Livestock Um, this can be made suitable for nice flies and their babies.

China Connection

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Yep it is a chicken brooder box but could be very easily made in a fly box.



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chick brooder made in China chicken brooders boxes chick hatchery machine

1.Usage:keep warming for newborn animal, like chicks, quails, duck , etc.
2.Power:80w
3 Goods.Size: Small : 48*30*30cm
Middle :58*40*40cm
Large: 78*40*40cm
4. Pakcing Size: Small: 55*45*10cm
Middle: 55*62*10cm
Large: 55*82*10cm
5.Weight: Small: 4.5kg
Middle: 6.5kg
Large : 8 kg
6.Accessorries: the price not include accessorries, if you want, can add price to buy them: Diaper for chicks,25w lamp,chick drinker feeder
7.operate easily,made by best material

 

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Livefood for your Finches
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The Humble Maggot

So you have been going well with your finches and have bred a number of Stars, Double Bars, Emblemas and Diamond Sparrows. You venture into the bird dealers and lo and behold there is a beautiful pair of Rufous-backed Mannikins and a pair of Melbas. You must have them and so off you go with them to introduce into your aviary - after their customary 40 days of quarantine of course! All is going well and both pairs go to nest, "A breeze this finch breeding" you foolishly think to yourself! A few weeks later you find a number of small black bodies dotted around the floor of your aviary. It is now that the serious fincho must consider adding some livefeed into the diet of their charges.

Now, if you are fortunate to live on the 'mainland' you will, probably, have access to the termite or whiteant which can make your job relatively easy. However, if you are not so lucky you may have to settle for the joyous task of culturing maggots or 'gentles', as they are known in more 'refined' circles. As a youth I can remember the elaborate sheep-head drums that we used to maintain in order to obtain a supply of maggots, well out of nasal range and hidden from the parents in the far reaches of their property. This method usually resulted in a feast or a famine - you had thousands of maggots or you had none!

Often these maggots would be large and very popular with weavers but of limited use to waxbills. These were in the 'old days' of maggot culture when a demented few threw caution and their sense of smell to the wind - this method of maggot culture was definitely NOT to be recommended after any sessions of alcoholic indulgences!!

I may have my history a little astray here so please forgive me but this is how "things" unfolded in Tasmania. Whilst working at the University I was asked to help culture flies for a number of tree frog species being studied. The flies were the 'little green mainland type' (please excuse the vivid description!!) and were cultured on liver in old humidy cribs left over from the pediatrics ward. The flies were plentiful but they were VERY sensitive to the cold and we frequently lost large batches during power failures or through human error. I believe another local finch breeder was experimenting with these flies too and found that he could not maintain a regular supply. He, apparently, experienced large peaks and troughs with these mainland flies.


Fig.1. Fly Box

Fig.2. Flies at work

Fig.3. Live Food
I then heard of a breeder that had two mobile fly boxes that contained the local 'small pesky black house fly' and heard a couple laughing over his attempts to breed these guys. As luck would have it I was approached by this 'fly pioneer' to 'baby sit' his two prized boxes while he was on holiday. The day for the collection of the boxes came round and he deposited these into my bird room. My god what a noise! The boxes were literally alive with angry black flies! The amount of maggots that were produced from this system was, to me at least, unbelievable. Following discussions with several finch breeders these flies found their way to all corners of Tasmania, and even further I believe.

To Roger Curren the Tasmanian finch fraternity owes a huge debt of thanks. It was about this time that I began to read some of the articles from Craig Smeelie about his fly breeding and we were able to fine tune our system.

The flies are maintained on a diet of sugar cubes and water and are given trays of pollard and calf-rearing powder to lay their eggs in. At present a couple of breeders are trialing a different powder as a food source but the jury is not yet in on their findings as yet! It has been noted by a number of breeders that some youngsters leave the nest with a bad case of the scours and this is being blamed on the cultured maggots. I have seen this in Blue-caps on one occasion. The good thing about the maggots cultured in this manner is that multi-vitamin powder and other supplements can be given to the flies just before they are fed to the birds. Our experiments with Whey powder have been encouraging and we are now using this instead of other milk powder products.

OK. So much for the wonders of fly culture but how do we get 'off the ground'? Above you can see the set up of my fly boxes. The box measures 47cms high (plus a shelf of around 10cms high), 70cms wide and 47cms deep. Two light globe fittings are placed about 25cms above the floor of the box. We have found that this height allows you to gain access to the contents easily and avoid burning yourself when changing the far light globes. The reason for two globes is that if one blows the other will keep the flies warm - a real consideration where we come from during those cold winter nights! When constructing your boxes make sure to put your shelf on the top of the fly box as warm air rises - this shelf is particularly important for on-growing your maggots.

The system for maintaining the flies is reasonably simple and only requires a minimal daily effort.

1. Place three large fast-food containers or plastic lunch boxes in the box
containing maggot and pupae.

2. Place container of sugar cubes on floor of box.

3. Moisture - some people place wet sponges in coffee jar lids but we just prefer to spray the flies
with a plant spray pack twice a day. A breeder in NSW has adapted the plastic cage water
containers to supply moisture - the 'L-shaped' ones. He uses a bird cage waterer with a piece of
sponge in the finger bowl section - this allow moisture to be available and stops the
flies from drowning!

4. Once flies start to hatch 2-3 plastic lunch boxes are placed into the cage.
These contain a sloppy mixture of pollard, coarser bran flakes, water and your milk powder. The
proportions are usually 2 handfuls of coarse bran and pollard to a heaped desert spoon of whey
powder. If you are lucky enough to get hold of some whey powder you will need to be careful of
your mix as the whey appears to generate more heat than other 'fly culture media' - so test before
you go into full on production. Be careful not to make it too sloppy, as the flies will drown in it. If it
does look too runny you can simply sprinkle a small amount of pollard over the top to give the flies a
'runway' to land on - I call this the Oliver method!

