12 Steps to Breeding Mealworms for Chicken Food

by Chrystal Johnson on May 6, 2013

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breeding-mealwormsWhen we decided to get chickens, I knew I wanted to make it as easy and affordable as possible. The costs of non-GMO feed can really add up (we don’t have a big enough property for the chickens to get all of their nutrition by foraging).

I started looking into ways to feed our chickens more sustainability – both because I love being sustainable and because I don’t like spending money when I don’t have to.

We had talked about vermicomposting in the past, but the idea of raising mealworms to feed our chickens popped into my head. I got online to see if it was feasible for us to do it at home and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it appeared to be!

It only takes maybe 10 minutes a week to maintain them (depending upon the size of your colony), and as our colony grows, we’ll have an endless supply of treats for our chickens!

Zoë and Kaylee love that we’re breeding mealworms and are excited to call themselves worm farmers!

These are the Supplies You Need to Get Started

  1. A few plastic containers or drawers to store the mealworms in. We use a 3-drawer plastic storage unit. If you’re going to use plastic containers with lids, you need to drill holes in the lids for airflow.
  2. Edible bedding for the mealworms. You can use a variety of things like oats, wheat germ, chicken feed, corn meal, etc. You also need a moisture source such as sliced apples, potatoes or carrots.
  3. Mealworms. How big do you want to go? We started with 2,000 mealworms. We can always add more if we need it. If we end up with too many worms, I figure we can sell them locally for fishing. I ordered our mealworms from Rainbow Mealworms, but they are also available on Amazon from multiple sellers.
  4. Something for the worms to hide under, like egg cartons, folded cardboard, newspaper, etc.

12 Steps of Breeding Mealworms

  1. Fill your bottom drawer with the edible bedding (I used a combination of whole wheat flour and oats because it’s what I had on hand). You should have at least a 1-inch layer (more depending upon the number of worms).
  2. Place slices of potato, apple or carrots on top of the oats. If you use something with more moisture, place them on a piece of cardboard so you don’t get mold in your drawers.
  3. Pour your mealworms into the drawer.
  4. mealworm-larvaePut your egg cartons or cardboard in to help the worms hide from the light (they don’t like light).
  5. You should keep them in a warm area (around 78° F is ideal) to encourage the process along. You’ll need to add more potato, carrot or apple every few days and remove any dried out pieces.
  6. A lot of people will pull out dead worms, but I have been leaving them in there since other meal worms will eat them! The chickens will also eat them (I figure they’re not much different than the dried ones you get at the pet store).
  7. The worms will begin to turn to pupae when they are 12-18 weeks old. Our started to pupate about 2 weeks after we received them. They will be very light at first and then turn darker.

    A lot of people will separate the pupae into a separate container so they can keep track of them, but I have just been keeping them in the same container with the larvae (worms) for now. I may separate them in the next cycle because I just read even the larvae will eat the pupae.

  8. mealworm-pupaeA week or two later, the pupae will start turning into beetles (darkling beetles). They will be white – almost clear – when they first hatch. They will slowly get darker after a week or so.
  9. pupa-hatchingdarkling-beetlesIt’s important to separate the beetles into a new drawer as soon as they start emerging so they lay eggs in a new section (they’ll start mating and laying eggs within a day or two of hatching). Prepare the drawer the same way you prepared the first drawer. Put a date label on the drawer so you know when they were put in there. The beetles don’t fly, so you don’t have to worry about them getting out. But you should keep the containers covered to prevent pests from getting in.
  10. Two to three weeks later, move all of the beetles to a new drawer one level up, being careful to only transfer the beetles. You want to keep all of the bedding in the drawer so you don’t lose any eggs in the transfer (eggs will also stick to the bottom of the drawer). The beetles will continue laying eggs in the new drawer.
  11. The eggs will hatch after about two weeks under ideal conditions, so it’s important to move the beetles every 2-3 weeks so they don’t eat the baby mealworms. It will take newborn mealworms 12-16 weeks to pupate.
  12. As the process goes on, you may need more than 3 drawers (depending upon your setup) since I read that the beetles typically live for around 3-4 months. I have another 3-drawer unit available if we need it. Just repeat this process over and over again.

