The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Black soldier fly larvae for compost and chicken feed

Black soldier fly chickensAs I've explained previously, black soldier flies are primarily grown to provide high quality animal feed, although they can also be considered a way to get rid of food scraps.  The larvae are voracious feeders that can consume huge amounts of high nitrogen waste without any input of high carbon components.  Since you don't have to add bedding, the bins can be much smaller than a worm bin while consuming the same amount of food waste.  Even better, the larvae self-harvest, crawling right into a collection bucket so that you can feed them to your chickens, lizards, fish, or other critters. 

If you add 100 pounds of food waste to your black soldier fly bin, you should end up with 20 pounds of prepupae (large larvae, ready to change into adults.)  A nutritional analysis of dried black soldier fly prepupae consists of:

Black soldier fly larvaeTake a look at your bag of chicken laying pellets, and you'll probably notice some similarities.  If you fed your chickens a quarter of their daily rations in the form of black soldier flies, you could take care of most of their protein and calcium needs, then round out their diet with cheap components like greens and grains.  In addition to saving money, folks growing black soldier flies for their chickens report that the feed makes their hens' eggs brilliantly orange, a sign of high nutrition.

Larvae are the primary output of the black soldier fly bin, but you do get a bit of compost --- about 5 pounds for every 100 pounds of food waste you put in the bin.  This small amount of compost can be good for city-dwellers who don't have room to use up a lot of compost anyway and who would be thrilled not to have to clean out their food composter for months at a time.  On the other hand, if you're primarily composting your food scraps to add fertility to the garden, black soldier flies probably aren't the way to go.

The other disadvantage of black soldier flies compared to worm bins or compost piles is that black soldier fly bins are relatively high maintenance.  Since you don't add high carbon bedding to absorb odors, you have to pay attention and only add as much food to your bin as your larvae will eat in a day.  However, if you're running a diversified homestead and have a bunch of chickens, that bit of time is probably worth it for the high quality feed you get in exchange.  I think that compost piles, worm bins, and black soldier fly bins will all find a niche on our farm.

Our homemade chicken waterer is a great way to round out your chickens' diet with fresh, clean water.

This post is part of our Black Soldier Fly lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Glad to see these flies in action. I've been interested ever since I heard about them on AgroInnovations. They'd certainly be good for mom's egg business. Kind of cold for them up here though, I think.
Comment by Jerry Tue Mar 1 16:12:48 2011
You'd probably have to buy some to get them started up there, and then buy them every year --- probably not the best use of your resources. However, if you expand that worm bin of yours (I think it was you who was just writing about the yield from your indoors worm bin, right?), you would feed some of the worms to the chickens like Harvery Ussery does.
Comment by anna Tue Mar 1 16:36:21 2011

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I just happened to post in my new blog today about my experience with black soldier flies last year, even before I read your post. Long story, short, I wasn't nearly as successful as you were because it is basically a desert where I live. They didn't even last until the snow started falling in autumn, where they probably wouldn't have lasted much longer.

I haven't tried vermicomposting until a few weeks ago, but the worms look much more promising than the BSF larvae. My next step is to find a good source for composting worms since fishing worms are much too expensive to buy in the quantities that I need for the food waste and garden amendments.

Comment by David Tue Mar 1 22:28:46 2011

I'm glad to hear some first-hand data. We're still in the planning stages, so don't know if they'll work for us yet. It does sound like if you're outside BSFs normal range, they're probably not worth the expense, but we're hopeful that we'll be able to attract wild flies.

You might be interested in reading about our worm bin project --- Surface area is key with worms, so you might want to change to a wider rather than deep bin. Good luck!

(Cross-posted over on your blog just in case you don't check back here!)

Comment by anna Wed Mar 2 11:36:28 2011
I have read in numerous places that the best system involves feeing your bsf compost to compost worms.....
Comment by Sean Wed Mar 2 14:09:12 2011
Everything that I've read agrees with you, suggesting that BSF compost is at least somewhat unfinished. But if you don't need the larvae for livestock, it probably isn't worth running your food scraps through the black soldier fly bin since you get such a small amount of compost from it.
Comment by anna Wed Mar 2 15:39:09 2011

I created a soldier fly bin by accident once when I came back from a trip and cleaned all the decaying produce out of the garden. I left the 5 gallon bucket sitting under a tree, forgot about it, and the next thing I knew it was full of writhing 1" long maggots.

At the time, I wasn't impressed... seeing as I had no idea what they were and I didn't own chickens. I was mostly hoping they wouldn't get big enough to eat me alive. I didn't realize how useful they could be until I saw Shawn Jadrnicek's bin next to his chicken coop and tilapia pond.

Anyway, I haven't been reading blogs much right now because I'm crunched for time to get all my spring projects done. Came over here to look for photos of you two before the Organic Growers School so it will be easier to find you... and then I got wrapped up in reading lots of the posts. I love your blog!

Comment by Eliza @ Appalachian Feet Fri Mar 4 08:43:51 2011
That's similar to how I was first introduced to them, although we didn't have very many --- just a few in an over-wet part of our first worm bin. See you soon!
Comment by anna Fri Mar 4 12:01:45 2011

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