5. In my system I stir the food in the lunch boxes at least once a day to aerate the mix and to prevent
any eggs being desiccated. Twice a day is better!

6. Once the eggs have hatched you will notice your lunch box has become a seething mass of
maggots and is now ready to be removed from the cage.

7. We place the lunch box into a larger plastic cake box (kitty litter trays are popular too I hear!) where
they are fed a new mixture of pollard and milk powder. At this stage these cake boxes are placed
into the shelf above the fly box and left until they reach the desired size. When this stage is reached
remember NOT to slide the cake boxes right into the shelf as these little fellows love the dark and
will leave the 'safety' of their cake box and roam ALL through your system! Best to leave a little light
shining onto them.

8. Before feeding I sieve out the maggots as best as is possible and then place them into fresh, dry
pollard to fully clean themselves out and the multi vitamin powder added. Also at this stage it is a
good idea to let them start to turn into pupae as some species prefer to eat these rather than just
the maggot.

9. The next day they are clean and ready to be fed to your birds. John Butler in Cessnock, NSW, has
a novel way of separating the used bran from the maggots with an electric hairdryer - and does it
work a treat!

10. When you start to feed them out don't forget that you should aim to put new maggots and/or
pupae back into your fly box EVERY DAY. If you neglect this chore you will find you will suffer
periods of 'fly droughts' usually just when you need them most!

Well, that is a simplified version of the fly culture method as practiced down here. Over the winter we use 60 watt globes and this is changed down to 25 watt globes in the summer months - guess this is where local knowledge comes into it as regards the wattage that you use. It is essential that you monitor the heat in your fly boxes as many flies die if the temperature remains above 28 degrees Celsius for any length of time. Remember the amount of flies that you get out of this system is proportional to the number of flies that you have buzzing around in the box. The only problem most of us encounter with the fly boxes is how to keep the flies IN every time you open the door - many things have been tried but few 'go the distance' - any thoughts out there?

Fig.4. John 'Brushing up' his maggots!
Fig.5. The end result - Bewdiful!
I guess it is no real alternative to termites for a lot of you but when you don't have access to them you try what you can. The risk of disease from internal parasites must be reduced by this 'closed system' approach to livefeed but care, and common sense, must be exercised when checking for fungal and bacterial pathogens. Oh, and for all you doubting Thomas's out there, my system was given the thumbs up by a parasitologist who declared it to be not at risk for the spreading of diseases - so there!

Do yourself a favour and get into maggots it's a great 'talking point' amongst non-finch people!! However, you may have to practice your innocent 'staring at the roof' stance when your neighbours start to complain about "How many little black house flies there are around this year". What, me? Never!!

Written by Marcus Pollard - Copyright remains with the author​

 

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The New Method
John Butler brought the new method to the attention of both Kevin and myself in the Hunter Valley. John is a very successful Finch and Softbill breeder, who learnt this method from Victorian Finch breeders. He showed us this method a number of times, on visits to his place. It seemed simple, successful and odourless. Kevin and myself were becoming tired of collecting Termites at the time, so we decided to give it a go.
First off a cage needs to be constructed to hold the flies. Size doesn’t really matter, however the larger you make it the harder it is to keep heated in colder weather. It can be built from timber or steel. The cage I made is made of veneered chipboard for ease of cleaning. The back, sides and roof is timber. The front has a tight fitting fly screen that slides out for cleaning purposes. The bottom of the front has a flap that lifts up for a kitty litter tray that slides in; the side has a hole cut in it, covered by pantyhose, so that the containers can be placed in and out.
The light globe is fixed into the roof and can be regulated either by a thermostat or simply by changing the light globe wattage. A temperature of around 35 degrees Celsius is best. A thermometer will tell you when it needs to be regulated. The items needed for the inside of the cage is a container (margarine etc.) of sugar for the flies to eat. We use a screw top jar (small) with a hole cut into the lid, cotton wool is stuffed into the jar and then pulled out through the lid this is filled with water and the cotton wool acts like a wick. A few margarine containers will be needed to place bran and milk powder mix in. This is a step by step procedure in how to breed the maggots.
How to make
Provide 2 cups of good quality bran, ½ cup of dried milk powder, full cream, is the preferred option. Mix this thoroughly together in a bucket. To this dry mix, add approximately a cup of water, mix to a doughy consistency; not overly wet. Place this mix into a margarine container and place into a fly box.
Flies will lay eggs straight away in this mix. Twice a day moisten this mix with mist sprayer, keeping moist, is important. Leave in fly box for 24 hours. Take container out after 24 hours, place this mixture in a larger container (kitty litter tray, bucket etc). Place more of breeding mix (bran and milk powder) with the maggots that you have taken from fly box, as they need this to eat. At this stage there would be enough maggots to feed for two or three days, depending on how many birds you’re feeding.
As you take the container out of the fly box, new mixture can be placed in so that you are rotating mix to keep up continual supply. It is very important to keep one container to allow to grow onto flies, as the flies only live for approximately five days. If you continually feed out the maggots, your fly number will dwindle down to unproductive levels. Containers that are left to grow onto flies are best not fed any bran powder mix; this allows the maggots to change to flies quicker.
Conclusion
Kevin and I have found that this method works well, we have a continual easily produced live food supply. It is non-messy, quick and cheap and almost odourless. Our birds have taken to them easily and our breeding results are pleasing. Termites are no longer fed to our birds, however mealworms are supplied as variety to them. Certain species will probably still do better if Termites are available.

 

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Flies without tears – a personal approach to maggots
Livefood is an important dietary component for successful breeding of many of our finches. Despite the better balanced and more nutritious diets now available for birds – including some excellent softfoods, half-ripe milkseed and various supplements – it seems that nothing quite replaces the need for livefood of some type.

