Making Your Own Mealworm Farm 101

Making Your Own Mealworm Farm 101 Blog Cover

If your chickens are anything like ours, then they love to eat mealworms.

Mealworms are a healthy, nutritious snack that are full of protein which helps your hens lay lots of eggs.

We’ve previously discussed our favorite healthy chicken treats and mealworms were in the top 3 of that list!

There is one catch though. Feeding your chickens mealworms all day can get expensive… very expensive. Fortunately you can grow your own mealworms for a fraction of the cost and provide your girls with healthy snacks all year round.

Today we’re going to take a look at what exactly mealworms are and also how you too can grow your own mealworm farm.

What Are Mealworms?

Mealworms (also known as Tenebrio molitor) are in fact insects. They are scavengers that can be found in grain stores, feed sacks and occasionally household items such as cereal and flour. They like dark, dry places that store grain or other edibles such as flour or chicken feed.

All the nutrition and water they need for surviving and thriving can be extracted from the grain which they have infested.

Note: An adult mealworm is known as the Darkling beetle.

Lifespan of a Mealworm

Mealworm Lifecycle
“Life cycle of stag beetle” modified from Bugboy52.40.

A female beetle will lay up to five hundred eggs during her short lifetime of a couple of months. After a couple of weeks, the eggs will hatch and become larvae – which we know as a mealworm. Its’ proper title is the yellow mealworm. Mealworms molt their exo-skeleton several times before they reach the pupa stage after approximately 3 months.

The pupa basically looks like a dead mealworm but it is busy transforming itself into a Darkling beetle. The only movement you will see is an occasional twitch if the pupa is disturbed. It does not eat or take nutrition during this period. It will remain a pupa for about 2-3 weeks before hatching into a brown beetle that over a period of days will turn a black color. The complete lifecycle can be done in as little as 5-6 months in ideal circumstances.

How to Make a Mealworm Farm

It is possible to buy mealworm farm kits online, but it’s much cheaper and more fun to make your own! So here we go – have some fun and become a mealworm farmer.

This is an excellent project for the kids – it’s easy, doesn’t require any high maintenance and isn’t labor intensive. It’s also a natural, self- replicating food source for your flock.

Step 1: Find a Container

Before you start your mealworm farm you will need to find a container which you will use to grow them in.

For the container itself any of the following will do: an old aquarium, plastic storage tote or similar item. If you use a fish Mealworm Farm Containertank, or glass sided container, you can watch your insects at work! It is oddly fascinating watching them go about their business. Between beetle watching and chicken watching, I can waste hours each day!

Whichever container you choose make sure it is approximately: 12 inches x 24 inches and 12 inches deep.

The chosen container will also need a lid or screen mesh to put over the top. The lid needs to allow for some air circulation through the container.

I use an aquarium so that I can see what’s going on inside and get a feel for how quickly they are developing.

Step 2: Prepare Your Container

Now you have found an ideal container you need to make sure it is thoroughly clean and dry.

At this point you also need to find an ideal location for your container.

My mealworms are kept upstairs in the barn which is dark and gloomy.

Any location you do choose needs to be a warm (the ideal temperature is 80F), low light/ dark environment. If you aren’t squeamish, the closet would be fine.

As winter nears, I will be investing in a heat mat specifically made for reptiles. It has a programmable thermostat and comes pre-wired. This will keep my mealworm farm at 80F all winter long!

If you are lucky enough to live in a warm climate year round, you probably would not need this. However, do remember to keep them in a dark place.

Step 3: Add Your Substrate

Once you have your container and it’s in an ideal location you need to fill it up with feed (substrate) for the mealworms.

The exact amount you will need depends on the size of your container; it needs to be about 2-3 inches deep.

For the feed you want to use wheat bran. If you can’t use wheat bran then rolled oats, chicken mash or cereal crumbs will also work.

Mealworm Farm Feed

Note: If you use chicken feed make sure it doesn’t container diatomaceous earth as this will kill the mealworms.

You should be able to buy the wheat bran for less than $1 per lb.

Whichever feed you decide to use make sure you sterilize it prior to using- this will ensure that no pests are present. To sterilize, spread it out on a cookie tray and bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 130-150F.

After you have sterilized your feed put 3 inches of it into your container.

Note: Don’t get your substrate (bran etc.) wet; you don’t want a moldy environment.

