Animal feed is fortified with proteins. They are usually obtained from imported soybeans or fish meal and do not have a good ecological footprint. The start-up madebymade has set up a facility that produces feed proteins regionally and sustainably from maggots. For its work, madebymade was honoured with the KfW Entrepreneurs’ Award as the state winner for Saxony.
How madebymade produces a sustainable protein based on insects (KfW Group/n-tv). This video is only available in German.
Cold winter fog hangs heavily over the fields of the small town of Pegau near Leipzig. Pigs and chickens, even the farm cats, are inside the barn. Warm clothes and local knowledge are needed to find the company that can make the food for these animals more sustainable. A small sign on a large barn points to madebymade, the company founded by Jonas Finck and Kai Hempel. There is a strange smell behind the door, reminiscent of rotting fruit in the organic waste bin at home. Dr Jonas Finck has just checked his flock – millions of flies. Some are still attached to his smock: “We breed the black soldier fly here. They mate in scrapped shipping containers that we have converted. Heat is provided by exhaust heat from the adjacent biogas system,” explains the biologist.
The flies live for about two weeks and they do not need any food during this time. The container is just one component in a modular system. At the centre of the system is an attractant with special egg-laying surfaces. “Each female lays about 500 eggs on there, which are harvested daily,” continues Finck. After two to four days, the animals hatch from these eggs in another special container. “And then we transfer the young larvae to our main site,” explains Finck. “There they are fattened, then harvested and processed into proteins and fats.” In addition, as a kind of by-product, a sustainable fertiliser is produced when the flies are fattened. 5 per cent of the finished larvae return to reproduce, become flies and lay eggs again. A new life cycle of the slim soldier flies can begin.
Too good for the bin
A few kilometres on is the fattening site. Large stainless-steel troughs teem with maggots. They are not fussy about what they eat, yet the vegetarian menu is extremely varied. Today it’s carrots, oranges that can no longer be sold and limp cauliflower, and tomorrow a delivery of frozen chips almost past their expiry date has been announced. They eat what is served – and that is exclusively organic waste from the region.
For their producers, fattening maggots is a welcome opportunity to put their rejects or unsellable products to good use. There is no shortage of supplies. About 18 tonnes a week are delivered. The plan is to increase production to such an extent that in future the same quantity will no longer be supplied every week, but on a single day. This would enable madebymade to produce five tonnes of live larvae every day.
Read more under the image gallery.
The flies lay their eggs in the recycled shipping container, which is one of the facility’s modules.
KfW Entrepreneurs’ Award
In November 2020, the KfW Entrepreneurs’ Award was presented to 16 state winners and one national winner in recognition of their business ideas. Two special prizes were also awarded. Applications for the next award can be submitted starting 1 July 2021.
Growing demand for protein
The yellowish larvae appear to feel at home on the substrate in the large fattening troughs. Managing Director Kai Hempel knows how valuable they are: “Farm animals like pigs, chickens or trout have traditionally met part of their protein needs by eating insects. We make these proteins from maggots, which is compatible with the food chain of the animals and is of high quality,” he says.
Proteins are particularly important for feed to fatten livestock. But the fish meal or soy-based feeds are controversial. Most soy comes from the USA, Brazil and Argentina. Since demand is growing worldwide, more and more forests and savannahs are being converted to farmland. Fish meal is made from by-catch and fish waste from large trawler fleets that contribute to overfishing of the oceans. This is why insect-based food is considered a resource-saving alternative, not just for land animals such as pigs and chickens. Aquaculture can also use the protein-rich insect food to farm fish.
Versatile products from larvae
After two weeks, the maggots have reached a respectable size of about two centimetres. They now consist mainly of fat and proteins and can be processed. To do this, they are first dried and then pressed in a system adapted for this purpose. The nutritious larvae meal is already used in aquaculture and as an additive in pet food. It is also bought by zoos. However, it has not yet been approved as a supplement in cattle, pig or chicken feed in the EU. This is because insect protein is classified as an animal protein and may therefore not be added to livestock feed – a precautionary measure resulting from the BSE crisis, which was triggered by insufficiently heated animal meal in concentrated feed. Poultry companies like Wiesenhof are already lobbying for a reassessment.
madebymade also presses viscous oil from the dried larvae, which are also rich in valuable fatty acids. These lipids can also be added to pet food or serve as alternative lubricants. The excrement of the larvae, called frass, as well as the remains of the skin are ideally suited as extracted powder for fertilising plants. The fertiliser is already sold by madebymade in addition to its feeds.
The company pursues a clear goal: “With our facility, we have shown that it is possible to produce proteins domestically and at low cost. We plan to scale up our operation over the next few years and build four more facilities,” says Hempel. Several target groups could benefit: disposers who no longer want to plough their residues into the soil or ferment them in biogas systems. Livestock farmers who want to make their own proteins. “And, of course, customers involved in animal feed production,” adds Kai Hempel about the possible uses.
The key unique selling proposition of the company is the modular design of the entire system. It can be operated anywhere and flexibly adapts to the residues produced in the region. There are already many enquiries because the initial investment is relatively low compared to the reliable returns.
Formed in the garage
Just a few years ago, the entrepreneurs would never have dreamed of being able to call millions of maggots their own. Their farm began almost conspiratorially, in a rented garage, where they first installed a heating system. The larvae grew in cat toilets. In winter, it was conspicuous that the snow on the roof was always melting. This called the police to the scene: they announced a search. “In a cloak-and-dagger operation in the middle of the night, we cleared out everything and set up a furniture workshop that smelled a bit funny. We weren’t doing anything illegal, but I doubt if anyone would have rented us a garage to farm flies on a large scale,” Kai Hempel recalls with a laugh.
This experiment was important for proving that their idea not only worked on paper, but also in practice. With the findings and their resulting concept, they convinced investors, HypoVereinsbank and the Sächsische Förderbank. Winning the Agricultural and Food Ideas Competition was another milestone for the start-up. And even if there is still a long way to go before the entire feed industry is revolutionised: business is already booming in the small town of Pegau.
Published on KfW Stories: 26. January 2021.