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. tdmom
    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  2. Tibbs2346
    started mine a few months ago and all i have is beatles, how long before the worms start comin ?
  3. Gallo del Cielo
    Lacrystol, Sorry I didn't respond right away, I'm not getting my alerts to the page. You certainly could use chicken layer or starter. I'd avoid medicated though.
  4. Lacrystol
    You mention Chicken feed, is the chicken starter if so medicaded or non? Or do you mean Chicken layer?
  5. mekritterkrazy
    Great info! Thanks for sharing!
  6. Gallo del Cielo
    Hi Emily 1220!, No, I've never frozen them because they grow so well here year-round. I know that hannakat freezes a LOT of them, so she would know more than I about freezing. PM her, she'll be happy to explain how she does it.
  7. Emily1220
    Do you ever freeze your worms for later feeding?? I'm not sure how to go about freezing them so that they dont all stick together in a big clump.
  8. Gallo del Cielo
    Sure! Mine is good for my eight hens. It all depends on how many you want to feed. A ten gallon aquarium is a great place to start and it's very easy to split the colony if you decide you need more. Good luck, although you won't need it, Amy has good worms!
  9. deek
    Thank you for providing this information. I've place my order w/Amy. Will the 10 gal tank be suitable for feeding ten hens meal worms as supplement/treats?
  10. chianea
    Great article!! My son is planning on using your guide for his 4H project this year.
  11. Gallo del Cielo
    The reason you don't want to keep them in direct sunlight is because of overheating. A colony like mine in direct sun would act like a little greenhouse, even without a lid, causing temperatures to rise to lethal levels. I think you will be fine putting them next to the reptile light; just keep an eye on the temperatures in your colony. Your mealworms will be happier if they can get out of the light, perhaps you could lay down some paper egg cartons, cardboard tubes from toilet paper or paper towels or even news paper. Good luck!
  12. mychookschick
    Oh, I forgot to ask... I know that you aren't supposed to keep them in direct sunlight, but is that the same as under a UVB emitting reptile light? I was think of keeping them right near the turtles that we are babysitting and thought that their light might count as "sun". What do you think?
  13. mychookschick
    Thank you so much!! I was getting worried that I would have to buy something else! So happy!
  14. Gallo del Cielo
    Yep, the wheat bran sold for livestock is the same thing they sell in grocery stores---just bigger bags.
  15. mychookschick
    Thanks for all the great info Gallo! Do you know if the "wheat bran" is the same as the bran that is sold for horses (and other livestock)? I already have some of that but all it says on the bag is "table bran". Is it the same thing? Thanks!
  16. Gallo del Cielo
    Hi Aussie Lady! Gee, I'm sorry to hear about ants, they can be problematic, especially since you really can't use insecticides that would harm the mealworms. The ants may either be a nuisance or a direct threat, depending on what kind of ants they are--some will be interested in the substrate and veggies, others will be more interested in eating the mealworms/pupae/beetles. There are a few things you can do. First, putting a moat of water around the colony will stop them. Perhaps you could balance the colony on a brick centered in a water filled tub. Ants can't easily cross the water. Second, a small line of vaseline (or Tanglefoot) around the outside wall of the container will prevent the ants from getting inside. That can be a bit on the messy side. Finally, as a last resort, you can sprinkle a barrier of Borax around where the colony rests. It will prevent/kill the ants but is less likely to get into the colony and harm the mealworms. The good thing is that ant problems in a given area are usually fleeting. If they don't have access for a few days or so it may be harder for the ants to find or the ants may move on to better foraging areas. Good luck!
  17. Aussie Lady
    Can anyone help? If you discover ants in your meal worm farm/box, do you know if this would be harmful for the meal worms. Would the ants eat the eggs?
  18. Gallo del Cielo
    Hi mkeawsh! You can use oatmeal you get from the grocery store (rolled oats) and you can also use chicken feed. I'd use a combination of the two if I didn't have access to wheat bran. Be sure to check your feed stores too, where wheat bran is commonly sold for livestock. Good luck!
