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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    007Sean, GIgoatGuy, ClareDB and 47 others like this.

Recent User Reviews

  1. Ladies-Eight
    ""
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed May 28, 2019
    I used this article to set up my mealworm colony. I still have them all together and they are reproducing rapidly. My chickens are really enjoying them. It was very easy to follow his instructions. The picture says it all about why I love this article. This is just one corner of my aquarium. IMG_0402.JPG
  2. 007Sean
    "Good article"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed May 16, 2019
    Nicely written. Easy to follow. Just one way of many ways to raise mealworms.
  3. Beak1960
    "Great Advice - thank you!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed May 4, 2019

Comments

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  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. smoothmule
    Is there any food that is toxic to meal worms?
  4. Farming Frenzy
    Awesome :) Thanks so much.. this is really helpful, will be setting up a colony for my silkie flock. Thanks heaps!
  5. 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?
  6. ChickyChickens
    Im gonna start!!
  7. thechxwhisperer
    Can you use a heat lamp in the winter instead of bringing them inside?
  8. Gallo del Cielo
    @Cheryl1948 , Thanks! Yes, you can keep them inside. I don't think they stink, but my sensitive wife thinks they do. Really, I don't think they stink.
      Snorb59 likes this.
  9. Gallo del Cielo
    @Bean789 , Your set-up sounds good, look for bran when you can. They'll like whatever carrots you give them. There aren't really any vegetables that you can't give them, but there are some vegetables that they don't really like, e.g. eggplant. Experiment and watch and remove things they aren't interested in eating.
  10. Gallo del Cielo
  11. Gallo del Cielo
    @TeaChick , Thanks! I learned to grow these in the Deep South!
  12. Gallo del Cielo
    @Shuggiesmom , I don't think they stink, but my wife does. She's got a pretty sensitive sniffer though. Good luck with your sprouting!
  13. Gallo del Cielo
  14. Cheryl1948
    Thank you for your article. I needed an EASY way to raise mealworms. If I start them now, October, can I keep them inside? Do they stink?
      Alan Boleware likes this.
  15. Bean789
    I found a local supplier of meal worms and got 2,000 for $14.00 plus a 'super food' 2.5 lbs for $4.50. I then took 2 bags of Publix cornrneal, not self rising, and 1 bag of Bob's Red Mill rolled oats, and mixed with the 'super food' to create a substrate of around 4 inches. I could not readily find the Wheat Bran nearby but will order some online for future replenishing. Dumped the worms inside, added potato halves, and have let them sit the last few days in a warm place. So far so good. Now, my question is.....on the carrots, can they have the little baby carrots or are the fresh carrots better for them? What CAN'T they have?
  16. BoostPsi
    for some reason there is no tab to view the end of this post & I have clicked "more" a ton of times but still haven't got away from replies from 2012.... anyway I wound up ordering 10,000 mealworms from the rainbowmealworms.net site. I was going to will call them but they are 40min away and shipping was only $9.85 or so... it cost $46.89 for 10,000 delivered... I will reply with results after they arrive. Luckily there is a buy in bulk store nearby so I can get wheat bran for about .69c/lb... the chickies will be happy
      Snorb59 likes this.
  17. Lilorp14
  18. Lilorp14
    i usually buy them dried from TSC but i think its a great
  19. BoostPsi
    great info, I tried with 1000 worms and I guess I just give too many treats since they didn't last too long. I remember seeing a insect farm on California's Gold with Huell Howser.. I am pretty sure rainbowmealworms.net is that farm and they have the best prices I could find. I'm going to will call 10,000 this week
  20. XxMingirlxX
  21. TeaChick
    This is fantastic, easy to follow. I plan on starting my own mealworm colony in the spring (DH won't let me keep bugs in the house on purpose, living in the Deep South with a yankee, he thinks the ones that come in of their own accord are more than enough as it is). Anyway, thanks very much!!!
  22. Shuggiesmom
    That is so interesting. Does the colony smell?
