Chicken Feed

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.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure glad I ate supper before I read today's blog!
Found it interesting even though it was disgusting.

Patti said...


Lynn Bartlett said...

I don't think I will pass this one on to my boys -- or my husband! They probably would want to try this out next spring! We have enough flies around here without encouraging them to multiply. Yuck!

Anonymous said...

Lynn, you wouldn't be encouraging them to multiply, but you'll be preventing them to do so. Your poultry would be decimating a whole generation of flies that won't let be allowed to madure.

More info on

Pharmtoxzy said...


My name is Christopher. I know this might sound crazy but I'm a grad student at art institute of Boston. I use dried flies in my art
work. My question is would you be willing to sale me some dead flies. Or do you know were I can get some? This would help me out so much to reach the amount of flies I need for my work. Again I'd be willing to pay.

my email is

Unknown said...

try looking up black soldier fly. the maggots can be self harvesting with little to no oder.

Anonymous said...

I tried this last summer, putting some peat leftover from bulb purchases in the bottom of the bucket. I didn't drill holes in the bucket, though, and the maggots did not crawl over the rim. Probably too far, as it was a five-gallon buck with offal from butchering a few rabbits. Anyway, once most of the maggots had reached the pupa stage, I dumped the bucket onto the ground. Amazingly, the material smelled like good compost! The chickens went nuts on the maggots and pupae, and everyone was happy. Then I got scared. I read from several sources that you can get away with this for a while, but things can go wrong and your maggots can carry botulism, killing your birds. People raised maggots all the time in the early days, but stopped, presumably because of the botulism threat. Sadly, I haven't gotten up the nerve to try it again. -- Laura at

Meg said...

Laura, I have been investigating this a LOT, and found this at :
"Naturally my reader, however dedicated to the ideal of self-sufficiency, will worry about the potential for generating disease out of carrion worked by maggots. I am duty bound to pass on industrial-strength warnings I’ve received to that effect: There is a condition the old-timers called “limberneck,” which turns out to be paralysis caused by botulin poisoning. My friends who warned me about limberneck insisted that it could be caused by maggots ingested by chickens from any source. However, in all the links they sent, the references actually described the condition associated only with spilled feed which had become wet, had soured and begun working with maggots, and then been consumed by the birds. Sounds to me as if the botulism bacterium was growing in the soured feed mash, not in the maggots. In any case, I have always avoided using a grain mash as a maggot breeding substrate. However, I fed carrion-bred fly larvae the entire fly season last year, and this season I have honestly lost track of the number of beaver carcasses I’ve put through my buckets—and I have not had a hint of a disease problem. Neither has my longtime mentor Joel Salatin, who follows beef cattle on his pastures with a big flock of laying hens, who scratch apart the cowpies for the maggots growing in them. Based on such solid experience, I conclude that the homestead flock owner need not fear disease if he chooses to tap into this rich source of free protein."

I'm going for it! I think the key is going to be keeping the amount of "growing media" small (I know from experience that anything the size of an entire carcass, even a rat carcass, generates a LOT of odor)

todd said...

Great post. Someone earlier mentioned Black Soldier Flies; I grew these (unintentionally at first) last summer. I live in a neighborhood and can say these are a great choice if you are concerned with odor. Here are some links I have gathered if you are interested:

Have a good one-


eleventh hour said...

I don't understand why you wouldn't just feed the original dead animal to the chickens? How is processing that protein through a fly better?

Herrick Kimball said...

eleventh hour-

There is no reason why you can't feed original dead animals to your chickens. I understand that this has been done a lot in past times.

With that iun mind I once threw a skinned woodchuck into the chicken yard and they pretty much ignored it. On another occasion I have thrown small cuttings of deer meat to them and they gobbled it right up.

I suspect that they prefer the smaller pieces. But I don't want to spend a lot of time cutting up dead mammals into little pieces to feed my chickens.

Maggots are readymade little morsels, just right for a chicken. In fact, they will instinctively and eagerly go for squirming little maggots without a second thought.

So I guess it's a convenience thing for the chicken owner and a preference thing for the chickens themselves.

WoundedEgo said...

Chickens are not naturally predators, pulling down a deer or rabbit. They are grub lovers. The maggot pie most likely fits hand in glove for the chicken. The deer may pose unfamiliar challenges for the chicken that might, over time, stress the system. Of course, this might not be the case. But we know the chicken GOT this far by scratching around and eating grubs so if you give it a diet of grubs you are taking the more conservative, safe road.

I often ask the quesiton "Why not just do...?" only to find out much later that there WAS a reason not to take the shortcut! Other times, the shortcut seemed to be an improvement.

But ya gotta love the elegance of this grub bucket!

And I can almost hear the chickens planning to write home about the "Maggot Manna" that "falls from the sky!" Clllluuuuuck!!

An inspiring post. I can't wait to gross out all my friends and earn their admiration with this one!

Bill Ross

Anonymous said...

Hi, Herrick!

When my oldest daughter was a crawling baby, someone accidentally put some chicken bones with meat still on them in the trash compactor, where the trash was removed only once each week. One morning I was in the kitchen with my baby and was horrified to see my crawling cutie munching on something that was crawling on the floor next to the compactor...maggots! Flies had found the rotten meat in there and laid eggs. We will never let her live down that story, and I never felt like such a bad mother, but we both survived it.

