How To Raise Mealworms

Everyone who has a small flock of chickens should raise mealworms, not because chickens need them, but because they love them.
By Gallo del Cielo · Jan 11, 2012 · Updated Sep 25, 2014 · ·
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  1. Gallo del Cielo
    How to raise mealworms (Tenebrio molitor)

    Everyone who has a small flock of chickens should raise mealworms, not because they need them, but because they love them. It's very easy to do and once set up they are virtually maintenance-free and very inexpensive. I give my girls a hand-full or so a day; they think fresh mealworms are the best treat in the world.

    1. You need a container; I prefer 10 gallon aquaria. They allow you to see the condition of the substrate and the glass keeps them from climbing out. You can also use a plastic tub. Keep in mind that it is better to have greater surface area than depth. Never cover it with anything that restricts airflow, especially if you live in a humid environment; but a wire cover is good to keep the lizards, geckos and mice from eating everything if you keep it outside.

    2. Add about 3" of wheat bran to the bottom of the container. I get mine at grocery stores that sell food in bulk bins, but you can also get it at feed stores. You should get it for $1/lb or less (buy about 4-5 lbs to start). You can also use chicken feed, provided it does not have diatomaceous earth (DE) added. I would highly recommend freezing any grain product for a couple of weeks or heating it to 130 degrees for 15 minutes prior to adding it to your colony to limit unwanted pests.

    3. Add some mealworms, the more the better and the faster the start-up will be. I recommend starting with at least 1000 for a container the size of a 10 gal. aquarium.

    4. Add some vegetable matter. I use potatoes, carrots, apple peals, celery stumps, watermelon rinds, whatever kinds of scraps are available. Feed them as often as you'd like. The more you feed them, the more they multiply. Strive to provide consistent access to vegetables for the best productivity. You don't want it to ever get wet inside, the wheat bran must remain dry. Most colony failures are a consequence of excess moisture, which can spark outbreaks of fungus and mites. I live in one of the driest places in the world and I never add moisture beyond that contained within vegetable matter--and I also avoid adding high water content vegetables. The more varied the diet, the better the worms are as food. Be observant when adding new foods and immediately remove anything that they won't eat to avoid rot.

    5. Keep your colony in the shade, outside heat (even in Arizona) is great for them but direct sun or rain will kill them. The warmer they are kept, the faster they develop. They must be brought inside for the winter as their development will slow considerably and they will die in a freeze.

    6. When the wheat bran particles start looking smaller and the layer gets thinner, add more (just dump it over everything). I add more a few times a year. I only clean up the dried vegetable matter that builds up, more rarely the bran.

    7. Wait a couple months after setting up your colony before you begin using worms for food. Use only the larvae (worms) to feed your birds. The pupae and beetles should be left alone for reproductive purposes. There is no need to remove dead animals, old carcasses will be consumed by successive generations. You can collect worms when you add new food. For example, cut a potato in half, put the cut side down and wait 10 min. or so. The larvae will grip on with their mouths and you just lift them up and shake them into a container. Remember, they are harmless and don't bite.

    8. Some people separate beetles, pupae and larvae--I don't, mostly because production is fine for me without the extra effort. If you provide adequate resources for the colony, cannibalism is very low. However, separating them is a good way to observe development--which is very interesting.

    9. Because reproductive and developmental rates are higher with greater temperatures you'll often have more worms in the summer than winter. You can extend the summer glut of worms by packing them in fresh bran and storing them in the refrigerator for later use.



    With prolonged or frequent exposure to mealworms, some individuals will develop severe allergies to them. I highly recommend wearing a mask while tending to your colony and be observant of any respiratory changes you might experience while working with it. A word of caution:


    This colony has been in continuous operation for several decades; I have been caring for it since 1987.

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    Further reading:

    - https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/mealworm-farm-experiences.49403/
    - https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/mealworm-farming.492636/

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Recent User Reviews

  1. MissChick@dee
    "I’ve got to try this!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 7, 2018
    Very straight forward information. I really want to give this a try.
  2. Kgee
    "Great step by step article!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 29, 2018
    This mealworm how-to is exactly what I was looking for. Well written & easily understood. Thanks!
  3. Joeschooks
    "Great article!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 24, 2018
    I spend far too much in mealworms! I may have to give this a try! Thanks for the informative article.

