Mealworms (also known as Tenebrio molitor) are in fact insects that have proven to be a source of meal to so many livestock. They are scavengers that can be found in grain stores, feed sacks and occasionally household items such as cereal and flour. They like dark, dry places where grain or other edibles such as flour or chicken feed are kept.
All the nutrition and water they need for surviving and thriving can be extracted from the grain which they have infested. Chickens need protein and more of it when they are sick, growing, moulting, or laying eggs. Mealworms and black soldier fly larva pack a protein punch for chickens. Stressed-out chickens (due to moving, moulting or the addition of a new flock mate) need a little extra protein to get through the low points and emerge on the other side, happy and healthy.
Note that a female beetle will lay up to five hundred eggs during her short lifetime of a couple of months. After a couple of weeks, the eggs will hatch and become larvae – which we know as a mealworm. Its’ proper title is the yellow mealworm. Mealworms moult their exo-skeleton several times before they reach the pupa stage after approximately 3 months.
The pupa more or less looks like a dead mealworm but it is busy transforming itself into a Darkling beetle. The only movement you will see is an occasional twitch if the pupa is disturbed. It does not eat or take nutrition during this period.
It will remain a pupa for about 2-3 weeks before hatching into a brown beetle that over a period of days will turn a black colour. The complete lifecycle can be done in as little as 5-6 months in ideal circumstances. Even though mealworm farming is not complicated, industry leaders advice that new farmers conduct thorough research, paying close attention to the challenges their colleagues have faced on their journey.
Estimated Profit You Make Yearly Raising Mealworms
Mealworm farmers make money through the sale of each insect. The specifics will be determined by the location and the market need in your region. Prices also tend to vary, depending upon the location and number being sold. Overhead and time costs, market demand, and competitor pricing are all factors to be considered when analysing the income of mealworm farms.
For instance, mealworms go for slightly less, averaging $13 for one thousand in the United States. High shipping costs to deliver the insects also play a factor when dictating the average income of a mealworm farm.
While many mealworm farmers choose to remain small, limiting their service to the local community, the sky’s the limit when it comes to potential profit. The five leading insect farming companies report profits upwards of $2 million annually.
Just like majority of environmentally friendly businesses, long-term growth comes from maintaining a pulse on industry innovations and trends. Your involvement in educating others on the green movement will ensure you make mutually beneficial connections and increase your organization’s visibility.
How to Start a Mealworm Farm
Note that it is possible to buy mealworm farm kits online, but it is much cheaper and more fun to make your own. This is a wonderful project for the kids – it is easy, doesn’t require any high maintenance and isn’t labour intensive. It is also a natural, self- replicating food source for your flock.
Find a Container
Note that before you start your mealworm farm, you will need to find a container to grow them in. For the container itself any of the following will do: an old aquarium, plastic storage tote or similar item. If you use a fish tank, or glass sided container, you can watch your insects at work.
It is oddly fascinating watching them go about their business. However, no matter the container you choose make sure it is approximate: 12 inches x 24 inches and 12 inches deep. The chosen container will also need a lid or screen mesh to put over the top. The lid needs to allow for some air circulation through the container.
Prepare Your Container
At this point you will need to make sure your container is thoroughly clean and dry, and you will also need to find an ideal location for your container. Any location you choose needs to be warm (the ideal temperature is 80F), low light/ dark environment. If you are lucky enough to live in a warm climate year round, you probably would not need this. However, do remember to keep them in a dark place.
Add Your Substrate
After you have your container and it is in a proper location, you need to fill it up with feed (substrate) for the Mealworms. Note that the exact amount you will need depends on the size of your container; it needs to be about 2-3 inches deep. For the feed you want to use wheat bran. If you can’t use wheat bran then rolled oats, chicken mash or cereal crumbs will also work.
If you use chicken feed make sure it doesn’t contain diatomaceous earth as this will kill the Mealworms. You should be able to buy the wheat bran for less than $1 per lb. However, regardless of the feed you decide to use, just make sure you sterilize it prior to using- this will ensure that no pests are present. To sterilize, spread it out on a cookie tray and bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 130-150F. After you have sterilized your feed put 3 inches of it into your container.
Add Mealworms to Your Farm
At this point, you will need to add mealworms into your container, the more the better! You should aim to start with at least 500. However, it is important to know what the mealworms have been fed since they can indirectly impact your chickens’ health and by extension – yours.
Also the possibility of zoonotic disease such as salmonella cannot be ruled out since the exact diet of the insect is unknown and the conditions in which the beetles are kept may be less than clean. Do not buy giant mealworms. It is possible they have been treated with a growth hormone that will inhibit pupation and produce sterile beetles.
After you must have purchased your mealworms, gently pour them out into your container and apply your cover to the container – the cover is to keep things out rather than the insects in. Mealworms are a favourite food of reptiles and amphibians, so you really don’t want your pet iguana eating all your worms.
Feed Them and Let Them Grow
You now have to keep your mealworms fed and let them grow and multiply. Note that you can feed them as much as you like, remember: more food means the more they multiply. In addition, if you want a hands-off approach just make sure you feed them every couple of weeks to maintain the feed depth of around 3 inches.
Collect Your Mealworms
Depending on the conditions you have provided for your insects, it will take a few months before you can start selling the worms. Don’t worry about removing dead beetles, the larvae will do that for you! Do, however, remove any bits of mouldy food and discard it.
Note that you can use a vegetable such as a carrot and place it into your container and leave it for 5 minutes or so. The worms (larvae) will latch onto the carrot, pull the carrot out and shake it over another empty container and you will have lots of mealworms to sell.
If you are lucky and happen to have an overabundance of mealworms, they can be stored in the freezer in plastic bags. Always remember to use gloves to handle the mealworm farm and a few people use masks when working with the tank because of the dust.
Some people become allergic to the fine dust created by the beetles, so if you already have a medical issue with your breathing, please err on the side of caution and wear a mask or respirator.
Mealworms are a healthy, nutritious snack that is full of protein which helps your hens lay lots of eggs. A mealworm farm, which can be managed on both a small and large scale, is a farm that breeds and raises Mealworms for commercial or personal purposes. The commodities these worms produce can be used to feed livestock – from chickens to pigs.
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