how to raise mealworms for chickens

πŸ” How to Raise Mealworms for Chickens 🌱



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Boy howdy, do I remember that day like it was just yesterday.

Seemed like every last ear of corn had disappeared faster than unpaid tabs at a honky tonk.

My flock was peckish as all get out with their feed bins lookin’ emptier than a freshman’s bank account after his first kegger.

With prices at the supermarket higher than a Texas longhorn, I knew I had to concoct some creative chicken chow on a dime if I wanted to keep the girls’ tummies full.

That’s when it hit me like a ton of feathers – why not cultivate my own protein-packed grub to fill their crops?

If I could raise up a gang of nutritious mealworms with just a few doodads and tender loving care, it’d be cheaper than a two-dollar steak.

All you need is a modest setup and modicum of maintenance to mother your own money-saving mealworm menagerie.

In no time, you’ll have plump grub to stuff those hungry hatches for the low, low price of pockets full of doughnut holes.

Getting Your Wigglers: Everything You Need to Start Your Mealworm Operation

how to raise mealworms for chickens

First thing’s first – you’ll need to pick up a starter packet of pulse-packing pupae.

Most farm stores around these parts hawk little cultures of mealworms and bedding for a measly ten-spot.

Make absolutely certain the label says they’re suited for chicken chow, since you don’t want Foghorn getting an upset tummy from some funky feed.

A dime-sized starter pack is ample to get your grub farm buzzin’.

Secondly, you’ll need to choose a spacious spot to set up their digs.

Mealworms don’t take up much real estate, so even a spare cubby hole or shed suite will do the trick.

Taller is better to give them room to roam.

Make sure it gets plenty of sunlight too – these critters love to bask when they ain’t noshing.

Air flow is important as well.

Open up some breather holes around the top and sides of their homestead.

Too stuffy and their little lungs will get as wheezy as mine after haulin’ hay all mornin’.

Drainage is another must – don’t want puddles stewing in their living quarters.

A slightly sloped surface allows excess moisture to escape.

Last thing for their accommodations is bedding material.

Mealworms like to burrow, so line their mansion with a few inches of a loose material like oat bran, wheat bran or corn meal.

It provides cushion and cover while also doubling as a feeding station.

There, I reckon that about covers the home essentials to get your grub grubs in gear.

Choosing the Best Mealworm Species

how to raise mealworms for chickens

There are a few different mealworm species you can raise but the best for chickens are the regular Tenebrio molitor worms.

They grow the largest to provide bigger protein-packed bites for your flock and are easier for beginner backyard growers.

I’d avoid the superworm (Zophobas morio) species until you gain more experience – these get huge and have harder outer shells.

Giant mealworms (Zophobas atratus) are another option but take longer to fully mature before harvesting starts.

Good old regular mealworms develop from egg to 2 cm larva in just 2 months and are perfect for starting out.

Once you get the basics down, feel free to branch out and try raising different species for variety.

But regular Tenebrio mealworms can’t be beat in terms of fast growth, nutrition value, and chicken tastiness!

Choosing Your Starter Worms Amount

how to raise mealworms for chickens

Deciding exactly how big of a starter mealworm culture you need comes down to how many chickens you have to feed.

A good rule of thumb is each square foot of mealworm bin surface area can support 500 adult worms long term.

So a 56 quart bin like I use provides roughly 16 square feet for up to 8,000 worms.

Always start with more than you need though since some initial die-off is expected when getting established.

For example with my 6 chickens, I started with around 10,000 mealworms to give me extra harvest buffer.

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It’s way easier to add more bins later as your colony grows than start and restart tiny cultures that collapse.

So factor in your existing and future flock size demands when deciding your starter amount to thrive.

Housing Your Herd: Mealworm Mansions Made from Common Household Items

Alright, so now that you’ve got your wiggly worms, it’s time to trick out their digs.

Simple is best for these critters – all they need is ample elbow room and easy access to eats and other essentials.

An old shoebox or plastic container works fine, just remember to poke air holes near the top so they can breathe easy.