Comments

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  1. TLN
    I have been raising mealworms for several years now and have never had problems until this summer. I have tiny black beetles (from tiny dark worms) showing up in the mealworms boxes. They are taking over. Are they coming from my wheat bran? I don't know how to get rid of them. They crawl out of the boxes and are showing up everywhere. HELP!!
  2. DobieLover
    This is a great article! I started out segregating my colony into different containers for the pupae, beetles and larvae. No more after reading this! I just check them every other day or so and add veggies and remove desiccated veggies. I haven't started feeding the new larvae yet as I plan to let them continue to multiply and put them in a large area home before I start harvesting.
  3. HenGirl805
    Can I keep mealworms outside near the coop? (Away from their beaks):D
  4. dottik
    hello i am concerned with my mealworms.i have had no problems until recently ,my pupae are dying.temp and everything is same in my house.i do not have a cup of water in with the worms.the beetles are seperated.any help is appreciated.
  5. Tammy N
    I love raising mealworms we get ours at Rainbowmealworms i just started with my 4th time my turkeys got into my last ones so we bought 5k for something like 20 bucks. and learned how to keep them going so simple to raise . these guys come fat and sassy
  6. dumbusername
    great post! I have watched a couple of instructional video'son youtube, but because you use 1 container it seems so much easier. You will be the first to know how my colony turns out per your instruction.
  7. ourpeepers
    I've noticed quite a few comments about having an excess of mealworms, at some times, while not enough at others. Solution: dry them. Here's a good article http://mealwormcare.org/recipes-nutrition/
    that explains how to do that. Easy. Even easier if you have a dehydrator.
      KikiLeigh02 and Nagynaggles like this.
  8. Doodlemom
    I raised these for my fish but with fish you have to crush the heads of the worms so they don't chew through the fish's gut.

    My question is do I have to do this for my chickens?
  9. Boonie Stomper
    Fantastic idea if you love to feed bugs to the flock as treats or supplements but do not like the price of retail packages of them!

    My only hesitation is, after seeing how easily pantry foods can be infested with moths and small beetles, will unchecked mealworms lead to their adults getting into the groceries?!?
  10. KatAtomik
    Ugh... I have a VERY difficult time feeding my girl(soon to be girl(s) these things, even as dead food... but, I do have a 4yo boy whom I want to learn about every aspect of the nature of our life as we live it. I've made him understand where meat comes from BEFORE introducing it to the diet(something that I was denied) now he will eat turkeys but NOT anything else& is particularly horrified at the idea of eating chicken- because, lol, he "always wonders if it is "Mary"(his pet chicken)on the table". So he should PROBABLY get a More in-depth view of HER diet& the role of bugs in our food chain as a whole. I just don't know if I can bear it... do they smell like they do when they're dead? I have such a fear of swarms of any kind that I'd DEFINATELY have to let my boy do the handling- gives me a chance to use the super cute toddler ventilation masks I got him for flu season last year!
      webbysmeme likes this.
  11. Abriana
    Wow! For decades? That is cool! I really want to raise some mealworms. Where do you buy yours?
      black_dove2 likes this.
    1. bajabirdbrain
      rainbowmealworms.com
      black_dove2 likes this.
  12. dumbusername
    Just wondering, with a 10 gallon aquarium, (and im guessing there is about 5lbs worth of worms in there), how many birds are you treating per day and how much? I have 13 ducks, and go through 10 dry lbs of worms a month, only giving 6 handfuls a day. I use the worms to train the ducks to come in at night and to go out in the morning, and it becomes ritual. But at 35.00 a bag, im spending 85.00 or so a month on just the worms, 75.00-80.00 a month for fresh fruits and vegetables, 110.00 a month on 2 50lb. Bags of mazuri, 33.00 a month on straw, and probably 35.00 a month in water. So 13 ducks are costing me about 325-350.00 a month. Im trying to find ways on cutting down on all costs because it seems ridiculous that each duck is costing me 25.00 a month. Then again, my cat's wet food alone is 50.00+ per month. Im sure raising my own meal worms instead of spending 85.00 a month will help out a lot.
  13. bajabirdbrain
    Started my mealworm farming back in Jan in anticipation of getting my chicks in March. Only problem is the worms started turning into beetles before the chicks could eat them!!! Since then I placed another order of worms and have had good success in raising them. My 2 problems is that I tend to get too many worms of one size and have to feed them in large quantities to "use " them up before turning back into pupa/beetles. Now I am running out of beetles that I need to lay eggs! I should be getting beetles soon, but I am concerned about the glut of worms that is coming. Is it really practical to put worms in 40+/- degree fridge to slow down the worms growth? I have had zero problems using sliced potatoes for food and sliced apples. I add feed twice per week and remove any old food. When the wheat bran starts getting powdery I sift it out and replace with fresh wheat bran. So far, so good. Bajabirdbrain
      black_dove2 likes this.
  14. Ulaidian
    Just a heads up (and this might have been mentioned), but don't use potatoes. When they rot, there're toxic and will kill off your food.
    Like above, moisture is your enemy. I usually throw a segment of orange now and again.
      chickenmeadow, VHoff and black_dove2 like this.
  15. BigMikeW
    I would really like to raise mealworms for my future chickens. Since I don't have any experience with any other types of feeding yet, it would be difficult to know how economical it is by comparison. Does anybody do this currently that could share?
      VHoff and black_dove2 like this.
  16. ruchickn
    I tried just didn't have the stomach for it. I bought some dried ones , if you don't just give them as a treat they want eat their regular food.
      VHoff, black_dove2 and Lkcoop66 like this.
  17. den talarek
    i will be starting to make a similar setup asap, ithink i will have to go bigger as i have 65 birds but the protien should be worth the effort. thanks for info. den [poland]
      black_dove2 and Lkcoop66 like this.
  18. jlisonbee
    Great post about starting a mealworm farm! I have all the supplies to start mine asap, but as I was about to purchase the worms from a local pet food store someone mentioned that I should be careful where I buy the live worms from as these worms could carry harmful germs and diseases that could be passed on to the chickens who eat them. Has anyone also worried about this? Where is a good place to buy live worms? Any suggestions would be great! Thank you!
      black_dove2 and Lkcoop66 like this.
    1. DotsMama64
      We have had mealworms for as long as I can remember. My Mother has raised them and now I raise them as well. We also raise the super worms.

