Starting a #Mealworm #Colony for your #Chickens (or #Birds)

Robin enjoying a mealworm, your chickens will too!

Robin enjoying a mealworm, your chickens will too!

Mealworms are a nutritions addition to your chicken’s diet. According to Grubco, mealworms have 13% fat and 20% protein. Raising your own mealworms is a cost-effective way to provide healthy treats for your chickens. You can raise just enough for your birds or you can raise extra mealworms and either sell them or use them to attract wild birds to your yard.

Mealworms are fairly easy to raise. You have a couple of options to raise them:

  • Use one large container. Keep the larvae, adults, and eggs together. This is an easy way to keep them, but cleaning is much harder. You will also lose some eggs (they will be eaten) so it is not as productive of a method. But, it works, especially for a small amount of worms.
  • Use a series of smaller containers. Keep the larvae, adults, and eggs separated. This is a more hands-on approach since you will have to separate the groups, but cleaning will be easier and your overall productivity will be higher.

Mealworms

You can get your starter worms from a pet store or online. It is usually cheaper to buy in large amounts online. Amazon has quite a few sellers here (prices start at $11 shipped for 1000 worms), just make sure you buy the live ones (not freeze dried!)

Temperature

A warning, mealworms STINK when not properly cared for. I have heard some people say the smell does not bother them, but others can’t stand it. You do need to clean the frass (waste) to get rid of the smell and have a good location for your worms (probably not in the main area of your house).  The worms are most productive between 72 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit.  The pupal stage is, however, is shorter when the worms are warmer (up to the low 90′s).

Container

Your container should have ventilation and lots of surface area. If you plan on using a series of containers, consider using a rubbermaid drawer system. There are plenty of tutorials online where people will cut out the bottom of the drawer and replace it with screen so the eggs will fall through to the bottom container. It works, but you will lose eggs that get caught on the screen and I think it is a little harder to clean as well.

You will need bedding for the container. A few things will work, including oatmeal, wheat bran, wheat flour, chicken feed (non-medicated), powdered milk, and brewers yeast. You can cover the top of the bedding with newspaper. The worms will eat some of the bedding so providing healthy bedding will help keep the worms healthy for your chickens! The primary reason for the bedding is not food, however, so you will also need to provide them with food.

Mealworms eat carrots, potatoes, lettuce/cabbage, fruits (take care with fruits as they can mold quickly and avoid citrus), etc. You should put them on a tray so it does not get the bedding wet (and moldy). In most locations the humidity from the food will be enough for the worms, but some places (like here in Arizona) may need an extra boost of humidity. To do this you can spray newspaper with water and put that on top or you can wet a sponge and put it inside of a plastic bag.

Life Cycle

The larvae is the “mealworm” that you buy from the store. It goes through a series of molts and will leave it’s skin behind when it does (to me it looks like a very small thin piece of tan paper, but I have also heard people say that it looks like corn flakes). It will be in the larvae stage for about 10 weeks and it is so small the first week that you probably won’t see it (although you may notice the bedding moving around).

After the final molt the larvae goes to the top of the pile and forms the shape of a “C”and gets a hard skeleton. The pupae will not eat or move. This stage will be as short as 6 days if it stays around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or it can take as long as 3 weeks at cooler temperatures.

The darkling beetle will first be a translucent white color, but it will turn black fairly quickly (usually a day or two). The beetle will begin to lay eggs around day 9 and will continue to lay eggs (about 40 a day) for about three months. Your chickens (and birds) will eat the adult as well as the mealworm, but it is harder to digest. A darkling beetle cannot fly so you do not have to worry about them getting out of their container.

Eggs usually take a week or two to hatch.

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Comments For This Post

  • Apu October 20, 2013, 12:20 pm

    i have a chicken firm…thanks for this useful post…will be helpful for me … :)
    Apu recently posted…Who Me – I Don’t Need ProteinMy Profile

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  • MaddMac January 7, 2014, 4:02 pm

    Where do you get mealworms to start with?

    Reply
    • Heidi January 7, 2014, 7:38 pm

      Very good question! I got my starter worms off Amazon and I once started a small colony using worms from Petco (they are more expensive there though because you buy them in much smaller amounts). 1000 mealworms at Petco will run about $20 vs about $11 shipped through Amazon. I added the information to the post as well.
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  • Lisa May 31, 2014, 1:36 pm

    Very good idea to grow your own meal worms. I will have to think about doing this.

    Reply

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