Our happy chickens lay healthy eggs!
I have always liked to feed my poultry as healthy as possible. Meal worms are one of the best things you can raise yourself and feed to your birds. You can control the food the meal worms take in and feed the healthiest mealies to your own flocks.
Meal worms are super easy to raise, have a very low start up cost and maintenance can be as little as 10 minutes twice a week.
Here is a very young meal worm on a tomato.
Meal worms can live in wheat bran (pictured here) or rolled oats and some folks have even used dirt. In their natural setting they live in wheat so I try to stay as close as possible to that for them.
They love to burrow down under it and eat all that they can.
To start with meal worms you need a plastic tub or some such container that they can not climb out of. I have heard some folks use a shoe box but for me that was too small and I didn't want the cardboard to be the only thing holding them in. They really can't live beyond their food source and carpet or other flooring isn't conducive to their lifestyle.
I put mine on a table in the corner of a room where there weren't any drafts. They like it about 78 degrees and a humidity level of at least 30% but my house is usually higher than that. However, I am sure it varies where ever they live and do well.
You can raise them outside as long as you can keep mice or moths out of the container but that would not work for me.
My mealworms love wheat bran and something to hide under. They do not like light. The beetles are called darkling beetles.
A month later the mealworms and beetles have eaten a lot of the wheat bran, turning it into frass (mealie waste) and are ready for some fresh wheat bran. You can see them all piled on a piece of bread in lower right hand side of the photo. That is a very good indication they are hungry!
You can see in this closer photo that they crawl all over each other to eat. And you can also see all their shed skin lying on top of the substrate.
Some people say the colonies have an odor but I never noticed it. If the frass is cleaned out often enough and they are not allowed to become overcrowded, as I have done, then there may not be an odor.
Meal worm colonies get their moisture from fruit and veggies. Here, mine are eating a blackberry but I often feed carrots since they do not attract gnats. Potatoes are also something others like to feed theirs but mine have not really cared for them.
Mine are partial to whatever fruit is in season. I live in a rich farming area and I give my colonies whatever is in season at the time plus clover and dandelion from the yard since I use only natural pesticides like Guineas!
I keep lids on mine just to discourage the cats from playing in them. This type of meal worm can not fly and they certainly can't climb out of the bins.
The bins above are the result of about 4 months. The worms pictured are not my originals but rather my second crop. I found this to be very impressive as food for my chickies and a little extra income.
My mealies love to have a small box, empty roll from toilet tissue or newspaper to hide in. They like it very dark. Their sense of smell seems to be great. I put a bit of fresh bran at the end of this box and within a second this little guy (or gal) was there to start eating.
The life cycle is pretty interesting. Beetles lay very tiny eggs, those eggs hatch in less than 2 weeks under perfect conditions, those grow up to be meal worms but may take as long as 10 to 16 weeks and then they pupate. The pupae may seem dried up and dead but in a very short time (one to 2 weeks) they hatch and emerge as a beetle and it starts all over again. As I stated above I was on my second generation in less than 4 months. The right temp, food and humidity seem to make a big difference in how well they develop.
Here you can see how small some of the worms can be. I estimate these to be around 3 weeks old. But they could be as young as 2 weeks. I am not an expert and encourage anyone wanting to learn more to visit educational websites. I have learned a lot from reading the Meal Worm thread on BackYard Chickens.
Here are 3 life stages pictured together. There are the darkling beetles, the meal worms and the pupae stage. There are websites showing beetles laying eggs but I haven't caught that action on my camera yet.
A nice healthy meal worm. This photo reminds me of the movie Tremors. Thinking back, someone had to know about meal worms to write that movie!
The black worms in this photo are dead. They came in a shipment during the summer without anything for moisture on the trip. I haven't found anything in my bins like this during the normal every day to day life cycle but I have read where they will eat whatever is available so if I am losing some they may be eaten and I never notice.
This colony looks healthy to me. Fat shiny worms, glossy beetles and lots of frass. The frass is supposed to be a very good source of plant food. I am going to try it on my house plants and see what I get.
Looks like they all are fighting for a taste of that blackberry.
Darkling beetles can start laying eggs as early as 4 days after emerging from the pupae or take another 2 weeks. They can lay quite a few eggs a day (I have read on average 30) and they live approximately 3 months.
There is too much dead skin in this bin so I will add more wheat bran and let them sift it down to help add more to the frass. You can spot some dead beetles in the mix, too. They take care of their own as far as I can tell.
I had a sad thing happen to 2 of my bins not long after starting them. I added some "fines" from a Guinea Pig pellet bag and believe I introduced grain mites from this. Now I am extra cautious to put all grains or wheat into the freezer for 24-48 hours before adding it to my bins.
This is a close up of the little beasties.
They can make a huge colony themselves. This is on the plastic lid of the tub. They do not hurt the mealies but they can be a huge bother to your bin and may compete for food so I dumped those 2 bins. The chickens enjoyed it.
You can see how they came out of the bin, over the side and then moved down to the table and.....
....down to my floor. This is how they made it into the other bin sitting there. They practically dripped down onto it.
