In the world of poultry, finding the right kind of sustenance for our feathered friends is paramount. While many might envision grains and seeds as the primary diet, there’s another delicacy that chickens love – red worms. These wriggly creatures are not just an excellent source of protein for our birds but also play a role in maintaining a healthy coop environment. When chickens eat these worms, they not only fulfill a nutritional requirement but also engage in natural foraging behavior. Moreover, beyond red worms, other forms of larva can also cater to what chickens need in their diet. This article delves deep into the process of raising these creatures, ensuring your poultry gets the best and most natural food source available. Whether you’re a seasoned poultry farmer or a backyard chicken enthusiast, understanding the importance and methods of raising worms for chickens will undoubtedly enrich your flock’s well-being.
Why Should You Feed Worms to Your Chickens?
Mealworms prefer to live in dry and dark areas, nibbling on things like grains, cereal, and flour. You can easily grow them at your home with minimal upkeep. Some of the benefits of feeding worms to your chickens are as follows:
- Additional Nutrition: During the winter, it is difficult for the chickens to maintain their weight and stay healthy, so you need to give them adequate protein. Since mealworms are 50% protein, they provide that added nutrition to the chickens.
- Minimum Investment: Raising a mealworm colony is not at all expensive, and the returns you get from it are substantial. A chicken only feeds on 50-100 worms per day, and this gives them the protein they need to lay their eggs.
- Makes Molting Easier: Every year, your chickens will go through molting where their existing feathers are shed and new ones appear in their place. During this phase, the chickens’ immune systems don’t work too well, and they require that extra protein to grow new feathers. Mealworms are an excellent way to fill this nutritional gap.
- Enhanced Egg Production: Since eggs consist mostly of protein, the more worms you feed to your chickens, the better will be the quality of the eggs. Feeding chickens mealworms can lead to bigger and better-tasting eggs that contain more protein.
Raising Your Worms
Now let us look at the fundamentals of raising a worm colony. But before starting this operation, you need to know about how mealworms grow and procreate.
Mealworms are the larval stage of darkling beetles. A female beetle lays several eggs at a time, and after two weeks these eggs hatch and give birth to the worms. They will remain in this stage for almost three months before transforming into pupae.
While raising worms, you might sometimes mistake the pupae for dead worms so it is important to check if they are alive. You can do this by disturbing the pupae, upon which you will see them twitching. The worms do not eat for three weeks at this stage, and afterward, they turn into adult beetles. It takes about six months for the worms to turn into adult beetles.
Now, let’s look at the different steps involved in raising worms:
1. Identifying the Location
Firstly, select an elevated spot that won’t get flooded during rain. You should make sure you can access the place using a wheelbarrow so you can collect the compost whenever you wish to.
2. Preparing the Hole
For a worm bin, you can take an area of 3 x 6 to 4 x 8 feet with a depth of 1 foot. Such a bin will be able to absorb a large amount of organic waste and make it possible for you to grow worms in the thousands. A screen door is perfect as a lid, and you have the following options in this regard:
- To prepare a bin matching the door’s dimensions.
- Making adjustments to the bin so that it matches the door’s dimensions.
- Building a screen door with custom specifications matching your bin’s dimensions.
3. Building the Worm Bin
After digging the hole, you should place a lining of solid frame on the interior as support, so that the dirt walls don’t cave in. Concrete blocks have the perfect dimensions for this purpose, but you can use planks made of red cedar or heartwood as well. However, you must use pressure-treated wood since it is resistant to rot. If you use untreated wood like oak or pine, you will need to change them after a few years.
No matter what type of wood you use, three planks of 8-foot length should be sufficient for a worm bin with a dimension of 4 by 8 foot. You can cut one of the planks in half and create the frame with the help of screws or nails. After this, you can drop it into the hole you dug.
4. Adding the Lid
After digging the bin and installing the frame, you should add the screen door as a lid. You can add hinges on one side and install a handle at the opposite end so you can open it easily. Following this, you need to place the soaker hose close to the door, securing it using fence staples and fence wire. For propping open the lid, a small scrap piece should be ideal.
Remember, it is important to protect the interior of the bin from direct sunlight, so you can use a piece of shade cloth or durable landscape fabric to cover the entrance. This will also allow some rainwater to seep into the bin. At the same time, you must make sure your worms don’t drown when there is heavy rainfall. Hence, the bin ought to be covered with plywood, tarp, or metal.