    On another note, I was in a garden club once and we started some alphalpha sprouts by putting about a tablespoon or more in a quart canning jar. We took the solid piece out of the middle of the lid and cut a piece of screen to fit where the solid piece went. We ran water into the jar then drained it through the net once a day until they sprouted. I don't see why you could not do that for a treat for our hens especially in the winter months. I think you could do it with any kind of grain if you wanted to have several jars. They just need a little light to sprout and they were great and economical to use over salads and etc. The hens would love that as a treat! Now that I have mentioned it, I think I will do it again! I think we have to buy a lot of alphalpha seeds but they could be shared!
  23. thechxwhisperer
  24. Gallo del Cielo
    @lightchick , all of your animals will love you for it!
  25. Gallo del Cielo
    @VinFin , Good luck! I'm glad you're doing better.
    @Freerange Chick , You're very welcome! Drop by the Mealworm thread if you have any questions.
    @Bean789 , Thanks for your kind words and good luck!
    @oregonkat , Congratulations! If the moths continue to be a problem, use moth traps like these.
    @collingwood , these guys are principally grain eaters. I suspect they would eat meat, but it might create problems in the colony if they didn't eat it all right away. Try it and let us know!
  26. collingwood
    Can you feed them meat scraps?
  27. lightchick
    Awesome! I have to try this! Not only for my chickens, but for my lizards and toads!
  28. collingwood
    Thanks I'm definitely going to get started on making a mealworm colony! But just one thing can you feed them meat?
  29. oregonkat
    Yippeeee!!! masses of beautiful mealworms and boy they are BIG!!! I have hundreds of them, all different sizes actually but the big ones are super juicy. Very happy chickens. I have moved the 'farm' to a bigger tub. A word of caution regarding the wheat bran, mine came with pantry moth larvae in it (yeuchh!), keep it in a glass jar with the lid on and feed the little monsters to the chickens also but otherwise the mealworms love this stuff. Thank you so much for this original article.
  30. Bean789
    I just found this write up and it is the most informative and with easy to follow instructions. Love the commentary within the article. Thanks! Going to raise some worms!
  31. Freerange Chick
    I'm excited to try this! I was going to do the 3 drawer method until I saw this article. This seems much easier. Thanks Gallo del Cielo for sharing your experience with us newbies!!
  32. VinFin
    Thanks. Quit my first batch of meal worms when I got sick. It seemed so hard following the directions of others. Now I'm better and found your directions, which are simple and straightforward. Will order 1,000 and start again. Thanks again.
  33. VinFin
  34. Gallo del Cielo
    @mkeawsh They can fly, but they don't. In all the years of raising them, I've never seen one fly.
  35. mkeawsh
    I guess the beetles can't fly?
  36. oregonkat
    Thank you for your response. I started my worms about 9 months ago. I will try to get a look at some larvae hopefully.
  37. kendles
    @Gallo del Cielo - thank you. I'm growing them to feed my wild outside birds in the winter and my chickadee babies in the spring. I figure I'll need about 20-30,000 a year and at the cost to buy them retail that's not going to happen, so if I can spend a little time and provide them a healthy meal supplement - then, I'm willing. Thank you again for sharing your expertise, it's appreciated.
    ~Leslie
  38. Gallo del Cielo
    @kendles answers to your questions in order: 1) no, 2) they fall somewhere in there, 3) no, 4) no. I acquired my colony (pictured above) in 1987, it was in operation for at least a decade before that, and all of the stages have been grown together since---no separating. As you can see, it's highly productive. If cannibalism was a problem, there wouldn't be such dense population numbers.
  39. kendles
    I "was" using a 3 bin set up - and a small box with carrots for the Pupae
    Top Drawer / Beetles
    Middle Drawer / Eggs/Babies
    Bottom Drawer / Larvae

    Well, my hot glue and duck tape job apparently was crafted by an amateur. I cut the plastic, added my screen to the opening. Hot glued it making sure all the nooks an crannies were sealed to prevent escape and then I had it taped well around all the edges with duck tape. I just came from the room, I heard a weird slide, whoop plop. I walk back in the room to see my Beetles and Substrate inside the egg/baby box. Thankfully it only had bran it it, maybe some eggs, but I don't know (my eyes are not that good to see the eggs) anyway...

