The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Raising meal worms for chicken feed

meal worm life cycleWhile I was finishing up the ditch digging project I noticed a significant population of grubs, which got me to thinking about the possibility of raising meal worms for a chicken feed supplement.

As usual the internet has quite a lot to say on the subject of meal worms, but I found the Sialis website and all was made clear.

It seems like a bit more work than raising worms, but once you read the Sialis information you'll feel like an expert.

You should be ready to wait around 3 months for your first harvest, and most folks recommend a group of 1000 to get started, which can be had for around 20 bucks. This could be an excellent way to raise the quality of your eggs if your hens live in a coop and compete with a large flock for juicy insect snacks. Stay tuned to see if I can figure out a way to cut back on our store bought chicken feed with the help of a well planned insect community.

Read other posts about alternative chicken feed:

While you're improving your chickens' healthy, you should make sure they have clean water, an easy task with our homemade chicken waterer.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I've been raising mealworms for a few months now in anticipation of getting quail and chickens. They are the easiest livestock that I have ever raised. I ignore them for most of the week and throw in veggie scraps on the weekend.I raise mine in a cheap plastic aquarium with a lid and they nest in a bed of oatmeal. It has been a wonderful way to boost the protein for my quail chicks and a way of "growing" more of their feed.
Comment by TheMartianChick Mon May 4 21:34:12 2009
I'm glad to hear positive feedback from someone who's tried it. Of course, I still want Mark to instead find a way to lure all of the Japanese beetle grubs out of the ground instead... :-)
Comment by anna Tue May 5 07:37:08 2009

I don't know about going thru all of that trouble just to feed my own chickens, but I wonder if it would be a feasible way to make some extra $$ on the side. Pet owners and fisherman alike would probably love to stock up on some mealworms. I used to feed them to my lizard all the time and would buy 100 of them from PetCo a few times each month. My brother likes to fish with them when trying to catch bass from a lake near his house.

Good luck!

Comment by Everett Tue May 5 11:25:04 2009
Selling mealworms is a good idea. We'll have to add that to our thought processes!
Comment by anna Tue May 5 20:10:40 2009
Why not try crickets, all you need is about ten male & ten female crickets (males have 2 tail, females have 3), a sealable container, with vents, a way to regulate temperature (light on a thermostat or reptile cage heater set to 80 F), chicken feed, a bit of sand or soil, and an occassional piece of fruit for water. No open water, and clean out fruit or potato bits before spoilage, and there you go! Don't let the breeders eat your newlay hatched babies, start by feeding those to your chickens! They will love you for it.
Comment by Vaughan Wed May 6 10:22:20 2009
Good idea about the crickets! We may have to try that.
Comment by anna Sat May 9 08:23:31 2009
You might also want to take a look at black soldier flies. We got them going in our compost by accident last year, and the chickens loved them. Then I discovered that there is quite a bit of information on using them for composting. Google around for more info.
Comment by Anonymous Mon Jun 29 08:56:14 2009
Soldier fly larvae...we'll have to look into that. Thanks!
Comment by anna Tue Jun 30 18:38:46 2009

How did the meal worm project go?

Would it be possible to produce 3 lbs a day?



Comment by Bill Tue Aug 24 18:07:03 2010

After extensive research, we concluded that black soldier fly larvae made a lot more sense than mealworms. The trouble with mealworms is that you have to grow them on grain products, which means storebought ingredients. Our goal is to eventually produce our chicken feed without buying anything from the store.

That said, we didn't even get our black soldier fly bin made this year! It's been a busy summer... We did, however, start a forest pasture project to allow our chickens to forage for some of their own food.

Comment by anna Tue Aug 24 18:44:48 2010
I do not think it is absolutely necessary to grow the meal worms on grain products. You could use kitchen scraps, weeds from the garden, etc. I was looking into raising silk worms and they live off of mulberry leaves.
Comment by stephanie Sun Jun 5 12:26:46 2011

A quick search of the internet suggests that mealworms eat "decaying leaves, sticks, and grasses" in the wild. So, you might get away with feeding them something like lawn clippings, but I think that kitchen scraps would be too wet for them. (Those would be far better off going to black soldier fly larvae.)

I think the best strategy in raising insects is first figuring out the food stream. What kind of food do you have going to waste (or what kind of yard waste is available?) Then try to match up the insect to the waste product. Of course, every kind of insect eats something different, so you can't just assume that since a silkworm eats mulberry leaves, everything else can too.

Comment by anna Sun Jun 5 13:25:39 2011

I have lots of cut timber and paper, that I would like to chip, to turn into compost. But I don't have a good chipper, and don't like the idea of using all that energy to chip, anyway. I thought, if only there was some way of feeding the wood and paper to termites in a controlled way, the termites could also be a good chicken feed. And they would also be breaking down the timber to mulch. A double bonus. I did a bit of googling, and found the practise of termite feeding to chickens is common in the third world. I don't know if you have any types of termites where you are. Here there are many species, and a few are considered serious pests.

