We decided to show you our black solider fly bin and discuss why we have them. For those of you watching our greenhouse build videos, you may have noticed a white rectangular box in one corner of the greenhouse. We will also give you a quick tour of it and show you how it works.
You can see our build post on this bin and get some additional information on the black soldier fly in this older blog entry. We bought our plans for the bin, as well as our starter BSF larvae, from Northwest Redworms.
What we feed the black soldier fly larvae
The black soldier fly larvae will eat just about anything. Any food that you might consider as fast food for human consumption is terrific for black solider fly larvae. We have a brewery near us and they give us the spent grain from the brewing process and we feed that to our chickens and add it to our black soldier fly bin.
In the past we also have fed them a cheap dog food and grain after moistening it first. The dog food was more expensive for us than grain, but there was almost no unconsumed pieces. With grain they will not eat the hull of the grain.
With the feeding of grain you will eventually need to remove the uneaten portions of the grain. It is typically lighter than the contents of the bin and can easily be scooped off the top.
If you do not have a brewery close you could likely get food scraps for free from a restaurant, school or fast food place. With a little bit of your time you should be able to secure a good source of free food for your black soldier fly bin.
A great source of fat and protein for the chickens
Black soldier fly larvae are high in fat and protein, over 30 percent of each. The chickens absolutely love them and come quickly when we start tossing them out to be eaten.
It does take a fair bit of food to grow black solider fly larvae. For every 100 pounds of food added to their bin we expect to harvest around 20 pounds of black solider fly larvae. If we were buying all their food that might not make good sense, but remember we get our spent grain for free. At the end of the summer we will have saved money by reducing our chicken feed bill.
Video of our black solider fly bin
Here is our latest video of the black soldier fly bin we keep out in the greenhouse. You can see how it works and get a quick look at the BSF larvae in action. We find it interesting and our chickens absolutely love them. When we throw out the larvae for them to eat they really get excited.
Recently we decided to take on a new project and build a black soldier fly bin. The black soldier fly larvae is a fantastic composter and will eat about any organic matter. The larvae are terrific food for the chickens. They have a high fat and protein content and chickens absolutely love them. They will be fed scraps and spent barley we can get for free from a nearby brewery. After the initial cost of the materials to build the bin and the BSF larvae starter pack, we will be getting free chicken food.
Why black soldier fly instead of worms?
We looked into other composters like mealworms and just your standard worm. Here in NW Missouri, we can see 100 degree weather and periods of drought during our summers. Those two things are hard on regular worms. The BSF likes the heat.
Ultimately the deciding factor for us was when we learned we didn’t need to dig or sort out larvae to feed to the chickens. When they are ready to pupate from larvae to a fly they “self-harvest”. That is, they will leave the compost area to seek the soil to begin the transformation to a fly. With a correctly designed bin the larvae are going to be in a container after self-harvesting and ready to be fed to the chickens. We won’t have to touch them.
Picking a black soldier bin
We spent a fair bit of time watching different YouTube videos of the different bins available for the black soldier fly. There are commercially available bins made from plastic and home built models from plastic and wood.
Some of the plastic bins had a small hole for the larvae to drop through when self-harvesting. In several of the videos, I noticed the hole became partially blocked. Larvae were finding alternate routes from the bin and didn’t make it into the collection container. The ramp for the mature larvae to crawl was more complex than the simple wooden version we saw.
The wooden bins were larger and would easily accommodate more BSF larvae. I liked the simple collection system on them. Ultimately we elected to go with a wooden bin and to build our own. We bought some black soldier fly bin instructions through a website that also sells larvae. This bin was in one of his many BSF videos and the design was simple and looked easy to build. You can see the one we liked in this video.
Assemble and paint the black soldier fly bin
We pre-cut all the pieces for the bin on the table saw and assembled the bin near the chicken pen where it will ultimately be placed. The assembly was pretty easy and straightforward. The ramp for self-harvest did give me the business, but we got it done. We used a little caulk to seal up any small gaps to keep the larvae in the bin.
In this picture, you can see the bin and the ramp for self-harvest of the mature larvae. They will crawl up the ramp and be directed to the hole.
The BSF larvae will fall through this hole and into the bin below. We used some cheap plastic food storage bins from Walmart. You can see the food storage bin in this photo.
