Thursday, June 20, 2013

I'm Raising Mealworms ~ Gross, Yet So Fascinating!

I seriously never thought I would say this but...I am raising mealworms!  I wanted to provide my chickens with a great source of protein, and mealworms are the easiest way to do that, but they can be kind of an expensive treat.  I've seen so many other chicken keepers who are raising their own and thought it was just gross!  I also worried about the beetles getting out of the plastic box and raiding my house!  I have enough trouble keeping the crickets under control, I certainly didn't want to introduce a new insect in my house.

Because I'm a naturally curious person, I kept reading blog & forum posts about how easy it is to raise mealworms and how the darkling beetle doesn't fly and cannot crawl up the smooth walls of the plastic tubs.  And most importantly, how you don't have to actually touch them with your hands!  That part creeped me out the most.  So I decided to give it a try.  At the very least, I could just feed them to my chickens and be done with it if I didn't like it.

So I ordered 3000 mealworms. I don't do things small once I set my mind to it.  I ordered them from Exotic Nutrition for what I guess is a reasonable price.   I was concerned about them surviving the shipping with the heat of Arizona and all, so I added three ice packs with my order.  They were to ship via Priority Mail and with this distance I expected them in about 3 days.  They actually arrived on the second day so I was happy about that.  The ice packs were no longer cold, so its good they didn't have to spend another hot day in transit.

I opened the cloth bag that held the mealworms and looked inside.  They looked gross, but pretty harmless hiding in the wads of newspaper inside.  I sat the box on the table and went to gather my plastic tubs that I bought the day before.  I probably should have closed the bag back, because when I returned only minutes later the mealworms were crawling out of the bag!!! Eeeck!  I freaked just a little, then grabbed the cloth bag and dropped it in the tub.  This way as they crawled out they would be confined to the tub.

The previous night I froze my box of oatmeal because I read that doing this will kill any insects that might have laid eggs at the factory (kind of an icky thought).

Then I pour the oatmeal in my little processor and started chopping it up finely.  I read this was a good idea, but in hindsight I don't think it was necessary.

Then I poured the freshly ground oatmeal into the tub.  By this time the mealworms were really coming out of the bag.  I pulled the wads of newspaper out of the bag and spent the next half and hour knocking the worms off the newspapers.  This was another thing that in hindsight was not necessary because they actually like wads of newspaper in their tub.

Once all the mealworms were safely in the tub I added some cardboard and laid out a few pieces of carrots on the cardboard.  The worms were on it so fast!  They must have been pretty thirsty (they get their only source of water from these veggies).

Mealworms going crazy over an apple.

About two hours later they have eaten all the way through the apple.
Over the next few days they continued to devour the carrots, apples, what ever I put in there.  After a few days they slowed down on the carrots so they must have finally quenched their thirst.

I have since realized that my small tubs were not big enough for 3000 mealies so I upgraded them to a much larger tub.  I am using the smaller tubs to house the Pupae and beetles separately because I have read that they will eat their own eggs sometimes, and that would defeat the purpose of raising them if they eat their offspring.

I cut the bottom out of one tub and attached a piece of screen over the opening (held in place with silicone) and then positioned that tub directly above another topless tub so the eggs (that are so tiny you almost cannot see them) and newly hatched worms, can fall through the screen into the other tub, safely out of the reach of the beetles.

 So far I have watched the mealies growing and growing.  They shed their skin with each new growth stage.  And in only about 2 weeks I have already scooped 123 Pupae out of the big tub and moved them into the beetle tub. (Update: within 24 hours of this post going live my Pupae count is now almost 200, and 3 beetles.  Perhaps my colony is on the brink of a serious population growth!)

And look, just today I discovered two beetles!  (They move really fast so I could only get one of them in the picture.)

I hope its a boy and a girl so they can get busy laying eggs!  Soon the other pupae will turn in to beetles too, and they will begin to breed and lay eggs that will produce more mealworms.  Here is a diagram of the mealworm life cycle.  Pretty amazing!

From a great source for learning about mealworms.

Okay I know I was so repulsed by these before I actually got them...well even when they first arrived I was still pretty grossed out.  But now I am so fascinated by them that I don't miss a day of checking in on them.   I am totally mesmerized by their transformation.  But I still will not touch them with my hands...I use spoons and forks to dig through their bedding and move them from one tub to another.

I have been scooping out some dead ones, and some live ones too, to feed to the chickens.  They act like I am giving them chicken-crack or something!  I always use a specific dish to bring them out to the chickens and they now recognize that dish.  I have tried to take a picture of them eating the worms but they are gone so fast I haven't had time to even snap a picture.

I'll keep you updated on their progress.  I'm excited to see my first new generation of mealies to come from this colony.  I will be so excited to share that with you...the hubby doesn't want to know about it.  I think he is wondering what happened to his wife.  In the last six months I have become a chicken keeper, a gardener, a self-sufficiency student, turned my kitchen counters into herb and sprout growing factories, and now I'm a mealworm farmer.  He is happy that I get so much joy out of these things, but it's all new to him.  I told him I grew up on a farm and wanted to live that lifestyle again...but in our 10 years together he probably started to think it was all just wishful thinking on my part.   It was actually, but now that wishful thinking has become a reality.

So tell me, what you are doing to make your dreams a reality...

Keeper of 1 husband, 2 grandkids, 3 dogs,
3 cats, and 17 Chickens!
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Did this post stir something inside of you? If so, Please leave me a comment, I would love to know what you're thinking!!!