Farming after the apocalypse: chickens or giant cockroaches?

So let's say you live in a terrifying post-apocalyptic world. For whatever reason, this world is now infested with cockroaches the size of chickens (similar to radroaches from the Fallout games, but ignore the radiation).

My question, then, is would it be better for a chicken farmer to keep on raising chickens, or switch to roach farming?

Assume the roaches are the same mass as the chickens, but otherwise very similar to ordinary cockroaches. Also assume that the chickens and the roaches would be fed the same food. What I want to know is which one would be most cost-efficient for calories per dollar of feed?

If it's implausible to consider such large cockroaches, you could alternately answer based on a collection of cockroaches adding up to the same mass.

• I suspect that cockroaches are bad at getting rid to toxins and would concentrate them in their body to the point that they would be dangerous to eat in quantity. However, after about 2 minutes of research I realized that I have better things to do than read papers about cockroaches, such as stare at the wall, or twiddle my thumbs, or anything that does not make me want to vomit. Oct 17, 2016 at 18:13
• How can cockroaches get that large and still get enough oxygen? It is a fundimental limit to their anatomy. This is science-based! That might be worth a new question of its own. Oct 17, 2016 at 19:09
• Why not both? If the chicken dies from sickness the giant roaches can feast on it, assuming it can be domesticated they can even see to the weeding of the lawn and monitor the chicken for you. Hopefully you're alone else other survivors might break in and kill these critters for pure entertainment or S.P.E.C.I.A.L needs! Oct 18, 2016 at 0:43
• I just came here to say I would read this story. Oct 18, 2016 at 4:23
• @Anoplexian -- "Brahmein" ... is that like Brahmin served over noodles in a cup? Oct 18, 2016 at 14:56

Cockroach Farming is the future!

They feed the roaches wheat shavings and vegetables for four months. Then they're boiled, dried and some are crushed to put into pill form, which is much easier to stomach.

Cockroaches are omnivorous scavengers and will consume any organic food source available to them. Although they prefer sweets, meats and starches, they are also known to consume other items such as hair, books and decaying matter. Cockroaches eat what is available to them: cockroaches that inhabit sewers feed on sewage, while species living on dead trees consume decaying wood. When left with no water, cockroaches can live days to a week. When given water but deprived of food, some cockroaches can survive for months at a time.

But can we eat these?

Insects have a fat body. It’s a versatile organ, a sort of combination of adipose tissue (the blubber that humans have) and liver. Its principal roles are:

• As with adipose tissue, it is the main nutrient storage site
• Storage of neutralised waste metabolites; Detoxification of ammonia from protein metabolism
• Control of nutrient levels in the haemolymph (“bloodstream”)
• An immunity organ, producing antimicrobial peptides in response to bacterial or fungal intrusion into the haemolymph
• In females, producing vitellogenin, the precursor to egg yolk and thus critical for reproduction

So we get Fat and Calcium from these things in large amount, let's look deeper into the milk

The cockroach in question is the only type of roach known to give birth to live young, the Hissing Cockroach, which is also the largest insect, and it produces a sort of milk to feed its babies. The study's researchers, of the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in India, discovered a protein crystals in this stuff that actually contains more energy than the same amount of cow's milk.

"The crystals are like a complete food — they have proteins, fats, and sugars," one of the study's main authors, Sanchari Banerjee, told the Times of India. "They can be a fantastic protein supplement," added Subramanian Ramaswamy, the leader of the project. Since undernourishment and hunger still plague much of the world, developing a more calorie- and nutrient-dense alternative to milk could be a major improvement to many people's diets.

So we got information on the milk, but what amount their bodies

"It sounds weird, but insects can definitely be good for you because they're a good source of protein and they're low in calories," says Keri Gans author of The Small Change Diet Healthier.

It helps to compare insects to other well-known sources of protein, like chicken and eggs. So here we go: A typical serving size of cockroaches is 5.8 ounces. That portion contains 21 grams of protein and 176 calories, says Gans. In comparison, that same amount of eggs (about two large eggs) contains the 13 grams of protein and slightly less calories (154). That same amount of chicken contains 31 grams of protein and about 200 calories. "That makes sense, though, because chicken is one of the biggest sources of protein around," says Gans.

And there is your answer, chicken meat is more efficient than cockroach meat which is better than eggs. Their milk is much more beneficial than cows milk, so due to their size when compared to an combination of cows and chickens as well as their adaptable diet I'd say Cockroaches are the fututre!

• Get that picture off my browser window! Oct 17, 2016 at 18:07
• @kingledion What bugs you about it? Oct 17, 2016 at 19:18
• My college English professor was from India. He came to the US in 1973. After being here a week, he was telling his friend back home about all the wonderful things he'd done in America so far. When he told his friend about eating a cheeseburger at McDonalds, his friend blurted out "But Ramakrishnan, do you not remember that the cow is sacred in India?!?" To which he replied, "Yes, the cow is sacred in India, but in America it tastes good with cheese." All I can say is thank god I don't live where that picture was taken, because even cheese wouldn't help that.
– Tim
Oct 17, 2016 at 19:38
• We took a hike through the rainforest in Bolivia, and the guide was giving tips on how to survive. Apparently, termites taste like little bursts of mint. Since they just eat wood, there isn't any disease or other yucky stuff you'd have to worry about like in cockroaches that feed on sewage. Oct 17, 2016 at 19:53
• Just because chicken meat has more calories per gram than cockroaches, that doesn't mean they are more efficient in converting stuff people can't eat, into stuff people can eat. Being ectotherm, cockroaches would probably give you more calories from X kg of fodder, than would our dear endotherm chickens. (You may need more space to store your cockroach meat, if that's a problem.) Oct 17, 2016 at 21:53

Both

Really. My answer will be subjective, because I "reenacted" postapo trader in a postapo world few times. So I have some experience.

