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8
February
2010

Maggots as Food for Chickens

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

Comments:

  1. ms lottie wrote:

    Keep us up to date with the smell, it’s the one thing that’s really holding me back from doing this (and I don’t know how to use a gun so have to get hubby to shoot the thing first!).

    Commented on February 8, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  2. pebble wrote:

    Great post, thanks for the photos and clear process. Is there a lid on the bucket? (I’d expect a lid to create more smell).

    Do you know if there is such a thing as too much maggots for chooks? Or will they stop eating them so much if they get too many?

    Commented on February 8, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

  3. pebble wrote:

    Were the big flies blow flies? That’s what I’d call a large black fly, sometimes with blue in it. They tend to be less sticky than the house flies.

    Commented on February 8, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

  4. Robbyn wrote:

    On reading about chickens ourselves and in making plans for the future, we’ve been concerned not only about the cost of feed, but the availability in our area of feed that is non-GMO. I’d seen an article about using rotted meat as “larva food” to in turn feed to the chickens but have never seen anyone using it in their operation. While it initially sounded repugnant to me, I realized larva are one of their natural foods…I’m fascinated at what you’re trying and very interested in knowing how it works, and ultimately what you end up feeding the chickens all the way through their life cycles. Thanks so much for posting this!

    Commented on February 8, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

  5. Alex Hallatt wrote:

    Gruesome but wonderful.

    Commented on February 8, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

  6. Kevin wrote:

    Hi Pebble, you’re right about the lid. I came to the same conclusion earlier today. See Update #1 above.

    The lid is off now and I’m using the Humanure Handbook layer cake method, except with possies, of course. ;)

    @ ms lottie

    You don’t need to shoot them. Just get a Timms Trap. They’re available all over New Zealand. They look like this:

    http://www.pestrid.co.nz/items_images/1231278048timms-trap.gif

    Commented on February 8, 2010 @ 10:12 pm

  7. pebble wrote:

    Good update, thanks.

    ms lottie, you can use roadkill as well.

    Commented on February 9, 2010 @ 8:07 am

  8. ms lottie wrote:

    Keep going on the updates, this is great information (and kinda glad you’re finding out any wrong ways first!)

    http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Feeding-Chickens-Maggots.html

    This is a good article on this system and he talks about odour. Also about botulism – maybe roadkill wouldn’t be a good idea.

    And Timms trap it might be, can’t seem to convince hubby to go spotlighting.

    Commented on February 11, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

  9. ms lottie wrote:

    Oh, and thanks for not posting any pics of the ‘possum mass’ ;)

    Commented on February 11, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  10. Ashley wrote:

    I’d be interested to hear in about a week or so if you notice an increase in your fly population. Sounds like they’re getting the lion’s share of the larva, but I imagine there will be a lot that don’t make it through the holes. Admittedly, it’s a small price to pay for high quality chicken feed.

    Commented on February 14, 2010 @ 8:57 am

  11. MMP wrote:

    Have you thought about a wire mesh or other method to keep the meat above the bottom of the bucket? I am thinking of a wire mesh that acts as a false floor about 1 inch above the bottom. My idea is it gives the maggots a place to drop down to but keeps the meat from blocking the holes. It might mean more smell, though. But it also might help keep the meat drier which means less stink. I am also figuring it would mean less maggots molting into flies in the biofilter under the meat.

    Also, have you though about using fruit or other vegetable matter for your larvea feed.

    Thanks for publishing your expereince. I have been thinking about culturing larvea for my chickens, but I have gotten around to trying it yet.

    Commented on February 19, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

  12. Kevin wrote:

    @MMP

    Wire mesh was actually my first thought to remedy the situation, but as I was standing there looking at the situation, and smelling it, I decided reducing the smell was necessary. If you have no concern about the smell at all, the wire mesh would be a great way of going.

    Re: Keeping the meat dry: This may be a bit gruesome for people, even on this post, but you will find that there’s nothing dry about the breakdown process. The maggots actually secrete liquid as they go. So, the thing is going to be wet.

    I found that this liquid, that was dripping out of the bucket, was adding to the smell a bid. A few handfuls of biofilter/sawdust under the bucket did the trick.

    I’ve thought about using other materials to grow maggots, but just assumed the yields wouldn’t be worth the effort.

