Feeding with mealworms as the only protein source

Apr 26, 2021
55
71
71
South Carolina
@WhiteTreeOfGondor lots of comments above - basically, pellets are pretty easy, and foraging in warmer climates (like South Carolina) can work out ok most of the year. But, they will need a VARIETY of foods accessible to them, and that may not be the case unless you plan for that. If you have land, and learn about year round gardening (if possible in your microclimate), you could very well provide them with a nutritious diet. But, what some people find is they supplement free range with pellets in the evening before roosting. Some people do not free range due to predators.

Feeding meal worms as protein: BAD idea as meal worms are actually very fatty. Too much fat and your birds can end up dying from fatty liver disease. So, using meal worms as part of their diet can be ok, when used sparingly.

Other sources of protein: nature's bugs, alfalfa grass (if dried form, get pellets and rehydrate, and make sure they have access to grit!) as alfalfa bought in pellets or cubes have a 16% minimum protein. DRY cat food, but watch the sodium, too much is quite bad for birds...grind it or hydrate it and don't use exclusively. Canned meats, but again, watch the sodium content. You roast a chicken/turkey, etc and give them the leftover carcass to pick over. Fish food, yup dried fish food but careful with the sodium. Catfish pellets - apparently high in protein. Keep in mind, many of the feeds I mention are formulated for healthy fish or cats or catfish...so some nutrients are likely not in ideal ratios. If you are able to provide your chickens with good forage, then supplementing with some of these can work out ok.

My spouse grew up in SC, and is pretty sure their chickens did not have a closed coop - but they did have shelter. And no recollection of having feed pellets...but, kids don't remember everything. Basically, the chickens foraged whatever and got food leftovers.
Thanks, those are some interesting options! We use alfalfa pellets from Azure Standard in pig feed, so maybe I'll soak some and see if the flock likes it.
 
Apr 26, 2021
55
71
71
South Carolina
Here is a good thread that my be helpful to you. The OP is in a location were chicken feed isn't available with balanced nutrition, and some members helped formulate a recipe with balanced nutrition containing lots of different seeds, and grains, than meat and vegetable scraps for protein etc. Very interesting thread, though its going to be much more costly than a bagged feed, and more effort. I love your idea! I prefer to stay away from GMO's as well, and love research and experiments with natural nutrition. Hopefully this thread can be of use.
https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/making-feed-at-home.1495914/

I'll also provide another link were a member successfully raised healthy chickens on a 100% forage diet. Keep in mind that she had a much smaller flock of birds on her current land, so they had more room to forage. You'll need quite a lot of room for a successful 100% forage diet with 38 birds. An acre per bird is ideal.
I think your vision is doable, but its going to be a lot of work formulating a feed for your birds with your climate, readily available seed/grains etc, the amount of land you have, etc. It will be a lot of work though. Like I said above, I love the idea, and would be happy to follow along and see how it goes. If your willing to put in the work and the cost, I'd say go for it!
https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/successful-100-forage-diet-experiment-long-post.1435544/
Thank you for those links! We definitely don't have an acre per bird, so couldn't do 100% forage. Animal nutrition is a fun subject to learn about; everyone has different knowledge and experience to add.
 

Weeg

Crossing the Road
Premium Feather Member
Jul 1, 2020
8,138
16,581
786
Small town in Western Washington
My Coop
My Coop
Thank you for those links! We definitely don't have an acre per bird, so couldn't do 100% forage. Animal nutrition is a fun subject to learn about; everyone has different knowledge and experience to add.
Agreed, I love doing research on natural nutrition for my animals. Dogs was a fun one to learn about. :D I'm going to follow this thread to see what you come up with. I like your thoughts.
 

K Koa

Hatching
Oct 22, 2021
2
2
6
We would like to feed our chickens and ducks without GMOs, but the bagged feeds have been very expensive. I am thinking of starting a mealworm farm as a protein source for them. They also free range in a large yard. If anyone has used a mealworm farm as the main protein source for their poultry, I have a couple of questions! How many containers of worms I would need to produce enough daily for about 38 birds? With the worms, chicken scratch, and oyster shells, would they need anything else to supply necessary nutrients?
Thanks in advance!
I feed my chickens shredded collard greens. Lots of good nutrients for the birds and they love the stuff. Also feed them watermelon in the summer, strawberry tops and cut up grapes. My hens get really excited when they see me coming with a food container. Also they get seed mix, laying scratch and meal worms.
 

magicdave

Songster
6 Years
Sep 28, 2015
32
44
104
No comment.
Too muxh reliance on the "Science" offered by the Big Ag feed companies in the bysiness of selling "You" feed and not enough common sense. Chickens are primarily Carnivorous. Free Rangers like mine hardly ever eat commercial layer feed except in the winter when there aren't any "bugs" to eat. I suppliment my"girls" feed with meal worms to provide protein and fat. I also feed them fresh greens from trays of sprouted barley/wheat/oats, etc.

