Broilers’ natural behaviour stimulated by eating fly larvae, research shows

Broilers fed live fly larvae show more natural behaviour and develop healthier legs. Those were the findings of new research from Wageningen University & Research (WUR). Because the broilers have to forage and peck at the larvae, they move more, which improves their welfare, the scientists behind the study said.

During the research, the broilers were offered live black soldier fly larvae in different quantities and at different times during the day. ‘We really saw that the broilers were motivated all day long to get to the larvae’, said researcher Allyson Ipema. “The broilers showed a lot of natural foraging behaviour: they kept scratching and pecking at the larvae”.

Offering live larvae in the litter several times a day, the broilers become more active and walk more, she added. 

The larvae are not only tasty, they are also full of fat and protein, which makes them a good addition to the diet. The research shows that the broilers fed the most larvae also spent the longest time on their natural foraging behaviour. “There is a maximum to this though,” said Ipema. “If we supplement the diet for more than 10% with insects, the broilers will probably grow less fast.”

Offering live larvae not only has a positive effect on the welfare of broilers. “An additional advantage is that the larvae from this research can easily be grown on manure and waste products,” said associate professor Liesbeth Bolhuis. “This also makes them a potentially sustainable and circular food source”.

The researchers found even greater positive effects on behaviour when the broilers were presented with the larvae in transparent tubes with holes. This was shown in a second study. “Because the chicks have to make an effort to get the larvae out of the tubes,” said Bolhuis, “They spend a large part of the day on it”.

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