Trial shows insect-fed hens are healthier and more profitable

March 13, 2023

Our new trial done in partnership with Wern Farm in Wales has revealed that insect feed led to the flock laying more eggs, for longer.

Challenges in the egg industry

Earlier this year, BFREPA urged egg farmers to attend a series of events to help navigate the tricky sector. This shouldn’t come as a surprise – the poultry industry is emerging from a difficult year, plagued by rising feed and energy prices and severe avian influenza outbreaks. 

The turmoil experienced last year highlights the importance of innovation and preparing for the future. Solutions that reduce reliance on imported feed as well as mitigating emissions will take centre stage.

On top of managing costs and lockdowns, the sector needs to align with the UK’s Net Zero goals and ensure sustainability and food security. The thought of solving all of the above may be discouraging, but it is possible. Many farmers are already working on the future of egg farming.

A story of two flocks: the study methodology

Osian Williams, owner of Wern Farm in Wales, is supplementing his layers with insect feed. The results are measured in parallel against a control flock.

The live larvae come from what looks like a standard shipping container, repurposed into an autonomous insect farm called the Better Origin X1. Inside, food waste is fed to the larvae which grow up to 5,000 times their initial body mass, making them a perfect source of protein for the hens. Throughout the process, the container’s system controls every variable, from maintaining feeding schedules to temperature and humidity.  

“Avian flu measures increase our concern for the welfare of hens as they can become stressed when forced to remain indoors for long periods of time. 

However, supplementing their feed with the live larvae not only provided them with better nutrition but also appeared to have welfare benefits. I could see they were less stressed, and their feather coverage looked better than ever.”

Osian Williams, Wern Farm

Benefits of insect feed

Data gathered showed that the insect-fed flock was laying more eggs for longer. Control flock productivity dropped 2.4 times faster. As the flock aged, control flock mortality was higher, resulting in a loss of over 106,000 potential eggs compared to the insect-fed flock.

The supplemented hens also appeared to be less stressed, exhibiting less injurious pecking behaviours and having better feather coverage. 

While the welfare of hens, especially during AI lockdowns, is very important, flock performance is the main driver for my business and the industry as a whole. Osian highlights that the feed savings and higher productivity combined have allowed him to save £1.50 per hen. 

The future of egg farming

Insect feed may also be an answer to the sector’s bid to become more sustainable. As evidenced by a study done by Promar International, over 80% of a layer farm’s carbon footprint comes from feed. Insects fed on food waste mitigate emissions and are a carbon negative protein source that reduces the total farm carbon footprint, potentially down to neutrality. According to a lifecycle analysis done by Cambridge University, one container can mitigate up to 280 tonnes of CO2e each year. 

“The egg sector is not without its challenges at the moment. With our solution, we want to show that everyone can make a step towards sustainability, and that the benefits of that will go beyond their carbon footprint, ensuring profitability and a secure access to feed.”

Fotis Fotiadis, Co-Founder & CEO, Better Origin

The X1 is commissioned on the farm, converting local food waste into local feed. In an age where most popular chicken feeds such as soy and wheat come from areas vulnerable to deforestation or conflict, growing food right next to the shed provides farmers with a level of security.

So you want to know more about insect feed?

At Better Origin, we have perfected the science of growing insects for feed – and we have put it to use in collaboration with farmers and supermarkets.

If you think insect protein could help your business, you can read more about our insect farm or reach out to us for a free consultation.