Finch breeders utilise three main types of livefood – termites, mealworms and fly maggots, sometimes euphemistically called “gentles”. Of these, termites are probably the best if you have the time to maintain a reliable supply, while mealworms appear to be nutritionally unbalanced if fed as the sole livefood. For an increasing number of finch breeder, maggots are now the standard due in large part to the ease with which large quantities of high quality livefood can be generated and the relative simplicity of the breeding system for flies.

What follows here is very much my personal method for producing this valuable livefood, but there are many variations that can be tried and just about anyone you speak will have slight personal preferences on how they approach it.

The fly normally used for maggot production is the bushfly – Musca vetussimma- which is a little smaller than the housefly and adapts well to intensive culturing in cages and importantly can utilise simple protein-based diets without meat. The fly lifecycle is similar to many other insects which go through a pupal stage [so-called holometabolous insects] with four basic stages – eggs, larvae [the maggot], pupae and the adult fly.

Much of the early work in perfecting fly rearing was done by Craig Smeelie in Victoria and his basic techniques have now been adopted widely.

Basic Requirements


1. A Secure Fly Cage.
Having obtained some fly pupae from a friend the first requirement is a secure cage. A simple box of 40 cm x 40cm x 40 cm with gauze on the front and a light bulb mounted on the inside back wall is what I use. The cage walls should be painted or sealed so as to be easily cleaned. I have also seen fly colonies in cages made entirely from mosquito netting on a light wire frame. Whatever you use it is critical that the flies can’t escape. Because you will need to be in and out of the cage regularly, a fly proof door is essential. I use an old stocking secured around the edges of the door opening and simply tied in a knot. The stocking will gather holes over time, but is easily replaced. Keeping your flies in will help with neighbourly relations. As shown in one of the photos I leg ring all my flies, so that I can be sure which ones are mine!

2. Temperature Control.
It is important that you can maintain the temperature environment for the flies. They need a stable temperature if possible – 26o to 27o is ideal, so they will need to be kept warm during the winter and protected from excessive high temperature during the summer. A 60W light bulb in the cage provides effective warmth in winter and a cloth cover can be draped over the front of the cage to hold in the heat. During summer a lower wattage light [25W] might be better. Eggs and hatchling larvae also need to be kept warm to ensure rapid development but once they are growing the maggots generate a lot of metabolic heat and it is important to ensure they don’t get too hot – otherwise you can easily end up with cooked maggots – not a pleasant outcome.



3. Food and Water for the Flies.
The adult flies need a simple diet of sugar and water. I provide water in a small plastic food container with a 1.0 cm hole bored in the lid. The container is filled with water and then through the hole I insert about half of a 15cm long cotton dental wick. The other half of the
length is laid flat on the lid. Water is drawn up through the wick and the flies simply suck it out. This simple method avoids open containers in which the flies usually drown or the need for regular spraying of water into the cages, and ensures the flies have
water all the time. While some say that water is not necessary I believe fly longevity is much greater with water provided. The water container is cleaned and refilled weekly and to keep the water clean and fresh I add a “dash” of Aviclens each time. Sugar is necessary to provide the energy needed for flight. The flies don’t require any protein – all the protein needed for a female to lay her lifetime of eggs is accumulated during the larval stage and carried through into the fly. I provide sugar cubes in a small dish at all times. It is amazing how much sugar several hundred flies will consume.



4. Rearing food for the maggots.
This is where there is great variation among maggot aficionados, but the basic medium for collecting eggs and then rearing maggots is pollard mixed with milk powder as a protein source. Some people use bran or “mill run” which are more easily sieved out later, but I find pollard is fine.

I use two different mixes for the maggots. The first mix is used to collect eggs and feed the hatchling maggots. The second mix is used to feed the maggots as they develop. The first mix consists of four parts pollard with 1 part full cream milk powder and then add about 2 parts of water to produce a moist crumbly mix. Adjust the amount of water a little if needed but the final mix should be moist, not sloppy wet! Some breeders also add meatmeal and other additives to their mix, but provided the maggots have a readily digestible source of protein [like milk powder] and they grow rapidly their eventual nutritional quality will be much the same. I place the bran and milk mix in plastic butter containers (filled to the top) and then place these in the fly cage. The flies will quickly swarm all over it and commence laying eggs directly into and onto the mix. Leave the mix for 2 days then remove and replace with containers of fresh pollard and milk mix.

The second mix is used to feed the maggots again about 1 day after hatching. It is important to feed your maggots sufficiently. Often if I have huge number of small maggots I divide them into 2 or 3 large containers and then feed each group one more and sometimes twice more over 2 days. This second mix is 3 parts pollard, 1 part medicated chick start crumbles, 1 part powdered milk, plus 2 parts water. This mix contains more protein and will ensure the maggots have plenty of nutrition to complete development.



Getting into the Routine
Having got this far it is now important that you get into a set routine of replacing the egg collecting mix, allowing the eggs to hatch and then monitoring maggot development to a stage where they are ready to feed to your birds. At 26o, fly eggs will hatch in about 36 hours, maggots then take 3-4days to develop and then pupate. They remain as pupae for about 5 days then emerge as flies and live for up to 10 days. They will commence mating and egglaying about 2 days after emergence.

So to ensure a continuous supply of maggots it is important to follow a routine, but before I comment on that a couple of other points:

1. It is much better to have large numbers of flies in your cages, than just a few. This will ensure that lots of eggs are laid, lots of larvae hatch in each container of food and that they develop rapidly. The larvae generate a considerable amount of heat – metabolic heat – when developing and the faster they develop the more effectively they will consume all the food and turn it into a dry brown powder. With only a few larvae in the diet, they will develop poorly, the mix will ferment and you end up with a smelly, wet mess.

