Black Soldier Fly Grubs – Feed Your Flock & Save the World

Michael Servais lives in Boston and Sean Warner is a resident of Atlanta.  They have this in common:  As college students they both started growing flies.  I’m not talking about a bowl of spaghetti sitting neglected in a corner for waaay too long.  These guys started farming flies on purpose—and I say, “Hey, why not?”  I did some crazy things myself when I was in college.  These two gentlemen, though, were, without a doubt, clear-headed and purposeful when they started in with their fly projects, and far from cooking up some sort of college shenanigan, both of them got into raising flies to make the world a better place.

Michael explains it this way, “Since entering college, I wanted to start a business that focused on the environmental aspect of helping the earth, along with being a sustainable business model. Hence, in one of my intro to entrepreneurship classes, I came up with the idea of using insects as feed for livestock.” Sean tells a similar story, “During my last year at Georgia Tech…I read an article about how insects will feed the world in the future. I…ended up applying to a small startup training program where I pitched the idea of raising insects off of food waste. Once mature, the insects will then be processed into fats and proteins that can replace fish-based proteins in animal feed to prevent overfishing.”

These Aren’t Any Old Flies—They’re Wonder Flies

Black Soldier Fly (Didier Descouens - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International )

Black Soldier Fly (Image by Didier Descouens – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International )

To be clear, the fly these young entrepreneurs are raising is not your garden variety fly.  Specifically, it is Hermetia illucens, known to enthusiasts and aficionados everywhere as the black soldier fly (bsf).  This little insect was originally found in the wild in the Americas and now lives in warmer climates worldwide, and can increasingly be found in large numbers in fly raising facilities.  Compared to its cousins, the black soldier fly is incredibly well-mannered.  It doesn’t bite or sting, it is totally disinterested in people, doesn’t transmit any diseases, and as an adult, sips a little water, mates, lays eggs, and dies.  If that seems like a boring life, even for a fly, wait until you hear about its amazing childhood.  Bsf babies excel at two things:  eating and growing.  If it’s organic, these little critters will probably eat it.  Researchers have reported bsf grubs to have happily consumed manure, rice straw, food waste, distillers’ grains, fecal sludge, animal offal, kitchen waste, and a cornucopia of other substances that we consider waste.  And they can consume twice their weight every day! In the two weeks it spends as a larva, a bsf grub grows from a speck to nearly an inch long and increases its weight by a factor of 10,000—that’s like a baby chick weighing in at an ounce when it hatches and growing into a 625-pound monster chicken in two weeks.  And yes, bsf grubs are not only edible, but contain tons of high-quality protein and a number of other nutrients.  Their food conversion efficiency and productivity are amazing. One acre of land can produce about 40 pounds of beef protein in a year. That same acre will produce 130,000 pounds of black soldier fly grub protein per year.  And cows, by-the-way, don’t eat garbage.  The fact that much of the stuff we humans consider waste is considered food by bsf grubs could have a significant impact on controlling climate change.  As organic material rots, it produces significant amounts of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide.  But when that material is eaten by bsf grubs, those greenhouse gases are totally removed from the equation.

BSF Grubs

BSF Grubs

BSF Grubs for Your Chickens

Research has shown that bsf grubs can be eaten by any number of animals.  There are, of course, legalities.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) are the agencies that approve the ingredients that are allowed in animal food.  To date, they’ve approved bsf grubs for salmon and poultry.  And to ensure that no toxic ingredients are being introduced into the food chain, they have stipulated that the bsf grubs must be fed a diet of pre-consumer food waste.  Pre-consumer food waste is all the food that is never sold because it was overproduced, was trimmed off for aesthetic reasons, has expired, was overcooked, etc.  Like brown bananas, stale bread, or crumbled cookies.

Bsf grubs for poultry is where Sean Warner enters the picture.  In 2015 Sean and his cousin Patrick Pittaluga founded Grubbly Farms.  As Sean puts it, “We simply became fascinated with the entire concept of recycling food waste to provide a sustainable protein for animal feed and the excitement of being a part of a newly emerging industry where we can actually make a positive impact on the world.”  As Sean and Patrick experimented with grub-raising techniques, they also investigated potential markets—even creating a bsf grub “burger” for human consumption.  “I blame our chef abilities but it wasn’t the best tasting burger,” Sean admits.  The burger failure “ultimately led to us focusing on the animal side of the industry.”  And it eventually led them to backyard chickens.

Grubbly Farms’ marketing director Hailey Dray explains the logic of their focus this way.  “Eight percent of Americans have chickens, and most of those Americans consider them pets! And what do pet owners do? They strive to give their pets the healthiest, safest food that they can.  [While] mealworms are a great source of protein and have traditionally been labeled as “treatsfor chickens…most mealworms on the market are grown in China. While it would be much more affordable to produce grubs at a mass scale in China, our goal is to provide top quality grubs, harvested under FDA regulations [in the US] to ensure food safety.”  Tipping the balance even more in favour of bsf grubs over mealworms, Hailey explains that bsf grubs “have over 50 times more calcium than mealworms.”  And calcium, as you probably know, is critical in a hen’s diet so she can produce those strong eggshells. Grubblies are available at local retailers such as Walmart, on Amazon, or directly from the Grubbly Farm Website.

Penelope and Zelda say, “Yes, please. We’ll have some grubs!”

