Researchers explore the idea of insect-supplemented animal feed.
By Haley Bilokraly
What if there was a way to utilize those annoying mosquitos that are making their home in your barn? Agricultural researchers believe that there might be!
Insect farming has been practiced for many years, but one team of researchers is looking at it in a new light. The team, consisting of Drs Alex Chaskopoulou, Lee Cohnstaedt, Kiki Zinoviadou, Annie Donoghue, Brenda Oppert and Komala Arsi, have proposed an idea that uses nuisance insects for feeding animals. These insects include mosquitos and house flies which are commonly found in agricultural settings.
The final idea is to create insect traps that individual farmers could use to feed their animals and that commercial operations use to produce insect-supplemented feed.
This team started working together and explored this idea for the first time in the ARSX2021 competition where they were one of three winning ideas. ARSX is an annual project hosted by the US Agriculture Research Service that encourages researchers to propose “innovative and high-risk ideas” to solve problems facing the agriculture industry.
During the competition, the team made great strides in their research by testing different types of insect traps and examining whether animals could be affected by pathogens transmitted from insects.
The research also explored the benefits that using insects as feed contributes. For example, mosquitos are 63% protein while alternatives, like soybean feed, are only 40% protein. There was also informal evidence that chickens with insects in their diets had yellower yolks and better tasting eggs. Interestingly, it was also observed that animals seemed to greatly prefer mosquitos compared to their current feed.
On top of the benefits to the animals’ health, researchers found that using insects for feed would also lead to less pesticide use on a farm, lower farm waste, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.
Throughout the research, it was important for the team to keep this idea practical for real-world application. Cost was the largest factor that the team had to consider so as a solution the team designed their traps only using materials that would be found lying around the farm or at a hardware store.
Since their successful start in the ARSX2021 competition, research into this idea has continued. Currently, further research about this topic is centered around the impact of insect protein on the rumen microbiome, digestion rates, and quantifying waste produced.
Considering the favorable outcomes of this research so far, insect-supplements for your farm animals may not be a distant idea; but instead, the next generation of feed.