Step 4: Add Mealworms to Your Farm

You now need to add mealworms into your container, the more the better! You should aim to start with at least 500.

Using Mealworms To Feed ChickensYou can buy mealworms either online or at a local pet store.

It is important to know what the mealworms have been fed since they can indirectly impact your chickens’ health and by extension – yours.

Also the possibility of zoonotic disease such as salmonella cannot be ruled out since the exact diet of the insect is unknown and the conditions in which the beetles are kept may be less than clean.

So for this reason I would only buy my mealworms from a reputable local source that I trust. Don’t import them cheap online- you don’t know what they’ve been fed.

Note: Do not buy giant mealworms. It is possible they have been treated with a growth hormone that will inhibit pupation and produce sterile beetles.

Once you have purchased your mealworms, gently poor them out into your container and apply your cover to the container – the cover is to keep things out rather than the insects in. Mealworms are a favorite food of reptiles and amphibians, so you really don’t want your pet iguana eating all your worms!

Step 5: Feed Them and Let Them Grow

You now just need to keep your mealworms fed and let them grow and multiply.

You can feed them as much as you like, remember: more food means the more they multiply.

If you want a hands off approach just make sure you feed them every couple of weeks to maintain the feed depth of around 3 inches.

DIY Chicken Mealworm FarmNow you just need to wait and let them flourish!

Step 6: Collect Your Mealworms

Depending on the conditions you have provided for your insects, it will take a few months before you can start feeding the larvae to your hens. You should only feed the worms to your hens, the pupae and beetles should be left in the farm to reproduce.

Don’t worry about removing dead beetles, the larvae will do that for you. Do, however, remove any bits of moldy food and discard it.

I find the easiest way to collect the worms is to add new food to the farm.

You can use a vegetable such as a carrot and place it into your container and leave it for 5 minutes or so.

The worms (larvae) will latch onto the carrot, pull the carrot out and shake it over another empty container and you will have lots of mealworms to feed your chickens with!

If you are lucky and happen to suffer from an overabundance of mealworms they can be stored in the freezer in plastic bags.

Note: Remember to use gloves to handle the mealworm farm and a few people use masks when working with the tank because of the dust. Some people become allergic to the fine dust created by the beetles, so if you already have a medical issue with your breathing, please err on the side of caution and wear a mask or respirator.

Mealworm Farm Growing Overview

Step 1: Find a Container

An old aquarium, plastic storage tote or similar item will do. Make sure it is approximately: 12 inches x 24 inches and 12 inches deep.

Step 2: Prepare Your Container

Thoroughly clean and dry your container. I use an aquarium so that I can see what’s going on inside. Also make sure to keep your farm in a warm, low light/ dark environment.

Step 3: Add Your Substrate

Add your substrate – wheat bran, rolled oats, whatever you have chosen. Spread to a depth of 2-3 inches.

Step 4: Add Mealworms to Your Farm

Add mealworms, dump them in gently. You can buy mealworms either online or at a local pet store.

Step 5: Feed Them and Let Them Grow

The substrate will need to be topped up once in a while to maintain a depth of 2-3 inches. Don’t worry about removing dead beetles, the larvae will do that for you.

Step 6: Collect Your Mealworms

Now it’s time to reap the rewards. Collect your mealworms and feed your chickens!

Enjoy your project! The satisfaction of raising your own chicken treats will add to the satisfaction of saving money and knowing where your hens’ treats come from!

Are you going to try and grow your own mealworm farm? Let us know how you get on in the comments below.

Comments

  1. Erin says

    Just bought everything we need to get started. Our chickens love mealworms and i was spending a fortune! Hopefully they produce fast!
    Do you know if the worm farm attracts other bugs? Like scorpions we live in the desert.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Erin,

      Fantastic, let us know how you get on!

      It’s shouldn’t do providing you keep it hygienic and well contained.

  2. Mike in Oregon says

    This seems very simple. I was reading a DIY earlier that said you have to keep beetle, pupae, work away from each other. Have an egg, nursery etc. etc. Seemed overly complex. Thank you for this!

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Nope, you don’t have to separate out the pupae and beetles. The simpler the better- that’s what I say Mike!

      • Sammy Jo says

        Thank you so much for making what was becoming a laborious, thankless task sooooo much easier! I’ve been ‘farming’ since May & just as I was about to clear my beetles out, I thought I’d check to see if I could find a simpler option – and found it!! Massive thumbs up & thank you!
        (Have a generous amount of 2nd gen baby mealies, too, so the whole process has only taken 3 months!

