Mealworms are a great way to add protein to your chickens’ diet and can be easily grown right at home. But there are limits to how many you should feed them. Learn how to grow mealworms for chickens, get answers to FAQs, and get the guidelines for feeding them to your flock.
Mealworms are an important part of a balanced and nutritious diet for chickens. My flock is free range so they do find similar insects and larvae when scratching around the homestead.
Mealworms are the brown larvae of the Darkling Beetle. They are in the second stage of the four stages of life in the Darkling Beetle.
In this second stage, the larvae are voracious eaters of organic matter as they prepare for the third stage of pupae and then full adulthood.
Chickens love mealworms and you can provide needed nutrition for them as part of the way you feed your flock. As a bonus, you can save money by growing your mealworms with organic water from your kitchen or garden.
FAQ About Mealworms For Chickens
- Can chickens eat mealworms?
Chickens can eat mealworms and I have never seen a healthy chicken turn one down. They will eat as many as they can get their beak on.
- Do chickens like mealworms?
Chickens love mealworms. They will push and scratch their way to the front of the line to make sure they get as many as possible before the rest of the flock finishes them off.
- Are mealworms good for chickens?
Yes, mealworms have the protein and nutrients your flock needs. Chickens need around 16% protein in their overall diet. Mealworms are a great treat but should not be the only thing your chickens have access to.
“You are what you eat” when it comes to your health and your chickens also need a balanced diet to remain healthy and active.
This is why fresh mealworms are better than dried ones. Dried mealworms have lost some of the balanced nutrition they had when alive. Dried mealworms, if not fed as part of a complete and balanced diet, can cause problems with the liver and egg production in your flock because of their fat and protein content.
When your flock is molting, they need added protein in their diet and they can benefit from a few extra mealworms around this time.
- Should I feed live Mealworms?
Mealworms are around 30% protein when alive compared to around 50% when dried. Chickens will eat both but it is more complete nutrition to feed live mealworms as they would naturally find in the wild.
- Can ducks, geese, turkeys, and guineas eat mealworms?
All poultry can and will eat mealworms as they will naturally eat them when free ranging in the wild. However, geese and ducks will benefit less from mealworms as their natural diet is a little different from other poultry. I have seen no health or feed savings from feeding waterfowl mealworms.
- How many mealworms should you feed chickens?
I feed my flock of free-ranged birds around 10 live, organically grown mealworms per bird in the morning as part of their daily diet when I first let them out of the coop. They fight over them and some get more or less but because they are free range, it’s not a big deal.
If you can’t free-range your birds, be sure they are receiving as natural a diet as possible.
If I had dried mealworms I would feed about half that amount in the morning.
You also have to consider the breed and size of your birds when deciding how many to feed your flock. We raise dual-purpose birds so they are larger and 10 is a good number for them.
I wouldn’t make a practice of feeding large numbers of mealworms right before your flock goes to roost. They are easy to digest and may leave the hens’ crops empty for long periods which will affect egg production.
- Can baby chicks eat mealworms?
A mother hen will teach young chicks to eat mealworms and other insects.
If you’re brooding mail-order chicks you can give 1-2 to each chick as part of their natural diet, as I have.
Feeding Mealworms is Illegal in Some Areas
Mealworms are a cheap way to feed chickens and larger farms have been known to try and cut their overhead by producing large numbers of them in the cheapest way possible.
The reason some areas have passed laws concerning growing mealworms for poultry is some producers were feeding unhealthy, parasite filled food to their large flocks of chickens. This was causing the poultry to be infected with parasites and affecting humans who consumed them.
Not following the best practices for growing mealworms can contaminate poultry with bacteria or viruses as well as high levels of heavy metals.
This can happen when someone feeds the mealworms banned substances or growth promoters in unhealthy environments.
If you decide to purchase mealworms, be sure to choose a resource that is trusted and follows clean, organic feeding practices.
The last thing you want is to feed mealworms that are full of pesticides, chemicals, bacteria, or even parasites to your flock.
How to Grow Mealworms for Chickens
Mealworms feed on many types of decaying organic matter. They also feed on many types of fresh matter they find when burrowing in dark, warm, damp places.
It’s easy to grow your mealworms at a fraction of the cost of buying them from a mealworm farm. A simple 3 tier mealworm farm will produce enough for most backyard flocks.
Here is everything you need to know to give your flock a protein filled treat for pennies on the dollar.
What You Need to Grow Mealworms for Chickens
- Plastic or Glass box. You want to pick a container with smooth sides to keep the worms from escaping.
