When raising BSF larvae for chickens, growers usually concern about how much larvae to raise, what to feed them, the feeding costs and when to harvest the larvae. If you're looking to raise BSF for your chickens, let's explore some ideas together.
What to feed your BSF larvae
Sourcing a local food source
Choosing what to feed your BSF larvae will very much determine the cost, the whole beneficial microbes diversity inside the larvae gut & the nutrients your chickens will eventually get. The easiest way is to look around for what's available in your local area for cheap or usually for free.
In Indonesia, for example, people use rice bran because this stuff is sold for pretty cheap–about 50 cents per kilo (2 lbs). But in Cambodia, rice bran is expensive so growers look for other solutions.
A kilo of soybean waste, left-over of the tofu making process, can be had for a fraction of a penny. If you have it shipped to you, they may charge some shipping fees. If you go pick up at the store, it's usually free.
The pros and cons of a green-based diet
The advantage of feeding the larvae with greens, veggies or fruits is that they don't smell as bad as the meaty stuff. The downside, however, is that some of these are highly fibrous, which the larvae may not find very appetizing. They tend to grow slower or smaller on a plant-based only diet. If you want your chickens to be a bit more muscly, consider some higher protein foods for the larvae.
One way to get rid of the smell of rotting foods
If you don't like the unpleasant smell of some rotten meat, fish or guts, try pre-treating them with some eco-enzyme like EM1. We've read that some bacterial or fungal pre-treatment can help the digestion of food for the BSF larvae. It only smells bad when the food is decomposing. When they're done eating (usually within 2 weeks or so), the smell will be gone.
Is fresh manure okay?
Fresh manure is okay & some growers have had good results with it. You can use chicken manure or pig manure. Larvae about 4 days old will be able to consume these. A good, disease-free source is always better. Some people have found that these guys actually devour human manure/waste pretty well. But it's not recommended to feed them this way unless you're pretty sure that contamination is kept within control.
Within the stomach of BSF larvae, there's some really strong acid & gut bacteria that help them break down food 24 hours a day non-stop. This acidic environment (pH 3-5) may shoo off some troubling bacteria in the manure.
Cow dung or goat manure don't seem to be very effective for feeding. Mostly because cows & goats eat mainly grasses, which are the high-fiber food that the larvae don't really enjoy.
To sum up some food ideas, you can try:
- Oats/barley/corn/beer grains
- Kitchen scraps/zucchini/carrots
- Potatoes/beans/rice bran/rotten eggs
- Rotting fish/bird/pork
Pre-made chicken feed is fine if fresh food sources are not available or too expensive.
The next question people are usually concerned about is:
How much to feed the larvae
We can start from how many chickens you have in your flock to feed. Let's say a chicken eats on average 100-120 grams (1/4 to 1/2 lbs) per day. We can start from the basic feeding ratio 1:1 and work it up from there.
For example, if you have 10 kg/lb of larvae, you can feed them 10 kg/lb of food daily. If the raising conditions are well, from the initial 100 grams of eggs, we can end up with around 300 kg (660 lbs) of larvae after 2 weeks of raising.
With this amount, mixed together with rice bran or some greens, you can increase the weight to around 1 ton of food. This can roughly feed 10,000 chickens pretty well. In other words, if you have about 60-70 chicks to feed, 3 kilos (6.6 lbs) of BSF larvae mixed with veggies & grains will be enough to feed them daily.
From growers experience, to get about 3 kilos of larvae you can start with a humble 1 gram of egg. The eggs are very tiny but mighty. The outside of the eggs has some protective microbes to protect them for higher chances of survival.
When the larvae are about 5-7 days old, we can feed them with our ratio 1:1, 1:2 or the amount that you see suitable. The ratio works for pounds & kilos or any other measuring units.
Here, let's check out the newly hatched larvae. These are too small to see sometimes. They'll do okay with some chicken feed + water (60-70% humidity is good). We can let them enjoy that for the first 2-3 days of their lives.