After applying several coats of an exterior white latex paint to the bin we added about three inches of sawdust to the bin. This will keep the larvae off the bottom of the box to prevent them from going through the drain holes.
Some pieces of cucumber were added to provide the larvae that arrived in the mail from NW redworms. Here you can see the prepared bin with food and larvae.
Paint to protect the black soldier fly bin
Because the black soldier fly bin is made with plywood it would not last long if left unprotected from the elements. We want to make this ban last more than a couple of years, therefor we decided to paint it. We went with a cheap can of exterior latex from Walmart and applied several coats. It will seal that plywood and help it last several years before needing replacement. Here is what the completed black soldier fly bin looked like after applying paint.
Our Freedom Ranger meat birds are near butcher weight and we thought it would be a good time to discuss chicken butchering tools. We have been raising and butchering our own meat chickens for years. As a child I learned from my parents as we butchered around 100 a year for our own consumption. As an adult I use many of the same tools as my parents but have added some luxury time saving items like a scalder and a mechanical chicken plucker.
A few basic tools can get the job done, many of which most folks have already. Our list will include a set of the basic and inexpensive tools as well of some of those luxury items that make the process easier and faster.
Basic chicken butchering tools
A good set of knives is on my essential list of chicken butchering tools. A good thin blade for cutting into the cavity of the chicken and a second knife with serrations for cutting through the neck and tail bones. You can use the same blade for everything but cutting into or nicking the bones is hard on a blade and will cause it to go dull quickly.
Knifes and related cutting tools
For the thin blade I like a boning knife, like this UltraSource boning knife. It has a decent blade and the grip is easy to maintain control with wet, or bloody, hands. The edge is easy to renew with a decent sharpening steel between chickens.
For my serrated blade I like an inexpensive hunting knife like this Gerber folding knife with serrated blade. Half the blade on ours is serrated and the rest a normal blade. If you you were wanting to work on a budget this single knife would work by itself. Just keep in mind that a thin blade is easier to control inside the chest cavity of a chicken.
I consider our sharpening steel is a essential if we are butchering more than a few chickens at a time. Being able to dress the edge of a knife between chickens makes the process much easier. An inexpensive steel works. We have been using our oval diamond sharpening rod for a decade and love it.
Tools for bleeding out a chicken
A couple different size kill cones are a valuable tool to have on the homestead where you are butchering your own chickens, You can buy commercially made kill cones that are made from materials like stainless which are easy to clean. In the link above is a XL model. It is my preferred cone for large roosters from a bird bird breed, For meat bird hens and smaller breeds we like the large size of cones. Here at our homestead we run two cones and move them to some baling twine, which is discussed below,
An budget minded alternative to cones is simple baling twine. We secure one end to something like a tree or fence post and tie a loop in the other end. By simply pulling the line through the loop you create a hoop.
Scalder for plucking
Scalding a chicken makes the process of removing feathers much easier. A large pot filled with water can be easily brought to temperature for plucking on a propane cooker. A turkey fire kit that includes the burner, a big pot and a thermometer can be cheaper than buying individual components. It goes without saying, you’ll need propane too.
After scalding the feathers will be removed by hand and simply pulling the feathers from the skin, or with the aid of a plucker. You can make your own or buy one commercial made, It is expensive, so it will be discussed in the “luxury item” section near the end of this blog entry.
If you’re not opposed to having skinless chicken you can remove the feathers without a scalder setup by skinning the chicken, the feathers are removed by by pulling of the skin and the feathers.
A cooler and ice
After butchering it is important to cool down the carcass. We use a cooler and add ice and water to drop the carcass temperatures. If you have a little extra cooler space and some plastic bottles you can save money by filling the bottles with water and prefreezing them. You can reuse the bottles of ice in the place of ice from the store.
Clean water is an absolute necessity. You need it to clean the chicken, yourself and the random accidental messes that occur. A few buckets of water will work, but a hose with a nozzle of some sort is recommended. We use a garden hose and the watering wand from our garden.
Luxury chicken butchering tools
The top two luxury chicken butchering tools would have to be a chicken plucker and a scalder. For the plucker to work properly you need a scalder capable of bringing your water temperature to 145 degrees. If you don’t dip the chicken in that hot water the plucker won’t remove any fethers.