5. Adding Water
In order to add water to the bin, the soaker hose should be connected to the rain barrel using a spigot and a garden hose. Since you’ll be adding dry materials to the bin, the soaker hose can ensure an optimum 80% moisture level is maintained. In case there is heavy rainfall, you can turn off the supply of water using the spigot.
6. Adding the Worms
Now comes the time to add the worms to the bin. Experts suggest using 1 pound of worms for each square foot of the bin. This will create the optimum conditions needed for composting. You should aim to raise more worms with as little waste as possible so that your chickens always have a steady supply of protein.
7. Feeding the Worms
Of course, you need to make sure your worms are well-fed so that you can fatten them up for your flock. At an interval of a few weeks, you should supply the worms with substrate or food. Take some feed and add it to the tank while making sure the depth is not more than 3 inches.
It is not necessary to feed them certified worm food. If you have leftovers from your kitchen like discarded vegetables and fruits, you can use them as well. It is important to note that the worms take a bit of time to go through kitchen scraps, so you need to be careful about your bin being filled with spoilt food.
Some of the things you can feed your worms include:
- Chopped carrots
- Dry oatmeal
Make sure there is no mold or mildew inside the worm bin.
8. Harvesting the Worms
The amount of time required for the mealworms to be ready for harvesting depends on the conditions under which they are raised. But normally it takes a few months for them to mature. Make sure you don’t feed your chickens the beetles or the pupae. Leave them inside the container so they can reproduce.
If there are dead beetles inside the bin, it is not a cause for concern, since the worms will clear them out. You only need to remove any fungus-infected food or mold. It is best to wear gloves while you are harvesting the worms to avoid contamination.
Mealworm bins often produce dust and some people with respiratory problems may be sensitive to this. So just to be safe, you can wear a mask to prevent any irritation or allergy. An easy way to extract the worms is to introduce some food into the bin. The worms will be attracted to the piece of fruit or vegetable, after which you can take it out and put it in a different container.
Make sure there are enough worms inside the container that your chickens can feed on. Optionally, you can keep the vegetables as well, as they might enjoy eating those. If there are excess mealworms, you can always put them inside plastic bags and freeze them to extend their lifespan.
How to Feed the Worms to Your Chickens
By combining worms with a decent carbohydrate source, such as grain, you can give your chickens all the nutrition they need. Start with small amounts first to make sure the chickens are feeding on the worms. Start with feeding each chicken half a cup of worms, after which you can adjust the portions as required.
You can also have the worms dried and mix them into the chicken feed, but this leads to the loss of some vital nutrients. You can dry them by placing them out in the sun or by using a dehumidifier or a convection oven.
Chickens, as natural omnivores, eat a wide variety of foods. Whether you’ve observed them on a sprawling acre farm or just in a backyard coop, you’ll notice that a significant source of food for them lies just beneath the soil – worms. Earthworms, red wigglers, nightcrawlers, and especially mealworms, make a nice treat that chickens ardently adore. Chickens love mealworms not only for their taste but also because they help them digest food and provide essential nutrients.
Starting a mealworm farm might seem like a daunting endeavor, but when you think about the number of worms you can produce and the benefits they bring, it’s a good idea. Whether you choose to breed mealworms or raise mealworms, the process is relatively straightforward. Live mealworms, dried mealworms, and even larger worms, like super worms and giant mealworms, can be introduced to your poultry feed. Remember, worms contain essential nutrients, and while chickens aren’t entirely dependent on them, they do complement their diet effectively.
If you’re wondering how many worms per bird per day to keep them thriving, consider letting the chickens have a mix. A balanced worm diet, interspersed with the usual grain and scraps, will keep your flock of chickens healthy and happy. While mealworms aren’t the sole dietary requirement, when mixed with composting worms like red wigglers from your compost bin or pile, they do provide a balanced meal.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t always have to head to the feed store to get worms. If you have the space and are inclined, starting your own worm production, whether it be a mealworm farm or compost bin teeming with red wigglers, is beneficial. The worms will quickly thrive, ensuring you have lots of mealworms and other kinds of worms for the chickens. If you’re feeding your chickens penned in the coop, it might be a delightful day to keep them on a worm-rich diet, letting the chickens savor the treat.
Worm composting, feeding red worms, or even just giving a handful of nightcrawlers from the garden, all contribute to a holistic approach to poultry care. After all, if you raise chickens with love and care, ensuring they get a diverse, nutrient-rich source, the birds will reward you manifold. So, whether you decide to feed them scraps, or grains, or introduce them to a worm diet, remember, a happy chicken is one that gets a diverse plate!