On my little urban homestead I am always trying to find ways to stretch my dollar or become more sustainable. One way I do this is to raise Black Soldier Flies to feed to my chickens. This insect just can’t be beat in terms of value on the homestead. It eats garbage, produces rapidly even in HOT weather and is full of protein for your chickens. This harmless black insect even drives away your regular house fly by exuding a hormone that they don’t like. I first got the idea from garden pool.org. If you haven’t checked them out you need to. They have a one of the best examples of thinking outside the box that I have ever witnessed when it comes to urban homesteading. http://gardenpool.org
I started out raising these little soldiers by purchasing a food grade barrel off of craigslist for about $15.00. Meantime I ordered my start up batch of flies from a online company selling to reptile owners. Using a jig saw I cut a half circle out of the top of the barrel. After that I bought a section of plastic gutter from my local home improvement company. You can get plans for the stand I placed my barrel on here with an instruction video on how to build it. http://gardenpool.org/beneficial-insects/black-soldier-fly-composter-automatic-chicken-feeder
When I got my worms I threw them in with some food scrapes, stuck my gutter piece in and waited. When the black soldier fly larvae matures it instinctively climbs up the gutter ramp to the waiting trough and hopefully right into the mouths of your chickens. The warmer it is the faster your colony will get established. Hey another thing for us southerners to be thankful for on these long HOT days. I started in spring and by summer was going strong. Once or twice a week I scoop out a shovel full of larvae to feed to my girls. Well fed chickens means nutritious eggs. While it is not possible to pasture raise my chickens I can get one step closer with this system.
With all systems there are some negatives. At first before your colony gets established your bin will SMELL and attract flies. Thankfully this goes away after your worms really get going. Another negative is that these little powerhouses leave in MASS the night before a big rain. My girls are locked up at night for safety so by morning the wild birds have cleaned up what I was hoping my birds would get. This is why I am looking for a better system to use that will allow me to get the full harvest of worms for my chickens. Here is the system that I am hoping my son will build for me before the summer is out. Is it too late to ask for a mother’s day present?http://blacksoldierflyblog.com/ Update on my black soldier fly bin that solves the mass exodus problem. Solution here
Another thing that I found is that my chickens just couldn’t wait for a helping of these tasty treats and decided to help themselves. A piece of chicken wire across the opening prevented them from hopping in and helping themselves to a snack.
You might find, like I did, that you don’t have enough scraps to satisfy their voracious appetites. Thankfully some of my neighbors pitch in their kitchen scraps each week in exchange for, you guessed it, eggs. These insects will even devour meat. I threw a raw roast in that was turning bad and they had finished it off by the next morning!
These insects will slow down as cool fall weather sets in and will be killed at the first freeze. Collecting a cup of them to store in the fridge over winter was my clever idea to restart my colony in the spring. It was a failure because instead of going dormant they all died. However when I put food scraps and compost in my bin in spring they returned to their favorite nesting spot. Woo Hoo! This winter I plan to try a colony in my garage in an ice chest and maybe a heat mat underneath? This way I would have free food for my girls all winter. Check back to see how it all turns out.
All in all this is a great inexpensive way to offset the cost of chicken feed and a step towards sustainability for your homestead.