How To Grow Mealworms For Chickens! (Raising Mealworms At Home)
Can someone please explain why chicken treats are so expensive? While I was at the feed store a couple weeks ago I thought it would be nice to bring the girls a little surprise. While perusing the treat aisle I noticed that most of the offerings were empty calories, and the one brand that had some actual nutrition cost an egg-stravagant $11.99! No thank you.There’s got to be a better way!
How can you get affordable, nutritious treats that your flock will enjoy eating? I posed this question to my biologist/ chicken owning grandfather, and one solution is home-grown mealworms. He showed me the ropes of his mealworm farm, and now I’m passing that knowledge on to you.
So, keep reading to learn how to grow your own mealworms at home!
Why Grow Mealworms at Home?
Growing mealworms is incredibly easy, and feeding them to your chickens is fun AND good for them, so why not give it a shot? Mealworms are darkling beetles harvested at the larva stage of development. They grow in colonies and reproduce quickly. Once your mealworm colony is started, you’ll wonder why you ever paid so much for chicken treats before!
They are extremely nutritious, containing about 20% protein, the nutrient your chickens need to up egg production, grow faster, and maintain their general health, making mealworms an egg-cellent chicken snacking option. And the great news is that you can grow these snacks at home at a very low cost.
How to Raise Mealworms at Home
To start a thriving mealworm colony you need to start with beetles. Keep in mind that mealworms are the larva stage of the lifecycle, but you need adult beetles in order to get larva.
Mealworm Habitat And Food Source
You beetles need a place to breed. To start, get a clean 5 gallon bucket or other plastic container and fill it with about 2-3 inches of food. Food can come in a lot of forms, from oatmeal to Wheaties, to ground up dry dog food. You can use basically anything crumbly that’s made out of wheat.
Deposit your beetles in the bucket, and viola, you’ve taken the first step in developing a mealworm colony!
Mealworms also need water, and will get it from roughly chopped pieces of vegetables that you throw on top of the food. Potatoes are a popular choice because they do not mold quickly. Any time your mealworm vegetable molds, throw it out. Change your chopped up vegetable about once a week.
Finally, top the gallon bucket with a screen. This allows the bucket to “breath,” provides ventilation, humidity regulation, keeps your mealworms in/ predators out, and allows you to peek into your colony to check out what’s happening without opening it.
Temperature and Environment
The nice thing about mealworms is they are relatively low maintenance. They can grow at any temperature between room temperature and 80F. Higher humidity will result in more mealworms, but you can grow mealworms at any humidity level with success. You also don’t need any light, which makes this an ideal project for an abandoned closet, garage, or basement.
When Are Mealworms Ready To Harvest?
Once you start your meal worm farm, it will take a couple of days for your beetles to settle down and mate. Once they do though, they will lay eggs in the meal fairly quickly. Eggs take between 4-19 days to hatch into larvae.
The larva stage is when you want to harvest mealworms, and fortunately, they are in that stage for a long time (about ten weeks,) which gives you lots of opportunity to use these little protein bombs as treats for your chickens. Don’t feed all of the larvae to your chickens, though. Remember you want some of the larvae to reach adulthood so that they continue laying eggs for your colony and you have self-sustaining production.
Check out the chart below for more information on the mealworm life cycle:
|Egg Incubation||4-19 days (usually 4-7). Another source says 20-40 days|
|Larva||10 weeks. Visible after about a week|
|Pupa||6-18 (18-24?) days|
|Beetle and Egg Laying||8-12 weeks (followed by death). Egg laying starts 4-19 days (average 12) after emergence|
Chart from http://www.sialis.org/raisingmealworms.htm
If you’re a visual learner like me, you may want to see the different parts of the darkling beetle life cycle. Click here for a video on the different stages.
Once the larvae hatch, they like to hangout under the layer of food in the bottom of the bucket. Unless you’re anxious to go digging for the little suckers when you want to feed them to your chickens, try this method.
Take out the watering potato for a couple of days. After two or three days, put a new potato back in. The larva will be thirsty at this point, and will come to the surface to drink off the potato. Grab a glove and a mason jar and harvest away while they are above ground!
Avoid Stink: Maintain Your Colony
Keeping your colony clean in the best way to avoid this process getting stinky. What causes mealworm colonies to smell? Dead bugs, exoskeletons, and poop. To keep your colony fresh, routinely separate any dead beetles, larva, and pupa from the bucket, as well as any poop.
To do this, get a fine strainer, grab your colony container, and head outside. Take the contents of your colony and run it through the strainer. The fine poop will fall out, leaving the bugs and good food. Now it’s time to remove any exoskeletons.
The exoskeletons are very fine. To remove them, simply take a book or piece of plastic and fan over the beetles and larvae. Most of the exoskeletons will be fly right out. Now it’s time to remove any dead beetles. Put on some gloves and pick out any beetles that aren’t moving.
Now your poop is separated, exoskeletons are cleaned out, and dead beetles have been removed. Put a couple inches of new food back in your 5 gallon bucket, throw your cleaned beetles and larvae back into the colony, and you are good to go!
Why Not Give Raising Your Own Mealworms a Try?
Growing mealworms isn’t for everyone, but you are a chicken person, and chicken people love a good project, so why not give it a try? With a little time and effort you will be harvesting free (or almost free,) nutritious and delicious chicken treats that your flock will love.
Seriously, check out this video of chickens going crazy for mealworms.
If you get good enough at growing mealworms you can even try selling some. There are many other uses for mealworms such as using them for fishing bait, feed for bluebirds, reptiles, and fish. Some people even eat them dry roasted!
Do you have any tips for how to successfully grow or harvest mealworms? Let’s share our knowledge in the comments below!