Whether for eggs, for food or just for fun, an increasing number of households are now raising their own chickens. One of the most important parts of raising healthy, happy chickens is to provide them with a nutritious and varied diet. Mealworms, a type of beetle larvae, are a common treat for chickens.
Basics of chicken feeding
A healthy diet for chickens consists of a mixture of fat, protein and carbohydrates, together with vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy development. The exact content of the diet depends on the role for which the flock is intended. For instance, laying hens require high levels of calcium to replenish the calcium they use in producing egg shells. For most hens, about 15% of the diet should be protein; mealworms are very high in protein, being around 20% protein by weight.
Healthy use of mealworms
Chickens are omnivores, happy to eat both plants and animals. They are happy to eat mealworms, whether live or dried. Small chicks may have trouble with larger worms, making it advisable to choose their feed carefully or to restrict mealworms to adult birds. Individuals who keep chickens as pets or want to build a better relationship with their birds often use mealworm rewards when teaching chickens to feel comfortable around them. Mealworms also make a good addition to the diet of chickens who are losing feathers, as this can often indicate a shortage of protein in the diet.
Risks of feeding mealworms to chickens
Although mealworms make a great treat for chickens, long-term overfeeding can result in dietary imbalance. Most chicken owners feed their birds a commercial feed, which will usually have an adequate amount of protein to begin with. Feeding birds more than a spoonful or two of mealworms a day may mean that they don't get enough of the other nutrients they need to be healthy. Free-range chickens will eat insects and other small animals such as slugs, meaning that owners should feed them mealworms very sparingly.
Buying or raising mealworms
Both live and dried mealworms are available from most pet or animal supply shops. Dried mealworms are less expensive than live worms, and an individual purchase will provide more nutrition. Live mealworms are particularly good for chicken owners who want to breed their own larvae. A colony of mealworms in an aquarium or other container can provide an ongoing source of protein-rich treats for a flock, but owners without the space or time for such a project may find dried worms more convenient.