Again, I encourage anyone interested in Meal Worms and raising them for whatever creature you may want to feed, to visit educational websites. I have learned most of my wonderful info from the thread on BackYardChickens.com and they have links to other great sites on that thread.
This has been my short experience and enjoyment. I have not ever raised them outside due to needing a more secure covering to keep out mice, moths, raccoons and other creatures. And, too, I want mine to continue year around and our colder climate in winter would not be very good for that, even in my brooder room down in the barn.
Another way to avoid problems with your colony is to make sure you put their foods on paper or even a small plastic lid. This keeps the juices from getting into the substrate and starting a mold or fungus. That could destroy all your work.
They have to have moisture to drink so feeding apples, carrots, potatoes and other foods like this will give them a good drink but leaving something wet in their bin can be a real problem.
You can place their fruit up on something and they will climb to get it as best they can. I add something to their bins when I can't see anything else. Depending on how many are in there I may have to add half a apple every other day or if there are lots of pupae then I may add a potato once a week. But make sure to check the bin every day or so for mold growing on the food and immediately remove it.
Here is a better photo of the pupae. The lightest one is a fresh turned worm, while the darker one is older and getting closer to beetle birth.
Meal worm frass looks a lot like sand. You can see that it is very fine compared to the bowl of wheat bran I have placed in the bin. I am trying to lure the small meal worms out of this bin so I can dump this bin and start it anew. Without beetles ever having been in this bin I am not worried about any babies left behind.
And here they are moved over to new wheat bran after dumping out the frass.
I usually put about 3 inches of wheat bran in a bin to start with. That will last for several months. This tub is 29 inches long, 18 inches wide and 6 inches deep. This will easily contain a colony of 5000 meal worms.
People do not usually want to touch the meal worms or beetles but they do not bite or hurt you.
They do love pumpkin in the fall!
And you can see what I have in my living room. These 4 of many bins are growing more worms and beetles. My incubator and hatcher are very close as this cycle of life becomes a big focus for us. We feed worms to our chicks as often as possible and some older birds as occasional treats. I have several more of these bins along another wall, they are under the kitchen table, they are in the bathroom closet......they are everywhere. They can be a bit dusty as you see on the red lid. That is left over from when I was sifting out big worms from tiny worms to sell. The meal worm colonies themselves to not cause dust around the house.
Below is a short video that shows the avalanche of baby worms in the wheat bran. You can see how small these little babies are. The mealie bin is only 8 weeks along. We had taken the beetles out 2 months before so there were plenty of eggs to hatch out and you can see all the movement in the wheat bran. It may not be easy to see the babies but the moving wheat bran is evident that they are there. There is also a dead beetle in there that I left. It doesn't hurt anything but I often notice an odor with a lot of dead beetles.
Look at how small the meal worms are when they are several weeks old. That is a ball point pen next to a few babies. Below you will see a video with these and their siblings featured. I get a lot of emails from folks saying they do not see the babies. These are around 8 weeks old or at least that is how long the beetles have been out of their bin. Cooler house temps and low humidity cold have kept them from hatching sooner.
This page is very large. Please scroll all the way down and read all the info before contacting me with questions. Though I love to answer everyone, it does become time consuming to address questions when the answers are on this page. Thank you for viewing and I hope you enjoy the information, photos and videos.
How fascinating it is to watch the meal worms morph and change, grow up and give more life. Here is a nice photo of a normal looking meal worm with 2 that have recently shed their skin. It won't take long for them to turn brown again but it is neat to see these white ones. At this stage I believe they are more sensitive and vulnerable so they stay deep in the substrate. I can feel the texture is much softer on them and try to be more careful I do not harm them at this stage.
This container measures 8 inches wide, 10 inches long and 5 inches high. This is adequate room to raise 1000 meal worms. As you can see I am using the top to a cake cover from a local grocery. It is not necessary to have a fancy set up.
This is a stacked colony. The beetles are in the top tub with a screen bottom so the eggs can fall through to the tub underneath. I can then change tubs every 2 weeks and have eggs hatching on a better schedule. Old chairs work well for this but later I hope to make a better set up with old shelving systems.
"How many mealworms do I need to start with to feed my chickens?"
After reading most of this page you see how easy it is to start and raise your own mealies. However, it is another ball game altogether when you think of feeding them out. I do not want to discourage anyone from starting this project as it is the best treat you can raise for your birds, very high in protein and excellent in vitamins and minerals when you use proper substrate and fruits or vegetables in the colony.
One chick can consume about 50 meal worms in a matter of a minute or so. And an adult chicken can eat 50 in about 5 seconds and want more.
If you plan to raise them as a treat that you give out about twice a week then you only have to putter along with a few thousand, let some pupate, turn into beetles and lay eggs so you will have yet more mealies.
If you plan to supplement your chickens diet with them, then you need a grand scale of tens of thousands to keep them reproducing while feeding others out.
