Insect farming for animal feed

Picture this: farming insects (thanks to our collaborator, MIGHTi) as a high-protein food source for healthier chickens.

Yes, that’s right…farming insects. Our US Agriculture Innovation Prize award-winning partner,  the Mission to Improve Global Health Through Insects (MIGHTi), promotes edible insect production (also called microlivestock farming) as a sustainable protein source for human consumption and animal feed – one that supports healthy people and a healthy planet.  This collaborative research project, co-founded by The LAND Project’s own Valerie Stull, promotes rural insect farming in food insecure regions through research and by supporting women’s cooperatives.  MIGHTi aims to use culturally tailored, context specific microlivestock kits that are environmentally and economically sustainable to help farmers produce an added protein source for rural diets and supplement for animal feed year round.

MIGHTi and the LAND Project are investigating the potential to farm a variety of insect types in South Africa.  Because insect consumption is not commonplace among the populations the LAND Project works with, we are considering an alternative use for farmed insects: animal feed.  Black soldier fly (BSF) larvae are easy to cultivate and offer a sustainable, less expensive, dietary protein source for poultry feed.  Even small-scale producers could feasibly cultivate BSF, and theoretically BSF use for poultry diets could significantly cut down on the cost of packaged chicken feed for farmers.  There are environmental benefits of BSF cultivation, too.  In general, edible insects and those reared for animal feed are more environmentally friendly than conventional livestock and are nutrient dense; they require little labor, little water, and can quickly recycle agricultural and food waste making them an ideal food/feed source for resource poor areas.

Black Soldier Flies (Hermetia illucens) (Diptera: Stratiomyidae) are abundant insects, naturally found near manure heaps of poultry, cattle, and pigs.  Similarly, the larvae congregate on organic waste including vegetables, distillers’ waste, coffee bean pulp, fish offal, decaying organic matter, and spoiled food waste.  Their principle food source in nature is manure, however.

Black Soldier Flies (BSF) have potential to address problems with animal and food waste while simultaneously producing a nutrient-dense feed source for poultry, pigs, cattle, and fish.  The larvae have voracious appetites, and mature larvae (prepupae) can easily be harvested for use as feed for animals.  Fortunately, BSF are not considered a pest, as adults are not attracted to food or human habitats.  They are also unlikely vectors of human disease. Adult BSF do not need to eat; they survive on body fat stores remaining from the larval stage.  They do not bite or sting humans and have a relatively short adult lifespan (5-8 days).  BSF have been successfully cultivated for animal feed and waste management in a variety of climates and contexts, and they are practical candidates for mass production thanks to their waste reduction focused lifestyles.

The LAND Project is interested in exploring BSF production for chicken feed in South Africa.

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