Comment by Jeff Fri Nov 4 04:54:47 2011
Intriguing idea, Jeff! Mark's been talking about raising insects for chickens, but I wanted to raise them on waste materials (not corn flakes.) Maybe termites are the answer.... I'll have to add that to my research list!
Comment by anna Fri Nov 4 09:49:29 2011

I guess any intensive insect breeding may be too much work. But the way termites and a few species of cockroach can turn pure cellulose into food, is pretty amazing. By using specialized bugs in their guts. Maybe the easiest, and most practical thing is to get as much free biomass waste as possible, keep it moist, then the insects breed automatically. And the soil is improved as well. I am a big fan of wood chips, since I can get truckloads for free, from tree loppers. I keep it moist, add some nitrogen (eg urine & blood and bone). A big pile breaks down within a year of two, to a nice black mulch, and there are millions of insects in it. I suppose there are practical ways to let the chickens get those insects themselves.

Comment by Jeff Fri Nov 4 19:01:05 2011
You've got an excellent point about raising insects for chickens not having to be so intensive. In 2010, I randomly had a wood chip area in the chicken pasture, and they adored it, probably harvesting lots of yummy critters even as they expedited the composting process. I probably should find a way to do that again....
Comment by anna Fri Nov 4 21:27:52 2011

Crickets sound easy to breed, but in reality theya re kind of hard. I tried three times with 100 crickets and it didn't work, so I'm now trying dubia roaches. They are easily sexed, don't smell jump, fly and can't climb glass. They have more nutrients and breed rather fast.

Of course, Turkistan roaches would breed faster, but...They look creepy... I'm starting with 200 small nymphs, takes them 6 months to become adults, and live for another year or so. It would be easy to feed them off at half size. They can eat anything (I'm going to feed them store brand dog food) and for water give them water crystals, which are only $1 an ounce (makes 3 gallons.)

Here's a bit of math(for dubia). 100 females, 20 males. 100x 30= 3,000 a month untill month 6 when 2,800 female 320 male 2800x 30= 84,000. 2,000 adults can live in a ten gallon tank.

Comment by Morgan Wed Nov 16 18:13:54 2011
I'm glad to hear a firsthand account of crickets and roaches! I'm really looking for an herbivore, though, so that we can feed them plant matter raised on the farm --- I'm always turned off when I hear folks are feeding their insects pet or people food.
Comment by anna Wed Nov 16 18:47:39 2011
What about duckweed. Grows quickly and is very good for chickens.
Comment by Younglambertfarms Thu Feb 2 01:31:31 2012
I got very excited about the potential of feeding duckweed to chickens a few years ago. The duckweed was, indeed, easy to raise. But the chickens wouldn't eat it.... Since then, I've read lots of people extolling its virtues, but no actual chicken keepers who have gotten their chickens to eat the stuff.
Comment by anna Thu Feb 2 08:00:59 2012
I ordered a bunch of Meal worms and will feed them to my chickens but do you just dump them in the feeder or in a separate bowl,dish for the chickens to attack? Thanks
Comment by Josh Mon Feb 27 10:46:20 2012
Can you buy meal worms at a fishing bait store and just start raising them from them? Thanks
Comment by Jackie Mon Feb 27 13:16:31 2012

Josh --- I'd put them in a separate dish, and only give them as many as they'd eat in about ten minutes, tops. Depending on how much foraging your chickens have done in the past, you might need to help the chickens realize the mealworms are food, but most of them will probably take to them right away.

Jackie --- I'll admit I haven't been to a bait store recently (ever?), but I thought they sold redworms, not mealworms? If they sell mealworms too, then you should be able to use those as a starter culture. You might have better luck finding them at a pet store.

Comment by anna Mon Feb 27 15:27:27 2012

Yes, all our bait stores sell meal worms. We fish with them all the time. They are great for bass. What exactly is the starter culture? Is that the wheat bran? Thank you for your help.

Comment by Jackie Mon Feb 27 21:54:22 2012
Jackie -- This is one of those projects Mark pondered, but we haven't tried, so I'd recommend going straight to the source to get your information --- It gives you the cliff notes version right at the top of the page.
Comment by anna Tue Feb 28 08:20:27 2012
Thank you all for your help. I have enjoyed this conversation and gained a lot from it...
Comment by Jackie Tue Feb 28 13:38:29 2012
Jackie --- Glad I could help, and sorry I didn't have more firsthand information to share!
Comment by anna Tue Feb 28 16:08:00 2012
They are the easiest critters to raise, they breed fast and very low maintenance compared to crickets. And you can even feed the larvae if you have too many. I have many turtles and this has been the easiest way to gut feed and get my babies fed.
Comment by Chloe Sun Jul 20 17:48:11 2014
Where do you buy wheat bran to raise/start the meal worms on? I've heard that once you get them started then you can gradually change the wheat bran over to old fashioned oatmeal or rabbit pellet feed.
Comment by WhaleyB Wed Oct 21 18:03:16 2015
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