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Black Soldier Fly Larvae and Chickens: A Match Made in Heaven
Did you know that Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL) are an ideal nutritional supplement for chickens? Raising chickens is a great way to get farm-fresh eggs and fill your freezer with an abundance of meat. But, the best eggs and meat are produced when your chickens have an optimal diet.
In this article, we will take a look at the optimal diet for chickens and how BSFL can boost many areas of nutrition that your chickens need. Plus, we’ll take a look at how BSFL can actually increase your feed conversion ratio by letting BSFL recycle chicken manure!
The Optimal Chicken Diet
If you are raising egg laying chickens or broiler chickens, there are several important nutrients that your chickens should be getting. An optimal chicken diet contains high levels of protein, fat, and calcium. Fortunately, black soldier fly larvae contain all of these nutrients in sufficient amounts and can be added to any standard chicken feed as a supplement. Let’s take a look at each of these nutrients and why your chickens need them.
Most people confuse protein with meat, which is not necessarily true. Every cell - in every organism - uses protein like tiny cellular machines to give cells function. Proteins within cells are constructed out of smaller units called amino acids. While organisms like plants produce all of their own amino acids, most animals need to eat a variety of amino acids in order for their bodies to function properly. Chickens are no exception.
Chickens need to consume a variety of amino acids in order to function, build eggs, and produce meat. Luckily, BSFL contain an optimal amount of protein with a diverse amino acid profile. In fact, researchers have found that black soldier flies increase positive outcomes related to protein like egg quality, egg taste and texture, and hen fertility!
If you are trying to produce high-quality, low-fat chicken meat, feeding ample amounts of fat may seem counter-intuitive. But, an optimal diet for chickens contains relatively high amounts of fat for several reasons. First, good eggs are absolutely packed with fat. The yolk of an egg is almost entirely fat. So, to produce good eggs chickens need fat in their diet. Second, just because a chicken eats fat does not mean that the fat will be deposited in the meat of the chicken. Chickens are excellent at utilizing dietary fat as energy, so an active chicken will easily convert the fat in their diet into lean muscle.
Black soldier fly larvae contain up to 45% fat - an optimal amount for feeding chickens. Your chickens will stay active as they eat the soldier fly larvae, ensuring that they maintain lean muscle. Further, the quality of their eggs will increase if they have plenty of fat available to make new eggs. You may even find that your chickens start laying eggs more frequently!
Calcium plays several important roles in chicken biology. Eggshells, for instance, are made with a very high level of calcium. But, chickens also need calcium to support the health of their bones, feathers, and even their nervous system! Many chicken farmers supplement their chicken diet with powdered calcium to ensure that chickens are getting enough.
However, BSFL have a ton of calcium! In fact, BSFL have over 10-times the calcium as superworms and other feeder insects. So, if you are feeding BSFL to your chickens you can be sure that they are getting enough calcium. Eggshells will become stronger, and your chicken’s bone health and overall appearance will also benefit.
One Added Benefit: Increased Activity
Like all captive animals, a completely sedentary life almost always leads to negative health outcomes. Black soldier fly larvae (live or dried) can give your chicken a good way to stay active. If you scatter black soldier fly larvae throughout your chicken pen, your chickens will spend hours tracking down all of the larvae. This is a great way to keep your chickens active and engaged. Plus, more active chickens produce leaner meat!
How to Feed Black Soldier Fly Larvae to Chickens
Feeding your chickens Black Soldier Fly Larvae is easy. Simply take a handful of black soldier fly larvae and spread them throughout your chicken pen. Once your chickens know what the larvae look like and how they taste, they will definitely get excited when you approach the pen with a fresh batch of larvae. If you are just casually raising chickens and want to give them a treat, a small handful is enough for up to a dozen chickens per day.
However, if you are a chicken farmer and want to get more technical, researchers have found that feeding BSFL as 5% of the total diet is an effective way to get your chickens the protein, fat, and calcium that they need. So, if your chickens eat 100 lbs of feed per week, about 5 lbs of this diet should consist of black soldier fly larvae. (This would be a fairly large number of chickens, so adjust accordingly based on how much your flock eats.)
Increase Your Feed Conversion Efficiency!
Black Soldier Fly Larvae also have one more amazing ability: they can convert chicken manure into more black soldier fly larvae and concentrated compost. Black soldier flies are one of the best composters on the planet, and they can compost about any agricultural waste. So, by converting what would normally be lost as waste back into usable chicken feed, you are actually increasing your feed conversion efficiency. In other words, you will be able to get more meat and eggs out of the same amount of feed.
To do this, you have to learn how to compost with black soldier fly larvae.
How to Start Composting with BSFL
We cover this topic more fully in our Beginner’s Guide to BSFL Composting, but we’ll go over the basics here.
First, you need to get some living black soldier fly larvae. Then, you need to set up a contained area where you will add waste products for the larvae to turn into compost. The larvae will undergo metamorphosis into flies when they are about ¾”, so you should contain a small area above the compost pile for the flies to move around in. If given access to sunlight (or the appropriate artificial light), the flies will breed and lay eggs back on the compost pile.
Over time, the bottom of the compost pile will turn into rich, dark black compost. This compost is incredibly nutrient-dense, and it must be mixed with regular topsoil to create optimal nutrition for your plants. Since each fly can lay upwards of 500 eggs, you only need to allow a few larvae to go all the way to adulthood. The rest of the larvae can be separated from the compost and fed to your chickens!