Here's what the 2-day-old larvae look like:
And now the larvae are turning 5 days old. You can see how big they are now:
How to tell if there's not enough food
There's one little tip a grower shares to tell whether the larvae have eaten all their food. Instead of digging in heads-first into the food, you may see them crawling around heads-up a bit. They're either trying to evacuate because it's too hot or trying to find a food source or a better place to eat. Sometimes, when growers are busy & don't replace new food in time, they may see some larvae wiggling out of their feeding boxes.
Will they die with too little food
These larvae are the toughest of toughest once they hatch out of the eggs. They will not die when there's not enough food. What we may see is that they'll get much skinnier & shrink down in size significantly. In some harsh environment where other life forms may not even survive, the grubs will still do well. They only die when it gets too cold, for example, if we freeze them or when it drops below 20F (-6C). Beyond 115F (46C), they may also suffer.
When to add more food
If you feed them some fruits/veggies or a big piece of meat, you'll be able to tell easily by not seeing that food piece anymore the next few days. If you feed them with something light-colored like oats, you may see the oats turn darker or a little black. This is when the little larvae have devoured most of the food. Also, the volume of the food in the box may drop down as the larvae eat. These are the tale-tell signs that we can then give them some new food.
After going through some feeding points, here are a few ideas for:
When to harvest the larvae & feed your chicks
Five- or seven-day-old larvae are good for the chicks. If you want bigger larvae, you can wait for 10 more days or so. The period from day 5 to day 10 is when these guys devour the most food. As they age, they will eat less.
The feed amount varies, for example:
For baby chicks & big chickens
The little worms are suitable for feeding baby chicks. Remember don't feed the baby chicks too much too soon because it may cause diarrhea or straight-up white poop. The downside of these little larvae is they contain a bit less nutrient than the bigger ones. The bigger ones may be a bit too big or too much for little chicks to chew at once.
Chicks about 7-days-old can be fed with BSF larvae. People do this so their chicks can get used to the taste of this thing from early on. If you're careful, mix in some little pebbles to make it easier for the lil chicks to digest. Bigger chickens can eat small & large larvae without any problems.
This natural food source can make the chicks pretty strong by improving their natural immune system to fight diseases. The chicks will have a good time eating & not be bored by the same kind of food all day every day.
But remember one point:
Filtering out the larvae poop
When you harvest the young larvae for chicks, use a sifter to filter out the feed & the larvae poop. Some people do this by hand using a sifter to shake the pieces out. If you have some fan near by or the ventilation is good, the remaining food + poop will be quite crumbled & easy to sieve out.
Alternatively, you can stack up the whole feed (with the larvae) into a mountain-like pile. After some time, the larvae will naturally move down the slopes. The stuff on the top is undigested food, their exoskeletons & their poop. You can scoop it out for filtering.
The larvae poop or frass (left-over food that the larvae eat) can be a good food source for red worms/fish or a smell-free fertilizer. It's good to treat it with some good fungi like Trichoderma for 1-1.5 months just to be on the safe side.
If you don't want to put in too much effort for this, how about:
A do-nothing harvest
If you want a do-nothing harvest, wait until the larvae have turned a bit black. They will automatically move themselves out of the feeding area. This is when they've eaten enough & are trying to find a dry place for pupation or turning into flies.
Some people design ramps for the blackened larvae to climb on & out. When one little larvae moves, it will excrete some sort of pheromone like a kind of perfume on the ramp. The other blackened larvae will then follow the smell to get out of the box & straight to the chickens. We can spray the edges of the feeding box a bit as it helps them crawl out more easily.
You basically don't have to do anything in this case. If the design pieces fit well with each other, it will run like clockwork.
If you would like a step-by-step example of this whole process, check out:
A step-by-step example
For example, you're raising 60 chickens. Each chicken eats 100-120 grams (or 1/4 lbs)/day or 700-840 grams (1.5 lbs) per week. We can prepare other greens & veggies plus 3 kg (6.6 lbs) of BSF larvae. They usually sell 10 grams of egg so we'll buy that amount. It costs around $6-7 and we'll use a gram of eggs to get started.
