In­sects as sus­tain­able sources of poul­try feeds

Com­ple­men­tary feed­ing with in­sects and in­sect lar­vae is steadily solv­ing the prob­lem of high-pro­duc­tion costs as­so­ci­ated with rais­ing farm an­i­mals.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents -

Emma Naluy­ima, a pri­vate vet­eri­nar­ian and small-scale farmer in Uganda, op­er­ates an acre of farm­land on which she has in­te­grated crop and live­stock farm­ing. On her one-acre farm­land, Emma raises pigs on one quar­ter of the farm and cat­tle on the sec­ond quar­ter. She grows cook­ing ba­nana (pop­u­larly called ma­toke, a sta­ple food in Uganda) on the third quar­ter and fish, fod­der for an­i­mals and veg­eta­bles and fruits on the fourth quar­ter. She says she has been able to re­duce her cost of fish and chicken pro­duc­tion by about seventy to eighty per­cent by re­plac­ing fish and chicken meals with mag­gots and earth­worms.

On the quar­ter of the piece of land where she grows pigs, Emma breeds mag­gots and earth­worms from pig dung. She feeds her chick­ens with these mag­gots and in four weeks, she can pro­duce chick­ens weigh­ing 1.5 kilo­gramme (kg) each. Us­ing com­mer­cial feed, she pro­duces chick­ens weigh­ing 1 kg in the same pe­riod. In­ter­est­ingly, Emma makes mil­lions of Ugan­dan shillings from her one-acre farm­land.

Small­holder farm­ers con­tinue to dom­i­nate agri­cul­ture in many coun­tries across Africa and Asia. Ac­cord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion of the United Na­tions (FAO), eighty per­cent of farm­lands in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa and Asia are man­aged by small­holder farm­ers who work on land ar­eas rang­ing from one hectare to a max­i­mum of ten hectares. Ma­jor­ity of these farm­ers farm on just a few plots to feed their house­holds and most of them are very poor. 1.5 bil­lion peo­ple, out of the 2.5 bil­lion in poor coun­tries whose liveli­hood is in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor, are small­hold­ers.

In many parts of Africa, most of the young peo­ple who go into farm­ing do so prob­a­bly af­ter failed at­tempts to se­cure their de­sired jobs. Oth­ers go into farm­ing to sup­ple­ment their in­come from low­pay­ing jobs. Many young peo­ple can­not af­ford to pur­chase large plan­ta­tions or hectares of land.

In East Africa, for ex­am­ple, farm­lands are of­ten in­her­ited from par­ents and shared among the chil­dren. A child who may have re­ceived a few acres from his par­ents will some­day have to share this piece of land among his own chil­dren be­fore his death. Depend­ing on the num­ber of chil­dren in a fam­ily, the piece of land avail­able to sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions in the fam­ily keeps re­duc­ing. An in­di­vid­ual may end up with as lit­tle as a plot or at most, an acre. This method of land own­er­ship con­trib­utes to the in­creas­ing num­ber of small­holder farm­ers in the re­gion.

But small­holder farm­ers can be very pro­duc­tive. The chal­lenge, es­pe­cially for live­stock and poul­try farm­ers, is of­ten the cost of feed­ing these an­i­mals. Poul­try birds re­quire ad­e­quate nu­tri­ents to grow as broil­ers for meat pro­duc­tion or lay­ers for egg pro­duc­tion. Feed re­quire­ments dif­fer slightly for broil­ers and lay­ers. But they both re­quire pro­tein and en­ergy sources, as well as min­er­als and vi­ta­mins.

These feeds, es­pe­cially pro­tein sources – fish, soy­bean and meat, can be quite ex­pen­sive. And in ad­di­tion to the cost of drugs and im­mu­niza­tion, many poul­try farm­ers hardly make profit. It is not sur­pris­ing why most small-scale farm­ers, es­pe­cially the 'plan B' farm­ers, don't

usu­ally go for live­stock or poul­try farm­ing. To en­cour­age more farm­ers to go into poul­try, live­stock and fish farm­ing, there is need for cheap al­ter­na­tive sources of pro­tein.

Ac­cord­ing to Emma, the big­gest and most ex­pen­sive feed re­quire­ment for her chick­ens is pro­tein. The mag­gots and earth­worms help her solve this prob­lem. In four to five days af­ter al­low­ing house­flies to lay eggs on the pig dung, juicy mag­gots emerge for her chick­ens to feed on.

Poul­try birds gen­er­ally en­joy feed­ing on in­sects, es­pe­cially those on pas­ture. On a dry mass ba­sis, pro­tein is a ma­jor com­po­nent of in­sects with val­ues rang­ing from 21 per­cent to 80 per­cent of the dry mass. A num­ber of field tri­als with dif­fer­ent in­sects such as grasshop­pers, crick­ets, aphids and so on have shown that the qual­ity of in­sect pro­tein is sim­i­lar to that of soy­bean meal or fish meal.

An­other con­tent of fresh in­sects is mois­ture. Mois­ture con­tent ranges be­tween 55 per­cent and 85 per­cent of the dry mass. And in­sects with low mois­ture con­tent are known to be high in fat. Fat con­tent of in­sects varies from 2 per­cent to 60 per­cent.

Be­cause of the ex­pan­sion of poul­try in­dus­try in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in re­cent times, in­sects are now reared on com­mer­cial ba­sis to for­mu­late feeds for poul­try birds.

