In few months to come, beetles, commonly found in animal and human dung may be the most hunted insect, both by farmers and commercial breeders.
Researchers say that the insect is rich in protein and can be used to supplement poultry feed.
Diana Makena, a scientist at Realimpact organisation in Thika, which researches and promotes organic farming, says proteins deficiency in human beings and animals has remained a big challenge in the country.
“Visit any market or shop and you will realise that protein rich foods such as beans, peas and others are more expensive than other foods. The same case applies to animal and poultry feeds. The high cost of protein rich feeds has compromised quality of animal feeds, and that’s why we embarked on this research,” says Makena.
She says a single beetle’s larva has 50 per cent protein content and breeding of the insects can mitigate deficiency poultry. The supply of three larvae, she says, contains enough amounts of proteins needed by a layer per day.
The technology involves collecting of black beetles, placing them in plastic containers where they lay and hatch larvae, which are fed to chicken as protein supplements.
Traditionally, most poultry farmers use omena fish and other supplements, which are more expensive and their quality not guaranteed.
The beetles are placed in a special container measuring about 25 by 7 inches, where they are fed with small amounts of wheat germ or grated carrots.
The eggs and secretions drop in a second contain, where they hatch and develop to larvae.
“A mature beetle lays once every two weeks and its life span is eight weeks. Some of the eggs are allowed to grow to beetles while the bigger number of the larvae is feed to poultry. A farmer does not need to add or change the feeds in the container. Overfeeding or adding more feeds in the container can suffocate the beetles or the larvae,” adds Makena.
To feed a flock of chicken, a farmer can dry and crash the larvae to mix it with poultry feeds, at a ratio or count of three larvae per chicken.
Proteins deficiency can cause poultry diseases, and sharp drop in egg production.
Protein deficiency in poultry is a serious issue. It can lead to poor growth, drop in egg production and cause diseases such as unthriftiness,” the researcher said.
Realimpact farm manager Jackson Mutuku adds that lack of proteins also affects development of animal bones.
“Chicken’s productive activities suffer the most. For example, the energy used by growing birds is heavily committed to assembling the contractile elements in muscle cells but not to increasing cell number; thus protein inadequacies readily affect muscle size.
The effect of protein inadequacies on protein synthesis in the liver and oviduct is greatest with the laying hen. Birds are scratchers by nature and it’s important for farmers to design their cages in a way that creates space for hens to scratch,” the manager said.
Makena says farmers can get the beetles from as early as next year. She said Realimpact is an organic farmers’ training institution, where trials on the beetles are being done.
“We are now working on packaging for sale, as well as developing farmer tailored training manuals, we are fully prepared to roll out the project to farmers early next year. The technology will save small-scale and large scale poultry farmers thousands of shillings that would have gone to the purchase of protein supplements. We are also aware of fact that like omena and other fish are on decline in Kenya, beetles will therefore mitigate the situation,” she said.