  19. mkeawsh
    Is there something else besides wheat bran. I live in a very rural area but all the feed stores around here have oats every way you can think but no wheat bran. Any suggestions? I am all set except for the bran and going to order mealworms and I don't want to do that until I am sure I have the initial bedding.
  20. Gallo del Cielo
    I'm afraid I won't be of much help. I got that aquarium and wire cover more than twenty years ago while I was living in New Orleans; I can't remember where it was that I got it from.
  21. mzstre
    Thanks for the awesome information! Where did you find the wire top for your aquarium? I have been searching online and can only find a fine wire screen type cover that doesn't look nearly so sturdy.
  22. Gallo del Cielo
    You can find a list of suppliers on the first page of the Mealworm Farming thread. There are many online sources and you should be able to get them locally at any pet store or even Walmart in the fishing section. Other BYC members are recommending New York Worms too.
  23. gavinandallison
    where can you get the initial batch of mealworms from?
  24. Gallo del Cielo
    Yes, you can feed them to chicks---provided they have access to grit. They tend to have a hard time with the larger ones at first, so I give them the smaller worms.
  25. Casagraves
    Great info for a beginner like me. Can they be fed to chicks? Or should we wait until they are in the coop?
  26. Gallo del Cielo
    You can look for a list of suppliers on the first page of the Mealworm Farming thread. I'd recommend trying WestKnollAmy first.
  27. keenecowboy
    Got my tank and wheat bran, just need to order the mealworms. Looking over all the sites on the internet to find the best price and quality. Any suggestions?
  28. Aussie Lady
    Hi, I just ordered my meal worms (30 large). It seems like a small amount however I believe these will multiply quickly as I live in Brisbane/Australia and it is very muggy at present, winters are very mild. I only have 1 Silkie and will be getting 4 Australorps shortly.
  29. ChicwannaB
    http://www.sialis.org/raisingmealworms.htm this site has tons of great info on raising your Melaies. Mine came today and I have them all set up, looking forward to this. It will be so fun and the chickens will benefit greatly.
  30. kimntep
    I've hunted forever for a simple and easy-to-follow guide..this is it! Thanks you, thank you, thank you! I'll be getting started soon and my 20 chickens will be so happy!!
  31. jandrusrn
    that was ridiculously simple-sounding. Hmmmmm, even a silly nurse like me may be able to do this. I love it!
  32. Gallo del Cielo
    I would recommend going without a lid entirely, if that is at all possible. The more air circulation that you have, the better off the colony will be. If you absolutely need a lid (perhaps to keep out a cat), then drill as many holes as possible. I also have a colony in a very large tub that didn't have a cover to keep out wild birds and lizards. I fashioned one out of a piece of hardware cloth by bending the sides down. Good luck with your experimenting!
  33. ChicwannaB
    I found some totes and am ready to start my experiment, does the lid need to be TIGHT fitting, or not? if it's tight, should I drill any tiny ventilation holes in it??
  34. epeloquin
    I just got started a couple days ago with 200 worms. I might pick up more to boost it but I'm off to a start.
  35. Gallo del Cielo
  36. Scooter&Suzie
    Okay, thanks! Do you think a 6" by 12" container would work for 500 then?
  37. Gallo del Cielo
    I've never counted, but I would guess that there are between 10,000 and 20,000 in the pics above.
  38. Scooter&Suzie
    Just wondering... How many meal worms can live in a 10 gallon tank? 100? 500? 1000?
    1. Roman J. Sabatini
      The size 14 3/8 x 8 9/16 x 5 15/16 for example can housing up to 10K mealworms, beetles and pupae combined so do your math for your own sizes.
  39. kilby
    just found it thanks a bunch
  40. kilby
    how long before a meal worm turns into a beetle.
    How long to hatch a pupae?
    thanks in advance
  41. Gallo del Cielo
    Check the mealworm thread in the Feeding and Watering section. Several folks there sell them. WestKnollAmy is probably the most active. You can also find them at your local Walmart or pet store.
  42. mkeawsh
    I really am interested in doing this. Where do I get mealworms?
  43. SanctusPullus
    What a great and easy-to-follow guide! Thanks so much for posting this, I'm starting mine today!

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