For bedding, 2-3 inches of a loose material like oats, wheat bran or dried corn husks provides padding and cover.

Make sure to leave headroom too – mealworms aren’t known for their vertical leap.

At least 2 inches spare between their bedding and lid allows them to pupate in peace.

Speaking of lids, perforate the top liberally with small air holes or mesh fabric.

These critters breathe through their exoskeletons so ventilation is vital.

Too stuffy and their little lungs get wheezy faster than a city boy at a rodeo.

For easy cleanup, line the box with a plastic bag cut to size first before adding the bedding.

Simply remove and replace the bag when it’s time for spot cleaning.

This also makes sifting out the mature mealworms and beetles a breeze later on.

Another nifty trick is adding a sloped ramp of bedding at one end for easy escape if they feel crowded.

For fancier setups, modular stacking units made of plastic trays or wooden dividers work great too.

This maximizes floor space while keeping each tray’s residents separated.

Simply stack and connect multiple tiers for a high-density housing system.

There ya have it – cozy castles fit for crunchin’ critters!

Feeding Frenzy: Nutritious Noshes to Nourish a Booming Brood

Alright folks, now we come to the all-important chow line.

Proper vittles are key to raising a healthy, hungry crop of mealworms.

These whippersnappers have simple taste – they go crazy for whole grain cereals, crushed oats, dried veggies and seasonal fruit scraps.

I like keeping my gang stocked with wheat bran, buckwheat groats, crushed arrowroot cookies and potato peelings since potato is in their natural diets.

The key is variety – mealworms get bored easy if their menu ain’t mixed up.

I portion out small dishes of 3-4 different noshables and scatter them around the enclosure.

This entices natural foraging behaviors as they scurry about sniffing for tasty morsels.

Be sure to include a carbo-loader like wheat bran or oat groats, and supplement with nutritious add-ins like cranberries, carrot flakes or alfalfa.

Fruit like banana, apple or watermelon rinds offer a sweet treat every so often too.

It’s also important to renew their vittles every couple days or when supplies run low, otherwise you’ll start seein’ hungry worms! I aim to replenish mine when dishes look about half full.

Leaving some uneaten grub prevents wasted waste, if you catch my drift.

Proper chow is key to growing a productive population of plump, happy mealworms ready to feed the flock.

Lastly, always station the food at one end of their manor and provide an escape slope at the other end, like a gentle pile of bedding.

This fosters natural foraging patterns as worms graze and escape as needed, without getting overcrowded.

Pay attention to consumption rates and waste – this will tell you if their grub supply needs adjusting.

Well fed, contented critters make all the difference come harvest time!

Harvesting the Haul: When and How to Gather Your Goopy Goodies

After 4-6 weeks of optimal conditions, your mealworms will have munched and muddled their way through the various lifecycle phases to become plump, juicy beetles ready for the chicken chow line! This is when the real fun begins – harvest time! To begin, suit up in an old shirt you don’t mind gettin’ messy.

Then carefully scoop out the enclosure’s contents with a large serving spoon or small dustpan.

The trick is to catch both the mature beetles and any remaining worm lagomorphs milling about.

Gently sift through the bedding, checking nooks and crannies for any hiding hitchhikers.

Discard any frass or old bedding clumps, as these won’t be edible.

Place the neatly bundled beetles, worms and oats into a lidded bucket or similar collection vessel for transport to the coop.

Sprinkle this booty direct into the chicken run or feeder and watch the ladies go hog wild! They’ll peck, scratch and gobble up every last beetle, worm and bran nubbin with gusto.

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Any stragglers can then be disposed of.

Once the chooks finish their snack, simply return to the enclosure, top it up with fresh bedding and start the cycle anew! Chicken feed has never been so cheap or easy-grown.

Leave some of the heartier beetles behind to lay a new batch of eggs for your next generation of mealworms.

The bedding material can also house fresh egg clusters.

Top it all off with some fresh bran for an instant reboot.

In 4-6 weeks, you’ll be harvesting another bounty to feed your feathery flock once more.