Both are edible

As perfectly explained by another answer I've already upvoted. Both are also relatively easy to farm.

And both are tasty. They really are, once you give it a try!

There is no food worse than boring food

If you live for few days on scrambled eggs and chicken meat, deep fried roach is some very welcome diversity. If you try to eat dried nutrients, you start to crave something normal. If you work for 12-16h / day, you need protein. And so on.

Safety from disease

If bird flu kills all your chicken, you have roaches. And vice versa. Much less risk of losing it all.

Leftover disposal

Cannibalism is not healthy for your animals. But by feeding chicken leftovers (fresh!) to roaches, and roaches to chickens, you increase your risk only marginally, and save quite a lot of organic matter.

• @RobWatts Thanks, but that's not exactly my idea. I'm not sure if that's anyone's idea, really. It is what happens when it can happen, simple as that. Chickens eat bugs. Cockroaches eat anything. Wanna see? Oct 18, 2016 at 9:59
• Carve? You meant crave? Oct 18, 2016 at 23:15
• In addition, cockroaches can live in the dark, using up any organic leftovers not eaten by chickens. Then feed them to chickens. Oct 18, 2016 at 23:35
• @SimpleArt fixed. Thanks. Worst kind of typo - one your spellchecker won't highlight. Oct 20, 2016 at 6:18

Insects in general are more efficient as a source of protein than most animals, but generally we don't eat insects because of cultural bias. As well, given the large size disparities, catching and eating insects during the Ancestor's hunter gatherer stage was a losing proposition (for the most part, it takes more energy to catch and eat insects than you get from actually eating them. Nesting social insects are an exception to the rule), so we preferentially look for larger animals for our protein.

Cockroach or insect farmers in general will have to carefully disguise what they are selling, or sell to a different market. You would certainly recoil at the thought of roach burgers or deep fried grasshopper, but might not think too much about the white powdery organic protein supplement you add to a drink or soup mix. IF it is already "cooked into" processed foods, you aren't going to think much about it either. Even more directly, as a high energy supplement for body builders or as an otherwise unidentifiable "protein bar" in an MRE or survival supplement, most people will just crunch in.

The other part of the market is selling insect protein as food supplement for animals. Feeding it to chickens, hogs, cattle or even as fish food provides a high density/high energy meal for the animals, and helps get them ready for market.

So your farmer might like the idea of farming roaches (supersize or not) because they are easy to care for and he can get a "crop" in with a very short turn around time, but he will have to be careful how he is selling it.

• +1, although something tells me that cultural bias will evaporate fairly quickly once the apocalypse arrives. In the post-apocalyptic world "culture" would be a weird warping of what we know today with a bunch of new traditions where, once a year on Apocalypse Eve, families gather and gorge themselves on roast cockroach (and drink themselves into oblivion). Oct 17, 2016 at 22:19
• Many cultural artifacts survive even long past the end of the culture where it comes from. Head coverings on women are thought to be relics of status symbols in ancient Babylon, and religion holidays like Christmas and Easter are pagan relics. People will do what they need to survive, but in your future I suspect eating real animal protein will be a status symbol and only plebes, students and the homeless eat cockroach on a regular basis. Oct 17, 2016 at 22:50
• I don't think it's so much cultural bias as the fact that insects are unpleasant to eat. Would you cook and crunch up a chicken head? That's what eating an insect is like. Bits of it get stuck in between your teeth, it is very unpleasant. Oct 18, 2016 at 10:42
• @SLC no it is not unpleasant. Not when cooked properly. And if other sources of food are harder to use, people will learn. Oct 18, 2016 at 12:42
• @NibblyPig Due to the size of the roaches, they could be eaten more like crabs, lobster, or crawfish where you eat around the exoskeletons avoiding that problem Apr 14, 2020 at 21:47

Roaches, like spiders and mantids are subject to being infested with parasites, in example they can be infested by Nematomorpha:

It is full of videos on youtube of insects (roaches included) infested by worms. I guess that if "scale size" keeps on, so that if roaches gets bigger also their parasites get bigger, then you will have something serious to deal with, because when you kill roaches for turning them into food, you will have a pretty big worm going out of them, and this is definitely a thing that you have to care about when breeding roaches because thos worms could be, not only a health issue, but also a safety issue (are giant Nematomorpha dangerous for humans?). Actually they would become bigger that most commons snakes, and since they are pretty fast (compared to their size), they could be quite hard to catch and could go anywhere causing damages of any type.

A regular worm can be meters long, a chicken is somewhat 50 times bigger than a roach, so if a roach is big as a chicken its infesting worm can be as long as 50 meters. Weird.. yuck!

If your world defines the problem as being infested with cockroaches the size of chickens, people believe there are already too many cockroaches. Presumably supply is too high to justify farming them for profit. If you farm them, there also could be problems with sales, with 'wild' cockroaches passed off as 'cultivated.' You could have a farmer who agrees to cut back oversupply (like plowing under during the Great Depression in the US) to access subsidies, and uses ground roach as feed for chickens.

On the other hand, if cockroaches are a market, breeding slightly larger chickens as transportation might work.

I would recommend roaches - with their more diverse diet a farmer has many more resources available as feed for his farm. And as I believe roaches can eat almost anything you could find inventive ways to feed them (non-harmful) waste product or refuse.

As always it comes down to cost: which livestock would be most economical to manage?