2. to maintain large numbers of flies it is critical that at least once a week one batch of maggots is allowed to complete development and pupate and then be placed back into the cage. This will ensure fresh flies are emerging regularly.



My routine is as follows:

I have two fly cages, each with at least 1000 flies. In each cage I place two containers of egg collecting mix every two days. The 2 previous containers, now loaded with eggs are removed and placed in a warm, dry place for 24 hours until the maggots have hatched and partially developed. I then tip them out into a larger plastic cake container, stir the mix around a bit and leave again for 24 hours after which they should be ready to feed.
Sometimes when there are huge numbers of maggots they will rapidly consume all the food and still be quite small. At these times it may be necessary to add a little more bran and milk mix for the final 24 hours of development. Once a week I put one container of maggots aside, provide them with extra food to ensure they develop into big fat maggots and allow them to pupate. These produce large productive flies. One container will produce many hundreds or thousands of pupae. These are mixed with some dry bran and placed back into the cage to emerge as flies. It should be clear that essentially there is something to be done every day. Since I keep my flies in the garage I can do all the colony maintenance at night.



Feeding your birds.

When still feeding the maggots will have a dark line of food clearly visible in their gut. Don’t feed them at this stage. Maggots which are ready to feed to the birds should be pure milky
white as in the photo. When they have completed development and are ready to pupate the maggots will empty any remaining gut contents and that is when they are ready to feed out. I usually wait until some have pupated before feeding them out since this means most of the maggots will be ready [see picture].

Maggots can be stored in the refrigerator for several days and this can be useful because the maggots will all aggregate together into a ball. Before feeding I can then easily remove much of the used medium. In this way I avoid having to sieve the maggots and pupae from the used food. Once I have just maggots with a little of the used food I mix in a couple of handfuls of fresh, dry bran. The final product fed to the birds is then a clean and dry mix.

The 3 C’s of fly breeding
There are three critical things to apply for effective maggot production:

Cleanliness – it is important that all the maggot rearing containers are thoroughly cleaned after each use, that the water is clean, that the fly cages are cleaned occasionally and most importantly that the maggots are fed after they have evacuated their gut contents in a clean dry mix.

Consistency – routine is everything. Don’t change your egg collecting mix in an irregular way and don’t forget to place pupae back into your fly cage – otherwise your population of flies will decline and you will end up with peaks and troughs of production and inevitably have a couple of days with few maggots. These might be crucial days for your best pairs of birds and their young.

Control – it is important to control the environment for your flies. Like all insects all their development is temperature dependent, but they have preferred temperatures. Don’t let them get too hot – the flies and the maggots will die. Don’t let them get too cold – everything will slow down and maggots won’t develop well. So it’s that simple! Once you are into a routine it really is very simple to produce ample quantities of hygienic and high quality livefood this way. I find that all my finches take maggots readily and breeding results have been good.

 

China Connection

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60 tonnes of maggots: Olympia Yarger's vision for feeding our nation's fish
  • Bree Winchester
Latest News
Could there be anything more Canberra than feeding your backyard chooks fresh maggots raised on Ona Coffee grounds?

It's about to become a reality.
Olympia Yarger, Managing Director, Goterra. Olympia has started her own innovative agriculture business - hoping to raise millions of maggots. Photo: Karleen Minney

Olympia Yarger, Managing Director, Goterra. Olympia has started her own innovative agriculture business - hoping to raise millions of maggots. Photo: Karleen Minney


Canberra entrepreneur Olympia Yarger has rented a warehouse in Fyshwick, built a maze of temperature-controlled rooms inside and is about to join only of a handful of innovators across the world redefining the world's approach to chicken and fish feed.
Goterra is a true start-up in every sense - mum Louise sewed all the covers for the fly aviaries, brother Kon did all of the electrical work at the warehouse and husband Eric picks up food waste and delivers it to Fyshwick to feed to the maggots.

Olympia won a $30,000 ACT Innovation Connect grant in a recent funding round to prove the concept of how we believe we'll be able to farm maggots here in Canberra. Photo: Karleen Minney

Olympia won a $30,000 ACT Innovation Connect grant in a recent funding round to "prove the concept of how we believe we'll be able to farm maggots here in Canberra." Photo: Karleen Minney

"It's not a start-up in the traditional sense," Olympia said.
"But we are well and truly at the forefront of innovating sustainable feed in Australia, and we're proud to be doing it from here in Canberra."
Olympia's vision for Goterra is simple: producing live larvae for chicken and fish feed. She'll launch as a supplier for Canberra's backyard chooks and pet fish later this year, and then look to secure a contract with a major aquaculture farm like Snowy Mountain Trout Farm.
She uses only black soldier flies - which she first caught in traps across the ACT and now raises in aviaries in Fyshwick - to produce the larvae, as they're cleaner and "aren't vectors for human disease the way blow flies are".
The fly aviaries are the handiwork of Olympia's mum, Louise. Photo: Karleen Minney

The fly aviaries are the handiwork of Olympia's mum, Louise. Photo: Karleen Minney

The ACT Government is backing her in a major way - she won a $30,000 ACT Innovation Connect grant in a recent funding round to "prove the concept of how we believe we'll be able to farm maggots here in Canberra".
"It's been an awesome process - the government's been supportive and very involved in providing feedback," Olympia said.
"It's nice to be supported that way, especially because we're agriculture and Canberra's not necessarily known for being ag - so they've invested in us and that really shows how innovative they're prepared to be in looking for new ways to solve Canberra's waste problem."
Olympia's maggots eat food waste from a range of Canberra businesses, including grounds from Ona Coffee and a recent delivery of navy beans from a local delicatessen. ACT Smart Waste is also a supplier.
"What we hope to establish here in Canberra is a commercialised operation that's going to sustainably recycle Canberra's food waste into feed for fish and chickens," she said.
"So we'll be taking scraps from tables, pre-consumer food waste, all the rotten stuff that nobody can do anything with."
And how do people respond when she says she's in the business of maggots?
"Most people - once we explain it - are like 'that is the coolest thing I've ever heard," she said.
"Everybody's so into sustainability these days that if you take the time to explain what you're doing, they ultimately love the concept."

