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
    Chambertin, I've grown crickets over the years but they are a considerably more involved and decidedly more odiferous. It's hard to beat mealworms for an insect that is easy to grow.
  2. Gallo del Cielo
    LaynaDon95, Chicken Lover 1, You're very welcome and good luck.
  3. ChickPrincess
    Just a heads up... mealworm dust can be HIGHLY allergenic. Use caution, especially when cleaning their substrate. I raised mealies for leopard geckos and had a couple asthma attacks. This from someone who is NOT asthmatic. I do plan on starting another colony for my peeps... just plan on having a dust mask handy! :)
  4. ChicwannaB
    if you don't like handling the worms, which are harmless, use a slotted spoon and let the wheat bran and other chaff sift out, then toss them in a zip lock and right into the freezer...POOF. ANy stuff sticking on the worms yet isn't going to hurt the chickens at all so don't worry about getting every speck of it off.
  5. Dee Dee 2
    Thank you so VERY much for your mealworm post. I was going broke buying the freeze dried ones. HOWEVER , I don't know if i want to hold the live ones in my fingers for the chickens to take. How DO you "freeze dry" these little squirmies.
  6. clucklandbrenda
    My husband uses old salad green containers that you get from the grocery store. About 2 US gallon size maybe? He picked up some meal worms at the pet store. I was shocked and amazed at how quickly they reproduced! 'We' keep them in the house so cold is never an issue. He keeps them in oatmeal and feeds them a carrot every couple weeks or so. He does clean out the corpes and dead critter waste. Once he's sees he's got babies started (<they are incredibly tiny worms) he transfers the worms, to a new box and leaves behind the beetles to continue on. He started 2 years ago I think and has about a dozen containers FULL now. Ventilation is IMPORTANT. Like the lady said, when you see the oat (or bran) peices getting very small, add more! It's SUPER easy. He uses his for fishing and the chicken benefit from that. I imagine they'd LOVE the worms too. :)
  7. Chambertin
    Any comparison to crickets?
    I had mealwords way back when to feed my lizards and always wondered how the two compared.
  8. jak2002003
    I can not get the wheat bran where I am , so I use the chick starter crumbs instead as food for them. They do really well on it. I keep mine in a large shallow glazed pot bowl with no lid on. The can not climb out because the sides are slippers. I also breed the bigger 'giant mealworms' for my reptiles in a similar way.
  9. Chicken Lover 1
    Doing this!!!!! Thanks so much.
  10. LaynaDon95
    Wow! Thanks! I've been thinking about doing this for awhile, but haven't found anything giving good, clear directions. This is great!
  11. Gallo del Cielo
    sunflowerparrot, Hot weather speeds up their development while cold weather slows it down. They don't do well at temps greater than 125, but do quite well at 110 (typical summertime high temperature here where I live). They will die with freezing temperatures. A closet is a good place to keep them inside during the winter if you want to get started now.
  12. Gallo del Cielo
    Tammy N, look on the first page of the mealworm farming thread for BYC members selling mealworms. West Knoll Amy is a well respected source.
  13. Gallo del Cielo
    blessedchick, Let us know if you have any questions.
  14. sunflowerparrot
    Does cold or hot weather affect the meal worms? Can I keep the container outside in the coop if it is the middle of winter... or the middle of summer? I live in Kansas and it gets VERY hot here (110+) during many summer days. I would like to start this but winter is on its way - thanks.
  15. Tammy N
    OMGOSH I was looking for thisd info when i had my salt tank ,.,,, Fire took it out 500 gallons,
    OK i have 10 g tanks and 15 and 20 longs so i think ill have some fun The girls love the red wiggler worms too.
    Question where can i get the meal worms ? My LFS sells them freeze dried and the feed store 100 for 10 bucks there has got to be a better place also how fast do they multiply ? I have 12 girls now . Tammy
  16. blessedchick
    This is awesome! Thank you so much for such a simple guide! I will be starting my colony ASAP!
  17. Gallo del Cielo
    iron chicken, I think you have an iron stomach!
  18. Gallo del Cielo
    mommabird, It depends on how cold your garage gets in the winter. The colony will perform best at about 78 degrees, grow fastest as temperatures increase to about 100, but they'll do just fine at 65 degrees. BTW, this would be a great project for kids.
  19. Gallo del Cielo
    mattichooks, You'll be surprised at how easy it is to get by the "ick factor." There are lots of BYCers that could never imagine raising insects, yet now they do. After you see how your chickens respond to them all of that will fade away.
  20. Gallo del Cielo
    loudraven, you are very welcome. Good luck getting up and running.
  21. Gallo del Cielo
    Whittni, LOL! It's a good thing there are a lot of folks who will gladly sell them to you.
  22. Gallo del Cielo
    The Howards, you'll be truly surprised at how cheap they are to raise.
  23. Gallo del Cielo
    BackyardChick12, big thumbs up! I agree, easy, cheap and rewarding.
  24. Gallo del Cielo
    Chicks Galore3, The way I do it is by far the easiest. As you learn more you can look at other ways of doing it. No time like now to start!
