Raising Nutritious Insects to Cut the Cost of Raising Your Flock
By Anne-Marie Miller
As requested, I am filling everyone in on how to raise nutritious protein filled insects for your flock of egg laying divas! Thank you for letting me know what you wanted to hear about!
I am so excited to share this with you, because it has helped me to greatly reduce my dependence on commercial chicken feed.
The first insect I want to introduce to you is the common mealworm. They are super easy to raise.
Here is a supply list of what you will need to get started:
-A glass-sided aquarium with a screen top to fit. Mine is a 10-gallon fish tank with a reptile screen cover. Both can be purchased at your local pet store. Some people start with a plastic stacking drawer system that allows them to sort the worms, beetles and eggs. Everything in my urban farming life has to be super easy and uncomplicated but, then again, I have five kids, 3 of whom are teenagers. So as far as complicated goes I certainly have my fill! If you use the stacking drawer method, let us know how it worked out for you.
-A container of live meal worms. I started with 100 worms purchased from my local feed store. Another place to get them would be the pet store or an online reptile supply store. When I purchased mine, they asked me if I wanted giant meal worms. Wow, that sounded good and I almost went for it. Turns out “giant meal worms” are not the way to go. They have been given hormones to increase their size and are sterile. Of course, we want quick producers for our girls, so therefore must be content with lots of small worms.
-Wheat bran. Your worms will live in it and eat it. I got it from my feed store, but you can pick it up at your local grocery. Mealworms can live in many things. Their natural environment is leaf litter or rotting wood on the forest floor. However, as we are going to be keeping these insects up close and personal in our house, wheat bran is much less likely to bring in other creepy crawlies than a scoop from the forest floor.
I didn’t like the idea of insects in the house at first, either, so I tried keeping my mealworms outside. Sadly, it was a no-go. No matter how hard I tried, the tank would end up too damp. Yikes, mold! Extreme cold doesn’t work either, I am afraid. And, although they like it nice and warm, in the summer months, the reflection off the glass sides made it too hot for any living thing! So, these wigglies got a home in an aquarium on top of my clothes drier! In the winter, they are nice and warm and, in the summer, they enjoy the air conditioning with us.
When company comes over we keep the curtain closed. I have a bit of a chuckle when I remember that I purchased my first 100 worms out of the Christmas money my mother-in-law gave me. Imagine spending your Christmas money on worms! Welcome to my world. What makes this so funny is that I think she would faint, literally fall on a heap on the floor, if I flung back the curtain to reveal my Christmas present from her to me. However, after the smelling salts have done their work, if I explained to her that these creepy crawlies meant more eggs for her grandchildren, well then she would embrace the idea. She loves us deeply and if those insects meant more nutritious eggs for us, I think she would nod her head in agreement! (I am not saying she would want to manage the whole project, but nod she would. Then again, she is an amazing woman full of surprises! When she pulled out her artillery and ammo to go with it, it was my turn to faint! Perhaps we all feel called to protect the ones we love one way or another.)
-An old potato. You will need something to give your worms moisture. I have used potatoes, pumpkin, cucumber, any old scrap of veggies will do. Just keep your eye on them and make sure they have some veggie to get moisture from at all times.
Here is the best part: Once or twice per week you can scoop out worms, larvae and beetles to give to your egg-laying divas! They will love it! If you sprinkle it around your chicken run, they will spend all day making sure they have not missed a single worm. Talk about a boredom buster! Please tell me I am not the only one that thinks their girls are just plain bored on any given day. Such is the challenge of an urban farmer! But hey, at least they are not being threatened from above and below and from all sides by hawks, coyotes and stray dogs! Some of us long for acres and acres to spread our wings, but let us be thankful for what we have (close quarters and a 6′ fence) instead of what we don’t have.
Raising Black Soldier Fly Larvae for Your Chickens
The next nutritious insect we are going to learn about are black soldier flies, or BSF for short and to make it sound exciting and spy-like. I can see you raising your eyebrows, but we don’t have T.V. here on the homestead, so we have to make it James Bond level of exciting somehow! O.K., maybe not quite James Bond, but when you see how it can cut the cost of chicken feed you will get excited!
I built my BSF bin straight off the plans from the gardenpool.org in Arizona. Check them out. Talk about thinking outside the box. When they bought a property with a damaged pool that would take a lot of money to repair or fill in, they took their lemons and made lemonade! Today they have an aquaponic, food-producing greenhouse complete with chickens and a BSF bin.
After I acquired a food grade barrel, I used a jigsaw to cut an opening out of one end, shaped very much like a wide smile, as my daughter pointed out. Then, I built a holder for my bin following the video from the gardenpool.org.
To get my BSF started I ordered some larvae from an online reptile supply company. When I got them in the mail, I dumped them into my ready and waiting bin with veggie scraps included. Then I watched and waited. Nothing! I thought, “What a money wasting scheme that was!” That is, until the first summer rain came. Then up the ramp and out came all those lovely larvae into the mouths of my chickens! Every time it rained, they just kept coming! One day, quite by mistake, I found out how to feed my chickens on demand. It was a hot summer day and the girls were panting. They looked hot and miserable. I turned on the sprinkler in their run to try to cool things down a bit. To my surprise, out came the BSF in mass exodus! From then on, when I wanted to feed my egg laying divas, out came the sprinkler.
I have to say that I live in the South, Dallas Texas to be exact. I don’t know how this would work up North. I know black soldier fly larvae like it warm. I know they replenish each year down here in the South without me having to say as much as a “Howdy, how are ya’ll?” Up in the North, where snow blankets the ground, I am not sure how they would do? If you raise BSF up North, please let us know in the comments. Do they replenish each year? Do they take hold in the first place? I am dying to know!
You might be asking, what can I feed my BSF? My answer is; ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING! They are going to want veggie scraps and a lot of them! You will think about raiding your local grocery dumpster. You will beg your neighbors for veggie scraps. Once I gave them a roast that I had left out too long. It was gone in a fortnight! They are ravenous super composters or decomposers! Whatever you want to call them they are very nutritious for your chickens!
Although I tried to cover everything, I am sure I have left something out. Please let me know if you have questions in the comments. I am so used to this day in and day out of providing for my urban homestead, this is normal for me. However, this might be new to many of you. Ask your questions in the comments and I will try my best to answer them all. I encourage everyone to raise insects for your flock. Once you get started you will find it is so easy and your birds will never look healthier! Their eggs will be super healthy for you and your family!
Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog, BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.