- Food Substrate.
- The substrate is food like oatmeal, wheat bran, cornmeal, wheat flour, ground-up grains, or a mixture.
- You will fill the container with the substrate at around 2-3 inches deep.
- Chemical-free paper towels or cardboard for shading and misting with water to increase humidity as needed.
- A source of moisture.
- Potatoes work great since they last longer and do not mold as quickly as other options.
- You can also use carrots, apples, lettuce, cabbage, and other fruits and vegetables for food and moisture.
Tips For Growing Mealworms
- 75-85 degrees is a great temperature for growth rates to thrive.
- When starting your mealworm farm, you should expect that it will take a few days for your beetles to mate. Then it will take the eggs up to 19 days to hatch.
- If you start with larvae, you will have to wait for them to complete the life cycle and their eggs to hatch into mealworms.
- The larva stage is the second stage of development and is when you will be harvesting them for food. They stay in the larva stage for around 10 weeks.
- You will want to allow a few of them to reach adulthood and continue to produce mealworms for a self-sustaining farm.
Mealworm Life Cycle
|Egg Incubation||4-19 days|
|Beetle Egg Laying||Begin laying 10-20 days from when they emerge|
Lay for 8-12 weeks then death
You can grow mealworms for chickens in a single container system or a tiered system. Both have pros and cons. You will have to decide which will work best for you.
Single Container Mealworm Farm
This type of mealworm farm holds the substrate and all stages of the mealworm lifecycle in one container.
- Easiest for beginners
- Less expensive
- Takes up less space
- Easier to care for
- Lower yield due to cannibalism
- More difficult to harvest mealworms
What You’ll Need
- Drill or mesh screen
- Organic Substrate
- Bucket sifter
- Mealworms or Darkling Beetles
Instructions for the single container system
- Step 1. Find a container that’s at least 6 inches deep.
- Step 2. Add 3 inches of organic substrate.
- Step 3. Drill holes or add a mesh screen to the top of the container.
- Step 4. Add mealworms or Darkling Beetles.
- Step 5. Add 2 slices of potatoes
- Start 6. Place the container in a dark place with temperatures around 75-85 degrees
Drilling holes or attaching a mesh screen to the top of the container is for ventilation to prevent mold which can harm your worm farm.
Tiered System Mealworm Farm
You can use any plastic drawer organizer for your worm farm. You need at least 3 tiers but 10-20 work best for sustaining a continuous harvest.
- Grow more mealworms
- Easier to harvest
- A more stable growing system
- Needs more space
- Higher startup cost
- Takes more time to maintain
What You’ll Need
- 3 or more drawers
- #8 (1/8″) hardware cloth or mesh screen
- Organic substrate
- Bucket sifter
- Mealworms or Darkling Beetles
- Beetle Bin
- Cut out and replace the bottom of the top drawer with the mesh screen. Label drawer as the beetle bin.
- Fill the bin with 2 inches of substrate then add a couple of slices of potato for moisture and food.
- Beetles will burrow into the substrate, laying their eggs on the bottom.
- The hatched larva will fall through the mesh screen which keeps them from being eaten by the adult beetles.
- Worm Tray 1
- Below the Beetle Bin should be labeled as Worm Tray 1.
- Add 2 inches of substrate and add a couple of slices of potato.
- Pupae Tray
- Below Worm Tray 1 – Label as Pupae Tray.
- All pupae should be separated from worm tray 1 by moving them to the pupae tray. Watch this drawer for beetles as they will eat the Pupae that have not yet hatched.
- Extra Worm Trays
- If you have more than a 3 tray system, you will label each successive tray as worm tray 2, 3, 4, etc. Fill these drawers with 2 inches of substrate.
How a Tiered Mealworm System Works
The eggs laid by beetles in beetle tray 1 at the top of your system fall into the second tray which is worm tray 1.
Every month or so simply swap the worm tray in worm tray 1 position with the next numbered worm tray. This way they can continue to grow while the new worm tray starts to fill up with eggs.
Worm Tray Rotation
As we just discussed, the worm trays need to be rotated every month or so.
This helps keep all the worms in a particular tray maturing around the same time for harvesting.
Mealworms take around 3 months to be fully grown.
