How to Raise Mealworms
for Healthier Chickens and a More Sustainable Farm
By Anne-Marie Miller
For more from Anne-Marie, check out her blog here!
Fall or winter is the perfect time to start a mealworm bin. It takes a while for these nutritious insects to get started into a thriving colony that can supplement your chicken food in Spring. I am always trying to cut costs on the homestead. One way I do this is by raising mealworms to feed to my chickens. Chickens need grains, greens and protein (insects). Think of what prairie chickens would eat. An easy way to give them needed protein is to feed them mealworms and it is so easy.
I started by using an old fish aquarium that I had in my garage. Many people use 3-drawer stacking systems but I like to keep things simple. You will need a lid for your tank. I had one with a grate-type design from the time my son begged me to keep a lizard for a while. From my local feed store I purchased 100 meal worms and 5lbs of wheat bran, poured about three inches of the wheat bran into the aquarium, then put the mealworms on top. Place some empty toilet paper rolls for them to take shelter in and then wait. The warmer it is and the more worms you start with the quicker this process will be. It is tempting to start with the giant meal worms they offer because we all think bigger is better, right? Not in this case – apparently the super huge meal worms have been treated with some sort of hormone and will be completely sterile. Because I started in the winter I put mine on top of the clothes drier, that way they would be cozy and no one would see them except family, giving strict instructions NOT to open the curtain when my Mother-in-Law came over! She is not a big bug fan. Ironically, I remember, I bought these starter worms with some of my Christmas money she had given me. Only a homesteader buys herself worms for Christmas. Hee hee! I bet you can relate. What homesteading thing have you asked for or bought for Christmas that might give some people pause?
Dropping a few slices of potato or cucumber, whatever you have on hand, every few days is all the worms need for moisture. Those worms quickly turned into larvae.
This tender larvae stage is what you will feed to your chickens.
This is the tasty tender stage that I normally feed to my chickens but since I was trying to establish my colony I left them in the tank.
After a few weeks those larvae turned into beetles and laid about 300 eggs each! Not to worry they don’t bite, scratch or sting! Another few weeks and we had tiny baby meal worms squirming around.
By this time it was spring and I was able to put the whole tank outside in a shady spot. Placing a cover (storage bin lid) and a few bricks on top to keep critters out is important. Pretty soon I had more than enough larvae to harvest for my chickens. I get about 2 cups per week. Remember to step up the veggies for moisture in the hot summer months. I pick out the larvae every week as I have not found a better way to separate them. If I am pressed for time I just scoop some out worms, beetles and all and dump it out for my hens. Not everyone could get that up close and personal with bugs but I just see free food for my chickens. Cha-ching!
You can use other things for the bedding/food source, such as chicken food and other ground-up grains. My mind works in strange ways. I say that because I am asking myself the question: What if I could not get to the feed store for some reason? Or what if I couldn’t afford the feed for bedding? What I am getting at is that keeping my small farm as sustainable as possible is important to me. With this in mind I researched what mealworms eat in nature and was happy to find out that this insect eats leaves, rotting wood, etc. So if I need to keep this food source going for my chickens without the addition of wheat bran I can easily do that. I always like to try these things out ahead of time so I plan on putting some available material in a separate tank. I will let you know how it goes.
Well-fed chickens means healthy eggs!
A little about the farmer
Anne-Marie (Dash for short) is an Urban Farmer in Dallas, Texas. She tested the-in-the-box thinking of the city she lives in by creating a front yard garden. She chases chickens, rabbits and children on her urban homestead. Follow along with her homesteading adventures on her blog http://bloomwhereyourplanted.com/ . Here she will challenge you to stop pining for the country and Bloom Where You’re Planted!