I sensed my hens had developed a pretty expensive mealworm habit, but it wasn’t until I sat down and did the math that I realized something had to change. See, a 30-ounce bag of dried mealworms sells for just under $25 at my local farm supply store. (That works out to about $12.59 a pound!) At the rate we go through them, I’d be spending nearly $300 per year on desiccated insect larvae.
By contrast, I could buy 500 live mealworms for $13.49 from my local pet store. With a few extra supplies and a little setup work on my part, I knew I could raise my own mealworms—and so can you!
This video shows you how to get started with a basic one- or two-container system. (If you have a really large flock of chickens and need thousands of mealworms, you might want to consider starting a larger multi-container mealworm system instead.)
The Mealworm Lifecycle
The mealworms that chickens love to eat are actually the larval stage of the yellow mealworm beetle (Tenebrio molitor). These adult beetles mate with one another, then the female beetles will lay hundreds of eggs over a period of a few months. Tiny mealworms emerge from the eggs and subsequently go through a series of growth stages.
When a mealworm hits the large-and-juicy stage—perfect for feeding to one’s chickens—it’s about to pupate. During this part of its lifecycle, it sheds its last mealworm skin and begins to look much more beetle-like.
In time, the pupa morphs into an adult beetle. Then the whole cycle begins again.
The speed with which mealworms complete this process depends on the temperature and humidity of their environment. Warmer, more humid conditions speed things up, and, far from ideal, conditions that are too cold and dry will slow their growth.
- Shelter—Use an old aquarium or large plastic storage container fitted with a screened lid.
- Food—Choose rolled oats, wheat bran or rice bran.
- Moisture—Add small bits of raw carrot to provide extra food and moisture.
- Warmth—Use a seedling heat mat or reptile mat to keep temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees F.
- Livestock—Purchase live mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) from a reputable pet store or bait shop. (Avoid “jumbo” mealworms as these may have been treated with growth hormone.)
Step by Step
- Wash and sanitize container with soapy water and a dash of bleach. Rinse and dry container thoroughly. Place on top of heat mat.
- Because grain sources can contain mites and other critters, you should heat it in a 130-degree oven for 30 minutes. This should kill any preexisting eggs and guard your mealworms against pests. (I also briefly pulsed my rolled oats in a food processor to make it easier for my mealworms to eat this food source.)
- Put 2 to 3 inches of your grain source in the bottom of the container, along with a few small bits of carrot.
- Move live mealworms into a prepared container. (At first, these will be your purchased livestock. Later, however, these will be mealworms that have hatched from your adult beetle eggs.)
- Block out light by covering with a roomy cardboard box or scrap of fabric.
Remember, how long each mealworm lifecycle stage takes depends on environmental factors like temperature and humidity.
As new beetles emerge, you might want to move them to a second container where they will lay new eggs. Then, once many of the mealworms in your first container complete their lifecycle, you can harvest the remaining worms to feed to your chickens.
Finally, empty and clean out this container, so you can start the process over again.