      I suppose it could be that " these worms could carry harmful germs and diseases that could be passed on to the chickens who eat them. " Personally, I have never heard this myself.

      Keep their food dry and use cottonballs in a lid for their water and they will do fine.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  19. Katie Scarlett
    Where do u get the works to start the colony
      SueT and black_dove2 like this.
  20. Katie Scarlett
    Where do u get the works to start the colomy
  21. mskluck
    Could I use rasin bran?
      black_dove2 and cassie123 like this.
  22. Ronnie2
    What temperature is best suited for raising mealworms?
      black_dove2 and djcap like this.
  23. Gail Laubenthal
    I love this article. As a retired PreK teacher, I can relate to raising them so that children can experience the life cycle. I will begin my colony this week. I never thought of raising them at home for my chickens.
    1. SuziQ18
      Very helpful! Can wait to get mine started!!
      black_dove2 likes this.
  24. mskluck
    Thanks for the DIY info
      black_dove2 and Rickwar04 like this.
  25. sue5050
    I just purchased a 2 lb container of dried meal worms to start training my guineas to come home. it is really expensive this way but not sure if I can get over my feelings about live ones
      black_dove2 likes this.
  26. mskluck
  27. gagirl02
    I have some black worms in my container. Are these dead worms? If so, can I feed them to my chickens?
      black_dove2 likes this.
  28. 4paws
    I've been itching to start raising these for a while, and I would love to do it outside or my screened porch, BUT, I'm in Florida and am concerned that the summer humidity would be a problem. Thoughts, please?
    I like that you do it in one container rather than dividing them as I've seen most do.
      black_dove2 and djcap like this.
  29. YborChix
    We do ours with oatmeal and some chick feed. Originally we followed instructions that say they need moisture from fruits or veggies but even a somewhat dry piece of carrot almost always started mold in the oats and the mold is your enemy. Perhaps for us it is the Florida humidity. If you get it (mold) throw out the whole batch because it's not savable. We use 1 gallon ice cream containers and fill the lids with safety pin size holes.This keeps other small bugs from getting in. Then we toss them in a dark spot and forget about them. Once we stopped worrying about giving them moisture, we had success. (hopefully a good tip for those of you in humid places) Please follow our Instagram and like our facebook.com/edenconservatory
      black_dove2 and Rickwar04 like this.
  30. Big Cluck
    I had a high school science teacher that raise them in the class to feed to the other critters he kept. It really is as easy as the instructions above. My daughters and I started our colony today after our girls went through a 7 dollar bag of dried meal worms in under 2 weeks. It cost 13 dollars to get started as I had an empty 10gallon tank. 3 dollars for the wheat bran and 9.99 for 500 worms at the pet store. My kids had a great time getting it set up and keep asking to pet the worms! So excited to tell their daddy they had 500 new pets!! Does anyone know if placing them on a tray in the sun for an day or so would be an effective way to dry them out/preserve them for later use?
  31. birdldy9
    What could I use instead of wheat bran?
      black_dove2, Lkcoop66 and Thangbom like this.
    1. jak2002003
      Normal Porridge Oats from the supermarket. They smell nice too. That's all they need.. plus a few slices of carrot / potato / cucumber on top for moisture. I found cucumber the best.. as it has a nice smell. When I used other vegetables they smell bad if they get a bit moldy.