The frequency of rotating the worm drawers depends on how many worm drawers your tiered system has. Refer to the chart below for a guide on when to rotate your worm drawers.
|Number Of Worm Trays||Rotation Interval|
|2 Worm Trays||Every 3 months|
|3 Worm Trays||Every 3 months|
|4 Worm Trays||Every 3 months|
|5 Worm Trays||10 weeks|
|6 Worm Trays||9 weeks|
|7 Worm Trays||7 weeks|
|8 Worm Trays||7 weeks|
|9 Worm Trays||6 weeks|
|10 Worm Trays||5 weeks|
|11 Worm Trays||5 weeks|
|12 Worm Trays||4 weeks|
|13 Worm Trays||4 weeks|
|14 Worm Trays||4 weeks|
|15 Worm Trays||3 weeks|
|16 Worm Trays||3 weeks|
|17 Worm Trays||3 weeks|
|18 Worm Trays||3 weeks|
|19 Worm Trays||3 weeks|
|20 Worm Trays||3 weeks|
Want to purchase an easy-to-use kit?
I recommend you take a look at this system if you want to get going fast with a complete growing system.
Temperature & Humidity
Mealworms are ectothermic which means their body temperature depends on external sources. This means you have to provide the right temperature and humidity for them. This affects their metabolism. When their environment is too cold, their metabolism will slow down drastically.
At 77 F (25 C) and 75% humidity, eggs hatch in 19 days. At 95 F (35 C) with good humidity levels eggs hatch in 15 days.
If the humidity level goes below 20%, the mealworm eggs dry up and die.
Best Environment for Mealworms
Their ideal environment is a dark place at 77 F with 75% humidity.
Maintenance of Your Mealworm Farm
- Remove dead worms, pupae, and beetles from drawers weekly.
- If your containers or drawers start to smell like ammonia or if mold starts to grow in the drawers move the worms to a new, clean drawer. Thoroughly clean the smelly drawer before using it again.
- Once a week you will need to add a slice of potato for hydration.
- Move beetles and pupae that have matured to the correct trays.
- Pests like mice, spiders, and ants can decimate your farm so make sure to have a secure container system and monitor it.
- Some people sprinkle a little chicken feed on the top of trays to give the beetles a variety of vitamins and minerals. It is believed this may keep them from eating their eggs.
- If you use chicken feed, make sure it does not contain diatomaceous earth. DE will kill your whole farm.
Frass is mealworm poop. It’s a dark sandy-like substance and periodically you will need to use a sifter to remove the frass to keep your mealworms healthy and clean.
Frass that is removed from your container may hold quite a few eggs. You can put it in a separate container and add a slice of potato while letting it sit in a dark, warm location for about a month. Then simply remove the mealworms by sifting them again.
You can use the frass as fertilizer or add it to your compost pile.
Frass contains nitrogen, copper, zinc, and microorganisms that every plant needs to produce nutritious fruit.
The NPK of mealworm frass is around 5-2-2.
Summary of Mealworms for Chickens
You now have all the information you need to grow your mealworms and create a sustainable worm farm for your flock. There are just a few more FAQs for you to consider.
How much does it cost to produce mealworms?
This depends on your setup and what kind of substrate you choose.
If you use your kitchen or garden waste, the costs are so small they are not worth mentioning.
You can use slices of potatoes or carrots for moisture or chemical-free paper and cardboard that you can mist with water weekly.
A substrate is something you will need. Wheat bran is a popular option as it’s easy to sift. Coco Coir is gaining popularity as well.
If you don’t have containers to use, you will have to buy one to get going. The time and money you save in the long run with healthier chickens and less money spent on feed make it well worth it.
How long before my mealworm farm is sustainable?
Mealworms take 6 months to become a sustainable producing farm.
How do you keep or store Mealworms?
You can keep mealworms fresh by storing them in a refrigerator.
Live Mealworms can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 3 months. You need to take them out and raise their temp to 75% and feed them for 3-6 hours once a week.
You can dry mealworms. You can freeze-dry or slowly oven-dry or use a food dryer.
Where to Buy Mealworms
You can purchase dried mealworms at any farm supply, online at almost any chicken feed supplier, on Amazon, and some Facebook groups and garden centers sell them. I want to remind you to be sure you are purchasing from a company or person you trust and who uses clean organic growing and harvesting practices.
Alternative to Darkling Beetle Mealworms
I would like to mention here that we also grow black fly grubs or larvae. If you purchase grubs or mealworms you’ll find BSFL are significantly cheaper than mealworms. They are also more efficient at breaking down organic matter than mealworms.
As always, we’re here to help.
Bee Mccain says
Can bearded dragons eat them?
Bee, I have no experience with bearded dragons so I don’t know the answer. Let me know what you discover.
Yes they can, but only in small amounts as treats due to their high fat content.