Breeding your own mealworms is very easy and cost-effective way to have a supply of fresh, yummy mealworms on hand that your chooks and other poultry will love. They are a great high protein snack to feed and it’s a lot easier to do than you think…
The mealworm is NOT a worm (and therefore not slimy, suprisingly). It is the larval stage (grub) of the yellow mealworm beetle, also called the Darkling beetle (Tenebrio molitor). Although the grub looks a bit like a worm, the mealworm has six small, jointed legs. Both the larva and the beetle are nocturnal, but they are also active during the day.
Optimal temperature for breeding is approx. 26-28 degrees, so growth will go from rapid to slow dependant on temperatures. We keep our worms in the garage.
In the interest of not reinventing the wheel I have found some websites that have some great basic information… Here is a great You Tube video (not ours) that shows the stages of the mealworm. And here is a website pictorial guide, including time periods what each stage normally entails.
Quick Mealworm facts
1. Surface area is more important than depth in keeping and breeding mealworms.
2. Darkling beetles do not fly or jump. They can climb but if your container has smooth sides and are approx.. 3-4cm higher than the level of the bedding, they can’t do it…
3. Mealworms are dry, not slimy like an earthworm and don’t smell.
4. Mealworms are an insect and therefore have six legs but they do NOT bite.
5. Female beetles can lay 300-500 eggs in their lifetime, so given time and basic care you can have a self-sufficient setup quite quickly.
6. Mealworm eggs are invisible to the naked eye and just look like dust.
7. Mealworms and beetles do not drink, but instead get the moisture that they need from the food you give them.
8. Mealworms will eat the eggs (attached to bran), pupae and each other if there isn’t enough bran and food source.
9. Beetles will also eat pupae and eggs.
10. You can carefully pick up a pupae and it will wiggle its tail. I find this stage a bit freaky as they look very ‘alien’. Blergh.
Choice of bedding for mealworms and beetles
I use bran because it is cheap, readily available from the supermarket, and the granules are small for sieving. Other breeders use a variety of things, from rolled oats to organic chicken or dog food (ground up in a blender or similar). Essentially mealworms are what they eat, so if you want organic mealworms for your animals, feed them organic food… as your confidence and colony grows you can try what you like and see what works for you.
If you are purchasing bulk bran from a Produce Store, it is best that you microwave it until it is quite hot, then cool it down completely before using for your mealworm setup. Some bran contains tiny mites which can completely destroy your mealworm setup but as they are invisible to the naked eye (mostly) unless in large numbers, we encourage you to err on the side of caution. It is heartbreaking to set it all up and come to see little white flecks (millions of them) and realise what they are and that you have to throw it out and start again…
Setting up your breeding area
What you need prior to get together before setting up your mealworm breeding area:
- An amount of mealworms (the more the merrier)
- Unprocessed Bran, chicken starter crumble or rolled oats
- Thinly sliced carrot, apple, potato or similar (food and water supply)
- Breeding mealworms is very easy and there are two ways that you can setup your kit. We will outline both below, but to start with we will quickly run through what we have sent out to you and what other items you will need to get started.
When unpack your two containers, you may see some dead mealworms (black, stiff and not moving) in the top of the container. How many depends on the distance they have travelled and the conditions of their transport vehicles. This is no biggie as a majority of sellers take this into consideration. Pick them out and feed them to your chooks.
Simple Kit Setup
Get one decent sized container with high sides. Add approx. 1 cup of bran and the contents of both containers from us. Add another cup of bran and some food to the top. Put into a cupboard (laundry is perfect) and let it go, removing mealworms as you need by sieving the contents or removing a few at a time by hand. That’s it… This is the approach for people who admit they are lazy, don’t want the hassle of tending to their mealworms (which I find strangely therapeutic) and happy to lose a percentage to cannibalism. As breeding mealworms is largely a numbers game, this method replies on the fact that the exponential growth in numbers provided by the beetles continually laying eggs outnumbers the ones lost to being eaten. You will also need to clean your mealworm setup at some stage, and details are below…
Our preferred setup
Initial setup Depending on how much you want to separate the stages, you may end up with five levels in rotation. But to start with you will need to separate all the components of the posted kit into three containers… Using the original container sent to you is fine, plus two others. Or you can have three matching containers. Of you can use a document drawer set from Officeworks, whatever you want really. The important thing is that they are not airtight and have adequate ventilation. Drill holes into containers if you want…
The first drawer, you can empty your mealworms into. You will see that there are different sizes of mealworms. Some of the large ones are fine to feed straight out to your chooks but we recommend that you keep some of them as they are close to pupate stage (and can be separated when they do pupate). Add some extra bran, a few slices of food and some type of cardboard for them to climb on and hide in/under. They seem to like cardboard.
