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

When do silkworms taste the best?

Second-instar silkworms

Even though we didn't get pigs this year, we do have a few hundred new animals on the farm --- silkworms!  I haven't been posting about our inesect adventures here because I've been pouring out my enthusiasm over on our chicken blog, specifically:

But I wanted to hit up this larger audience for ideas on designing a silkworm experiment this spring.  Silk producers end up with a lot of dead silkworm pupae, which they feed to chickens, pigs, and people, but it's clear that silkworms aren't at their nutritional best at the pupal stage.  Since I don't care about silk, I can feed my silkworms to chickens at any age, but when is the best time?

Baby silkwormsBefore pupating, silkworms go through five instars (caterpillar stages between molts).  During each instar, the catperillars are larger than they were before, but so is their silk gland in proportion to their body, and silk isn't terribly tasty or nutritious.  My goal is to find the silkworm age at which the caterpillars are as large as possible before their nutritional value declines.

I assume chickens can tell the difference between a subpar and a top-notch silkworm just like I can tell the difference between an old, woody kale leaf versus a tender, young leaf.  But how do I analyze taste-test data from a chicken?  I could put out a tray of 30 silkworms each week and see how long it takes the flock to gulp them down, but that plan has issues since the silkworms will be bigger each week (presumably meaning they'd take longer to eat).  More importantly, we breed our chickens to be non-pets in an effort to keep the flock out of the garden, so it would probably take a while for them to even come up and discover a dish of silkworms.  How would you go about deciphering silkworm palatability to your flock?

The first step in peak chicken nutrition is to provide copious clean water, after which you can move on to homegrown feeds.

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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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If you don't have sequential batches ready at the same time, I say freeze a certain amount, like 300g or so at different stages of development. Then you can mix them together on a tray, and feed the chickens. When they have eaten about half, take the tray away. Sort them out and weigh them. It could give you a good idea.

Comment by Eric in Japan Mon May 27 10:25:37 2013
Eric --- Smart! I like that idea a lot. It takes nearly all the variables out of the equation except life stage of the silkworms. If I'd been thinking that way, I would have started batches at different times, but the freezer technique should work.
Comment by anna Mon May 27 12:51:14 2013

Hi Anna,

Did you ever consider eating your self produced silkworms? There are quite a few delicious dishes (Korean for example) one could prepare using these...


Comment by Mark Thu May 30 07:28:56 2013
Mark --- I couldn't get Mark to eat any of the cicadas last year, and I'll admit that even though they actually tasted good, I had a bit of an "ew" reaction too. So I suspect silkworms would be no more likely to meet with his approval. If we ever got desperate for animal protein, though, it's good to know the recipes are out there.
Comment by anna Thu May 30 08:57:37 2013
Are you kidding me? You made me read that whole article just for you to tell me to figure it out on my own? Wow
Comment by Anonymous Wed Nov 20 10:05:13 2019

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