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Maggots (fly larvae) as protein feed for poultry, pigs and fish

Updated on September 24, 2014

Maggots (fly larvae)

Maggots (fly larvae) as protein feed for poultry, pigs and fish

Using fly larvae to clean infected wounds is a worldwide practice and has been going on for a long time. Organic waste recycling and clean-up of excretes ranging from manure to human waste with fly larvae is another useful application of fly larvae. However, I will only focus on how they could play a substantial role in the sustainable supply of protein - not directly for humans, but indirectly as feed supplement for poultry, farmed fish and pigs (replacing fish meal and soya).

The protein feed problem

Worldwide fish, chicken and pork constitute by far the biggest portion of all meats consumed by humans. These are all (monogastric – “single stomach” – animals), and unlike multigastric animals (ruminants) – like cattle, goats and sheep – they need high density animal proteins to grow. As many as 30% of all fish caught in the oceans end up as fishmeal for these monogastric animals.
Listen to these shocking figures: 2.3 kg. of marine-caught fish are needed to produce 1 kg. of farmed fish, of which only 300 gram ends up in our stomachs – the rest ends up as waste.
All poultry need high density animal protein to grow on a daily basis and that goes for egg-laying hens as well. Up to 26% of the daily rations of poultry are actually protein-high fishmeal.
Replacing that with soya, is not quite the answer, since the protein in soya does not contain all the amino acids these animals need.
Many marine fish species are already under thread and it won’t be long before we have a catastrophic collapse in fish population if we continue to do this.Clearly another source of protein has to be found which is cheap and sustainable and this is where fly maggots comes in.

The protein feed problem and the solution: Maggot meal

Story of the fly and how it can save the world

Maggots (fly larvae, "grubs") as protein source for monogastric animals

Maggots have long been recognized as a much-desired natural source of protein by chicken farmers. There are many examples of this and many Youtube videos you can watch.
However, the first company to have really commercialized the concept is a South-African company, Agriprotein. They produce not the live larvae to the market, but maggot meal, which they call Magmeal. This Magmeal is a natural alternative source of protein animal feed for fish, shrimps, poultry and pigs and provides a sustainable alternative for fishmeal. This remarkable story is told by Jason Drew in The story of the fly and how it could save the world.

The core of the production of protein meal is maggots feeding on waste nutrients. Maggots from different flies prefer different waste to feed on. Most of the small scale maggot farming (using maggots for chicken feed) going on in the world at present harvest larvae from the black soldier fly (BSF) and feed them on rotting vegetables. Maggots of blowflies and the common housefly, on the other hand, feed on animal waste like blood, fat, intestines, carcasses, chicken feathers etc.

Agriprotein is using only maggots of the common housefly, which they feed on “blood meal” prepared from crushed carcasses, fat, intestine contents and blood from the local abattoirs to produce maggot meal (“Magmeal”).
The tempo at which housefly proteins are produced, is mind-blowing. The complete life cycle of a black soldier fly maggot is 14 days; that of the housefly maggot less than three days.

Agriprotein: Basic set-up at the factory

The following distinct components form the core of the production line: the food, flies, eggs, larvae (maggots) and pupae. The process of finally producing Magmeal has to be perfect and no glitches can be allowed.

The flies
Agriprotein brought their first batch of flies from two research facilities to ensure that their breeding colony was 100% sterile. They are fed on a special diet of milk powder, molasses and sugar, get the right amount of water each day and are constantly ventilated with fresh air.
One fly can lay up to 800 eggs in her life, which take only 72 hours to hatch into larvae (maggots). In three hectic days these larvae turn into pupae. It takes only four to five days for the new generation of flies to emerge from the pupae. Within five to six days the new generation flies starts laying eggs.

The eggs of the flies
With something sweet like molasses flies are attracted to a laying tray of honeycomb-shaped cavities to lay their billions of microscopic eggs. To prevent the maggots which hatch first from eating the younger ones, these trays are removed on a regular basis. This way the hatched maggots are of the same age and no cannibalism occurs.

Agriprotein factory set-up

The larvae of the flies, the Maggots

A clear distinction is made between larvae which are
1. part of the breeding program and
2. the ones destined for protein production (Magmeal).
These two groups are completely isolated from each other. The breeding program group gets human-grade food: No blood - just brown sugar and milk powder, yeast and bran. These larvae are left to pupate and to complete the life cycle.
The ones destined for protein production are fed on flaky bran mixed with blood meal.
This all happens in a place where fresh air is provided and climate control applied. Good ventilation is needed to deal with the ammonia which is a result of the constant breakdown of nutrients.
Temperature control is also needed, since the masses of squirming, feeding larvae generate masses of heat in the feeding buckets – up to 47 degrees C!! The ideal temperature for the larvae is 35 degrees C.
The growing stages of the larvae are called “instars”. The younger larvae (earlier instars) prefer temperatures between 30 and 37 degrees C, and the third-instar, matured ones prefer 15 degrees C (just before pupation).

Another interesting fact about these larvae is the fact that the younger ones moves away from light into the hot, moist heart of the bucket while feeding, while the third-instar ones move to drier areas with more light. This makes harvesting very easy. At the factory a dry area with the correct light density is supplied and the mature larvae simply go there all by themselves. They are then harvested, frozen and eventually dried and milled into meal – Magmeal.


The final product: Magmeal

Magmeal is a brown, crumbly, crunchy meal contains a well-balanced wealth of nutriens, including 55% protein. It is a complete animal protein (meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids).
Scientific research has clearly shown that the use of Magmeal leads to more weight-gain and less stomach strain than any other industrial feeds.
On top of these advantages chickens LOVE Magmeal. They dig into it voraciously and do that time and again. Don’t forget: In the real world free-ranging chickens don’t eat fish meal or soya – they eat natural protein (insects) and maggots as well, if they’re lucky to come acros

Maggotmeal factory

The future of protein production from maggots

The company, Agriprotein, is already supplying Magmeal to some local customers and, in full production, consumes 65,000 litres of blood a day, feeding 100 tonnes of maggots and producing 20 tonnes of “Magmeal”, according to Agriprotein CEO, David Drew, in AllAboutFeed.

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