    Commented on February 19, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

  13. jan wrote:

    nice one kevin
    I’m teaching about the decomposition process in my Fornesic science lessons, and this is in store for you in the following weeks.

    Initial Decay The cadaver appears fresh externally but is decomposing internally due to the activities of bacteria, protozoa and nematodes present in the animal before death
    Putrefaction The cadaver is swollen by gas produces internally, accompanied by odour of decaying flesh
    Black putrefaction Flesh of creamy consistence with exposed parts black. Body collapses as gases escapes. Odour of decay very strong
    Butyric fermentation Cadaver drying out. Some flesh remains at first, and cheesy odour develops. Ventral surface mouldy from fermentation
    Dry decay Cadaver almost dry; slow rate of decay

    you’ll find different “wildlife” for different stages. I suppose you’ll want to get a fresh batch at one point
    Cheers, Jan

    Commented on February 28, 2010 @ 9:54 am

  14. weekendfarmer wrote:

    I have never heard of this before! very intrigued by it. I was just wondering…why not just feed the possum meat to the chickens instead?

    Commented on March 4, 2010 @ 8:55 am

  15. Kevin wrote:

    “why not just feed the possum meat to the chickens instead?”

    First of all, the eggs would taste like possum. This isn’t an issue for us yet, as they’re not laying. Apparently, the intermediate maggot step solves this issue. I guess we’ll find out.

    Also, the smell/flies would go extreme if the chickens didn’t finish the job fast enough.

    Commented on March 4, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

  16. Michelle wrote:

    This is a brilliant idea, especially the suggestion to use road kill – so many dead bunnies and foxes on our road….
    Thanks for the step by step of your process, it is really helpful.

    Commented on March 11, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

  17. Tom wrote:

    How about suspending the carcass above the grate somehow, on a hook, or a rope maybe … a thick rubber band would be good too I imagine.

    Commented on March 23, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

  18. James wrote:

    Hey this is great! I’m looking for ways to use maggots for my large fish farm but, this would be great for the small poor farmers here in Kenya!!! Bucket + road kill hang over pond and forget!!! Extra fish food! I’ll pass this one on. Thanks for the smelly work!

    James

    Commented on April 3, 2010 @ 2:30 am

  19. comrade simba wrote:

    Hi Kevin,
    I drill two rows of 5/8 inch holes about 3 inches apart through the side of my bucket rather than the bottom. First row 1 1/2 inches from the bottom, the next row an inch higher, staggering the holes. Six inches of bottom biofilter covers the holes, add varmint making sure the cover material is around the side of varmint, too, then snap a tight lid on it. My theory is the gas that collects in the bucket is bad enough to gag a maggot and they go for fresh air, hahaha.

    Roadkill cats don’t smell bad at all but the armadillos stink something fierce if you skimp on the cover material.

    Commented on May 22, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

  20. rhiannon wrote:

    hi kevin,

    i have been really excited to do this, and since we no longer have dogs to feed our meat scraps to, i thought it was time to try. my only question is whether you have had a problem with ants getting into the bucket? ants around here are NUTS and i imagine they will snatch the meat and the maggots before the chickens ever get to them…

    any experience with that? thanks.

    Commented on August 22, 2010 @ 11:08 am

  21. Kevin wrote:

    @rhiannon

    I haven’t noticed any ants at all with this.

    Commented on August 22, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

  22. Donna wrote:

    I was wondering about leaving the lid off altogether. Wouldn’t this allow more flies to come and lay eggs so there would be more maggots and the “mass” would get used up quicker so there would be less smell? Doesn’t covering it slow things down?
    Also, what do you do with it when there are no more maggots? Seems like it would be pretty horrid to try to clean it out.

    Commented on August 27, 2010 @ 5:48 am

  23. Alan wrote:

    Did you try with laying hen yet..??….I would like to know…

    Commented on September 28, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

  24. Vaughan pengelly wrote:

    Hi, did you determine if it reduced the chickens use of other feed ie: cook pellets/grain. Also, for the bottom biofilter, does the material not get wet as the carcass decomposes and end up compressing, again clogging holes and blocking lavaw.

    Commented on January 6, 2012 @ 11:31 pm

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