Learning about nutritional needs of chickens can guide your feed decisions. I will only offer how I raise my birds. I have 24 Sussex Hens that were hatched out here on my farm. They were raised by very smart hens that were also raised here on my farm. After 2 generations of totally free ranging and being taught by the rest of the hens the notion that "they have been bred to need a vegetarian layer feed" is nonsense. Chickens that don't regularly have "bugs" in their diet develop a low grade systemic Salmonella infection that infects their eggs. No thanks. I prefer to feed my birds as if they are still Southeast Asian Jungle Fowl because genetically that is their foundational DNA.
On my farm the birds get one ustate New York winter to adapt or they perish.
26 hens average 20 eggs per day almost year round.
As for how many mealworm trays will you need, my system of 25 trays provides me enough dried worms to feed my 30 chickens, & 30 Ancona Ducks (25 ducks/5 drakes). 10+ dozen fertile chicken eggs/10+ dozen fertile duck eggs per week is enough work for these old bones. Sussex roosters grow very fast and average 5 lb. dressed birds to eat so I continually hatch extra eggs. My duck eggs are continually hatch as well. I love eating duck too. I raise geese for meat too.
Any way developing a homemade feed for your birds takes research so explore the actually nutritional need for your birds from educational institution not funded by Purina etc. An agricultural college often will be more helpful.
 

Cosmiclemons

Hatching
May 2, 2020
1
4
8
Thank you for your input; and I know bagged feed is the easiest way to make sure they are getting proper nutrition. They are currently on layer feed and I'm not going to start experimenting on them with my guesses. However, I can't imagine that all historical chickens were nutritionally unbalanced and unhealthy before the relatively recent addition of bagged feed to the market. I am sure there are combinations of foods that would work for them. I want to do some research on this, and talk to anyone else who may be ahead of me or had experience feeding this way.
I should start by saying I did not read to the end of this thread before posting this here. So apologies if people here already mentioned permaculture solutions for you.

One thing I found very useful in supplementing (if not nearly replacing) bagged feed is to have my chickens do all my composting work. They eat the worms, beetles, mycelium, stray weed seeds that sprout from the heat… plus they get to do what they do best which is scratch and peck. Last year I planted some of their bagged food and tossed them whole stocks of grain that I grew myself! Definitely did not require any additional labor on my part- and then I rotated them into that part of the garden. Not much space is needed for growing grain and you interplant it with some radish or turnips or beets that can be used for food stock for them in the winter as well. Though depending on your reasons for having 38 chickens you may need more space than you currently have for them to free range. You are totally correct though- chickens did just fine before we started helping them- giving them a natural environment with plentiful (intentionally planted) forage is an excellent way to have GMO free organic happy delicious eggs. After all we are what our food eats!
Permaculture has helped me a lot with finding planting combinations and some perennials for them to forage on. They also do very well in orchards assuming the trees are mature enough to tolerate their behavior :)

I also ferment grains for them. Helps gut bacteria as well as stretching the grains a bit further. They get more nutrition from the soaked seed and end up eating less bulk than dry. That was a huge $ saver before I got the other systems up and running!
I’m excited for you on your journey. I hope some of this info was helpful :)
 

Fowl Explorer

Songster
6 Years
May 30, 2015
50
18
106
Central Virginia
My vet just read me the riot act on feeding mealworms, scratch, black oil sunflower seeds, etc. paraphrasing slightly: "Those "treats' nutritional ratios" have an inverse relationship to a healthy balanced diet for chickens. Your birds will not recover from molts as quickly, and will become unhealthy as you feed these items. Chickens eat about 1/4 C of feed daily, if you give 4-5 mealworms, they will miss 1/4 of their nutrition." It is like having ice cream and potato chips as your first course for breakfast or your first meal of the day. Do NOT hand these items out. Make them eat their feed. --- The truth was shown in my own flock. I stopped with the daily treats and started with "tuff love" - Eat your feed! The chickens are glossier, peppier, healthier (in just a month!), and so are the turkeys and ducks. We save treats to lure them or reassure them when treating them for something. I just lost a dear cock to a variety of infections he should not have had if I were feeding him properly. I feed Kalmback feeds because they have the % protein my Buckeyes need, and organic as much as possible because I have big digestive troubles if I eat GMO-fed animals.
 

