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. featherweightmn
    Interesting -this is something we wanted to do for "Our Girls" . .. . thanks for the info -very informative . . ..
  2. Strummer
    can I use rice bran instead of wheat bran ? I already rice bran feed it to my horses for weight builder.
  3. birdbrain1948
    I'm waiting for my 2000 mealies to arrive any day now and am feeling so much more confident and excited after reading your posts. Thanks to everyone for sharing what you've learned.
  4. Gallo del Cielo
    captcayanan and Nutcase, Thanks and good luck!
  5. Gallo del Cielo
    Oregonkat, so much of development rate depends on the temperature and amount they are fed. If you bought large mealworms and you aren't seeing any develop into pupae within the first month (at 70 degrees or higher) then I would start to wonder.
  6. jchny2000
    Its easy if you keep them dry. I "forget" about the mealies and they thrive.
    Just toss in a few veggie scraps and be sure they stay warm.
  7. Nutcase
    My first attempt at mealworm farming failed, but you've inspired me to try again!
  8. captcayanan
    Thank you! This is today's project now!
  9. oregonkat
    Please can you advise how long the worms take to develop into beetles? I read that sometimes giant mealworms have been treated to prevent beetle formation. I read this after purchasing mine and so am wondering if I have just purchased a very expensive meal for my chickens and have to start over with smaller ones. Thanks for any input.
  10. Gallo del Cielo
    Thanks RIArmySGT!
  11. RIArmySGT
    This is a great write up. Looking on craiglist for a 10 gallon aquariam as we speak lol
  12. Araucana16
    Thank you so much! I also have two beardies that are like bottomless pits, and I'll be starting one soon for my dragons and the chicks! <3
  13. Gallo del Cielo
    Hi Ali707, I would withhold vegetables for a day or two. Cut a potato in half and put the two halves cut-side down and wait for them to grab on. After a few minutes, shake them off into a bowl and repeat until you get enough. I don't feed beetles because they are worth more to me as mealworm producers than as food for the chickens. You've invested more in the beetle than in a younger worm and are also closer to that investment paying off.
    AnimalQuackers, that's not a bad price! Especially if you're not paying for shipping.
  14. AnimalQuackers
    You can buy mealworms at pet stores, too. We bought 1000 for less than $16 last week.
  15. Ali707
    Hello Gallo: Been a while since I started the colony back in January and it is crazy active right now. This is a stupid question as I am certain it has been answered somewhere else BUT I can't find it. I have 9 week old chickens and want to give them some of the worms only, but I can't find anything where I can get worms only out of the bin. I have 3 bins and they all contain worms, eggs, and beetles. I like your way of less is more! I don't really want to take any beetles outside in case the chickens don't actually get them and it gets away. They can be considered invasive I hear. How do I get the worms only out of my bin without killing a bunch by moving them around too much. Keep in mind I don't touch any of them. I can't. Ewwwwww! They cling too easily and I would have a mental collapse if they grab on to me! lol How do you get some out to feed your chickens? Do you feed them beetles too?
  16. Mr MKK FARMS
    Great, thanks! Very informative. :)
  17. jimmywalt
    This looks pretty easy. I'm going to do it!!!
  18. Janebo
    Gee this is great information as I would love to raise mealworms for my 50 odd chooks plus a load of youngish chicks.
  19. Gallo del Cielo
    You'll typically see the pupae right on the surface.
  20. ThereseF
    Thanks Gallo del Cielo. I am seeing fewer deaths now. I see them shedding their skins and they are very white for awhile after that but no pupae as yet. Will I have to dig through the box to find them as I have the oats about 6cm deep or will the pupae be on top of the oats?
  21. Gallo del Cielo
    Ariel188, thanks and good luck!
    ThereseF, I would use wheat bran and not oat bran. They do much better on wheat products. Other than that, everything seems good. Sometimes they don't do well after being shipped so hopefully you'll see fewer deaths now.
  22. ThereseF
    What am I doing wrong?
    I have a large plastic tub with oats and oat bran
    I added 200g of mealworms that was yesterday but they seem to be dying :(
    I have no lid on the tub the temp on the house is 37c
    I have a cut bit off apple, carrot and patato I slice of each.
    Seems like a lot of them are turning black and lying very still they look dead to me.
  23. Ariel188
    Thank you so very much for the information Gallo del Cielo. I got everything needed to start except I am waiting on my worms to arrive! :)
  24. Gallo del Cielo
    Chickens R Us, it depends on how much you feed the mealworms and the temperature at which they are raised. I generally advise waiting until the second generation appears before feeding them to chickens.
    MoonShadows, Congratulations and good luck!
    Ariel188, I live in a very similar climate as you, maybe even hotter. I've been keeping my colony in a metal shed outside and it has been alright, for the most part. I can tell you that they will do well up to and above 110 F, but will start suffering severe mortality as temps exceed 125 F. So, keeping them in your garage will depend on how hot it gets in there. Maybe during the hottest parts of the summer you could bring it to a cooler location. Also, yes, the wheat bran you get from the grocery store is fine for them.
    CHICKEN CRAZY1, You're very welcome!
  25. CHICKEN CRAZY1
    Thank you so much for making it simple for us dummies!
  26. Ariel188
    GREAT article, I am going to try this, thank you for the inspiration, my girls will love it! Ok so I live where is can get up to 110 in the summer. I am inland in the desert between LA and San Diego. My question is can I put the 10 gallon tank with the worms in the garage? Of course it always has shade but can get super HOT in there. Thank you for the advice!! :)
    Oh and another question, when you say wheat bran, is that the stuff we can buy in the grocery store? Can I just buy organic wheat bran then? Thanks again!