 

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Maggots: A taste of food’s future
The black soldier fly’s remarkable ability to transform nearly any kind of organic waste into protein could revolutionize global food supplies


Black soldier flies at the Evo Conversion Systems facility in College Station, Tex., will eventually be harvested and sold as food for exotic pets. (Loren Elliott for The Washington Post)

By Christopher Ingraham
JULY 3, 2019
COLLEGE STATION, Tex. — It may be hard to understand the appeal of plunging your hand into a pile of writhing maggots. But the sensation is uniquely tactile, not at all unpleasant, as thousands of soft, plump grubs, each the size of a grain of rice, wriggle against your skin, tiny mouthparts gently poking your flesh.
For Lauren Taranow and her employees, it’s just another day at work.
Taranow is the president of Symton BSF, where the larvae of black soldier flies are harvested and sold as food for exotic pets such as lizards, birds, even hedgehogs. Her “maggot farm,” as she styles it, is part of a burgeoning industry, one with the potential to revolutionize the way we feed the world. That’s because of the black soldier fly larva’s remarkable ability to transform nearly any kind of organic waste — cafeteria refuse, manure, even toxic algae — into high-quality protein, all while leaving a smaller carbon footprint than it found.


In one year, a single acre of black soldier fly larvae can produce more protein than 3,000 acres of cattle or 130 acres of soybeans. Such yields, combined with the need to find cheap, reliable protein for a global population projected to jump 30 percent, to 9.8 billion by 2050, present big opportunity for the black soldier fly. The United Nations, which already warns that animal-rich diets cannot stretch that far long term, is encouraging governments and businesses to turn to insects to fulfill the planet’s protein needs.
People who’ve seen what black soldier fly larvae can do often speak of them in evangelical tones. Jeff Tomberlin, a professor of entomology at Texas A&M University, said the bug industry could “save lives, stabilize economies, create jobs and protect the environment.”
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be doing this at some scale throughout the world,” he said.
So why aren’t we?

Jonathan A. Cammack, chief operating officer at Evo Conversion Systems, displays dried black soldier fly larvae at the company’s facility. (Loren Elliott for The Washington Post)
When the LED lights are flipped on in the fly-breeding room at Evo Conversion Systems, the whir of thousands of tiny wings fills the air as flies careen about their screened-in enclosures in search of a mate. Evo, which was founded by Tomberlin, shares a wall with Symton. The companies are separate but symbiotic: Evo hatches fly larvae and sells them to Symton, which fattens them up on a proprietary grain blend that ensures optimal nutrition for the animals that eventually will consume them.
The adult flies resemble small black wasps, minus a stinger, and are generally harmless to humans. After they’ve mated, the females deposit clutches of several hundred eggs into small pieces of corrugated cardboard. Evo employees collect the cardboard and deposit them into glass Mason jars to incubate. Several days later, a brood of maggots — each no bigger than a speck of pepper — hatches.

Entomologists have known of the soldier fly’s promise for decades. Researchers proposed using them to convert manure into protein as early as the 1970s. But raising them at anything approaching a commercial scale seemed like a dead end: No one knew how to get captive flies to reliably mate and deposit eggs.
That changed in 2002 with the publication of a paper by Tomberlin, his adviser D. Craig Sheppard and others, which described a system for raising the insects in captivity. The key, they found, was finding the precise mixture of temperature, humidity and, especially, lighting to stimulate the flies to breed.
Before the paper, “people thought we were crazy” for trying to grow soldier flies, Tomberlin said. The fact that the technology to properly cultivate fly colonies didn’t even exist 20 years ago underscores how new the industry is, he added.
A black soldier fly larva can consume twice its weight in food each day. On its 14-day journey from hatchling to pupa, a single larva will grow nearly an inch long and increase its weight by a factor of 10,000. That’s akin to an eight-pound baby swelling to the size of a 40-ton humpback whale. They binge eat to store up nutrients for their two-week life span as adults, when they typically don’t eat anything at all.


The larvae at Evo feast on spent grains from a handful of Texas distilleries and breweries, as much as 15 tons of it each month. Nathan Barkman of Rio Brazos Distillery said Evo eliminates close to half of his company’s weekly output of waste. It’s hot, sopping wet, highly acidic and sticky — “like lava,” he said — making it difficult to dispose. Local sanitation companies won’t take it. Pig farmers sometimes will, but the closest farms are miles outside of town, and nobody wants to be driving molten grain mash that far.
The flies, however, love it. “They’re generalists,” Tomberlin said, and eat just about anything. Pig manure? Check. Human waste? Check. Food scraps? Check. The only organic materials they haven’t had luck with are bones, hair and pineapple rinds, he said.
Their ability to rapidly devour waste has inspired a number of commercial applications. A pilot program at Louisiana State University deploys a small colony of soldier flies to consume the food its students toss out at one dining hall. The entomologist overseeing the project hopes it will be expanded to eliminate all campus food waste by the end of the year. In China, giant facilities owned by a company called JM Green process at least 50 tons of food waste a day with the help of black soldier flies.
Using larvae to eliminate food waste at this scale could be an ecological game-changer. A 2011 U.N. report detailed how rotting food emits millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accounting for about 7 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. But when maggots consume food waste, they take all that carbon with them.
Soldier flies are “where carbon goes to die,” Tomberlin said. “It goes into this system and comes out the other end as all these beneficial ingredients.”
Such as food for animals.