Anonymous said...

Sounds great, but wouldn't the blood and the rotting carcase attract foxes?

Unknown said...

Black Soldier Flies are being used to produce maggots for chickens, fish and pet food. There are also some studies being done on them at universities on the subject. A colony occupying a 24" diameter space will consume up to 10# of organic waste per day and produce about 2# of maggots with 18% protein and 10% fat. BSF have the added benefit that they consume waste to fast for it too rot and therefore the smell is almost non-existent.

D. S. Foxx said...

And yet another mention of BSFL. -G- I've been giving mature instars to my landlords' urban chickens as a treat, but wondering if there's a possibility of over-feeding! Found a nutritional analysis for the larvae dried--@42% protein, 35% fats, 7% fiber, 5% calcium, a bit of this and that--and I assume that fresh the ratios are about the same. But I don't keep chickens myself, and have no idea what the feathered creatures need.

Should these be restricted to treat levels, or can the chickens be allowed to eat their fill of grubs?

(The mature ones are self-cleaning and self-harvesting, so no danger of "limberneck" with those. But immature grubs may present the same risk as maggots if fed on suspect items.)

small-batch compost for small dwellings

Anonymous said...

We also use this method with our chickens. I call then offal feeders while my wife says they are "awful" feeders (because of the odor). We use the mesh bags that onions and such come in and the maggots reduce the waste to mothing but bones and hair. The bones can then be crushed up to add calcium to the diet. By the way, the digestive juices in the maggots help the bird digest it's feed which gives one better feed conversion. THis year we will be trying on BSF as well as hanging lighted bug catchers in the pens to capture night flying insects for chicken breakfast.

Anonymous said...

So theoretically I could use extra roos as maggot feed? Would this just be wrong? :)

Anonymous said...

This sounds great. I actually did this one summer (unintentionally) when I tried to make a worm farm in my rabbit manure and ended up with maggots. The maggots composted the manure much faster than the worms ever did so I let them stay and just dumped the bucket in the area where my next garden would be and let the chickens scratch away and clean it all up before the flies came. It worked great. Now I know how to do it intentionally - thanks!

Jordan said...

This is absolutely brilliant! I love the idea of free food for the chickens!
I have one question though. Do you have problems with wild animals getting into the "maggot machine"? I live in Alaska and Black Bears are plentiful in our area. Just wondering if this has been an issue for you or anyone else.
Thanks for the great info. For the first time in my life having worms sounds like a good thing :P

Anonymous said...

Works great. I keep the amount in the bucket small but keep it replentished. The remains of one rabbit, or chicken ( as I skin most of my chickens except for stewers) is enough to keep it hopping for two weeks before adding more.

As a side note, In Indonesia that I know of and probably other parts, chicken farms and catfish farming go hand in hand.

If ponds are on the place you can see the little "docks" over the water where dead chickens are stacked then covered. The platform of of poles so maggots easily fall tot he water. A perfect automatic fish feeder.

JR said...

We also tried this last year. We gave up very quickly because of the smell. Our chickens are within 100 ft or so of the road. We sell eggs, chicken, lamb, beef, etc... I decided that the smell of death wasn't what I wanted my customers to first experience if they showed up ;-) But I definitely understand people getting excited about the idea. It had the same effect on us and within a couple of days of reading the article had hooked up some buckets.

Anonymous said...

Try raising mealworms also,just look it up on a search engine.

possum said...

I love your comment about being bored. My Mom always told me, "Only boring people get bored." Classic.


Anonymous said...

I agree with the above about preferring to use Black soldier flies. They secrete a pheromone which drives away nasty black houseflies. They can handle fruit and vegetable waste and manure, not just smelly carcasses. They heat up a compost pile as they work it contributing to pathogen and seed destruction. They do not carry pathogens. And they crawl out to pupate just as described above when they are the right age to feed to your chickens and fish!

Selz said...

This sounds interesting - I don't even have my chooks yet though! (planned in the next few months once we've moved house though).

Would freezing the maggots be a viable way to kill off any bacteria or viruses if people are concerned? Though scratching for thawed maggies sounds less fun than scrating for wrigglers!

Unknown said...

The black soldier fly is the superior maggot. It is disease free. It will consume lots of rotting organic matter, not just manure and offal. Plus its excrement makes great worm food. The only draw back is setting up a reliable breeding greenhouse. The adult flies need at least 10 feet mating height, plus good sunlight and warmth, preferably above 21 centigrade. The maggots are great poultry and fish food.

Anonymous said...

OK, this is all very interesting. I know where to get the common house/barn fly, but where do you get the black soldier fly?

D. S. Foxx said...

In many of the warmer parts of the world, you may have them already. Check with your county extension agent or equivalent agricultural agency. Assuming they're in the area, they can be lured fairly simply, or harvested from a food-wate-containing compost bin that's been allowed to get too wet. Or you can buy them online or at your local exotic-pet shop, as they're used for reptile feed.

Tarah said...

I haven't read all these comments, but just wanted to say that I have inadvertently bred maggots with just plain old kitchen scraps forgotten on their way to the compost pile. You don't need dead meat. :)

Unknown said...

I have tried this, but was quickly turned off by the yellow jackets that swarmed the meat. I took it down for fear of increasing the yellow jacket population here. Any suggestions?

Poultry Nigeria said...

Nice piece on poultry feeding

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