Step 1: Incubating the eggs
Incubate your eggs in a mixture of rice bran or chicken feed + water with 70% humidity. After 4-5 days, the hatchlings will hatch. They'll stay & eat the first food in the box for about 5 days. You can harvest them at this point for the chicks if you like. Or, we can transfer them to our prepared feed of choice. This could be your kitchen scraps, fish, meat, etc.
Step 2: Feeding & harvesting
For a kg/lb of larvae, put in a kg/lb of food. If you're busy, put in some more. They'll consume it all but look out for molds on the foods that are not consumed yet. After 10-12 days, you can harvest the larvae. If the food is good & the conditions are good, you should expect to get 3 kg (6.6 lbs) of larvae at this point.
These larvae can be fed live to the chickens. An easy way to do it is just to bring the whole box of live larvae to the chicken coop & let the chicks enjoy them whenever they feel like it. We can collect the empty bin after that.
Step 3: Reproducing more larvae
To keep a steady supply so you'll have chicken feed every day, you can sequence the hatching together. For example, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & so on so you'll have new larvae hatching every day of the week. Alternatively, you can delay feeding some larvae. The larvae will not die. They may get into dormant mode & will grow quite slowly and small.
The timeline may be:
- Jan 1 - Jan 4 (4 days): incubating eggs
- Jan 4: eggs hatch, young tiny hatchlings
- Jan 4 - Jan 9 (5 days): larvae 5 days old, okay feed for young chicks
- Jan 9 - Jan 19 (10 days): feed larvae some more
- Jan 20: harvest big larvae for big chicks
It's only long when you're first beginning with this first round. If we have new eggs hatching every day, then the cycle continues everyday. Let's say you don't harvest all of the larvae for feeding, but keep some for reproduction. From Jan 20, we can wait another 3 weeks. After 40-50 days from incubation depending on the temperature, you can get:
- Feb 9: the flies mate & we get more free eggs
- Feb 9 - Feb 13 (4 days): incubating eggs
- And the cycle goes on
We only have to wait for the first one or two months, then when the cycle kick starts you can really get a good supply of BSF eggs & larvae almost every day. As you have chickens, you can use the chicken manure as the food source for these larvae.
Some raw estimated numbers for the returns:
- Starting egg weight: 1 gram
- Starting larvae count: ~33,333 larvae
- Est. female adult flies: 16,500 (half ~33,333)
- Ending egg count: 16,500 x 500 eggs/female = 8,250,000 eggs
- Ending egg weight: 206.25 grams (8,250,000 x 0.000025 grams per egg)
So starting from 1 gram of eggs in about 1-1.5 months, if growing conditions are well, we may expect to get a little over 200 grams of eggs in return. As you can guess, this is a very rosy picture. We need to factor in the larvae lost due to environmental factors, our own beginner mistakes, the early death rates or the number of males/females, their eggs, etc. If you're just starting out, it's good to divide up into smaller portions so you don't put all eggs in one basket.
But a possibility is there & this is why BSF eggs are usually much more expensive than BSF worms. Two pounds or 1 kg of BSF eggs is around $500-$700+ whereas two pounds or 1 kg of BSF worms is less than $5 in some places. In some other areas, a box of 2000 worms is about $20 and a box of 200,000 worms is $425.
If you can't find BSF eggs from the beginning, try getting some worms. It helps you skip the incubation process. The yield may not be as much as the eggs but they give you a good start in BSF.
Here are some good sellers:
To wrap this all up:
The key point is...
To find a cheaper safe food source to feed the larvae than the chicken feed you're currently using. The larvae then will be your ever renewable reliable food source for the chickens. Try local restaurants to see if they have any food waste. Offer the staff some gift cards or perhaps some other token of appreciation.
Be creative in your discovery for reducing chicken feed costs while still maintaining the great nutritional value. Growing your own chicken feed this way means stronger chickens & less money spent on probiotics or antibiotics for the chicks. They actually are healthier, weigh heavier (less excess fat/more muscles) & give you back more tasty eggs.
We're not sure if this makes sense to you. Let us know if there's anything unclear. Have lots of fun raising & happy feeding.
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