  25. mattichooks
    Great article! Was it hard to get past the "ick" factor? Or didn't that ever bother you?
  26. loudraven
    I want to thank Back yard chickens and whomever posted this info. Can't wait to get started on my colonie.
    Thanks!
  27. Whittni
    *SHIVERS* I would rather buy them from somebody else..
  28. The Howards
    Thanks for the great info, i was just looking into mealworms wondering how you grow them. The girls love them but they just seem to cost so much when getting them from the store.
  29. BackyardChick12
    I've been raising mealworms for over a year now, and they've really come in handy! My chickens just love mealworms, and they aren't alone; I also use them for wild birds during the winter and nesting season (I come across baby birds in need of help and feed them my mealies until I can get them to a wildlife rehab center). My laughing dove eats them once in awhile too. Raising mealworms is easy, cheap, and rewarding!
  30. Gallo del Cielo
    Hello highwayhens, The protein content of live mealworm larvae ranges from about 20-30%. While that is quite a good target for protein for pastured chickens, it's really not a complete diet. I would still provide layer pellets, but you will likely find that they eat less pelletized food depending on the quantity of mealworms they get.
  31. iron chicken
    I like to eat meal worms myself!
  32. mommabird
    This would be a great project for my kids and great treats for the chickens. We live in Maryland would it be doable to start a colony now and still be able to keep them in the garage? What is the ideal temp for a colony?
  33. Chicks Galore3
    THANKS YOU SO MUCH! I've wanted to start growing mealworms, but have been overwhelmed by all the various ways to it. No doubt I will be starting soon!
  34. highwayhens
    Do you think there's enough protein in mealworms that the chickens wouldn't need another source? If they were free pastured and had grains, would they still need layer pellets?
  35. Gallo del Cielo
    Hi iluvsedward, Yes you can put them in chicken feed and they will do just fine. They might have a hard time with pellets, but if you use pellets, make they have some that is ground up. Good luck!
  36. iluvsedward
    Can you put them in chicken feed? I think it would be healthier for the chickens but will they eat it?
  37. Gallo del Cielo
    kilby, the reason your colony stinks is because you have lids on them. The lid allows for increased humidity levels and promotes bacterial and fungal growth. I always advocate not keeping a lid on them. As you say, ventilation is the key. Keep the lids off any you'll have far less maintenance keeping them clean and reducing the odor.
  38. kilby
    They don't get out but they really stink. I use two plastic basins and a stereofoam lid.
    I can smell it from my kitchen and they are in the bathroom. Ventilation is key. So is warmth though. I think they are a little high maintenance. they are hard to keep clean if you don't want the smell. Fans or open windows on these ones. 10:4
  39. Gallo del Cielo
    smyers32, I don't think they smell at all. However, my my sensitive-nosed wife disagrees with me. Most people say they have a subtle earthy smell. You'd really have to get your nose close to smell it though. Neither the beetles nor the larvae can get get out. In all the years I've raised them, I've never had an escapee.
  40. smyers32
    Do they smell?? And do the beetles crawl out? I'm wondering if I could keep them in my guest room for the winter, but I don't want it to stink and I certainly don't want beetles all over my house!!
  41. starlingsbaby
    thanks so much for this info i have 25 chickens and i buy the meal worms and they are expensive, such a good way to save money thanks again.
  42. Epreciado
    I'm glad I found this article I was keeping my mealworms in the house inside the closet because I was worried the heat would kill them, but after reading this article I guess it would be okay to move them out to the shed.
  43. Di Gibbs
    Thanks Gallo...can you imagine? "Honey is that you playing footsie?" "Um, no".....EEEEKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  44. Gallo del Cielo
    They can't crawl up glass and I suspect they can't climb up and out of plastic either. In all the years I've raised them, I've never had one escape. I don't think they smell at all, my wife would disagree. I would advise against keeping a lid on the colony if it impedes air exchange with the surface of the colony.
  45. Di Gibbs
    Do they stink? No lid? I'm getting the creepy crawlies thinking if they got out?
  46. AZBootsie
    Great info, Thanks Gallo!!
  47. jchny2000
    Thanks very much for sharing this! I am starting next week.
    This really simplifies the entire process.
  48. Tibbs2346
    dug up the bran and turns out i have 100's of very small worms. :)
  49. kilby
    Tibbs you have to wait.
    Temp plays a big role and possibly mold. Problem is they need enough water to grow the fastest. Warm weather helps but no need to put them in the sun even for five minutes.
    I vouch for the person who used a sponge cause potatoes can mold in no time here.
    If you have nothing to do clean out their habitat. That will get rid of some problems.
    I tried cleaning mine before putting them back. The worms I mean. They can drown fairly easily so take care. Other than that kick back on a cool one. 10: 4 and out.
    Oh and my second cycle of worm took almost a year so they are a lot like the human species. I think if you don't like the stick this isn't for you. Just my opinion however.
  50. Tibbs2346
    Why do i only have beetles and no worms ???? HELP PLEASE

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