Easy Cultivation of Black Soldier Fly Larvae

May 14, 2019
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Per request of @U_Stormcrow, here is an easy method I learned to cultivate black soldier fly larvae (maggots?, I notice that most sources don’t call the BSF larvae maggots but are they not? I’m going to call them maggots until someone shows me otherwise why they aren’t).

I learned this when I was a kid, about the 4th grade, with my first brood of chicks. The chicks were in a homemade large dog crate. The crate had a wooden frame and was covered on all sides with a heavy metal mesh. The mesh was thick enough that a grown person could stand on it nailed to the floor framing of the crate without warping it. The crate was tall enough to allow me to walk inside. The holes in the mesh were probably smaller than .25” but they were big enough that a lot of the wasted chick crumbles and poop would work its way out the bottom mesh. The crate stold no more than a couple of feet off the ground. It was probably sitting on cinder blocks but I don’t exactly remember what it was on to keep it off the ground. I only remember that it was high enough off the ground that I could shovel underneath it and mounds of waste could build up.

Every several days I would tend the chicks‘ refuse and rake out what waste didn’t fall through the bottom. When I raked it out I‘d pile it underneath. In a short amount of time a pile of chick droppings and feed sludge several inches deep built up. At some point, I noticed the mounds moved and writhed. Digging into them revealed mats of what I took to be meal worms back then but I now know to have been black soldier fly maggots. Every day I’d shovel in a couple of scoops of them to the chicks. I never really thought anything of it.

Now today BSF maggots are all the rage and are sold commercially. I’ve been able to grow them on command for my chicks using the same ingredients that worked as a kid but now I raise them inside of the brooder several inches below the chicks so that the chicks cannot scratch them up at will while the chicks are young.

Here’s what you need:

1. A brooder that stands off the ground. The walls and floor should be mesh. Fine enough to hold in leaf litter and compost but open enough to allow the BSF to fly in and out at will, to allow excessive liquid to drain out the bottom, and to allow for good air flow around the sides. I see that people who try to purposely raise BSF go through efforts to give the adult BSF something to lay eggs on. I do not know if the wood frame makes a difference for that, but both my childhood setup and my current setup utilize a wood frame for the brooder, so I will recommend that the brooder also be wood frame. The depth of the brooder should be enough to brood the chicks comfortably with a very deep bed of compost.

2. A deep layer of whatever sort of decomposable, chemical-free, leaf litter you have available. I just rake up a pile of pine needles and spent hardwood leaves right by my brooder and put it in. Sticks and Spanish moss also make it in.

3. Liberal helpings of chicken crumble sludge and chick poop. You can obtain these by brooding some chicks in said brooder in advance. Instead of cleaning out the bedding when it gets nasty, just layer it deeper with fresh leaf litter so that every week or two your chicks are standing on a few more inches of litter for their bedding. When that first brood of biddies is ready to come out, add down another layer of bedding so that over all the brooder’s litter is at least 6-8 inches deep. Now let it sit idle for a few weeks in warm weather. Once in a while (maybe once a week) give it a light to moderate spray with a water hose.

Within a few weeks you should have a writhing bed of BSF maggots just a few inches down anywhere you dig. The BSF layer will be hot to the touch and they’ll turn the bottom layers into fine particles. It’s now ready for more chicks. You can brood chicks right on top of the BSL maggots. They’ll stay deep enough to avoid the chicks and they will not harm the chicks. What the maggots will do is sink feeders and water bowls so they can access food and water under the litter, so you’ll want to put your feeder and waterer on a heavy board that is too big for the maggots to move.

Depending on the dimensions of the brooder and the depth of the compost layers, you ought to be able to sustain enough maggots that you can give your chicks one to two big handfuls of maggots a day. I brood my chicks for as short a 2 weeks or as long as 60 days, depending on the breed and whether I’m throwing the chicks out to sink or swim free range or whether I’m giving them special pampering. The chicks aren’t likely to learn how to scratch for the maggots until the end of the brooding period. Since I’ve been doing this, my chicks have eaten and wasted much less crumbles a day.

