Archive for February, 2010

Maggots as Food for Chickens

Monday, February 8th, 2010

WARNING: This post contains images that may not be suitable for some readers.

Our chickens have been living in their new poultry house for a few days now and they’re doing great. I was keen to get started on the feeding program that involves possum (Trichosurus Vulpecula) carcasses and maggots.

I’d heard enough about theories and vague references to stuff of legend. It sounded good, but I’d have to try it for myself.

There’s not much to it: Put some fly blown carcass in a bucket with holes at the bottom and hang it over the ground in the presence of chickens.

With that, I stepped outside one night and shot a couple of possums. I let them lie where they fell until the next evening when I went to collect them. We’re past the middle of summer here, so fly activity was well underway. There were small, standard “house-fly” flies and also a type of fly I’ve never seen before; a massive fly with a beautiful dark blue sheen that was probably some variety of flesh-fly.

Note to self: One possum per 20 litre bucket would be plenty

Bucket of dead possum, no less than ten pounds worth, more like twelve

I initially thought about drilling 10mm holes in the bottom of the 20 litre bucket, but I decided to make them much larger. It seemed like 10mm moles were going to get plugged up with clumps of fur and possibly some meatier bits. The holes in the bottom of the bucket below are 30mm across. I don’t know if there’s a right way or a wrong way to do this, but here’s what I did:

30mm holes in the bottom of the bucket

Waiting… Waiting…

I hung the bucket up in the chook house, but nothing much was happening just yet. The action really started on the third day after the possums had been killed. Small maggots were raining out of the bucket and the chickens were engaged in a pretty much non stop feeding frenzy. They REALLY like the maggots. Some of them were leaping up, trying to snatch the morsels before they could even fall out. The instant a maggot touches the ground, it gets snapped up. This went on all day, and the last time I checked around nightfall, a couple of chickens were still at it.

In case you’re wondering: What’s the smell like?

It’s incredibly mild so far. I was expecting a fairly fierce odour today (three days postmortem, middle of summer/hot/high humidity). But on a scale of one to ten, one being barely noticeable and ten being stifling rotting carcass odor, I’d rate the smell at one inside the chook house,
but undetectable just outside it. I’ll update as the days (and the breakdown) go on.

We’ll also be watching to see what happens to the consumption of their commercial feed. With any luck, it should be decreasing.

My initial assessment is an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Update #1: Smell Increasing, Maggot Output Decreasing

Ok, there is a wrong way, and that’s what you’ve just read above.

I went out today and there was plenty of smell and not many maggots. Remember my rating scale for smell intensity? It was about a six inside the chook house and four to five outside the chook house.

I definitely didn’t want to change the plan with four-days-dead possum carcasses, but it had to be done. The problem was that the mass of possum was clogging up the base. There were lots of maggots in the bucket, they just couldn’t escape. Additionally, it had been going with the lid on, so I think we were starting to get an ugly anaerobic situation.

From reading the Humanure Handbook, I remembered the advice about “biofilter” for dealing with strong smells. Biofilter simply means any dry organic matter that you happen to have handy. If you have something that really reeks, throw some biofilter on top and you’ll cut down the smell, or eliminate it entirely. It’s incredible how well this works with composting toilets (I know because I’ve tried it). I decided to get some biofilter into the mix with my dead possum bucket. For biofilter, I’m using mostly dry kikuyu mixed with some other random dry weeds and plant matter.

I rearranged my bucket like a layer cake:

Top layer: Biofilter, with a couple handfuls of sawdust sprinkled on top, no lid this time

Middle layer: Possum mass

Bottom layer: Biofilter

That’s better.

Now, the holes at the bottom aren’t clogged with guts and fur and the rest of it. I hung the bucket back up and very slowly, maggots started dropping out again.

The smell started decreasing almost immediately, but I’ll wait until tomorrow for everything to settle before I give it a rating.

It was definitely a mistake to use two possums at once. One per bucket from now on.

—End Update—

Update #2: Added More Biofilter

Just a little update. The biofilter vastly improved the situation with the smell. I decided to add about three inches of sawdust over the top, which helped even more. I’d rate the intensity of the smell at one to two inside the chook house and zero to one outside.

Other sites:

The Deliberate Agrarian: FREE Chicken Feed

Frugal Living: Natural Chicken Food