Penelope and Zelda say, “Yes, please. We’ll have some grubs!”

Michael Servais, founder of GrubTerra in Boston is also aiming his bsf grubs toward the chicken market.  GrubTerra is still in the early development stage and while it does not yet have a product on the market, it recently successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign.  While currently focusing on chickens, Michael foresees a bright future for this food source.  “Hopefully, in the future, they will enable BSFL to be used in all feeds since the insects can be broken down into a powder and pressed into a pellet feed.”

Grubbly Farms’ Hailey Dray shares Michael’s vision.  “Moving forward, it’s our mission to provide safely and sustainably sourced grub-based food products for all pets, while spreading education on the health benefits of grubs-and what it can mean for our planet. Imagine how we can protect our over-fished oceans by switching our pets from fishmeal to protein packed grubs that recycle food waste. And when you see how fast chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, and other animals run for Grubs with sheer joy, it’s a pretty incredible feeling to see what the future holds.”


Would You Eat a Grub?

BSF Grubs - public domain

BSF Grubs – public domain

I’ll attest to Hailey’s statement about chickens running joyfully for their Grubby treats.  My chickens get theirs every day and they are lined up at the edge of the coop with unbridled enthusiasm the minute they hear the crinkling of the bag.  But here’s a question to ponder:  Do you suppose sometime in the future, people will run with sheer joy to get their bsf grub treats?  I will confess that while I toss them to my hens by the handfuls, I’ve not yet popped one into my mouth.  Michael Servais admits that he hasn’t tried a grub yet either – and points out that “here in America people are very squeamish about eating insects; however, all over the world, people eat them daily. I believe one day they may be used as food for people. With such high nutrients, I don’t see why they couldn’t be processed down into possibly protein bars or other foods.”  Hailey Dray has been a bit more proactive on the grub-eating front.  “All of us at Grubbly Farms have tried Grubblies (many times). The smell of Grubblies resembles nuts or chocolate, and they taste like an earthy sunflower seed.  In fact, the smell and taste are why so many animals go nuts for Grubblies, including dogs and cats! While the USA has a long way to go before we start regularly eating grubs, the stigma is unlikely to stick when it comes to our companion pets eating grubs.”

While we Americans and our European friends are a bit shy when it comes to eating insects (even though we relish crabs and lobster, which, let’s face it, are just giant insects-of-the-ocean) people in Asia have been enjoying insects for centuries.  During my visit to Southeast Asia last year, I was captivated by an argument between a Vietnamese man and a man from Cambodia about the best way to prepare cicadas. And perhaps the tide is slowly turning here in the West.  There are any number of groups promoting entomophagy—eating insects, including Crickster, a Danish website promoting insect consumption and selling insect foods.  And there’s Enorm (also Danish!) a company selling “Fluekiks” the world’s first commercial “fly larvae cookies!”

The Future is Here

Whether or not bsf grubs become part of your future diet is completely a matter of your personal choice.  But I’m pretty certain the option will be there for you to choose.  And I am utterly certain that bsf grubs will be an ingredient in the feed you give to all of your animals.  It’s only a matter of the FDA and AAFCO changing regulations—something they are already exploring.  And small startups as well as some large companies with deep-pocketed financial backers are getting ready to produce this new food source.  I predict a bright future for companies like Grubbly Farms and GrubTerra, but also foresee a huge impact on this new industry by companies like Darling Ingredients a company founded over a hundred years ago that has thrived by turning slaughterhouse waste into usable products.  Darling recently acquired 100% ownership of a new company in Ohio called Enviroflight.  Enviroflight recently built a facility in Kentucky that can produce 3200 metric tons of dried bsf grubs a year.  The future is here.

I’m hopeful about this new industry that will help reduce the 52 million tons of food that is wasted every year just in the US, and turn it into bsf protein that can replace the dwindling ocean fish supply, of which nearly 10% is turned into the fishmeal used in pet and animal food.

Michael Servais tells me that, “There are a lot of studies that show the population rising close to 10 billion people by 2050, and with most of the farmable land being used and the current overfishing of the oceans, there needs to be a change in the way we produce our food. I hope GrubTerra and my fellow BSFL companies can help make a difference.”  I do too.  And I welcome this new food that will help make the world a better place while being enthusiastically consumed by our chickens.  And our livestock.  And our pets.  And, well, everybody!

Marilyn Henroe and Dorothy Laymore enjoy some bsf grubs

Marilyn Henroe and Dorothy Laymore enjoy some bsf grubs

This article was written by Randy Graham, author of Randys Chicken Blog.


Randy Graham

Randy Graham has been a medical technologist, a public health microbiologist and a farm kid. He currently is retired and lives on a wooded acreage in Minnesota with his wife, various house pets, a flock of chickens, and several self-important ducks. In his ever-shrinking free time he writes about hipster hens, wonder eggs and the meaning of life at Randy’s Chicken Blog.

One Comment

  1. At the same time, let us also be aware of the dream of the unipolar globalists to ban meat and get people eating insects, disguised in meat (fake meat) and other products. Soilent Green and other memes: suggestibility through film and culture.

    I can imagine chooks loving the BSF larvae, given how excited they are when I give them a red wriggler (worm) treat. I am wondering how far up north they can be raised/cultured due to considerations of cold.

    Thanks for this article.

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