The largest/deepest container should be where you keep your beetles. Dump the whole beetles and pupae container into this one, as the posted bran will contain eggs (both from the beetles mating since packaging but also from the beetle bran that we added from our setup). Add extra bran, a few slices of food and some type of cardboard for them to climb on and hide in/under. They also seem to like cardboard.
The smallest container can be used to separate the pupae into (which has been packaged with your beetles). They don’t eat or drink at this stage, so only need some bedding. That’s it.
Now going forward…
Every few days or weekly care:
* Just give your mealworms a shuffle every now and again to increase the airflow and see how they are going. If there are any pupae, pop them into the pupae draw/container.
* Remove hatched beetles from the pupae tray and put into the beetle tray.
* Check and remove/replace food source with fresh food as needed. If you food is going mouldy remove straight away. Either there is too much food for the mealworms to eat, or you have poor ventilation.
After 2-3 weeks…
* Your beetles will have laid lots of eggs in their bran. It is time to take the beetles out of the current bran and put them into a new, clean container with new bran. Remove the dead beetles and feed to chooks or compost (whatever your prefer). So now your original one container will now be two containers.
* Your old bran needs to be kept for a few weeks and the eggs will hatch into tiny little mealworms. This can take a while so wait at least two weeks before expecting to see anything. When the eggs hatch and the mealworms start growing they are virtually invisible to the naked eye. You can only really tell they are there by moving an area of bran and watching very carefully. If you disturb a pocket of bran you will see the baby worms moving the bran. Some You Tube vidoes show this very well… like here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=db–p1Cp908 Forward to 5:28 for movement. * You will eventually have two or three stages of mealworm growth (you can combine them into one container if you want), all in different containers. This is why I said initially you might have 5 containers after starting with three.
So they will consist of –
* Old bran, hatching into baby mealworms
* Baby/growing mealworm container
* Large mealworm container (for feeding and turning to pupae)
* Pupae container
* Beetle container
Your health and mealworm care
If you have respiratory issues, asthma or similar please use extreme caution when handling and cleaning the mealworms. It is quite common for people who work with insects to become allergic to their dust etc. The dust, eggs and poo particles are very fine and can easily cause irritation to your respiratory system. I have no allergies or asthma but I find it necessary to wear a good quality dust mask when handling and cleaning my mealworms. Not a nice feeling when you breath the dust in…
Cleaning your mealworm setup
You will need to clean your mealworm setup at some stage. Mealworms and beetles eat the bran as well as the food that you give them, and the poo (frass) sinks to the bottom of the containers. It is a very fine, grey colour. It can also smell of ammonia. The mealworms will also shed their exoskeleton multiple times in their lifecycle, and most often will come to the surface, so this is best removed also… Also, mealworms will die so you can remove your dead mealworms and dead pupae or pupae husks.
To remove the exoskeleton, grab your dustmask, the tray and a hand held fan or stiff piece of cardboard. Go outside to a well ventilated area, hold the tray/container on a downward angle and fan the top. The exoskeleton is very light and will fly out of the container and the bran will stay at the bottom (as it is heavier).
Removing the frass is a bit more involved, and you will need some sieves with different sized holes. It’s best shown in these You Tube videos –
Mealworm poo is great for your garden and very concentrated so use it sparingly… Otherwise compost it, bring it to your local food swap, sell it on Gumtree (seriously) or throw it away.
Once your mealworm farms is established and has enough in each lifecycle… feed your chookies!!!!