NatJ

Free Ranging
Mar 20, 2017
8,133
16,939
706
USA
My vet just read me the riot act on feeding mealworms, scratch, black oil sunflower seeds, etc. paraphrasing slightly: "Those "treats' nutritional ratios" have an inverse relationship to a healthy balanced diet for chickens. Your birds will not recover from molts as quickly, and will become unhealthy as you feed these items. Chickens eat about 1/4 C of feed daily, if you give 4-5 mealworms, they will miss 1/4 of their nutrition." It is like having ice cream and potato chips as your first course for breakfast or your first meal of the day. Do NOT hand these items out. Make them eat their feed. --- The truth was shown in my own flock. I stopped with the daily treats and started with "tuff love" - Eat your feed! The chickens are glossier, peppier, healthier (in just a month!), and so are the turkeys and ducks. We save treats to lure them or reassure them when treating them for something. I just lost a dear cock to a variety of infections he should not have had if I were feeding him properly. I feed Kalmback feeds because they have the % protein my Buckeyes need, and organic as much as possible because I have big digestive troubles if I eat GMO-fed animals.
I like wet chicken food as a "treat" for luring chickens somewhere. (Just add water to a small amount of feed in a dish.)

They seem to love it, I always have the ingredients on hand, there is no worry about them eating too much of it and messing up their diet, and they cannot carry wet feed around in their beaks to eat somewhere else. I learned the hard way that tossing a bread crust in the coop does not put all the chickens in. The first one would run back out with the bread crust while I was still trying to shoo the stragglers in :lol: A dish of wet food makes them stay THERE to eat it.
 

Revarded1

Chirping
Feb 7, 2021
18
50
56
How big is your chicken run and do they have access to fresh grass? I would look more into incorporating more forage opportunity into your run before I changed their diet that drastically. I plant comfrey (about 19% protein) around my bird pens. Yesterday, I sowed peas (20% protein), broccoli, and buckwheat heavily around the chicken run to give them a winter buffet. If you Google it or even poke around BYC, there is a lot of info on how to plant inside the chicken run too.

I have 9 chickens in a 16x30 planted run. They get about 2.5 cups of soaked/fermented whole grain feed in the morning. This is about one cup worth of dry feed. I get a 40 lb bag for $39. At a cup a day, it lasts for quite some time.

There is a 5-gallon (25 lb capacity) feeder of non-gmo layer pellets in the coop that they have 24/7 access to. It only goes down about an inch or less per day, so I only put maybe 6 lbs of food in it for the week.

I also have a high protein, omega-3 green fodder system going. The mix is mainly buckwheat, millet, flax, clover, but I bulk it up in winter with peas, broccoli, alfalfa and whatever I can grow quickly/cheaply in cooler weather as my main mix doesn't grow as well below 65 degrees. They get a shoebox sized tray every day. It helps save the grass when they have some other green stuff to peck at. I'm about to change my fodder process to double the amount they get.

They're constantly scratching for bugs and nibbling the plants. I throw them my vegetable scraps and they get a dried mealworms snack in the afternoon. Sometimes I add fresh chopped produce to their morning wet food. Last night I made zucchini and acorn squash so the squash seeds and some chopped zucchini made it to their bowl. Some people make a hardware cloth composter next to or in the chicken run that allows the chickens to get extra bugs that fall out.

In short, fermenting the food stretches it out and makes the nutrients more digestible. Kitchen scraps add some fresh food and diversity to the diet. Enough green space will encourage the chickens to forage for their own food. Packing it with nutritious vegetation will ensure a healthy selection.

Also, I get the best deal on non-GMO pellets at chewy.com. They have some options for whole grain fermenting, but I like Scratch and Peck for that. My egg quality is the highest on S&P ferment, and I get the best deal on it from Azure Standard.

Justin Rhodes on Abundant Permaculture has a lot of info on his website for how to stretch feed and make chickens eat "naturally". The maggot bucket was a bit much lol but I've used a lot of his other recommendations. He says if the chickens eat more than 1/4 lb per bird of commercial feed each week, then it's time to cut back.
 

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