TOP: Evo Conversion Systems hatches fly larvae and sells them to Symton BSF, which fattens them up to harvest and distribute as animal feed. The companies are separate but symbiotic and share a building in College Station. BOTTOM LEFT: Jeff Tomberlin, the director of Evo Conversion Systems and an entomology professor at Texas A&M University, displays black soldier flies last month from the colony near his office. BOTTOM RIGHT: Packaged black soldier flies at Symton BSF are ready for distribution. (Photos by Loren Elliott for The Washington Post)
In Symton’s entryway sits a grumpy chameleon named Eugene who’s prone to hissing at visitors who get too close. There’s also a sweet-natured leopard gecko that spends most of her day snoozing under a rock. Hanging from the ceiling is a potted Asian pitcher plant, its long fleshy cups dangling over the pot’s edges, maws agape.
The chameleon, gecko and pitcher plant have one thing in common: They eat soldier flies.
One of the first commercial applications for soldier fly larvae was as live feed for pet reptiles. The reptile market took off in the 1990s, said David Fluker, a second-generation cricket farmer and the owner of Fluker Farms in Port Allen, La., after the film “Jurassic Park” (1993) sparked interest in dinosaurs and enthusiasm for their most attainable approximations.
“Reptiles were reasonably popular, but they just went off after that,” he said.
 
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Crickets and mealworms — farmed for decades in the American Southeast, first as bait for fishers — had long been the twin pillars of the lizard-food industry. The problem, though, is that they cannot meet reptiles’ calcium needs. That means pet owners must dust the live feed with the mineral to guard against calcium deficiency, which can cause tremors, seizures and even death.
The soldier fly solves that problem. Tomberlin’s adviser, Sheppard, discovered they are extremely high in calcium — 50 times more per gram than mealworms and crickets. Within a few years, by 2006, he secured a trademark to use soldier fly larvae as feed for geckos, bearded dragons and other reptiles. Soon after, other more established pet food companies entered the market with their own soldier fly brands.
Symton is one of the more recent entrants into that market. The Texas company occupies several thousand feet of commercial warehouse space and has about a dozen employees. It’s already profitable and growing fast: Larvae production has doubled in the past six months, up to 2 million a week.
Most of the magic happens in a single room filled with racks of open plastic tubs. Each container holds thousands of grubs in various stages of development, happily munching their way through piles of specially formulated grain mash.
Symton BSF President Lauren Taranow in a rearing room at the company’s facility in College Station. (Loren Elliott for The Washington Post)
Because soldier fly cultivation is so new, there was much trial and error to get the company to where it is today, Taranow said. Researchers had to calculate the right combination of food and moisture (cricket production, by contrast, is so well-established that you can purchase commercial cricket chow in 40-pound bags). They had to lock down the proper grub-to-feed ratio, as well as the precise temperature, lighting and humidity, needed to ensure larvae reached the desired size. If any variable is out of whack, the entire colony can crash.
Another challenge for soldier fly farmers is that larvae are surprisingly mischievous. A wet grub can scale any surface, from wood to glass, so growers have to maintain specific humidity levels to prevent them from getting damp, escaping their confines and generally running amok. A group of dry larvae left alone in an enclosure without food will congregate in a corner, piling up “World War Z”-style until they’re tall enough to allow their compatriots to escape. Symton solved this problem, in part, by piling wet mash in the center of their bins with a moat of dry material along the edges to prevent escape.
After they reach the desired size, the larvae are sifted out, weighed and poured into plastic containers and then shipped all over the country. One byproduct of the process is frass — the scientific term for bug excrement. Symton produces scads of the stuff, which it piles up outside the facility and donates to local landscapers for use as compost.

An acre of land used to raise soldier fly colonies can produce more than 130,000 pounds of protein per year, according to various peer-reviewed estimates. That’s several orders of magnitude greater than the per-acre protein yield of cattle (about 40 pounds), soybeans (950 pounds) or chickens (1,800 pounds).

“Black soldier fly larvae can make thousand-folds more protein than terrestrial animals or other plants,” said Liz Koutsos, chief executive of Kentucky-based EnviroFlight, which raises soldier fly larvae used in protein meal for commercial fish and poultry operations. The yields are so high because soldier fly colonies can be stacked vertically, five to 10 per floor, in a way that isn’t possible with cattle or field crops. The fast-growing larvae also can be harvested dozens of times per year.
EnviroFlight, like Evo, feeds its larvae byproducts of the distilling industry. When the grubs reach full size, they’re harvested, dried in industrial ovens and processed into a protein-rich meal and oil. The technology is moving so quickly, however, that regulators are having difficulty keeping up.
Black soldier fly meal only won approval as fish and poultry feed in 2018. Koutsos said EnviroFlight and companies such as Enterra in Canada and Protix in the European Union are working to win regulatory approval for using the meal in food for other animals, including swine and even cats and dogs.
The idea is to take pressure off traditional sources of protein meal, such as fish. About one-quarter of the harvest from marine fisheries is turned into food for farmed animals, including fish, hogs and poultry. More than 90 percent of those fisheries are either fully exploited or overfished, meaning that as the world’s population grows, there will be more demand for alternative protein sources.
“There’s no question that [soldier fly] meal is much more expensive right now than fishmeal,” Koutsos said. But fishmeal is becoming more expensive, and soldier fly technology is becoming cheaper. The goal, she said, is “to be at or below fishmeal [price] in five years.”
“Twenty years ago, I would have laughed” at the idea of feeding the world with bugs, said Fluker, the Louisiana cricket farmer. He recently expanded into soldier fly production and discovered the grubs will eat the frass produced by his millions of crickets. He said he views insect farming as “a vital link to sustaining the world’s feed needs.”
The economics are promising enough that big agricultural companies are getting into the insect protein market. Cargill, the Minnesota-based agriculture giant, just last month announced a partnership with the French biotech firm InnovaFeed to produce fish feed made from black soldier fly larvae.
“Insect protein feed can be a solution and a renewable source of protein to feed fish and ultimately feed the world,” said Maye Walraven, InnovaFeed’s head of business development, in a video announcing the partnership.
The U.N. agrees: It forecast in a 2013 report that insect farming would have to play a key role — both as animal feed and to feed people — if the world is going to be fed sustainably in coming decades.

