Chickens love meal worms. Protein is a necessary part of a chicken’s diet. In theory, the Layer Feed should contain everything a chicken needs to live a healthy life. What sets free range chickens and their eggs apart from ‘battery’ chickens who produce ‘grocery store’ eggs and who live out their entire life in a small cage indoors, is the fact that ‘free range’ chickens have access to fresh air, exercise, green plants and, you guessed it…CRITTERS (bugs and worms). This not only makes the hens more healthy, but also makes their eggs more nutritious.
Unfortunately, in a small backyard, the supply of critters runs low after a while. Meal worms are an excellent source of protein and a tasty treat that chickens go nuts for. You can buy them live at the feed store, but you can also buy them freeze-dried. Either way, the price of these juicy morsels adds up quickly.
I stumbled upon a video online on how to raise meal worms. It looked so easy and the start up cost so low, that I decided that it is something I can definitely do to cut costs and easily provide more protein for my chickens.
The Meal Worm is the Larvae stage of the Darkling beetle. There are actually four stages to to it’s life cycle.
The set up for them is cheap and easy. All you need is plastic containers to separate the different stages, food, air, and a water source.
Some people use those three-drawer Sterilite setups. I chose to get a plastic container with a lid. This container is 6.2 quarts and the dimensions are 15″ x 11-1/2″ x 3-1/4″. The cost was between 3-4 dollars for the container and lid.
I poked holes in the top for air. As I move into the other stages and need to separate them, I’m going to glue some wooden blocks, or maybe thread spools on the bottom so that I can stack them and air can still circulate underneath.
The food you choose to use will also be their bedding. You can use oats (full flake or ground), wheat germ, corn meal, etc. I saw a video where the person used chicken feed, and that’s what I chose to do. I ground it up in my Ultimate Chopper. Most everything I’ve read says that the bedding/food needs to be an inch or so thick.
You can buy meal worms at a feed store, and possibly, at a Sporting Goods store. I chose to order mine online because I wanted to start with a larger number. I ordered 1000 of them. This way, it won’t take as long to build up my stock.
I’m wondering if the mail man was curious as to what he was delivering!
They were packaged in a very nice burlap type bag. Inside the bag, were wads of newspaper. I think the worms were actually wrapped up in the newspaper, but they escaped and were all on the inside of the bag and on the outside of the newspaper.
While I was setting everything up on the back patio, Eula, who is one of the more curious hens was close by. She kept stealing glances in my direction, but when I looked at her, she acted like she was preoccupied with ‘other things’.
The meal worms settled in nicely, and I think they really like their new ‘digs’. They seem happy. I think I might have even heard one yodeling.
The water source for both the larvae and the beetles is some kind of vegetable. From reading online, it seems that the most popular sources are carrots and potatoes (skin side down). Some also use lettuce or apples (skin side down). A few people said that the apples mold really quickly. The thing to be careful of is mold, because any kind of mold can make your worms sick and cause them to die. Because of this, the vegetables need to be changed out every few days or so.
I decided to test one of the worms out with the chickens. The worms cast lots, and Mr. Mealy drew the short stick and nobly (and quite stoically, I might add) embraced his fate.
Eula-The-Curious was the one who took the bait (no pun intended).
She checked it out first.
…and then she lifted her head, smacked her beak (the meal worm breath thick in the air), and she looked at me as if to say, “Is that all there is to it?”
Granted, these worms are still very small, and will grow a lot before they enter the pupae stage. I will be posting updates later as the worms go through their different cycles. When the time comes that I have to separate them, I will add different containers to my farm.