Cock­roaches, grasshop­pers, crick­ets, lice, bee­tles, cater­pil­lars, flies, wasps and ants have all been used to com­ple­ment poul­try feed. Ter­mites have also been used as feed for chick­ens and guinea fowls in Togo and Burk­ina Faso for decades.

In fact, a study by a group of re­searchers from the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Ti­betan Plateau Eco-sys­tem Man­age­ment and Col­lege of Pas­toral Agri­cul­tural Science and Tech­nol­ogy, Lanzhou Uni­ver­sity in China, shows that the meat of free-range broil­ers fed on grasshop­pers had more an­tiox­ida­tive po­ten­tials and longer stor­age life when com­pared to the con­trol group fed with basal diet (com­mer­cial feed).

To be sure, in­sects have a pro­tein-rich ex­oskele­ton. But their min­eral con­tent is rel­a­tively low; hence the need to sup­ple­ment with cal­cium when feed­ing with in­sects and worms. How­ever, apart from pro­tein con­tent, feed­ing chick­ens and other poul­try birds with in­sects have other ben­e­fits. For ex­am­ple, chitin, a polysac­cha­ride (com­plex car­bo­hy­drate) found in the ex­oskele­ton of in­sects may help to boost the im­mune sys­tem of poul­try birds, thereby, re­duc­ing the need for an­tibi­otics.

Un­like in­sects, worms such as mag­gots (the larva of the com­mon house­fly) and earth­worms are eas­ier to pro­duce in very large num­bers from dung or other or­ganic wastes, in­clud­ing an­i­mal slurry in a short pe­riod of time. We of­ten see chick­ens pick out worms and larva from top­soil. So, feed­ing on worms is very nat­u­ral for poul­try birds.

Mag­gots have a dry mat­ter of 30 per­cent and about 54 per­cent crude pro­tein. They can be eaten fresh or as dry prod­ucts for ease of stor­age and trans­port. Lo­cal poul­try farms, es­pe­cially small­holder farms, can rely on mag­gots for pro­tein source.

Some stud­ies have also re­vealed that re­plac­ing 15 to 25 per­cent of fish meal with mag­got meal in poul­try diet can im­prove growth per­for­mance and meat qual­ity of broil­ers. Other worms that have been used as pro­tein source are silk worms and meal worms, which like mag­gots can be pro­duced on low-nu­tri­ent or­ganic wastes.

Grow­ing mag­gots from an­i­mal dung is sus­tain­able and en­vi­ron­men­tally use­ful. As house­flies feed on an­i­mal dung and de­com­pose it, they lay eggs, which hatch into mag­gots and the mag­gots also feed on the dung. This helps to con­vert the un­pleas­ant live­stock waste into use­ful ma­te­ri­als (mag­gots).

Emma men­tioned to me that she plays around the life-cy­cle of the house­fly to make sure that mag­gots are avail­able daily. “We only need to add cal­cium sup­ple­ments be­cause mag­gots do not con­tain cal­cium. If grains are needed, just a lit­tle will do,” she added.

I must say that house­flies are not the only flies ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing mag­gots. Black sol­dier flies also do. One black sol­dier fly can pro­duce 500 to 1500 mag­gots in four to five days. Also, a dried black sol­dier fly's pupa con­tains up to 42 per­cent pro­tein and 35 per­cent fat. They have been demon­strated to sup­port ex­cel­lent growth in chicks, pigs, catfish and tilapia.

In most parts of the world, the use of in­sects in feed­ing fish is not well ap­pre­ci­ated. Only 5 per­cent of farm­ers in Uganda, for ex­am­ple, use ter­mites to feed fish. For Emma, af­ter col­lect­ing mag­gots from her pig dung, she in­tro­duces earth­worms, which feed on the dung and re­pro­duce. And that is what her fish feed on.

Although the op­por­tu­ni­ties that in­sects can cre­ate for poul­try and aqua­cul­ture are yet to be fully har­nessed, there is an­other un­tapped op­por­tu­nity in in­sect farm­ing. This in­volves rais­ing in­sects in a des­ig­nated area, that is, a farm, and con­trol­ling the fac­tors re­quired for their growth such as diet and food qual­ity and liv­ing con­di­tions.

In­sects reared un­der this con­di­tion could be pro­cessed for com­mer­cial pur­poses. Sell­ing them to or­ganic poul­try farm­ers as com­ple­men­tary feed or to the pet-food in­dus­try could cre­ate some job op­por­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple. For ex­am­ple, meal worm and crick­ets are pri­mar­ily reared as pet food in North Amer­ica, Europe and parts of Asia. Rear­ing in­sects for this pur­pose can be en­cour­aged in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, too.

To in­crease meat pro­duc­tion by as much as 70 per­cent to feed the world by 2050, farm­ers must make do with in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to rear live­stock, poul­try birds and fish. Com­ple­men­tary feed­ing with in­sects and in­sect lar­vae is steadily solv­ing the prob­lem of high­pro­duc­tion costs as­so­ci­ated with rais­ing farm an­i­mals. It is also more eco­nom­i­cally prof­itable than us­ing com­mer­cial feed. Fi­nan­cial Nige­ria Colum­nist, Mo­jisola Oje­bode, is a Nige­rian bio­chemist and the founder and prod­uct de­vel­oper at Moe­pelorse Bio Re­sources, is a Global In­no­va­tion Through Science and Tech­nol­ogy (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fel­low.

Although the op­por­tu­ni­ties that in­sects can cre­ate for poul­try and aqua­cul­ture are yet to be fully har­nessed, there is an­other un­tapped op­por­tu­nity in in­sect farm­ing.

Chicken feed­ing on in­sect lar­vae

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