LEFT: Taranow wears custom leggings with black soldier fly larvae printed on them. RIGHT: Cammack and Evo Conversion Systems site manager Amy Dickerson, out of frame, inspect black soldier fly larvae. (Photos by Loren Elliott for The Washington Post)

Back at Symton, Taranow pops a couple of oven-dried soldier fly larvae into her mouth. “Honestly, they taste like Fritos,” she said.
They have a pleasant, neutral, nutty flavor to them. Slather them in powdered ranch or barbecue seasoning and it’s easy to imagine bags of them flying off the shelves in truck stops and convenience stores.
The dried larvae also have an advantage over other insect edibles — like, say, Mexico’s chapulines — in that they don’t really look like bugs. They have few identifiable buggy characteristics — no legs to get stuck in your teeth, no eyes to stare at you. It would be easy enough to mistake them for some sort of exotic grain.
Close to 2 billion people worldwide already include insects in their diets, according to the 2013 U.N. report. Insect-based snacks are commonly seen in open-air markets in places such as Thailand and China, for instance.

The practice hasn’t caught on in Europe or the United States, in part, because of long-standing cultural attitudes toward insects. This is somewhat puzzling, considering many Westerners happily consume foods such as crab and lobster, which are really just giant sea bugs.
“I absolutely think there will be applications [for the soldier fly] in the human food market,” said EnviroFlight’s Koutsos. “The challenge is getting over the cringe factor.”
One potential path to human consumption is via insect-based protein powders, which can be mixed with other foods, thus lessening the ick factor. Several companies are already doing this with crickets.
“There’s been a lot of effort put into cricket flour or mealworms for protein ingredients for everything from pasta to cookies to chips,” Tomberlin said.
He expects soldier fly protein to follow a similar path. “When you walk in these facilities in the next 10 years, we’ll look back at this era and say we were just getting started.”
Will American consumers ever embrace insect-based protein? Twenty years ago, as Fluker said, the idea would have been laughable. But today, in the era of the vegetarian Whopper, the door is open.
Black soldier flies stuck to a ribbon trap at Evo Conversion Systems. (Loren Elliott for The Washington Post)
Design by Clare Ramirez. Photo editing by Annaliese Nurnberg.

 

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Um, what you have to culture to feed maggots as bacteria and fungi is what they feed on.



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Making the case for edible microorganisms as an integral part of a more sustainable and resilient food production system

