Millions of black soldier fly larvae, bred in a converted shipping container, are helping to boost the protein content of feed at a laying unit in Powys.
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Osian Williams is aiming to increase the volume of larvae as a percentage of his hens’ diet © Debbie James

The larvae are grown in a high-tech, mini-insect farm, built within a shipping container on Osian Williams’ Wern Farm near Welshpool.

Mr Williams who runs the free-range farm with his parents, Dafydd and Eleri, and partner, Nikki, aims to replace a percentage of his birds’ soya-based diet with maggots to help reduce carbon emissions.

How the system works

The X1 containerised unit is supplied by Better Origin, a start-up company launched by Cambridge graduates Fotis Fotiadis and Miha Pipan.

The firm also supplies batches of freshly hatched black soldier fly neonates, which are sent to the farm from a breeding facility every few days.

Growth is rapid – the larvae can increase in length from 1mm to 25mm and expand to 5,000 times their body mass in less than a fortnight.

The flies require a temperature above 25C for breeding and growth, which in the UK means using climate-controlled systems.

Development is tracked by Better Origin’s staff using thermal cameras, underpinned by computer-driven artificial intelligence.

Mr Williams’ farm business supplies the unit with power and a feedstock.

The feedstock is made up of rejected chicken feed from a local supplier, and delivery costs are covered by the company.

Waste feed is stored in a 6t silo on the farm, refilled every one to two months, depending on consumption.

Regulations only allow pre-consumer waste, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, slaughterhouse waste and unprocessed eggs, to be fed.

Food waste is put in at one end of the shipping container and trays of mature larvae are taken from the other.

Larvae growth rates depend on the types of feedstock used. Bioconversion rates are high, which means the larvae are efficient at turning waste into fat, protein and chitin, a prebiotic fibre.

The average live larvae production of the X1 is about 47t/year; this equates to more than129kg/day.

While the pupa stage – when the larvae are ready to be fed to the hens – might be reached after two weeks, ideally they would be fed just before that, according to Better Origin.

A new batch of larvae is then delivered to the farm to maintain a continuous supply for the 16,000 Bovan Browns and 16,000 Lohmann Browns.

Feed benefits

Black soldier fly larvae can eat almost any organic waste, making them perfect for dealing with discarded foods or agricultural wastes.

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