  3. Jeff says

    It might be simplified, but very inefficient. All stages (except egg) of the life cycle of mealworms are cannibalistic.
    If you do not separate them, your production will suffer.
    I have done it both ways…now I separate them. It is worth the extra work.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Thank you for this Jeff!

      It’s intended to be very straight forward with minimum maintenance time, but I take your point 🙂

      Interestingly, is it much extra work running separate ‘farms’?

  4. Elizabeth says

    Hi! If I am using those plastic storage container drawers to build a mealworm farm, does it matter if I use the 8″x15″ ones? Or will it only really work with the larger, 15″x19″ drawers? Thanks!

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Nope, it will still work perfectly fine in a smaller container. Just make sure to reduce the amount of feed and meal worms you put into the container.

      Happy Farming!

  5. Dennis says

    If you take a 2 liter tub (like a large yogurt pail) and drill a bunch of 1/4 inch holes in it, you can filter half the colony through it and strain out many of the large larvae, pupae, and beetles to give to the girls. What passes through with the uneaten food are eggs and early larval forms; these will grow into late larvae in a few weeks. If you want, you can start a new colony with a dozen beetles.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Mona,

      We normally give our hens mealworms once a week- it’s normally a large handful per 6 hens.

  6. Elaine says

    What about cleaning the container? Don’t you have to empty and clean it occasionally? And if you sterilize their food, don’t they need a water source? And finally, what about their, ahem.. castings?

    Thanks for your very informative site!

    Elaine

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Elaine,

      I normally clean out the container when I’m starting a new colony.

      Nope they get all their water from the grain which you will feed them!

      Glad it’s helping you,

      Claire

  7. Stephen says

    if your using a heat mat can that go under the tank or must it be in the tank? im thinking if its outside the tank it will be easier to keep clean and will stop the worms climbing up the wire and out the tank!

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Stephen,

      I hadn’t considered a matt which goes outside the tank…

      If you can still regulate and set the temperature with the mat outside the tank then yes it will be fine,

      Claire

  8. Teresa says

    One of those seed starting mats would work good for this…you set the trays (In this case your worm container) right down on top of it. Perfect!

  9. Arsula Bracewell says

    just started raising chickens and i spend a bunch on meal worms, want to start a farm asap. I have everything to start except the worms, would a place like tractor supply have them.

  10. Elyse Hargis says

    I just wonder where my post went. I’m trying to figure out if the worms I’m finding in the poop trays are the mealworms

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Elyse,

      Is it possible you can send us an email with photos and we will see if we can identify them!

      Claire

  11. Julia Clephane says

    I have had my meal worms for about a year and there is a lot of fine dust (castings) at the bottom of the bucket. How does one get rid of this without losing eggs, small meal worms etc?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Julia,

      When a large amount of fine dust piles up I normally transfer them into a new bucket/container. Unfortunately I always tend to loose the small eggs when doing this, so I too would be interested to hear if anyone knows how to do this without loosing the eggs?

      Claire

  12. Laura says

    Hi Julia & Claire,

    If one wants to save the eggs in the frass (castings) just put some substrate, whatever you use in a dish tub or the like ….then leave it be in a month give or take you should have mealworms from any eggs in what is often tossed out!

  13. Barbara says

    Hi! Good stuff here….my question is this…I just purchase a container of 500 worms. They said put them in the fridge and warm them up to room temp to feed to the hens. Can I start a farm with these that came from the feed store??? Or are there certain ones you need to start with??

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Barbara,

      You can start them with worms from the feed store yes.

      Just make sure you didn’t buy them frozen or ‘giant’ ones and you will be fine,

      Claire

        • The Happy Chicken Coop says

          Hi Blake,

          Providing the mealworms are still alive and haven’t been frozen they will be fine 🙂

          Claire

        • Ann says

          the ones in bags on the shelf (dried) will not work they are dead. I have NEVER seen live mealworms in any of our local feed stores…. pet stores yes, but they are far more expensive than finding a breeder who sells them, but as long as they aren’t ‘superworms’ or giant meal worms… its all good.

  14. Linda De Marco says

    I purchased red mealworms which are bigger then normal mealworms online for my farm. Will I get eggs from them or are they in the giant list you talk about. Thanks, Linda

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Linda,

      It sounds to me like these are the giant ones… However, there is nothing to stop you trying with them and seeing if you get eggs.

