If you are looking for a quick and delicious source of protein, you may crack an egg into a pan to fry, scramble or make an omelette. Perhaps unsurprisingly, chickens need a steady protein-filled diet in order to produce those quality eggs. Mealworms, which are about 50 percent protein, are a great addition to any flock’s diet. Here’s how to raise mealworms!
This is a guest post by Sam Schipani of Hello Homestead.
How To Raise Mealworms For Chickens
“I choose to raise mealworms for my flock because it’s pretty easy to get started, and chickens love live insects,” said Maat van Uitert, blogger at the Pampered Chicken Mama. “Mealworms are full of protein, so they make a great addition to any diet.”
You can purchase mealworms from a feed store, but raising your own will help you to save money and ensure the quality of your chickens’ locally-sourced treats. Plus, if you can get past the creepy-crawliness, it is easy and fun.
How To Get Started Raising Mealworms
Home-growing mealworm starter kits are available for purchase, but it is easy to start your own mealworm farm your own with cheap materials from your local hardware store. It does not take much space or materials to start, either — a plastic tub about 8 inches by 12 inches and 6 inches deep should do the trick, and the tub can be kept in a closet in your house because mealworms are quiet and calm.
Cover the open top of the bin with a fine wire mesh and seal it with duct tape (or, if it already has a lid, use that and poke a few air holes). Van Uitert even suggested looking for a plastic bin with drawers for simple sorting.
“Using a system with multiple drawers makes it easy to stay organized,” Van Uitert said. “You also don’t want overcrowding, so separate drawers allows you to build a farm that’s sustainable. I also recommend using a vertical set of drawers so you save space.”
Mealworms thrive in higher temperatures and humidities, so you will need a small humidifier and heat lamps to keep the space around a balmy 80 degrees. Keeping the tub in an unused closet will make temperature regulation easy and keep the operation out of sight.
You also need bedding — a two to three inch layer of dry oats at the bottom of the bin should do — which will serve as a substrate for the mealworms to live in, breed in, and eat. Check the bedding frequently to prevent mold from working (mixing the oats with rice is a good way to remove excess moisture) and change it out every few weeks.
“Most people kill two birds with one stone and use rolled oats as bedding,” Van Uitert said. “The mealworms can eat it and hide in it.”
What To Feed Mealworms
Along with their oats, mealworms will also need an additional source of organic matter for nutrition and hydration. They will not need an additional water source if you provide them with the right food because they derive moisture from what they eat.
“All of my excess vegetable matter can put in there,” said Robert Nathan Allen, founder and CEO of Little Herds, an edible insect educational nonprofit. “You’ll have to have moisture sources for them: potatoes, apples, carrots or really anything that’s acidic. They don’t need other water than that.”
Buy a couple hundred mealworms and add them to the container, either online or from a local bait shop or pet store. Mealworms will lay eggs about one to two weeks into their adult lives, so if you treat the critters right, you will soon have a self-sustaining population.
How To Harvest Mealworms
When it comes to deciding when it is time to harvest mealworms for your chickens, Allen said you are “really eyeballing it.” After about a month, your first generation of mealworms will darken in color, and in another week, they will morph into small black beetles that will lay eggs, which will hatch into light colored mealworms within a week or two. Freshly hatched mealworms are prime for harvesting to feed to your chickens.
“Right before they start to pupate is when they are the biggest,” Allen said. “Harvest the pale white ones that have freshly molted exoskeleton.”
Mealworms can be harvested by hand, though the process can be tedious. Using a sifter will help separate the mealworms from the oats and frass, or insect poop, faster. Allen and van Uitert also warned against harvesting all your mealworms, as you want to have enough to start the next generation.
“About a cup per chicken should be enough,” van Uitert said. “You should also provide a high quality layer feed to ensure your chickens get enough essential nutrients and vitamins.”
People Can Eat Mealworms Too!
If you are feeling extra adventurous, you can try eating mealworms yourself. According to Allen, they taste like a buttery cereal when slow-roasted and tossed with oil and spices. If you do plan to eat them, however, Allen said you will have to purchase mealworms raised specifically for human consumption instead of ones from the feed store.
Even if you don’t plan to add mealworms to your diet, your chickens will thank you for the home-grown treats.
Sam Schipani is a staff writer for Hello Homestead and the Bangor Daily News. She loves watching hummingbirds, eating flowers and shopping sustainably. She has previously written for Sierra, Smithsonian, Earth Island Journal, and American Farm Publications.
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