If your chickens are anything like ours, then they love to eat mealworms.
Mealworms are a healthy, nutritious snack full of protein that 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 live mealworms for a fraction of the cost and provide your girls with healthy snacks all year round.
Today, we’re going to look at what exactly mealworms are and how you can make your own mealworm farm.
Making Your Own Mealworm Farm. But First, 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.
You can extract all the nutrition and water they need for surviving and thriving from the grain which they have infested.
Note: An adult mealworm is known as the Darkling beetle.
Nutritional Benefits of Mealworms for Chickens
Mealworms aren’t just fun to feed your chickens. Who doesn’t love the chaos that comes from tossing your chooks some delectable treats?
But mealworms are also very good chicken food…in moderation, of course.
Stressed-out chickens (due to moving, molting, or the addition of a new flockmate) need a little extra protein to get through the low points and emerge on the other side, happy and healthy.
The Lifespan of a Mealworm
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.
Why Grow Your Own Mealworms?
There are many reasons to start breeding mealworms. While it may seem like an added responsibility at first, you’d be able to reap the benefits in the long run.
Mealworms are an excellent source of high protein. You can use live mealworms to train your chickens effectively.
Known to have high nutritional value, mealworms don’t only act as treats for your chickens, but they’d be a great bait for fishing. They also serve as supplementary treats for lizards and hedgehogs.
Also, breeding mealworms is an easy task that requires minimal materials and low maintenance. It wouldn’t feel like a heavy chore if you partner it with raising chickens.
It would be convenient for farmers to have a constant source of mealworms right in their barn rather than purchasing them. Also, you can save a lot if you’re breeding mealworms yourself.
Benefits Of Feeding Mealworm To Chickens
Now that you know the impact of breeding mealworms yourself, here are a few ways it can benefit your chickens and the way you’re raising them:
Healthy Treats for Chickens
As mentioned a couple of times in this blog, mealworms are high-protein treats for your chickens. They are highly recommended especially when your poultry is molting.
Just make sure it doesn’t go beyond 10% of its regular diet. The best thing about feeding your own mealworms is that you know what you’re giving them and doing away with pesticides or the like.
You can give meal worms as a way to reward your chickens for staying in the coop for the night or for behaving within the flock.
Because it’s so tasty and your chicken’s favorite, you can effectively implement proper training and a reward system with it.
Keep Chickens Busy and Reduce Bullying
Live mealworms keep chickens active and busy. They’d love picking out these treats from the ground.
Your birds will have fun searching for these worms, digging the ground, and turning several stones. With that, they’d be too busy to bully other chickens.
Cheap Treats for Chickens
If you look for mealworms in the online market, you will see that they are sold for $17 for every 5 lb. That’s around $3.50 per pound.
However, if you start breeding mealworms on your own, it would cost only cents per pound.
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 that 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 tank 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 warm (the ideal temperature is 80F), low light/ dark environment. If you aren’t squeamish, the closet would be fine.
You can use wire mesh or aluminum foil (mealworms’ legs cannot stick to foil) with holes poked in at the top to serve as a lid.
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 the 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.
The same rule applies to oats, you’ll use a 3-inch layer of dry oats.
Note: If you use chicken feed, make sure it doesn’t contain 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.
Several bait shops or a local feed store will carry mealworms.
If you really want to go to the source, you can look up for nearby time bug farmers, or insect farmers. They have an entire business around selling insects as commodities.
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 diseases 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 pour 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.
I have heard, not from personal experience that kiwi skin with a little meat leftover makes them grow bigger. You can also toss some slices of potato.
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.
Now 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 on 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 them.
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.
Common Problems When Breeding Mealworms
Breeding mealworms is generally simple, and you may not be running into problems as much. Still, some challenges will exist and it’s best you get a heads up about the common ones such as:
Changing the Bedding
You will need to change the bedding once the mealworms start to smell. This task can be tedious since you have to sieve out the larvae and beetles. I should also note that putting in cardboard or something like an egg carton isn’t a bad idea either.
Your little mealworm farm loves hiding under these things.
It becomes more challenging when your beetles start laying eggs. Otherwise, you can easily move the beetles in normal circumstances.
Taking Time to Hatch
It takes a long time for the larvae to hatch. In this case, you might need to increase the temperature.
Live mealworms thrive at temperatures of 75 to 80 °F with a humidity of around 70%. They would still develop in cooler temperatures but it takes longer.
Watch Out for Mold
If there is too much humidity on your mealworm farm, then mold will start to form. Still, moisture is important for your worms to thrive.
You can add slices of carrots or potatoes to keep moisture. However, if molds start to appear, you may remove these slices instead.
Mealworm Farm Growing Overview
Step 1: Find a Container
An old aquarium, plastic bin or tub or similar item will do. Make sure it is approximately: 12 inches x 24 inches and 12 inches deep.
Step 2: Prepare Your Container
Mealworms can be tricky so you’ll want to close the top off while allowing ventilation with fine wire mesh. You can just use duct tape to stick the mesh over the top of the container.
You can find these two by looking up local hardware stores near you.
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 Far
Add mealworms, and 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!
FAQs About Making Your Own Mealworm Farm
Just like any first-timer in breeding mealworms, you probably have many questions in mind. Don’t worry.
We have a list of frequently asked questions that people usually ponder when they first start raising live mealworms. Here’s what you need to know:
How Long Does It Take To Farm Mealworms?
It takes 3 to 4 months for live mealworms to be fully grown. If you want to speed up their growth, you can increase the temperature accordingly.
You can also have a constant supply of mealworms by having two or more worm trays. This way, you can grow mealworms in intervals and be able to harvest them regularly.
What Is The Best Food to Feed Mealworms?
Live mealworms feed on a mixture of cereals, wheat bran, and flour. You can also add a variety of grains.
Bird seeds also work well for your mealworm’s staple diet. The good thing is that their feeds are cheap and easily accessible.
What Kind of Bedding is Best for Mealworms?
You can spread wheat bran, rolled oats, or cornmeal in a two-inch layer at the bottom of the plastic container. Later on, you can put the mealworms on top of this bedding.
It’s recommended to use materials with fine textures to make harvesting meal worms easier.
How Do You Stop Mealworms From Turning Into Beetles?
Keep your meal worms refrigerated. These bugs tend to thrive in a warm environment.
If you keep them at around 70 °F, live mealworms will consume more and transition into a beetle. However, by keeping the temperatures cool, you can slow down their growth and retain their worm forms.
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Make Your Own Mealworm Farm – Final Thoughts
Breeding mealworms may seem a lot to take in for now. However, you would be amazed by the long-term benefits of making your own mealworm farm.
Fortunately, mealworms are not difficult to raise. They only need minimal requirements, and live mealworms have very accessible and cheap needs.
By making your own mealworm farm, you have one less thing to worry about when raising chickens. You would have a constant supply of meal worms which is every chicken’s favorite treat.
Are you going to try and grow your own mealworm farm? Let us know how you get on in the comments below.