Monday, November 26, 2012

Breeding Mealworms

Just in case anyone thought otherwise, this is proof that I have gone bonkers.  I am breeding mealworms as a renewable food source for our chickens.  I was surprised when I brought it up to my husband that he didn’t even bat an eye which means only one thing: he has realized that I have done lost my mind a long time ago.

So, how did I learn about breeding mealworms?  It was from a post that I received from Jane who has a website entitled Hedgecombers.   When she posted a comment on one of my posts, I took a look at her blog and noticed an article about breeding mealworms.  After doing some research, it seems to be a pretty simple thing to do. 

I set out to purchase mealworms and start our own mealworm breeding operation.  I ended up getting them from this seller on eBay and I am extremely pleased with the purchase.

Mealworms the Day We Got Them
So, you may be wondering what you have to do to breed mealworms.  I’ll tell you.

1.)    Buy mealworms

2.)    After several weeks (up to 2 months), the mealworms turn into pupas which is like a cacoon

3.)    Out of the pupa (1-2 weeks later) emerges a Darkling Beetle that live up to 3 months

4.)    The beetles mate and produce eggs

5.)    The eggs hatch into mealworms

6.)    The life cycle starts all over again

Is it really that simple?  YES!

Within 3 days of owning the mealworms, pupas started to form. Once they formed, I picked them out of the area with the mealworms and put them in their own area so that when the beetles hatch, they can get busy making some eggs!  Also, please know that the Darkling Beetles don’t fly, so there are no worries of having these things flying all over the house.

I am getting a little bit ahead of myself.  This is what is needed to breed mealworms:

  • A warm place (for maximum breeding, you will want the temperature to be around 76 degrees)
  • Plastic tubs (I am using old tupperware containers)
  • A food source (bran cereal, oats or chicken feed) of 1-3 inches in the plastic tub
  • A water source (a slice of an apple, carrot or potato)
Water Source for Mealworms
Many people on YouTube use sweater boxes to start their mealworms out in, but we keep our house pretty cold and there was no way there is any one spot in our house that is 76 degrees in December, January, February or March!  Instead, we put our egg incubator that we bought when we purchased too many fertilized chicken eggs for our broody hen to work (again).  The 1,000 mealworms we purchased fit in a small plastic container inside the egg incubator.  I am pretty confident we can keep up to 5,000 mealworms within this incubator comfortably. 

The mealworms will eat through the 1-3 inches of their food source (also known as a substrate) with time.  Once they do, all you have left is what looks like sand.  I will let you in on a little secret: this is mealworm poop.  Another inside secret is that this “sand” is great fertilizer for plants.


Costs Involved:
Incubator (we already had)
Plastic tubs (we already had)
1,000 mealworms ($18.99)
Large container of oats ($2.19)

Total invested in mealworms:  $21.18 (not including electricity use and slices of potatoes and carrots that we always have on hand)

The only reason I decided to breed the mealworms in the winter is so that I could get some experience and to build up our supply of mealworms for the chickens.  I do not plan on feeding the mealworms to the chickens until the next generation of mealworms hatch.  I have decided otherwise. Our "operation" is producing so well, even within just 2 weeks of owning the mealworms, that we will start supplementing the chicken's food with mealworms in the next month or so!  It takes anywhere from 3-4 months for the entire life-cycle to take place.  My goal is to breed enough mealworms to keep a nice supply available to the chickens through the colder months next year when they arent able to forage for their food as well as to sell them locally to help recoop the costs.  I also plan on selling the mealworm poop as fertilizer when there is enough to sell.

As you can see, with the life cycle being 3-4 months on mealworms, I can make an endless supply of treats/protein for my chickens while keeping the cost of commercial feed to a minimum.   

The mealworms have tripled in size over the past 2 weeks!

I admit I am creeped out by these things.  The noise they make while digging through the oats is an eerie sound because I know it is 1,000 mealworms!  Ick.  To me, it’s like a bad horror movie.  But I know that this is the best possible food for our hens and a replenishable one at that, so I think it’s worth it.  Maybe with time, I will be comfortable enough with them to pick them up with my own two hands. But for now, I will continue to use tweezers thankyouverymuch!



  1. This definitely grosses me out, but it sounds perfect for my chickens. I'm not entirely sure my husband will let me keep them in the house though! I tried for worm composting a while back and he nixed that idea pretty quickly. I guess I should be thankful he let me get the chickens to begin with! I am thinking about sprouting greens for the chickens this winter...we shall see!

    1. Heather, I am completely with you on so many things you mentioned. How they gross me out, and how hubby is resistant. :-) But, since getting a few chickens, he has warmed up to them a bit, though he doesnt like the fact that we have 14 right now. He wont be complaining when we get over a dozen eggs a day though! :-)

      If you have a small container, you can breed mealworms. It really is easy. It is a fun little hobby for me right now. Please let me know how it goes with sprouting greens! I am looking to make a chicken garden this year to help save of the cost of chicken feed. What are you planning on sprouting?

  2. Hi Heather, I’m Anne from Life on the Funny Farm (, and I’m visiting from the Barn Hop.

    So you took the plunge, huh? I read Jane's how-to also, but haven't plucked myself up enough to do it yet. Thanks for giving me a little bit more courage!

    1. Anne, I am looking forward to hopping over to your blog!
      Yes, I took the plunge, and it wasnt bad at all! If you want, I can send you some worms to start with to help make the "plunge" a little easier for you. I am astonished how quickly everything is moving along right now, but I love it!

      Please shoot me an email with your address when you're ready and I'll mail out some mealworms for you.

  3. I had no idea mealworms turned into beetles! And here I thought just having the worms inside was gross, now beetles!! I want to give my hens these worms but I sure wish I could breed them outside.

    1. Kathy,

      You could breed them outside in the warmer months. I will admit that I came home to about a dozen beetles running around the incubator. Good thing I have everything contained in a small space! :-) I had a conainer tipped a little too much and they crawled right out. Ick.

      I'm still using tweezers and spoons to sort through each stage of the mealworm. Lol.

    2. Actually they are not gross at all. They don't bite or even smell very much. So they're docile. I started last Feb with a small tub I got from a guy advertising on CL. I have no way to judge how many 1,000 I have now. My main concern is how to keep them in their perfect temp range for the best reproduction & I have been using a seed heat mat as of last night, but the thermometer has only gone up a few degrees. I guess I'll try building a foam box to regulate the temp. I don't have chickens yet but hope to before the years end.