The weather was bad this evening so I only took a couple of brief pictures. This brooding cycle is near its end and there aren’t many maggots left, as the chicks are now large enough to dig for them. The chicks and maggots have also reduced the compost layer to just a few inches. This weekend may start filming a video on how I prepare the brooder and I’ll take pics as I go to post here in real time. I won’t post the video until the cycle is complete and the brooder is full of maggots again. I’ve never timed how long it takes for the brooder to fill up with maggots so I’ll chronicle it with this thread.

Below I’ll post what pics I have both recent and past that show the this setup in action.
 
I don't know what my husband would think of me raising maggots on purpose, but I'm watching this with great interest.

I presume it only works with chicks too young to scratch?

Yes it depends on the chicks being unable to scratch, but I’ve found that keeping the litter deep and also giving the maggots a place of refuge (under the heavy feeder/waterer board) keeps most of the maggots shielded up until at least 45 days for the chicks.
 
Yes it depends on the chicks being unable to scratch, but I’ve found that keeping the litter deep and also giving the maggots a place of refuge (under the heavy feeder/waterer board) keeps most of the maggots shielded up until at least 45 days for the chicks.

The idea of making good use of all that wasted feed that they spill is appealing.

Even with a tote lid under the paver that the feeder sits on they still manage to lose a fair amount in the bedding.

Does the chick density in the brooder matter? That is, if you don't have enough chicks making the poop will you have trouble attracting the flies?
 
Here is the top and bottom of the brooder. I don’t think the design needs anything special for BSF purposes so long as its made of wire that lets the flies come and go and the compost breath and drain. Again, I didn’t know BSF needed anything special to lay eggs on, so I don’t know if that’s accomplished by the wood frame or simply the leaf litter.
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Inside the brooder at various times with different broods:

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I don’t have any pics of maggot masses, but here is a pic from yesterday of a few maggots that are left. The chicks in this brood are going on 50 days old. They’re 3/4 Liege 1/4 aseel and are of large body and strong legs. They can now sift through and clean out the maggots. This weekend it will be time to move them out of the brooder and prepare the brooder for the next crop and brood.

B04AF57F-5B47-4BE4-923B-753472902A8D.jpeg
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The idea of making good use of all that wasted feed that they spill is appealing.

Even with a tote lid under the paver that the feeder sits on they still manage to lose a fair amount in the bedding.

Does the chick density in the brooder matter? That is, if you don't have enough chicks making the poop will you have trouble attracting the flies?
When preparing the brooder, presuming you aren’t adding waste from elsewhere, I think the nastier the better. Its all that wasted feed and chick poop that attracts the flies. And yet you don’t have to keep the chicks in filth either. When they get it nasty add on several more inches of bedding and the chicks will stay clean.
 
Here is the top and bottom of the brooder. I don’t think the design needs anything special for BSF purposes so long as its made of wire that lets the flies come and go and the compost breath and drain. Again, I didn’t know BSF needed anything special to lay eggs on, so I don’t know if that’s accomplished by the wood frame or simply the leaf litter. View attachment 3186918View attachment 3186919

Inside the brooder at various times with different broods:

View attachment 3186920View attachment 3186921View attachment 3186922

I don’t have any pics of maggot masses, but here is a pic from yesterday of a few maggots that are left. The chicks in this brood are going on 50 days old. They’re 3/4 Liege 1/4 aseel and are of large body and strong legs. They can now sift through and clean out the maggots. This weekend it will be time to move them out of the brooder and prepare the brooder for the next crop and brood.

View attachment 3186927View attachment 3186928View attachment 3186929
I like your brooder. If I was to brood chicks rather than let the hen sit, hatch and brood I would try something like this.
 

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