Gradual Provision of Live Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens) Larvae to Older Laying Hens: Effect on Production Performance, Egg Quality, Feather Condition and Behavior
R&D, Schothorst Feed Research B.V., 8218 NA Lelystad, The Netherlands
Product Development, Protix B.V., 5107 NC Dongen, The Netherlands
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 16 January 2020 / Revised: 22 January 2020 / Accepted: 26 January 2020 / Published: 28 January 2020
In nature, hens spend considerable amounts of time eating live insects. This is considered as their natural behavior and may positively contribute to animal welfare. However, laying hens generally have limited access to insects in current intensive farming systems. Hermetia illucens larvae are nutritious and can be industrially produced using the principles of circular agriculture. In Europe, legislation allows the feeding of live insects to poultry, and could possibly be used to replace soy in diets of laying hens as protein source. The majority of soy meal used in Europe originates from North and South American countries. Increasing soy plantations in South American countries is often linked to deforestation and social issues. This research evaluated effects of including live H. illucens larvae, as replacement of soy in the daily ration, on production performance, egg quality, behavior and feather condition of older laying hens. Live H. illucens larvae can be used in combination with local plant proteins to successfully replace soy in diets of older laying hens. Feeding hens live H. illucens larvae also had a positive effect on the feather condition of birds.
Feather pecking is a key welfare challenge in laying hen husbandry. Feeding of live Hermetia illucens larvae could provide a possible solution to reduce feather pecking in hens. This research investigates effects of dispensing live H. illucens larvae to non-beak trimmed older laying hens on production performance, behavior and welfare. Control treatment hens were provided a commercial diet, while larvae treatment hens were provided live H. illucens larvae (using special dispenser) on top of a soy-free diet. Feather condition, production performance and egg quality were measured during the initiation (67 weeks age) and termination (78 weeks age) of the trial. Behavior of birds was monitored using video recording. Feed conversion ratio, body weight gain and egg laying parameters were similar for both treatments. At termination of the trial, larvae-fed hens exhibited better feather condition in comparison to control hens (p = 0.004). Behavioral observations indicated that larvae provision influenced the number of birds on floor during morning and afternoon hours. In conclusion, live H. illucens larvae could successfully replace soy in diets of older laying hens (in combination with local plant proteins). Provisioning of these insects also had a positive effect on the feather condition of laying hens with intact beaks.
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