I started my aviary in the mid-90’s because I wanted to learn how to use my insects to make effective high quality food for aviary birds, poultry and waterfowl. My main job has always been as a farmer growing insects in large quantities. By this time I had acceptable insect culture techniques and apparatus and it finally figured out a way to preserve the insects while maximizing their nutritional value. Prior to getting my own birds and been providing insects to others so that they could supplement avian diets also I’ve been making wild bird foods for several years.

Pekin Robin by Lucy Hollis (click for more info & credit)
Pekin Robin by Lucy Hollis (click for more info & credit)

Pekin Robin – My first species
The first bird that I bought was a Pekin Robin, a soft bill that I thought would love my live maggots. It did not. I provided the bird with nice space, plantings, a running the water fountain and everything else I can think of. To present the live larvae I used a small wooden salad bowl that had been sanded. The reason for this is that the larvae could not climb a dry rough surface.

Every day I put in nicely new larvae and every day they were ignored. Then one day, while I was cleaning the cage, and insect that had climbed the bowl and escaped up a bit of water trail, a little live pupa appeared up near the base of the bowl. When I moved it for cleaning my little cock Robin dove at the pupa through my hands and ate it down. I had my first success feeding a bug that I had grown to an actual hungry bird. Feeding my own hungry birds was a passion that I carried on for the next 15 years.

I figured to try to house and feed as many different kinds of birds as reasonably possible. I knew that most birds were insectivores at least part of the time. I avoided fish eating birds and raptors and carrion birds.

Adding more species through bug trades
My aviary consisted of three main sections. I had a large netted enclosure outdoors that was for poultry pheasants and waterfowl. My greenhouse was given over to cages for soft bills and a couple of rooms in my house held finches and various parrots. I acquired the birds both through purchase and trade. All my cages were spacious, well furnished, and festooned with both natural and artificial plants.

Pheasants in the snow ~ Photo by Pheasants Forever (Click for more info & credit)
Pheasants in the snow ~ Photo by Pheasants Forever (Click for more info & credit)

At a tradeshow I met a couple whose business was importing birds from Africa. They had been having quite a bit of problem losing birds between the capture site and quarantine. By that time I had Soya Musca on the market and it was generating a lot of interest. I suggested that the Soya Musca be included in their plans by actually carrying material to Africa and leaving it off with each batch of birds that were to be shipped later. This Soya Musca was to be added to what ever diets the birds had in the holding facility. It worked like a charm. Their pre-quarantine losses dropped dramatically. Our arrangement was to trade my food for birds.

In this way I acquired a number of different species of African birds my favorite were the starlings. In the greenhouse I kept Emerald, amethyst, Hildebrand, superb, Royal and European starlings. Other soft bills in the collection included mouse birds, Crakes, Cardinals, J thrashes, rice birds and others. I also had a pair hornbills. The net enclosure outdoors house the pheasants peacocks poultry and waterfowl. Two rooms in the house were devoted to finches, cockatiels and a couple of large parrots.

Skipio’s products tested in other aviaries
My interest was not in breeding although a number of babies were produced. I wanted to make the best food that I could. I don’t believe in the concept of a complete diet but knew that good supplements would help the interculturalist. I was very lucky in that besides my birds to work with a number of my friends with aviaries trust in my ingredients and techniques and studied the issues right along with me in their aviaries. One of my friends raised pigeons for racing. He used Skipio’s egg meal and Soya Musca in his pigeons diet. He claimed that the use of the egg food was like flipping a switch if he wanted his pigeons to breed. He wanted babies fed egg meal if you had enough babies it took away. Another family raised parakeets breeding several hundred pairs. They found that the ideal food to prepare their birds for breeding was grated raw carrots liberally powdered with Soya Musca.

1676My birds had appropriate grains, fresh and dried greens, fresh and preserved fruits as well as insects. I concentrated on to hydrated insects rather than fresh because my aim was to make affordable products that were convenient to use. Feeding 100 soft bills fresh fruit every day became very expensive. One of the folks I was in correspondence with told me that they used water packed canned fruit cocktail powdered with Soya Musca. I tried this and found to be a huge help. It was easy to chop the canned fruits to the appropriate size. If you’re going to do this make sure to get water packed fruit not fruit in heavy or light syrup.

You get what you pay for – manufacturing bug foods
One of the driving forces in my planning was to always make the best. Insects are expensive. There is no doubt about it. Once I had solved the problem of preservation I could not see taking my hard-won processed insects and adding them to cheap ingredients. So I always bought human grade or top-quality for every formula.

In the beginning it was very difficult to produce dried insects. Drying meat is hard. I found that if I took the live insects and scalded them like crab the killing process was most effective and humane. The fresh insects were then rinsed, centrifuged and tray dried in a heated chamber that used vacuum pump to remove moisture. To start with the temperature was above 160°F for about an hour. At that point the temperature was dropped to around 130 and vacuum pump switched on. This technique provided the very best to hydration with the insects smelling good and not like there had been any spoilage. This is a bit tricky. I still use the same technique to provide high-quality to hydrated insects.

By this time I had good relationships with a number of people whose breeding successes exceeded my own. My inquiries were based on producing good food supplements that these other people were using successfully.

I sold my birds cages and furnishings and concentrated my efforts on efficient production of insects and the packaged foods of my Skipio’s brand.