It’s truly a sustainable system with little work but high rewards, if I do say so myself!

Monitoring Your Mealworms: Signs of a Healthy Brood

To keep your mealworm operation running smoothly, it’s important to do regular checks on your colony.

The first thing I eyeball is activity levels – worms should be bustling about, climbing grains of bran and scraps left in food dishes.

Next, examine bedding texture.

It should be loose and friable for burrowing, with no clumping or caking.

Also inspect for frass (insect poop).

Moderate spots of fine powder indicate healthy digestion at work.

Check humidity by feeling the substrate – slightly damp but not soggy is ideal for these desert critters.

Exoskeleton sheen is another good metric.

Dull skins mean dehydration risk while shiny cuticles show optimal hydration.

Their lifecycle should progress steadily too.

After 4 weeks, start seeing swollen pupae.

By 6-8 weeks, beetles emerge and lay tiny eggs.

Cannibalism or die-offs suggest issues, so watch population numbers don’t unexpectedly plunge mid-cycle.

Always be on the lookout for signs of mold, foul odors or excessive moisture which could spell disease or malnutrition trouble.

With regular attention, you’ll have a thriving mealworm metropolis in no time to fuel your fine feathered flocks!

Dealing with Pests and Predators

Like any critter colony, mealworm farms can sometimes face pest or predator problems.

Here are some common culprits to watch out for and how to deal with them humanely:

Fruit flies are a pesky possibility if you include overripe fruit scraps in feed.

Use fully dried or freshly cut fruit to prevent breeding sites.

Springtails can hitchhike in on bedding.

They’re harmless scavengers but remove excess moisture to control populations.

Dermestid beetle larvae may infest if frass builds up.

Frequent spot cleaning reduces ideal breeding environments.

Ants out for a carbo-load can sometimes raid mealworm dishes.

Ensure housing is ant-proof and spills are promptly wiped up.

Mice and lizards may see the enclosure as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Ensure lid closure is rodent-proof and relocate reptiles humanely.

If predator problems persist, consider relocating the colony to an off-ground or outbuilding site away from wildlife paths.

Prompt intervention and reducing appealing breeding spots are key to peacefully preventing and controlling common mealworm menaces.

Breeding Beetles for Continuous Supply

While the starter batch does its thing, think ahead to your next gen supply!

Leave a small handful of your newly pupated beetles in the enclosure after each harvest.

Within 1-2 weeks, the ladie beetles will start laying tiny, pearly eggs in crevices.

Each lady can deposit 100-400 eggs over about 3 months to reboot your colony.

Scrape off egg clusters regularly and transfer to a brooding chamber.

This can be a simple plastic box with oats as humidity-holding substrate.

The eggs will hatch within 10-14 days at 75-80Β°F into tiny wormlings.

Once they’ve grown a bit, return them to the main enclosure to mature and repeat the cycle.

In 6-8 months, you’ll have replacement beetles laying eggs for continuous production!

With consistent tending, mealworm farming is truly sustainable year-round insect income.

Storing and Preserving Your Harvest

Since mealworms pack a punch of nutrients, it pays to stock up your larder when abundance hits.

Gently rinse harvested beetles and remaining wigglers in a mesh strainer under cool water.

Pat mostly dry with a paper towel then spread in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Freeze solid at 0Β°F for at least 2 hours to humanely hibernate them.

Once stiffened, pour into labeled resealable bags and store in the freezer for 6 months.

On feedin’ days, just thaw a handful in the coop run or sprinkle straight from frozen into warmed feed.

Dried beetles will store at room temp in an airtight container for a year too!

With preservation, your poultry provisions will see you cozy through any season.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

No colony is perfect, so don’t fret over little hitches – most mealy mixups are easy fixes:

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If activity slows, check environmental factors like temperature, ventilation, humidity levels.

If mold sprouts, remove contaminated bedding and increase air flow.

Abnormal die-offs may mean disease or nutrient deficiency – isolate the herd and scrutinize protocols.

Population crashes require reevaluation of space, resource adequacy, predator proofing.