A plucking machine is a massive time and labor saver. But they can also be expensive. We built our first one off a set of plans, you can see it running and doing its job in the video below. There are lots of DIY plans and even build videos on YouTube if you want to build your own. For those who don’t want the hassle of building your own, there are a few companies that make a decent plucker that is made from stainless steel. Coops n More carry a few different models.
A comercially manufactured scalder is another luxury item but is such a time saver. We are better able accurately maintain a constant temperature in this unit over the turkey fryer setup we originally used. The turkey fryer was always tempermental and more difficult to keep at a constant temperature. We saw fluctations in the temperatures which would delay the entire butchering process. Water temperatures that were too high, or too low, make plucking far more diffucult. A good scaldeer that maintains a constant temperature streamlines the entire process.
Our Freedom Rangers meat chickens are now 8 weeks old and growing well and we thought we would do an update. They spent almost two weeks in the brooder and then went out onto grass inside our chicken tractor. It will be another 4 weeks before this straight run batch of 26 chickens get to butcher weight.
Observations about our Freedom Ranger meat chickens
Without question, these Freedom Ranger meat chickens forage more than the Cornish Cross we have raised in the past. We have watched as they tear up clover, grass and scratched for insects. I’ve thrown a few bugs in the tractor and watched as they ate them.
Although they do forage for additional things to eat, I don’t think they take in very much of their daily calories this way. They still spend the majority of their day at the feeder eating the chick grower. Considering these chickens are fed for an additional 4 weeks as compared to the Cornish cross, I am not convinced they will require less feed to get to butcher weight. We are documenting how much feed we use to feed them to butcher weight.
This fall, after the heat of summer has passed, we hope to bring some Cornish cross to butcher weight as a comparison. We will record how much feed we give them and compare it to our results from the Freedom Rangers.
Our second batch of Freedom Rangers
At the 6 week mark of our first batch of these Freedom Ranger meat chicks we ordered another 25 chicks from Freedom Ranger Hatchery. For this order we elected to get all cockerels for the same price as straight run. We received 27 chicks with our second order and lost a single chick on their second day in the brooder. The remaining 26 are healthy and growing well. They will be moved to a second John Suscovich style stress-free chicken tractor next week.
After watching several videos on YouTube I noticed folks having to duck their heads to get in or out of the chicken tractor. As a tall guy who is forever bashing my forehead into things, I decided I’d build it a little taller. We went and looked what widths the wire we needed that was available in our area. After looking in 4 different stores we found it was available in 24 and 36 inch widths. Ultimately, we decided to built our chicken tractor 1 foot taller.
From the parts list in John’s book, parts A, B, I and K were cut 1 foot longer. Parts A and B are what give the sides their height. In the picture below, parts A are the 2 vertical boards in the middle below the tarp. Parts B are the two, one on each end.
Other slight modifications to the Chicken Tractor
Because we are raising Freedom Rangers, we decided to add a roosting bar to our John Suscovich chicken tractor. A 2×4 was used to provide them a place to roost. You can see it, and one of the two addition pieces of lumber we used in this photo.
Closet shelf and rod bracket
In the picture above you can see our yellow bucket automatic waterer hanging from a closet shelf and rod bracket. We use it, and 18 inch length of chain to suspend our bucket waterer. It uses the automatic water nipples to provide clean water to our chickens. You will notice in the picture below that the chain links fit over the rod hook. Raising the bucket height a link at a time is easy.
Adding a door closure
The first week our John Suscovich chicken tractor was in use there was a small incident when the front of the tractor was pointed downhill. while inside to top off the feeder several chicks escaped out the door that swung open with the aid of gravity. By adding a simple door closure spring no more chicks escape while we are inside the tractor.
A long tarp to cut down on the wind
Our first batch of meat chickens were going to be in the tractor while it was still pretty cool and windy at night. Because of the wind, we elected to get a tarp that would go all the way to the ground on both sides. During the summer we will roll the sides up to give them plenty of breeze. (See picture at the top of this entry) We went with a 12 with the extra length used to partially cover the back end of the tractor.
This year instead of raising Cornish cross for meat we decided to try the Freedom Ranger meat chicks. Our first order of 25 chicks arrived yesterday from Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Pennsylvania. They all survived the journey and appear to be in good health. They’re on the back porch in our custom built brooder.