    What I want to know is this. I see people using a single bin set-up.
    Do you remove the Pupae and keep separate? or let nature take it's course?
    Will the Beetles bother the Larvae?
    Will the Eggs fall to the bottom of the bin?
    Will the Beetles dive to the bottom of the bin to eat the eggs?
    Will the Beetles eat the Baby Larvae?
  40. Gallo del Cielo
    @dragonbabyx3 Thanks and good luck!

    @oregonkat Maybe some mood music? : ) How long has it been since you started? It always seems to take an eternity to get that first generation of worms to start after your first beetles. You should expect to see them within a month or two. Cooler temperatures will definitely slow things down. Take a spoonful or two of substrate and spread it out on a piece of paper and look carefully, you should see very tiny larvae.
  41. oregonkat
    I have a question. I started my colony with 1000 worms and now have lots of beetles but no worms. What do I need to do to get them multiplying? A little dinner, a little dancing..... I keep them in my basement, where it is cool, is that perhaps the problem? Too cold? Thanks.
  42. dragonbabyx3
    By the way Gallo del Cielo, This is a great article! after paying 7.00 for a bag of dried mealworms I decided that it would be easier to grow my own. I am going to start off with 100, and then I will see about ordering bulk! Thank you for all the awesome advice!
  43. dragonbabyx3
    For all those looking for local places to buy mealworm: Check petsmart. They carry them in 35, 50, and 100 count. (I work there...lol) Price ranges from 3.99 to 5.99, Of course it can be MORE expensive this way if you are looking to buy several hundred, but, it's a start :
  44. locaparapollos
    @Gallo del Cielo Thanks, despite reading through many posts I didn't make the connection with the temperature. I think that is likely part of the problem.
  45. Gallo del Cielo
    @locaparapollos , it does seem to take a long time from beetle to worm, more so if the temperature around the colony is cool. Sometimes it can feel like an eternity. The half squash contains too much moisture for a colony with few (or small) worms. To avoid mold it's better to cut smaller, thinner slices and add more frequently. Maybe take some of the squash in there and cut it up. The eggs don't stick to things so you'd be unlikely to lose many if you remove it. Good luck!
  46. locaparapollos
    I cleaned out my mealworm farm a couple months ago. It was just getting started and I fear by replacing the wheat bran to get rid of moths I set my nascent farm back a ways. I've been feeding them and have plenty of live beetles. It has taken a LONG time to see worms, however. I have a half of raw squash in there and they love it. Problem is that it has mold growing on it and it is the ONLY place where I can see little worms in the whole 10 gal aquarium farm with lid. Am I doing something wrong or does it just take this long? Should I throw out the squash? I don't want to throw out worms or eggs.
  47. JRchickchick
    I am awaiting my first 1000 (from Amazon of all places). After I ordered them, I checked CraigsList and found someone locally who sells them, as well as adult beetles. Now I have a bin of beetles & a bin for the new mealworms! (wanted to get a jumpstart on having PLENTY) I sat and watched Beetle TV last night. Very interesting. I can't see any eggs this morning, but did find tiny specks of what I think are beetle poo? This weekend's project is setting up a 3 drawer system with the screen on the bottom of the beetle drawer to screen out eggs/baby worms. That seemed better for people wanting MORE (I have 37 chickens, and even so, know these will just be treats for them and a Biology project for me). Thank you for this informative post!
  48. Arielle
    THank you Gallo for the details-- I'm willing to try these again. Hoping I can get past the EWWWW factor-- I can appreciate bugs, as long as I don't have to touch certain ones. lol

    Hoping to find a good source as my Walmart doesn't carry them.
  49. Gallo del Cielo
    birdbrain1948, Congratulations on your new colony and happy new year to you too!

    Strummer, I don't know the answer to that. You could try it on a subset of worms and see if it works. Let us know if you do!
    featherweightmn, good luck and let us know if you have any questions.
  50. birdbrain1948
    I started my colony a month or so ago and now find watching the mealworms to be almost as good as watching chicken TV. Thank you for your clear and concise instructions, and happy new year.

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