Mealworm Breeding Tips

  1. Do not buy “giant” mealworms, as they’re often treated with an insect growth hormone, which discourages them from becoming beetles (so they’ll continue growing larger). If giant mealworms do become beetles, they’ll be sterile.
  2. One beetle can produce up to 500 eggs (higher humidity = more eggs), so our 2,000 original worms (assuming 50% females) could easily morph into 500,000 worms pretty quickly with a higher humidity level!
  3. You need to change the bedding every 3-4 months and replace it with fresh bedding. You can use a sifter to sift out the worms from the frass (waste). It’s a good idea to store the frass in a separate container for a month or so before using or discarding it to see if any worms emerge. The frass is a great fertilizer for your garden.

Videos About How to Breed Mealworms

There are a ton of videos on YouTube about breeding mealworms. Here are two that I found helpful.


More Resources for Breeding Mealworms

We’ve only been at this for a month, but so far it seems relatively easy and straightforward. I’m looking forward to seeing how fast we can grow our colony!

Have you thought about breeding mealworms? What questions can I answer for you?

About Chrystal Johnson

Chrystal, publisher of Happy Mothering, is a mother of two sweet girls who believes in living a simple, natural lifestyle. A former marketing manager, Chrystal spends her time researching green and eco-friendly alternatives to improve her family's life. She enjoys sharing those discoveries with anyone who's willing to listen.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shai Smith
Twitter: vagabondstudio
May 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm

My mom has chickens, but does not feed them live meal worms. I’ll have to forward this to her! Thanks so much for info on breeding mealworms!
Shai Smith recently posted..Manic Monday 5/6/13

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2 Chrystal Johnson May 6, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Thanks so much for sharing!

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3 Shannon @ GrowingSlower
Twitter: growingslower
May 6, 2013 at 5:54 pm

I never thought I’d be reading a post like this with such interest! ;) How much is your chickens’ regular food consumption reduced by feeding them meal worms?
Shannon @ GrowingSlower recently posted..A Baby Shower for my Baby Sister

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4 Chrystal Johnson May 6, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Our chicks are only 3 weeks old and right now I’m working on building the mealworm colony so that we can have a large supply once we put them outside. We’ve only just started breeding, but after we’ve been doing it for a few months, I’ll post an update!

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5 amanda
Twitter: attachedmoms
May 7, 2013 at 4:40 am

nice~ i’ll share this with some potential “chicken mama” friends.
amanda recently posted..Reasons to March Against Monsanto – May 25th

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6 Tracey May 7, 2013 at 5:35 am

Thank you for sharing this!!!!! We are in the process right now of building our chicken coop. I have been looking into this and your info is perfect!!!! :)
Tracey recently posted..How to Start a Chemical Free Garden: Clean Gardening with American Made Garden Supplies

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7 Jonathan (EcoDad) September 25, 2013 at 6:17 am

Do the chickens eat the beetles too or just the meal worms? How many chickens do you think you’ll sustain with the mealworms you are growing?
Jonathan (EcoDad) recently posted..Saving Water with a New Toilet

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8 Chrystal Johnson September 25, 2013 at 7:31 am

They only eat the worms. We let the beetles live their full cycle since they lay eggs the entire time. We are only feeding them to the chickens sparingly now as I’m trying to grow the colony. But it probably tripled in the first cycle, and we’re on our second now. Mealworms are meant as a supplement, not as the total feed. The protein is too high for it to be the only food they eat.

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9 Jesse Levesque November 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I had become very ill in the past when I used to feed mealworms to pets. It took MONTHS for me to get over the symptoms I suffered! Symptoms like severe sneezing, watery eyes, itchy skin and asthma-like breathing difficulties – all bad things when you don’t know what’s causing it!! I found warning labels later regarding freeze-dried mealworms. They say just breathing the dust from meal worms can cause pretty serious health reactions. Other websites say it’s not smart to breed mealworms in a residential house. I’m curious if you or your daughters have developed allergy-like symptoms from raising mealworms? I’ve even read that mealworm adult beetles produce a chemical that is a known carcinogen.

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10 Chrystal Johnson November 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm

None of us have developed allergies to them. They are in a room outside the house, not in the main house.

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11 Chris Walker June 12, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Great article. I use a similar method, but I use a rack system which makes it automatic. i got the idea from this article…
http://clubfauna.com/articles/invertebrates/how-to-breed-mealworms/
I read on your article that you use a lot of items for mealworm food. I just use the oats. Have you seen a difference in your chickens from using the other foods? I know mealworms by themselves are very nutritious because of their harder exo skeleton. I only feed mealworms to my leopard geckos, no other animals.

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