While there are many nutritious treats you can feed your chickens to keep them happy and healthy, mealworms are one of the best that you can provide your flock. Mealworms are extremely high in protein. Dried mealworms can contain as much as 53% protein.
Mealworms are a really great treat to feed chickens, but they can also be pretty expensive. You can save yourself money by raising mealworms at home. They are easy to raise and don’t require much maintenance.
Hens need their diet to be about 16% protein in order to lay eggs properly. Feeding them mealworms will help ensure they are getting the proper amount.
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You might think that raising mealworms sounds gross and they’re something you’d be better off purchasing rather than growing in your home. You’d be surprised to know that many people raise mealworms.
It’s easy and cheap to get started and no, there aren’t weird smells or sounds associated with them. You can raise mealworms in your living room (right under your guests’ noses) without any strange questions.
What Are Mealworms?
Mealworms are the larval stage of the darkling beetle. Darkling beetles are black beetles that are small and have short lifespans. In fact, the entire darkling life cycle can be completed in about 5 to 6 months.
The female beetle will lay about 500 eggs in her adult life — which is about two months long. After 4 to 19 days, the eggs hatch and become larvae, or what you might know as mealworms. The mealworms will molt several times while they are in the larval stage. They will then enter the pupal stage which can last anywhere from two weeks up to nine months (if overwintering).
While they are pupae, they don’t appear to do anything from the outside. They will not eat or drink during this stage. They are busy turning into an adult beetle. When they hatch, they will look like a light brown version of the adult and will turn black over a few days. To learn more about the mealworm life cycle, check out this article.
How To Raise Mealworms
Raising mealworms is easy and doesn’t require any expensive gear to get started. You’ll need the following items to create the housing and environment for mealworms to thrive:
- Plastic set of drawers
- 1/4-inch hardware cloth
- Duct tape
- Carrots, potatoes, or apples
- Small mealworm colony — purchased at a local pet store
1. Build A Home For Your Mealworms
The plastic set of drawers will be used to house the mealworms in their various stages. Cut the bottom out of the top drawers, leaving it intact in the very lowest drawer. For a 3-drawer cart, cut the bottoms out of the top two drawers.
Replace the bottom of the drawers with the hardware cloth and secure it with a staple gun. The adult beetles will live in the top drawers where they will lay their eggs. The eggs will fall through the hardware cloth into the bottom drawer where the eggs will hatch and turn into mealworms.
2. Create A Dark Environment
If they are clear or opaque plastic, use the duct tape to cover all of the drawers. For a more eco-friendly option, consider using black stock paper to line the interior of the drawers and create a black-out effect.
You want to create a dark environment for raising mealworms. They would live in total darkness if they could, so you want to limit the amount of light that can get into the drawers.
3. Lay Down Bedding And A Food Source
Layer 1 to 2 inches of oatmeal as bedding in all of the drawers. When you put your mealworms into the bedding, roughly chop up carrots, potatoes, or apples and add them on top of the oatmeal layer. Once you put your mealworms in the bedding, they will get both food and water from the produce.
4. Add Your Initial Mealworm Colony
Add your first colony of mealworms to the top drawer of your housing.
5. Maintain Your Mealworm Beds
Check the mealworms about once a week. If the food is gone, give them more. Dried out food can be removed and put in a compost bin. Make sure to check the food isn’t getting moldy. If you see any signs of mold, toss the vegetables immediately and replace them.
The old bedding (called frass) can be cleaned out 3 or 4 times per year. This is an excellent fertilizer and can be put directly on the garden or added to compost.
6. Rotate Your Mealworms
As the mealworms turn into pupae and adult beetles, move them up to the top drawers so they can reproduce. You can rotate the drawers as often as necessary, but keep the bottom drawer on the bottom to prevent a mess from forming.
7. Harvest Your Mealworms
Remove the mealworms as often as you like. When removing mealworms, keep enough in the drawers to ensure you’ll have enough pupae to continue the cycle again. Raising mealworms is even cheaper when you let them continue to reproduce.
Do you have experience growing mealworms at home? Share your advice with us in the comments below!