  27. MoonShadows
    As a very-soon-to-be chicken owner I Googled Raising Mealworms today and found your article. Seems simple enough, and I know the chickens would probably prefer live over dried ones. So, I found Uncle Jim's Worm Farm here in PA and ordered 500 of them. I have a 5 gallon aquarium collecting dust that I will use to raise them. Thanks for posting the article.
  28. Chickens R Us
    Thanks for the information sounds fairly easy. If I start today with 500 worms about how long aprox. would it take before I could start collecting worms for feeding? I wouldn't want to deplete my colony by over harvesting.
  29. Gallo del Cielo
    Hi jlgoinggreen, yes, you can easily limit the colony size by feeding more mealworms to your chickens and feeding fewer vegetables to the mealworms. You'll quickly see that even with a few chickens you'd like to have more mealworms than you have at any moment.
  30. jlgoinggreen
    Thank you for this. My son is super excited about starting one. Is there a way to limit how big the colony gets? We are planning to only have from 2 to 4 chickens.
  31. grizj
    I just ordered 500 from uncle jims,will give it a try.
  32. Ali707
    This is the best information on this topic. It seems so easy even someone like me could probably do this! I do have a question for you on population controls. I am getting some chicks in May of this year and I probably won't be giving them any worms for a couple of months until they are bigger. BUT it seems like I could start this project now?? It is January now and maybe in July I can give the new chickens some home grown worms. Finally, getting to my question here...... is there ever a point were there is too big of a population in one tank? Will I have too many worms by July in the tank? I realize development is based on temperature, it is cold now and will be for the next few months, but I really probably don't want more than one tank, so your thoughts on this would be appreciated. Did that even make sense?
  33. Nutcase
    Great information, written very simply. Thx!
  34. Jrb599
  35. Jrb599
    What are the fruits/vegetables you have in the pictures? I can't tell
  36. Gallo del Cielo
    HI Dee Dee 2, Do they smell bad? Well, that's fairly subjective and would depend on who you ask. I don't think they smell, but my wife does. However, when I hide my colony around inside the house over the winter, it often takes months for her to find it--even when it's behind the couch where she sits. A couple of important things will keep colony odors down, first, keep it dry by limiting high moisture content vegetables and second, don't cover it with anything that will limit airflow and allow the humidity inside the colony to increase.
  37. Dee Dee 2
    Thank you so much for your GREAT article. I am getting started, already have my wheat bran. $ 4.00 for 10 lb. My question is do they smell bad ? I'm thinking of putting them inside with some small Christmas tree lights under the aquarium for the winter. ( I don't keep my house very hot. ) Thanks
  38. Gallo del Cielo
    highwayhens, I always feed my mealworms potato peelings when I peel potatoes. Just be sure to wash the potatoes first. Congrats on getting started!
  39. highwayhens
    Are potato peelings good food? I usually use the peels but my hubby sometimes peels potatoes. I just gave them peels for their first meal. Just brought my tank, lid, and 100 starter mealies home. Planning to order some more mealies, but couldn't wait to get a few started.
  40. highwayhens
    @ Kilby
    Perhaps the plastic bins could contribute to unpleasant odors too. Bacteria sticks to plastic. Perhaps glass would be better. Walmart online sells the 10 gallon glass aquaria for $12.97. I just got on on sale from Petsmart for the same price.
  41. Gallo del Cielo
    wantachick, you're very welcome. Easy and straight to the point was my intention.
    CluckyCharms, it depends on what you mean by cold. If it freezes outside, they will die. Maybe you have a closet or mud-room where they could be kept out of sight?
  42. CluckyCharms
    What if we're in a cold state? Would they have to be kept inside the house? ...not sure we could share our house with those things.
  43. wantachick
    Great info, this is the easiest way Ive read about. Thanks
  44. Gallo del Cielo
    n8ivetxn, I know, it seems to take forever to get started. Then it almost seems like magic when they finally appear. Congratulations!

    mo puff, I'm glad this page inspired you. Let us know if you have any questions once you get going.
  45. mo puff
    Great info .. greatly appreciated! Going to give this a try!
  46. n8ivetxn
    Nice article... I started a small colony a few months ago. For a long time I couldn't tell if anything was happening.... I almost gave up on them doing anything at all. 2 days ago I peeked through the side glass and saw new worms :) I was so happy, they're reproducing!
  47. Gallo del Cielo
    ChickPrincess, That is an excellent point. A certain percentage of the population will develop an allergy with repeated exposure. Fortunately, after 25+ years, I have not, although I know many who have. There have even been a few BYCers on the mealworm farming thread that have developed allergies to mealworm proteins. I agree, if you're going to be digging around inside the colony, it's probably best to wear a dust mask.
  48. Gallo del Cielo
    ChickwannaB, Ha! Just saw your post after responding to Dee Dee 2. Good advice.
  49. Gallo del Cielo
    Dee Dee 2, Give it a try. You can get a small container of live larvae from your local pet store or Walmart. If it really creeps you too much, get a pair of latex gloves and you won't really be touching them. You can also use a sieve, colander or slotted spoon to sift them out. Freeze drying is done with industrial equipment and not easily accomplished at home. Growing your own is ever so much cheaper than buying freeze dried worms.
  50. Gallo del Cielo
    clucklandbrenda, big thumbs up! Now go sneak some from your husband and drive your chickens crazy.

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