      Claire

  15. Paul says

    I buy dried mealworms and give my four layers 2 handfulls everyday which equates to $30/month. Getting 3-4 eggs per day. They love em and i enjoy feeding them cause i belt out the star wars anthem like a chicken. They go nuts as soon as they hear it. Is there such a thing as to many mealworms and if i start a large worm farm can i dehydrate them? Thank you for your input.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Paul,

      You can overdo the mealworms yes. I tend to give them mealworms a couple of times a week now 🙂

      Claire

  16. Kristina says

    Hi, I have been farming mealworms for my quail and chickens for 2 years now. I have my beetles in their own box where they lay their eggs. Every 3-4 weeks i remove the beetles to a new box.and leave the eggs to grow. This way I know there will be no eggs in the frass on the bottom and all the mealworms are the same size. Easy to empty one box and start over.
    Has anyone tried to dry mealworms themselves? I tried and it didn’t go so well. I fried them instead of drying.

    Best regards
    Kristina

    • Janine says

      Kristina,
      Please forgive me as I am completely new. So, some of the mealworms grow into beetles and you take the live beetles and move them into a seperate container. They lay eggs and then you move them again? Can you dump the new eggs into the first container?

  17. Michelle family Gaynor says

    I am so going to do this, thank you for such a well written and simple instruction. I had read about separating, sifting etc., and thought that maybe it was too much trouble but clearly it doesn’t have to be.
    One question – do the beetles fly??

  18. Jamie says

    I don’t have chickens, but I want to start a mealworms farm for my 2 leopard geckos. It has been getting expensive and tiring to have to go to the pet store for more worms all the time. I am going to have to try this! It sound so simple! Thank you!

  19. Kimmie Philips says

    Hey, just wandering, about how many worms would you get and in what time frame? I am trying to get some new chickens and am thinking about using meal worms. If they are already getting different supplements would it still be ok if they got meal worms about once a week?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Kimmie,

      I started with a bag of 500 and after a 2 months I had worms ready to feed my hens 🙂

      Claire

  20. Brandi S. says

    The proper way to farm mealworms:

    I’ve been farming mealworms for over a decade now and this is what has worked for me as well as some of my friends who also farm mealies….First, I want to let everyone know about the dangers of mold. If you see any mold in your farm- TOSS IT! I’m not joking, throw out the entire farm and start over again! Once your farm has been contaminated with mold, you are risking the lives of whatever pet you’re feeding the mealies to. In the 13yrs I’ve been farming mealies, I’ve only ended up having to start over once. This is because I learned my lesson the first time it happened, and I was extra careful after that. Even if you think you’ve taken all the mold out, there could still be unseen particles left in your farm. You also don’t know what beetles or mealies have eaten the mold, so the safest thing to do is to throw out everything, ,thoroughly clean your containers, and start over, being extra careful with whatever water source you’re using (carrots, potatos, or water gel).

  21. Joe says

    So, if I keep them inside (for the heat) is there any risk of the beetles escaping, infesting my home, and causing an insect problem? I’m thinking roaches here and probably shouldn’t be. LOL!

  22. Utart65 says

    Just wanted to know what happens to all the mealworm waste.
    Do you need to clean the container completely every so often? If so, how and how often?
    Also, I understand that mealworms are consumed in a lot of the Asian countries. If I wanted to consume them what would they need to be fed do you starve them before harvesting to eliminate as much of their waste before harvesting?

    Thanks in advance for your expertise on this.

  23. Sandra Jones says

    I buy mealworms at our local bird store and feed them to my bluebirds. At $13.00 per thousand, it is getting expensive, so I will be making a mealworm farm soon. Thank you for this wonderful tutorial!!

  24. Maggie says

    I tried to skim through most of the comments here. You don’t have to feed them anything beside the bran? I thought I read to give them kitchen scraps to eat, specifically veggies with a higher water content. Is there any value in that? Or should I just feed them a potato when I want to collect them and that should be sufficient?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Maggie,

      If you don’t want to feed them scraps etc, then you can just use a manufactured pellet which contains all of the nutrients and vitamins they need…

      Claire

  25. Joe Mccue says

    Great information. I’m starting a mealworm Farm because I can’t find any mealworms that don’t come from China. And I trust China like well you know. Who knows what they feed them over there.

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