitrogen sources" from African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 3 (8), pp. 412-417, August 2004.... ITEM: A feed conversion ration based on different % crude protein fed snails determined 20% crude protein is good for a 4.5 month long gain of 228% weight, from the FCR of 1.77. As per (2004) "Quantitative Protein Requirements of the Edible Snail Pomacea urceus".in Journal of the World Aquaculture, Vol. 35, issue 2 ..... ITEM: Higher feed conversion ratios were achieved in Nigerian research which compared feed conversion ratio of 2 snail diets as 9.3 & 14.14 FCR; see (2007) "Effects of feeding adult snails Stylosanthes guianensis or Lablab purpureus as substitute for pawpaw leaf", available as free full pdf & published in African Journal of Biotechnology, Vol 6, No 16.... ITEM: Feed conversion ratio (FCR) in some freshwater snails was found to go down first in males & a bit later in females as both got old. The longer the shell gets in females the more FCR goes down . And if see a aged male with the same length of shell as an aged female then that female's FCR is also worse than the male. Source = (2009) "Feeding Rates and Food Conversion Efficiencies in the Apple Snail Pomacea canaliculata (Caenogastropoda: Ampullariidae)" in journal Malacologia 51(2):221-232. 2009

  • wow, those FCRs are pretty good, certainly better than BSF or earthworms. For processing poultry manure and offal, that would be a decent species to explore. I assume that if they eat offal and manure, they could handle rabbit manure, too.

    Thanks for that info!

  • Anyone interested in feeding poultry mealworms &/or crickets might be interested in knowing how much of those insects' dry mass is lean "meat" (mass w/out lipid fat); see Table 1 of link below. Table 2a gives further reference data; as text remarks upon in part that "... well-fed crickets..." 3x "...heavier than food-limited crickets..." plus 7x more lipids.

    Of note (quote from link) : "... larval mealworms had ... less protein ... than adult beetles...." Which may be useful tailoring chicken diets; since generally 24% protein is recommended for "starters" phase, 20% protein for "growers" phase, 18% for "finishers" stage & 16-17% for "layers".

    (2009) "Intraspecific variation in prey quality: a comparison of nutrient presence in prey and nutrient extraction by predators". This is not a study designed for feeding poultry with insects, as one will see from free full text link = http://www.units.miamioh.edu/VANNILAB/publications/pdf/Wilder et al 2010.pdf

  • Feeding snails left over chicken parts, how is that for pathogens? Snails are pretty dirty animals to begin with for disease carriers

  • Hi formosa, Chicken offal is sun dried before grinding up to replace fish meal, which only forms 4% by dry weight of the artificial diet for snails. The above report apparently found the offal was safe for the snails to eat & breeders of edible snails rear them in ways that keep the snails from being part of a pathogen vector. Chicken intestines do have enterococcus bacteria & for that matter so do Helix aspersa, the edible "escargot" garden snail, so proper cooking seems likely to inactivate risk to humans. I think we should only consider offal from slaughtered chickens deemed fit for human consumption which is promptly processed as a partial ingredient in snail feed to be what researchers declared OK.

  • I've read in a number of places that BSFL raised on excrement should not be fed to the animal that excrement came from, so chickens should not be fed BSFL that eat their manure. Thoughts?

  • dwechsler, I also am trying to get away from buying chicken feed, as the price of organic continues to rise ($42/50# layer or grower). I don't think I can get away completely, but have found a couple of things worth considering in addition to BSFL and mealworms, which I think can eat wheat midds, which are good for chickens, too.

    1.) Ferment the dry feed - is reputed to increase protein and reduce feed requirements. My birds LOVE it. Can be stinky.

    2.) Bocking 4 Comfrey. It is a perennial, non-seeding comfrey that the chickens love and provides high nutrition. In addition, Bocking 14 is a great fertilizer. Sources say 4 is for feed and 14 for fertilizer, but planted side by side, the birds go for both. It can be chopped and dried several times in a growing season.

    3.) As stated, sprouts. I did oats in the winter and am doing wheat in the summer. Tricky in heat. Fodder, which is sprouted to 4", is not as appreciated - they don't really eat much of the green, just the seed and roots. Increases nutritional value and volume. They get pretty excited about just seeds soaked overnight.

    Hope these ideas are of some worth.

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