Abstract
Edible microbial biomass derived from bacteria, yeasts, filamentous fungi or microalgae is a promising alternative to conventional sources of food and feed. Microorganisms are a good source of protein, vitamins and, in some cases, also contain beneficial lipids. The ability of microorganisms to use simple organic substrates for growth permits industrial-scale cultivation of edible microbial biomass in geographical locations that would not compete with agricultural production. Only a handful of microbial products are currently available for human consumption. The use of microbial biomass for animal feed is limited by access to low-cost growth substrates and competition from conventional feed sources such as soy and fishmeal. At a time when the global food production system is threatened by the effects of climate change, the production of edible microorganisms has the potential to circumvent many of the current environmental boundaries of food production as well as reducing its environmental impact. Photosynthetic microorganisms such as cyanobacteria and microalgae can be cultivated for food and feed independently of arable land. In addition, recent technological developments in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) capture, extraction and catalytic conversion into simple organic compounds can be used for cultivation of edible microbial biomass for food and feed in a manner that is wholly independent of photosynthesis. The future possibilities, challenges and risks of scaled-up production of edible microbial biomass in relation to the global food system and the environment are discussed.
The current challenge
Population growth, changing consumption patterns and a warming climate are collectively putting unprecedented strain on the global food production system. The human population is estimated to reach 9.6–12.3 billion people by the year 2100 (Gerland et al. 2014). Contemporary agriculture already exerts a significant environmental footprint in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Vermeulen et al. 2012), freshwater use (Hoekstra and Mekonnen 2012), eutrophication (Diaz and Rosenberg 2008), land degradation (Montgomery 2007) and loss of biodiversity (Newbold et al. 2015). The predicted expansion of the global food production system during the next couple of decades is expected to nearly double environmental pressures by 2050 when compared to 2010 levels (Springmann et al. 2018). Rising temperatures resulting from anthropogenic climate change are, in turn, expected to reduce agricultural yields of major crops (Zhao et al. 2017), which include increased yield losses to crop pests (Deutsch et al. 2018) and extreme weather events (Lesk et al. 2016). Decreased agricultural yields would necessitate further agricultural expansion in order to keep up with demand. Such expansion would in turn be expected to exacerbate agricultural emissions that then risk lowering yields further through climate change. Retaining the current food production model to satisfy future global food demand therefore has the potential to trap humanity in a vicious spiral of gradually decreasing agricultural output (Harvey and Pilgrim 2011).
A number of countermeasures have been proposed to increase food production output and simultaneously reduce its inherent environmental costs. Such actions include increasing agricultural yields per unit surface area, more efficient management of agricultural inputs (water and fertilizer use), changes in dietary patterns and reducing food waste (Horton 2017; McKenzie and Williams 2015; Springmann et al. 2018). There is still some operating space for closing yield gaps across the globe (Foley et al. 2011; Onyutha 2018) but global trends in agricultural yields for the major crops suggest that yield increases alone will be insufficient for adequately feeding the human population mid-century (Grassini et al. 2013; Ray et al. 2013), assuming that current dietary trends prevail. The majority of land area currently dedicated to food production is used for feeding animals – either as pasture or for the cultivation of feed crops (Foley et al. 2011). Hence, a dietary transition towards predominantly plant-based foods could significantly alleviate pressure on the environment (Cassidy et al. 2013). However, the current global trend is the opposite with improving living standards causing an increase in per capita consumption of animal protein such as meat, eggs and dairy products (Gerbens-Leenes et al. 2010). Any policy efforts aiming to reverse this dietary transition are further hampered by entrenched attitudes to meat consumption that exist in different cultures (Happer and Wellesley 2019).
At this critical juncture in human history, alternatives to conventional means of food production urgently need to be considered. Some of the alternative strategies for food production that regularly feature in public discourse include farming insects for human consumption (van Huis 2013), cultivation of artificial “lab-grown” meat (Jones 2010) and vertical farming of crops (Despommier 2009). Although the concept of using microorganisms as both food and feed is at least several centuries old, it has received significantly less attention in the current public debate. The present review will introduce some of the unique properties of microorganisms that make them a promising alternative to conventional sources of food and feed. The future challenges and possibilities as well as potential risks of large-scale production of edible microbial biomass will be discussed. Particular emphasis will be given to the potential of pairing cultivation of edible microorganisms with emerging technologies within the field of carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and extraction from ambient air and its subsequent conversion into simple organic compounds. For the benefit of non-specialist readers, relevant technical terms have been highlighted in italics when they are first mentioned. Scientific names of individual microbial species are also italicized according to standard convention.
A primer on microorganisms
Microorganisms typically adopt two lifestyles, existing either as individual cells or as thin filaments of cells that are attached end-to-end. Some microorganisms may switch between these two lifestyles depending on environmental conditions or the stage of their lifecycle. If external conditions are favorable and nutrients are abundant, some microorganisms are capable of very rapid growth with cell division occurring approximately every 20 min in the case of the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli to every 90 min for the common baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
All currently known microorganisms belong to one of the three kingdoms of life: the eukaryotes, the bacteria or the archaea (Hug et al. 2016). The eukaryotes (which also include multicellular organisms such as animals, land plants, fruit body-forming fungi and macroalgae) are distinguished by membrane-bound structures (so-called organelles) within their cells such as the cell nucleus, mitochondria and chloroplasts. Eukaryotic microorganisms include microscopic fungi (single-celled yeasts as well as filamentous fungi), microalgae, ciliates and amoebae. All currently known members of the remaining two kingdoms of bacteria and archaea are exclusively microorganisms. Although bacteria are often associated with disease, these organisms play an absolutely vital role in maintaining planetary geochemical cycles as well as directly benefiting plants and animals through countless examples of symbiotic relationships. The bacterial kingdom includes photosynthetic species, which are commonly referred to as “blue-green algae” but the term cyanobacteria will be used throughout this review. (Even though cyanobacteria are technically a form of microalgae, the term “microalgae” will be used exclusively in this review to denote single-celled or filamentous eukaryotic algae.) Archaea are superficially similar to bacteria but differ significantly in the biochemical composition of their cellular structures. The archaea are often found in extreme environments such as hot springs but also in more conventional environments such as oxygen-poor aquatic sediments (Jarrell et al. 2011). Archaea play an important role in many global geochemical cycles and a sub-set of archaea are uniquely responsible for the biological production of methane gas (CH4), which will be of significance later in this review.
Microorganisms are notably adept at using simple organic (carbon-containing) compounds in their immediate environment to grow and divide. The extent of this ability gives rise to a functional classification scheme that will be briefly introduced here (Fig. 1a) and which will be useful to the non-specialist reader in order to follow the remainder of this review. Microorganisms are divided into two main functional categories: autotrophic microorganisms and heterotrophic microorganisms. Autotrophic microorganisms can assimilate CO2 directly as a source of carbon (C) to grow and divide (Berg 2011) while heterotrophic microorganisms can only assimilate organic C that has already been synthesized (“fixed”) from CO2. Autotrophic microorganisms are classified further according to the energy source used to assimilate CO2. Photoautotrophic microorganisms harvest light energy to assimilate CO2 through the process of photosynthesis while chemoautotrophic microorganism make use of chemical energy to assimilate CO2 through the process of chemosynthesis. The range of compounds that can be used as energy sources by chemoautotrophic microorganisms include hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S), elemental sulfur, ferrous iron (Fe2+) and ammonia (NH3). Hydrogen-oxidizing chemoautotrophic microorganisms constitute a subset of chemoautotrophic microorganisms, which use the chemical energy embedded in hydrogen gas (H2) to assimilate CO2. This particular category of microorganisms will feature later in this review.
Fig. 1
figure1
Carbon assimilation by microorganisms. a Trophic classification of microorganisms. b Structural formulae of simple organic compounds commonly assimilated by microorganisms
Full size image
Heterotrophic microorganisms can also be further classified according to the type of fixed C they can assimilate. The three forms of heterotrophy that will be relevant to this review are acetotrophy, methylotrophy and methanotrophy. Acetotrophic microorganisms have the ability to assimilate acetic acid (Fig. 1b) into biomass, which is a very common ability among microorganisms. Methylotrophic microorganisms have the ability to assimilate one or more one-C compounds such as methane, methanol or formic acid into biomass (Fig. 1b). Methanotrophy is a form of methylotrophy that specifically refers to the ability to assimilate methane into biomass. It should be noted that different trophic categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Many microorganisms are capable of both autotrophy and heterotrophy. Likewise different categories of heterotrophy are not mutually exclusive. For example, many microorganisms are capable of both acetotrophy and methylotrophy.



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