We’ve started to raising mealworms for our chickens because it’s such a great way to save some cash!
For most people in the world, mealworms are pests because they love to get into flour, cereals, pet food, grains, mill feed, and other dried goods, thus ruining them.
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For backyard chicken owners like us, however, they’re kind of like white gold since you can save quite a few bucks on your feed while providing an entertaining meal for your flock.
It’s pretty easy to do, and in this article, I’m going to tell you about raising mealworms for chickens. Back in the day, this is how our ancestors increased the protein intake of their heritage chicken breeds.
While it might seem a little creepy-crawly to a lot of my readers, it’s an easy, low-cost way to raise a high-protein food for our hens that all types of chickens also happen to love.
My brahmas, silkies, and ameraucana hens all love them! And while we know a healthy diet can increase the life span of backyard chickens, there’s also something to be said for bringing your flock joy.
You can dry mealworms, and store them for quite a while, and while alive, they’re easy to rear, and reproduce in huge numbers since the female darkling beetle (mealworms are the larvae of the darkling beetle) lays more than a hundred eggs!
How to Raise Mealworms For Your Chickens
Housing for Raising Mealworms
Growing mealworms for chickens at home just takes a few steps, dealing with creepy-crawlies, and timing it right so you grab mealworms before they turn into beetles.
You’ll want to start to raise at least 500 mealworms to get the volume of insects you’ll need to supplement your flock’s diet. (Remember, you will have to raise mealworms to maturity and let them reproduce before harvesting them for your flock).
The first thing you’ll need is housing for your mealworms. Ideally, you will have several “homes” going so the insects aren’t crowded. Most people use a set of plastic Tupperware drawers like this.
They’re solid, easy to clean, easy to see the insects in its various stages of life, and has space for air. If you like, you can also drill more holes (I would use a thin drill bit, such as ⅛-inch bits)
You will also need a substrate in the drawers; oatmeal is a popular option (and what we use), because the insects can feed on it, it doesn’t mold very fast, and it’s inexpensive.
After putting your mealworms inside their new home where you’ll raise them, you’ll want to either keep it in a warm, dark place or, if you can’t (let’s say the only place to keep them is on the front porch), place a piece of cardboard on top of each individual drawer (just lightly) to provide darkness.
Keeping them warm can also help the larvae pupate faster.
I’ve also found that keeping them close to your chicken run or building a coop with a specific area for mealworm production makes things a LOT easier. (Read this article for other coop features I think are important and check out my free chicken coop plans here.)
Feeding Your Mealworms
The insects you’ll raise (both mealworms and the adult darkling beetles) eat food you can source right in your own kitchen, including dry oatmeal, cornmeal, chopped carrots, apples, or potatoes.
If you are using oatmeal as their bedding, you can just add a few bits of each fruit/vegetable. Make sure to check often to see if they need more food, and to remove mostly-eaten or moldy food.
Start with more than you think they need, and watch to see how much they eat, and adjust from there.
Life Cycle of Mealworms
The egg is the first stage of life for a mealworm, and it takes around 1 to 4 weeks to hatch and for the larva to develop. It is a tiny, white bean-shaped egg, about the size of a fragment of dust.
This is the second stage and lasts about 8 to 10 weeks. In this stage, the insect is a mealworm, and it’s these critters that you will feed to your chickens.
For the proportion that you will keep so they can grow into adults, they will form a tough exoskeleton, and as it grows, it will molt and shed the hard shell. Molts will happen about 10 to 20 times during this stage.
This is the stage before it turns into an adult darkling beetle. At this stage, it will turn into a white pupa. It has legs and wings, but they are not functional, and the only movement it makes is to wiggle. The pupa stage lasts one to three weeks, then transforms into an adult.
This is the final stage of the life cycle. At first, the beetle will be white with a soft exoskeleton. As the exoskeleton hardens, it turns black.
Although the beetle has wings, it doesn’t fly, and after 1 to 2 weeks your new darkling beetle will begin to mate and reproduce. The female beetles burrow into the soil a few days after mating, and lay eggs.
Where You Can Buy Mealworms
Now that you know more about the lifecycle of the mealworm/darkling beetle than you ever wanted to know, let’s talk about where you can get starter stock to start raising mealworms for chickens.
It’ll be your own free organic chicken feed.
You can order mealworms on Amazon to kickstart your farm like these here.
Allow some of the mealworms to grow into adults so that they reproduce and lay eggs, creating a cycle of free food for your backyard chickens!
Don’t want to start raising mealworms yourself?
Find dried mealworms in my store!
Raising Mealworms for Profit
If you happen to find yourself with more mealworms than your backyard chickens can eat, and have neighbors who also have chickens, you can sell your overstock for a bit of cash.
Since they don’t cost very much to raise, and the adult beetles lay a LOT of eggs, you might very well find yourself with a viable business on your hands! (No promises though).
How Many Mealworms to Feed a Chicken
So the next question you probably have is how much to feed your chickens. There’s no set answer to this; just play it by ear. Start with ½ a cup per chicken, and increase or decrease as needed.
At some point, you might be able to completely eliminate a commercial ration for your chickens, as long as you feed other foodstuffs (e.g., fresh produce, legumes for fat) as well. You might even find your flock lays better eggs!
I’d like to hear from you!
Would you raise mealworms for your chickens? Leave a comment below!
More Articles on What to Feed Your Chickens:
- What do Chickens Eat?
- Homemade Suet Cakes for Chickens
- Lavender Springtime Treat Mix for Chickens
- Pumpkin Seed Deworming Treat for Chickens
- Can Chickens Eat Algae?
- Backyard Chicken Treat for Good Tasting Eggs
- Can Chickens Eat Citrus?
Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock is my best selling book about raising healthy hens! You’ll learn how to handle sticky first aid situations, raise baby chicks with the week-by-week checklist, how to give the best care even in the worst weather, and more! Click here to learn more.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.
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