Article kindly provided by Glenn Johnson & Kevin Westbury
The Old Method
Maggots, or the more polite title Gentles, are not new to Finch breeders. Many breeders have used them as a live food source for decades. In the past, the way in which they were collected was smelly, messy and quiet possibly harmful to the birds. Many where collected by the use of meat, or animal organs (hearts, livers etc.). These methods also collected Blow Fly Maggot along with Bush Fly Maggots. Once they where collected they where placed in bran as to flush or clean out the maggots.
Another popular method in the past has been, by using a length of plastic pipe around 600mm long, the end has a cap on it with small holes drilled into it. The top has a piece of heart or liver, the fly blow this, and the maggots work their way down through the bran and fall out the holes in the bottom to a tray for the birds. This method does work, however, you still have the smell and the inconsistency of supply.
The New Method
John Butler brought the new method to the attention of both Kevin and myself in the Hunter Valley. John is a very successful Finch and Softbill breeder, who learnt this method from Victorian Finch breeders. He showed us this method a number of times, on visits to his place. It seemed simple, successful and odourless. Kevin and myself were becoming tired of collecting Termites at the time, so we decided to give it a go.
First off a cage needs to be constructed to hold the flies. Size doesn’t really matter, however the larger you make it the harder it is to keep heated in colder weather. It can be built from timber or steel. The cage I made is made of veneered chipboard for ease of cleaning. The back, sides and roof is timber. The front has a tight fitting fly screen that slides out for cleaning purposes. The bottom of the front has a flap that lifts up for a kitty litter tray that slides in; the side has a hole cut in it, covered by pantyhose, so that the containers can be placed in and out.
The light globe is fixed into the roof and can be regulated either by a thermostat or simply by changing the light globe wattage. A temperature of around 35 degrees Celsius is best. A thermometer will tell you when it needs to be regulated. The items needed for the inside of the cage is a container (margarine etc.) of sugar for the flies to eat. We use a screw top jar (small) with a hole cut into the lid, cotton wool is stuffed into the jar and then pulled out through the lid this is filled with water and the cotton wool acts like a wick. A few margarine containers will be needed to place bran and milk powder mix in. This is a step by step procedure in how to breed the maggots.
How to make
Provide 2 cups of good quality bran, ½ cup of dried milk powder, full cream, is the preferred option. Mix this thoroughly together in a bucket. To this dry mix, add approximately a cup of water, mix to a doughy consistency; not overly wet. Place this mix into a margarine container and place into a fly box.
Flies will lay eggs straight away in this mix. Twice a day moisten this mix with mist sprayer, keeping moist, is important. Leave in fly box for 24 hours. Take container out after 24 hours, place this mixture in a larger container (kitty litter tray, bucket etc). Place more of breeding mix (bran and milk powder) with the maggots that you have taken from fly box, as they need this to eat. At this stage there would be enough maggots to feed for two or three days, depending on how many birds you’re feeding.
As you take the container out of the fly box, new mixture can be placed in so that you are rotating mix to keep up continual supply. It is very important to keep one container to allow to grow onto flies, as the flies only live for approximately five days. If you continually feed out the maggots, your fly number will dwindle down to unproductive levels. Containers that are left to grow onto flies are best not fed any bran powder mix; this allows the maggots to change to flies quicker.
Kevin and I have found that this method works well, we have a continual easily produced live food supply. It is non-messy, quick and cheap and almost odourless. Our birds have taken to them easily and our breeding results are pleasing. Termites are no longer fed to our birds, however mealworms are supplied as variety to them. Certain species will probably still do better if Termites are available.