With 20 chickens you will need to start raising meal worms about 8 months before you want to feed them out. And I suggest starting with 5000 or more. During the summer there isn't much problem of them getting bugs but come winter you feel bad for them and adding cat food is a bad choice for meaty treats. Koi food can be added as a nice supplement but fresh live meal worms are the best choice and will keep your birds healthy and happy.
I suggest starting meal worm farming with the plan to feed them out the next winter. Give yourself 8 months to work on building up the colony and start with the healthiest worms possible.
It certainly does not take this long to get more going but the cooler their environment, the slower they grow and reproduce. They will be sure to slow down come October unless you can keep them very warm and the humidity high enough that the house heater does not dry out their air.
Meal worm farming is a slow process but with proper management it can be a super choice for healthy supplemental feeding. Don't get discouraged. Just realize that it will take a bit of room and a small dedication to provide a cheaper treat than the dried version you purchase in stores. I have come across bags of dried meal worms in pet stores and was amazed at the cost of dead ones versus the cost of live ones that you can raise yourself. Imagine how much you will save by raising your own treats! And the nutritional value in live ones is astronomically better.
Meal worms make chickens VERY happy!
Update on the stacked version of farming. It did not work for us. The eggs would not fall through the screen very well, even though I fed the beetles out in the middle of the screen flooring. They wanted to stay arounnd the edges where there wasn't much screen and the eggs seemed to collect there a good bit. We have gone back to our other way to keeping beetles in tubs and just move live beetles over to another tub every few weeks.
My living room has become the meal worm farm. However, I produce enough to sell and feed my own birds. Every container is used and every flat surface has containers set on it or under it. Although the screened bottom tub is now gone, I still use the chair.
Remember this stuff? Meal worm frass. I put it on my plants outside summer of 2012 and they went wild! I put it on plants in pots and plants on the ground. My rose had buds that were dying and I do not have a green thumb but tried some Miracle Grow fertilizer and that made the stems and leaves happy but I still did not get anything to bloom. I poured some of this around it and the thing is loaded with blooms after 2 weeks! My orange mint plant would not grow for 2 months, I sprinkled some frass around in the pot and watered it in and in less than 2 weeks it had grown several inches and bloomed!
I do plan to eventually offer this for sale, as well, but first want to fertilize my plants and see if any have adverse effects. I have a lot of Iris and can't wait to see what effects this will have on them since they love bone meal so much.
I find it interesting about the life cycle of other creatures. This part never crossed my mind until I saw it. I am not sure what I expected. I knew they were not like fish.
The wooden handle strainer was purchased at Walmart. The green rimmed strainer (my favorite!) was purchased at the Flea Market.
The lifecycle of the darkling beetle is simple and fascinating.
Most people receive the meal worms in shipping because that is the easiest stage to harvest and ship to someone. Beetles are much more clingy to skin and material and much harder to harvest from bins. They also are constantly laying eggs and shipping them will lose a lot of eggs in transit as they get lost in the material and container. Also, there is no way to know the age of a beetle that has already turned dark, which is about 1-2 weeks old.
A lot of meal worms will pupate during transit depending on environment and maturity. These are well on their way to morphing into beetles.
Meal worms at maturity. These are probably 12 to 18 weeks old after hatch, under good conditions.
After meal worms are mature (12 to 18 weeks old, depending on how warm, humid and well fed they are) they will pupate.
About 1 to 2 weeks after pupating they morph into beetles. The darkling beetles may start out very pale, like almost white but steadily get darker within a week or so.
Beetles will mate and start laying eggs within a day or so after morphing. The eggs are microscopic. See the dots on the right? The egg is much smaller than that. However, in 6 weeks this will be a meal worm that you still may not see except for the substrate they are moving around.
And there you have an idea of the life cycle of the darkling beetle.
This is my favorite photo! You can see how tiny these babies are!
I have never refrigerated my meal worms. I can't seem to keep any long enough to store like that. However, many people will take the meal worms, put them in a container with a lid that has air holes and put them where it is warmest in the fridge for a week, remove them and allow to come to room temp and feed them. I am sure they store them in a bit of oats or wheat bran. They then return them to the fridge for another week and may repeat this cycle, feeding some out as they go along to their pets. I do not know for how long this can go on or how well it works but have had reports that some will still pupate once coming to room temp and they consume some carrot or apple. My worms are fresh and the coldest they get is whatever my house gets down to at night in the winter, usually around 60 degrees.
Size of container for amount of meal worms.
Five thousand meal worms-- 15x22x6 is adaquate
Two thousand meal worms-- 12x15x6 is great
Anything in between, more or less can be figured in. You can't give them too much space and it is difficult to get too small of an area. Remember, they burrow.
Here are 10,000 newly harvested meal worms in a 35 qt tub that measures 16X23 inches. There is no bran in this bin. They are just being fed moisture before getting ready for their new homes. They came out of wheat bran in much larger containers.
People often ask me, "Where do I buy the wheat bran?" Try your local feed store. If you can't find a bag there then use oats from the grocery store on the breakfast aisle, just not the flavored kind.
When we ship meal worms they are placed inside a breathable bag with wads of paper to hang onto and given food wrapped in paper.
We often sell meal worms.
Please contact us for availablity.