Insect protein from poultry waste

The fully closed insect production system of ZooProtein uses the common Greenbottle fly to re-process poultry waste. Photo: ZooProtein
The fully closed insect production system of ZooProtein uses the common Greenbottle fly to re-process poultry waste. Photo: ZooProtein

How to turn waste from poultry farms into protein for use in feed again? Insects are the key to this question. The Russian company ZooProtein developed a closed system, where maggots feed themselves on waste, before being harvested and dried as a protein source themselves.

Russian company ZooProtein is currently shaping up its technology of re-processing waste from poultry farms into protein-rich biomass for the further use in animal feed, Alexey Istomin, the company’s deputy Chief Development Officer told Poultry World exclusively. Having spent several years analysing studies dedicated to the use of flies in animal feed, including those found in the archives of Soviet scientific organisation, the company’s heads eventually decided to become pioneers of this business in the country.

In the very beginning, the Istomins family was planning to cultivate flies to manufacture maggots as bait for game fisherman, but soon decided to emerge in a more attractive niche, manufacturing dried matter for the Russia’s pet food producers. However, that market was limited due to its size. As a result, they decided to shift their focus to animal farms. “Our main target is not to sell biomass from maggots itself, but to promote the technology of closed-cycle waste re-processing at the farms, obtaining feed components and fertilisers,” Alexey Istomin says.

Natural process

The technology’s key hallmark, according to Alexey Istomin, is that it is fully natural, and every process it involves, takes place just as in nature. The company chose Lucilia Caesar, commonly referred to as the common greenbottle fly, to re-process waste. “Our technological system consists of the several separate blocks. The first one is insectarium, or rearing house, the one where flies live. The flies eat sugar, milk powder and drink water, so every day they carry eggs on special trays with minced meat, made from meat waste. Once a day, trays with eggs are taken from the insectarium to the larval growth zone,” Istomin adds.

At its own production facility in Lipetsk Oblast, where the company tests its technology – ZooProtein currently has 5 million flies and plans to bring that figure to 20 million in a due course. For that “stock” the company takes waste from a regional poultry farm. “Maggots hatch under closely monitored climatic conditions and begin to process waste. The maggots have an external digestion, this means that it releases a special secretion that mineralises and liquefies the raw material. The organism of maggots accumulates only valuable substances and amino acids. It all ends within four days, and by that time maggots have grown 300 times from its initial size. We harvest it, separate it from the processed substrate, and send it for drying,” he explains.

As soon as maggots are dried, they must be milled, and then the product is ready to be used in poultry feed. The biomass of maggots consists of 50% protein and 30% fat, according to official company’s information. Up to 80% of fat is unsaturated fatty acids, which result in a high energy value, higher compared to the soybean meal and fishmeal. “In spite of such a high content of fatty acids, the dried protein-rich biomass from maggots is stored for more than a year without the increasing acid and peroxide value. This is possible due to the content of natural antioxidants and immunomodulatory agents in the product, such as – chitin and melanin,” Istomin reveals.

ZooProtein plans to enter the market of not only chicken feed, but also of unconventional poultry feed, including ducks, turkey, quail and so on. Also use in pig feed and feed for valuable fish species is on the radar. At the same time, the processed substrate, when the larvae is separated after harvesting, can be used as a mineral fertiliser, Istomin notes.

Huge savings

A preliminary study showed that with the company’s technology, an average poultry farm in Russia can reach annual savings of about Rub 40 million (US$ 800,000). “A poultry farm in Russia generates quite some waste, including dead chicks, by-products and so on. Russian legislation obligates a farm to dispose waste, which comes at a cost. On the other hand, most poultry farms in Russia are cultivating crops and for this purpose purchase fertilisers to be used at fields. Finally, the sources of protein in poultry feed are also expensive. Our technology brings savings in each of those segments,” Istomin says. ZooProtein posted “a calculator of savings” on its website, where every farm can estimate how much money it can save, when installing the larvae rearing house. On average, it shows economy of Rub 9 (US$ 0.15) per kg of re-processed waste. “It nearly takes 10kg of waste to produce 1kg of protein-rich biomass. The production cost for 1kg of biomass nowadays reaches Rub 30 (US$ 0.5) per kg, but it can be reduced further until the technological process is optimised. Furthermore, the production cost, as well as the profitability depends on the size of poultry farm,” Istomin explains.

The biomass of processed maggots consists of 50% protein and 30% fat, according to official company information. Photo: ZooProtein

The biomass of processed maggots consists of 50% protein and 30% fat, according to official company information. Photo: ZooProtein

A revolution of minds

Istomin states that at first Russian sanitary bodies were reluctant to see the advantages of the new technology. This is partly because the national regulations in the area of feed safety haven’t been saying a word about the use of insects in animal feed. ZooProtein had to convince the authorities as well as the farmers that biomass derived from waste, re-processed by the common greenbottle fly is safe. Not an easy task when the fly itself is considered as something dirty and unhealthy. However, Istomin saw “a revolution in minds” after he shared the science behind the process. “It is a remarkable fact that the maggots can disinfect waste. We tested it on the re-processing of waste, infected with bacteria of the 4th class (highly pathogenic), that is salmonella and other causative organisms. The flies turned it into a fully clean product,” Istomin notes. The company plans to shape up the technology in 2018 and install it at most of the local poultry farms shortly after. At the moment, the main goal is to achieve the full automation of all processes – so the system could operate without any human participation at all.

Vladislav Vorotnikov Eastern European correspondent