Not progressing to pupae/beetles stage likely means subpar temperature range (77-82Β°F is optimal).

With experience comes intuition – listen to your critters and they’ll tell you when some tweak or first aid is needed.

Rarely do problems persist with proper TLC – mealworm mothering is mostly easy breezy!

Expanding Operations

Once your foundational farm is thriving, consider expanding territority:

Add modular trays or shelves for vertical stacking and quadrupled real estate.

Construct an insulated shed or garage corner to maintain optimum climate year round.

Install LED lighting on a timer to simulate seasonal daylength cycles for constant production.

Experiment growing different insect breeds like black soldier fly larvae as supplemental protein.

Barter beetles through local feed stores, homesteaders or even pet shops.

Scale up bedding batches to sell starter cultures online for other eco-minded agriculturalists.

The possibilities are endless with hard work and ingenuity! Before ya know it, you may have a full fledged pet minifarm going.

Dreams of self-sustaining homesteads start with small, thrifty operations right in your own backyard.

Extending the Lifecycle

With optimal care, mealworms naturally progress from egg to beetle in around 3 months.

However, there are a few tricks to slow their development for continuous staggered production.

Cooler temperatures between 65-70Β°F can prolong the larval stage by a few weeks.

Crowded housing also slows growth by increasing competition for resources.

Supplementing feed with nutritious leafy greens provides fiber to fill them longer.

Strategic sampling prevents any one batch from achieving critical mass all at once.

Staggered harvesting ensures perpetual supply versus boom and bust cycles too.

With fine-tuning, you can successfully maintain multi-generation overlap for year-round grazing.

Selective Breeding Techniques

While mealworms don’t require pedigree papers, you can boost productivity through selective pairings.

Over generations, isolate specimens exhibiting desirable traits like large size or high fecundity.

Allow these exemplars to interbreed while segregating less optimal traits.

Keep records to track trends and response to environmental modifications.

Test new genetic lines under carefully controlled growing conditions.

Superior broods demonstrating sturdiness, prolificacy and thriving may warrant founding new stock.

Gradually you can develop heartier hybrids optimized for your operation’s particular protocols.

It’s low-key livestock management that magnifies output with minimal effort.

Nutritional Value for Poultry

Mealworms are prized as feed due to their exceptional nutrient density.

A single tablespoon boasts 6 grams of complete protein comparable to whey or egg whites.

They provide essential fatty acids, vitamins like A, D3 and E along with minerals like calcium, iron and zinc.

Chitin exoskeletons aid digestion and reinforce gut immunity when consumed whole.

Mealworms are self-harvesting live protein that chickens voraciously scratch and peck for natural stimulation.

Compared to pricier commercial crumbles, they pack a cost-effective nutritional wallop per ounce.

Use as a 10-15% supplement to standard feed rations for optimum health and egg-laying performance.

Overall they boost foraging instincts while naturally fortifying your flock inside and out.


Mealworm Math: Calculating Colony Needs

Thinking long term means ensuring ideal carrying capacity for max productivity.

A basic population of 500 mature mealworms and beetles requires 1-2 square feet of housing space.

Every 100 inhabitants consumes 1 cup of feed weekly on average.

A balanced ratio of 1:1 breeding beetles to maturing grublets promotes steady growth.

Aims to harvest 100-200 mature beetles every 4-6 weeks for consistent chicken provisions.

Leave 150-200 beetles behind to lay eggs restarting each phase.

With controlled conditions, populations can double every 30 days up to 3000 strong!

Strategic scaling prevents waste while meeting your poultry’s perpetual protein needs.

Automating Your Mealworm Farm

Running a manual mealworm operation gets tedious fast as it scales up.

I now use an automatic worm harvester and dispenser to make things easier.

The device has little rakes that continuously scoop mature worms from the bin.

An internal auger feeds just the right daily amount into a collection cup for me.

I also have an automatic mister and temperature regulator hooked up.

Water and heating pads turn on as needed to the maintain ideal habitat range.

All I have to do every week is give them fresh food and compost out old bedding!.

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