Dateline: 17 November 2006
The October/November issue of “Backyard Poultry” magazine has an article by Harvey Ussery titled “Feeding the Flock From the Homestead’s Own Resources.” In addition to pasturing the birds, growing green forage (like comfrey), and mangle beets, and feeding surplus milk, Mr. Ussery’s article discusses the feeding of earthworms, Japanese beetles, and maggots.
The idea of feeding maggots really captured my imagination and I have been greatly inspired by Mr. Ussery’s homestead maggot production system, which he describes in the article, and which I am tell you about here.
To fully understand how the system works, it helps to understand the life cycle of a common fly. Adult flies lay eggs on garbage sources that will provide food for the “baby flies” when they emerge. Cow patties in the pasture are prime material for flies to lay eggs in, as is any manure. If you are familiar with Joel Salatin’s pastured poultry methods, you know that he free-ranges his chickens a few days after his beef cows have grazed a section of pasture. He does that because flies lay eggs in the cow patties, then the eggs hatch out and the chickens scratch out the manure while feasting on the “grubs” (as Joel calls them).
Spoiled feed or most any garbage will also suffice for flies to lay their eggs. Dead animals too. When a fly lays eggs in something, that something is said to be “flyblown.”
When fly eggs hatch, the “babies” are called larva. The more common term for fly larva is maggot. Maggots are hungry, squirming, little creatures that disgust us humans, but to a chicken, they are delicious, nutritious, high-protein morsels. Mmmm, mmmm, good!
Oh, by the way, it may interest you to know that maggots do not eat and grow by the chew-it-up-and-swallow-it-down method. Instead, they eat by secreting a chemical substance that dissolves the food and then they take the liquid into their little larval bodies. So you’ll never have to worry about getting bit by a maggot. Dissolved, maybe, but not bit.
Anyway, the adorable (to their mothers, maybe) little buggers are designed by God to eat and grow only to a plump but small stage. I find the “small” part of that statement reassuring, don’t you? After that, it is time for the maggot to “pupate, “ which means to become a “pupa,” (the plural of which is “pupae”).
According to the dictionary, a pupa is “an intermediate, usually quiescent stage of a metamorphic insect that occurs between the larva and the imago. The pupa is usually enclosed in a cocoon or protective covering, and undergoes internal change by which larval structures are replaced by those typical of the imago.”
Or, in other words, the pupa, is what the maggot turns into before it becomes a fly. It is much like a caterpillar turning into a cocoon, from which it later emerges as a butterfly, only the end result is not nearly as pretty.
But wait... I can’t let words like “quiescent” and “imago” get by me without looking them up in the dictionary too. When I was a little boy and I wanted to know what a word meant, my mother would tell me to look it up in the dictionary. I never wanted to do that. But now I do. Funny how that worked out.
“Quiescent” means, “marked by inactivity or repose: tranquilly at rest.” The word comes just before “quiet” in my Merriam Webster and, in fact, you will notice that “quiet” is contained in “quiescent.” Making note of that will help me (and maybe you) remember what it means. Now I’ll try to use it in my writing, and most everyone will wonder what I’m talking about (except you, maybe).
“Imago” simply means an adult insect. It will make a great Scrabble word.
Getting back to the life cycle of a common fly, when the maggot wants to pupate, it stops eating and squirms away from the food. It wants to get to the ground and burrow in where it can safely pupate. After the pupation period is over, an adult fly emerges, and the cycle repeats.
Now that you are an expert on the life cycle of flies, you can grow a crop of maggots.
Mr. Ussery does this by drilling a lot of 3/8” holes in the side, bottom, and top of a big plastic pail. Then he stuffs a skinned beaver carcass in the pail, puts the lid on and hangs it off the ground, under a little lean-to made out of old steel roofing. By the looks of the picture in the article, Mr. Ussery had a few of these maggot-generators hanging in the lean-to.
Adult flies are attracted to the buckets and “blow” the dead meat with eggs. A short while later, the eggs hatch, the maggots feed away, and grow plump. When the time comes to pupate, the critters migrate away from the meat, through the holes, and drop to the ground. That’s when the chickens gobble ‘em up.
The concept seems so incredibly simple and effective that I’m going to try it this next summer. In fact, I can’t wait to grow maggots!! Maybe I can improve on the system. Maybe I can grow and collect maggots and save them for winter feeding. Maybe, through my extensive experiments with growing maggots, I could become a recognized authority. I could be a maggot guru. I could even write a book about it. People write books about all kinds of things. There is even a book out there that tells people how to build an automatic chicken plucker. Why not maggot culture?
On the other hand, I'm pretty busy with so many other projects. I guess I'll just have to grow some for for my own use and let someone else be the maggot guru. But I'll be glad to review the book.
As far as I can determine, the only drawback to this idea is the foul smell that comes with dead and decaying meat. But if the prevailing winds are in your favor, and no neighbors will be offended, the smell is probably not that much of a problem. It’s kind of like: “If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a noise?”
Well, of course it does, but so what?
I have had city relatives visit and ask me “What is there to do around here?” Country life strikes them as boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is only boring to people who are lazy, or unimaginative, or uninterested in living around, and learning about, the natural world. In short, it is only boring to people who are, themselves, boring.
There is so much to do and experience and learn in the agrarian setting. For example, you can make your own chicken feed by growing maggots on dead animal carcasses.