      black_dove2 and Lkcoop66 like this.
  32. Wonderwend
    A thorough and informative guide - brilliant!! Thanks so much for posting :)
      black_dove2, djcap and mskluck like this.
  33. Gallo del Cielo
    @BoiseWiseguy , it sounds like you're doing everything right! What are you using for substrate? It always seems to take forever to see those first worms from the second generation. Under your conditions you should see very tiny worms about two months after the first beetles appeared. Take a handful of substrate and spread it out onto a sheet of paper and look closely to see if they are there.
  34. BoiseWiseguy
    Question - I've ordered 1000 worms, have them in an open topped container with a infrared heat lamp keeping them between 80-90 degrees. I've had them now for about 2 months. Recently I've seen a ton of beetles in the container, and no worms. The worms are for the most part gone. I'm putting in apple slices and lettuce, and replacing them when they get eaten or dried up. Am I doing anything wrong? Where are all the worms?
      djcap likes this.
  35. Gallo del Cielo
    @snowflake , Thanks! It is as easy or involved as you want to make it. Good luck!
  36. snowflake
    very nice thread, sure looks easy, and thank you for the allergy warning.:)
      djcap likes this.
  37. Gallo del Cielo
    @birdman55 Good luck from me too! I've been following your thread (beautiful birds), I also grew up in central MI.
  38. Lilorp14
    good luck birdman55
  39. birdman55
    going to start mine within the week...thanks for the tips
      Michael Stegall likes this.
  40. Lilorp14
  41. Gallo del Cielo
    @Lilorp14 , Congratulations on starting your new adventure!
  42. Lilorp14
    just started my little farm!!!!!!
      djcap likes this.
  43. Gallo del Cielo
  44. Gallo del Cielo
    @smoothmule , to my knowledge there aren't any vegetables that are toxic to the mealworms. There are lots of things they don't like (e.g. eggplant), but they usually avoid eating those things.
  45. Gallo del Cielo
    @Bean789 , I'm sorry that my response might be too late, I've not been receiving my notifications from this page. It's best to feed continuously, so sometimes this means smaller amounts fed more often. If your worms are dying, something besides over feeding is likely the cause (unless there were pesticides on the food). How is your colony doing now?
  46. Gallo del Cielo
    @thechxwhisperer , if you can keep them warm enough you could keep them outside. I'm not sure the energy expense of a heat lamp would be worth the increase in production though. You might consider a heating mat designed for putting under reptile tanks though. They are designed for this sort of application and would use much less electricity.

    @ChickyChickens , good luck!
      Michael Stegall likes this.
  47. smoothmule
    Is there any food that is toxic to meal worms?
  48. Farming Frenzy
    Awesome :) Thanks so much.. this is really helpful, will be setting up a colony for my silkie flock. Thanks heaps!
  49. Bean789
    I started my batch with Super Food as supplied by the retailer who sold me the worms (2,000 if them). I added cornmeal and oatmeal as part of the substrate and then put in some sliced potatoes. A few days later, I added some carrots. A few days later, I added some lettuce. Now, almost 2 weeks later, after adding food every other day or so, most of my worms are dead. How often do I need to feed them? How much food can I add without mold issues? (no mold currently) How much moisture can they actually handle? (thinking this is the dead worm issue) What have I done wrong?
  50. ChickyChickens
    Im gonna start!!

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