In only a few minutes after being moved into the brooder they were using the chicken nipple waterer to get their first drink. It took them about an hour before they started eating.
Why the Freedom Ranger meat chicks?
We have raised and butchered lots of the Cornish cross meat chicks over the years. They’re a great bird and grow to butcher size quickly. They don’t do much foraging and rely entirely on the chick grower we provide.
I’ve read and seen videos claiming that chicken breeds like these Freedom Rangers have a better feed conversion rate and are great foragers. When provided with fresh grass each day with the aide of a chicken tractor they should hunt for insects and browse in the grass. I’d like to see for myself how they do in a chicken tractor.
Freedom Rangers in a chicken tractor
When these Freedom Rangers are ready to be moved out of the brooder, they will go into a modified John Suscovich stress free chicken tractor. Ours is being built one foot taller than the plans indicate in the book. I’m making it a little taller to help avoid smashing my forehead.
The chicks will be moved to a fresh patch of grass in the yard at least once a day. As the get larger they will possibly be moved twice a day as they eat all the grass. It is our hope that by supplementing their diet with grass and insects that the amount of grower they consume will drop. We hope that the supplemented diet in our chicken tractor will reduce our cost.
Tracking cost of raising Freedom Ranger meat chicks
To track our total cost of the butchered chickens we are using a simple spreadsheet to keep a running tally of our costs. We do our own butchering, we will not have that added cost. The only cost I am not going to track will be electricity for the heat lamps and for the rural water. Both are relatively inexpensive when compared to feed and won’t great affect our final cost. We are more interested in the food cost for rearing these chicks. That is why we ultimately decided to not bother tracking electricity usage or total gallons of water.
Eventually we will raise another batch of Cornish cross broilers to have something to compare to these Freedom Ranger meat chicks. To be perfectly honest, I like the idea of the chickens diet being comprised of grass and insects. If they forage well there is a possibility that we stick with the Rangers. Time will tell.
I wanted to talk about raising chicks with less mess. Our Freedom Ranger chicks arrived in the mail today and went into our brooder. It was our special built brooder that gave me the idea for this topic.
Chicks are messy
As a young boy, I helped my parents to raise and butcher hundreds of meat birds over the years. When we first brought them home they were cute and easy to clean after. As they got bigger everything turned into a big mess. Those big waterers full of nasty water were my least favorite job.
A few decades later when I started raising meat birds for my family I was quickly reminded how messy those birds are when they get big. I grumbled about it and started thinking about ways to cut down on the mess and waste of food and water.
Chicken nipples to reduce wasted water
A blog on the internet about mess free waterers provided the first gem on raising chicks with less mess. Chicken nipples. They’re wonderful and you need some.Chicken nipples provide the chicks and full grown birds with a clean source of water. They cant get into the water to poop in it or spill it out into the brooder.
This Turbo Feeder from Rite Farm Products is another great way to cut down on the mess from the chicks. The design of the feeder discourages the chicks from getting into the feeder to scratch out the feed or to poop in it.
See our brooder and setup on YouTube
Watch our video on raising chicks with less mess on YouTube. You can see the brooder, turbo feeder, and our chicken nipple waterer.
Last fall we had something kill all of our silver laced Wyandotte chickens when they were locked outside over night. After some thought I’ve decided to switch to sexlinks. Each spring I will alternate buying a few of either red or black. This will make it easy to identify which hens are two years old and need butchered. My second year buying reds will give me black sexlinks,that are a year old and reds that are approaching 2 years and ready for making chicken stock.
Our local farm supply store didn’t have any sexlinks the week we were ready for chicks so we ended up mail ordering them. Some guy wasn’t paying attention during the ordering process and ordered straight run instead of pullets. So while these cockerels in the picture with Sid are white they are indeed red sexlinks. The cockerels will all be butchered in a few weeks
I’ve had the reds in years past and really like their temperament and brown eggs. Two years ago I decided to try something new and went with the Wyandotte. I liked them and thought they were a beautiful bird but feel egg production was better with the sexlinks.
The disadvantage to the sexlinks is that they don’t breed back true. The only way to keep sexlinks around for me will be to buy some each year. This is why we decided to butcher cockerels instead of keeping them to propagate the flock.
Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden