I’m always up for finding different kinds of treats and bugs for my chickens to eat.
Variety is the spice of life, after all? Why not let my hens get some variety in their diets.
But when I started reading about mealworms for chickens, I was shocked to find out several countries made it illegal to use them for your chickens.
This floored me, so I looked a little deeper, and here’s what I found.
It’s illegal to feed purchased mealworms to chickens in the U.K., E.U., and several other countries, but not the U.S. Imported mealworms, especially dried ones used as food for chickens and other poultry, often carry diseases. These diseases may even be passed to humans when they eat the chickens.
Sounds scary! But as with many things, there’s some nuance to this topic we’ll cover in the rest of the article.
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Should You Feed Your Chickens Mealworms?
Mealworms are great sources of protein. There’s a reason these little larvae are popular with reptiles.
Chickens enjoy the fatty taste and texture.
If you’ve ever fed dried crickets to your chickens, expect an even bigger reaction with mealworms.
Live mealworms are even better. They squirm and get the hen’s instincts firing on all cylinders.
The water content is higher, too, making it even better for your chicken.
As a main food source, it doesn’t provide the nutrition you need from grains and commercial feeds.
But as a supplement, it doesn’t get much better than this.
After all, protein is critical in the production of eggs, and eggs are one of the joys of keeping chickens.
Mealworms are a great treat and supplemental food if you have the option.
The major concern with this insect is the disease when you get them from an unreputable source.
Also, it’s illegal in some countries like the U.K and E.U.
Be sure to read more into the reasons why it’s illegal before you decide whether or not to go for it.
Why Are Mealworms For Chickens Illegal In Some Countries?
The regulation on mealworms is non-existent. People can stuff their mealworms with all sorts of bad things, and there’s no control over whether or not it ends up with diseases.
Without such oversight, many mealworms end up with big problems, and some come with deadly consequences.
The worst part is that this danger isn’t simply to the chickens; it poses a risk to people and animals who eat the chicken meat and even the eggs!
Bad things found in the mealworms are:
- Heavy metals
How does all this nasty stuff get in the mealworms? This doesn’t happen in nature often, but it’ll happen with mass production shops.
The biggest problem comes down to how the producers enhance their profit.
They seek to:
- Make the mealworms grow faster.
- Keep them alive for longer.
- Force them to grow bigger.
- Lower the cost of keeping them.
In aiming for these four things, they use chemicals and a poor environment to artificially make them seem better for your animals.
This is where the rise in disease and poisons come from.
Unfortunately, all this gets passed through to the chickens and those who eat them.
It’s not safe, and evidence has shown cases of severe illness in humans where the bad mealworms have caused this illness.
Let’s be clear, though.
All of these negatives apply to store-bought mealworms only.
There is no danger if your chicken finds and eats mealworms outside naturally.
Substitutes For Mealworms For Chickens
If you don’t want to use mealworms on your chickens after this (and we don’t blame you), there are a few other options to consider that do a similar thing to the little bug.
Vegetables And Fruit Leftovers
Mealworms offer some extra nutrition and calories on top of the standard grains.
Leftover veggies and fruits from your table will do the same job.
They aren’t as high in protein, but they’ll provide more good vitamins and minerals than a standard mealworm.
Crickets are a great alternative to mealworms, and they may be healthier overall.
Crickets don’t have a negative association with the diseases and chemicals listed above.
Comparatively, they provide around as much protein as mealworms with much less fat.
The water content is a little lower, but that’s not a big deal.
If you gut load the crickets before feeding them to chickens, they’ll have a lot more vitamins and minerals than mealworms will.
Gut loading is when you feed live crickets a vitamin-packed meal before offering them to your hens.
This way, they pass on many nutrients from the food to the chicken.
Feed crickets are available all over the place, usually at pet stores or farm supply shops.
Consider composting worms if you want to go all-natural in your mealworm replacement.
As a pseudo-farmer or full-on farmer, you probably have some compost in your backyard.
It’s great for getting rid of food while creating nutrient-rich soil for planting later.
Inside this compost will be some worms, and these worms will be fat and living their best life, helping to break down those foods into compost.
Go into your compost and collect some of these morsels to give your chicken a treat rich in water, protein, and healthy vitamins.
Fish are another great source of protein.
Many owners give their chickens fish and fish bones to offer them protein and calcium (click the link to head over to our safety article).
It’s a bit messier and more work than mealworms, but it’s a great way to use your leftovers while still providing them with a healthy supplement.
The chicken farmer world is a bit divided on this issue.
Some owners feed their chickens their eggs all the time.
Some say it’s a terrible thing.
Why? What’s the big deal?
Eggs are packed with protein and calcium. This is perfect for reclaiming the nutrients the hen lost in laying the egg in the first place.
It’s a completely natural thing.
Chickens would end up eating their unfertilized eggs anyway if left to their own devices.
But some farmers hate this idea.
They think teaching them to eat their own eggs means the hens will sometimes start eating the eggs before they can get collected.
I don’t have much experience in this area (we eat eggs like crazy, and we don’t like to share!), but my neighbor who taught us how to care for our chickens offers eggs to his on occasion and has never had problems.
Why Are Mealworms Good For Chickens?
Mealworms are good for chickens largely due to their high protein content. Mealworms are made of 50% protein, a key nutrient in egg production. They also supply needed fats, water, and calories for growth.
If you use mealworms in an area where it’s legal, be sure to look into the source of your mealworms to ensure they’re safe for your fowl and for you.
Can Baby Chickens Eat Mealworms?
Baby chicks can eat mealworms as long as they’re not too big and they don’t have bad chemicals or diseases. Consider chopping up the worms to ensure the chicks eat them easily enough.
The protein is great for growing chicks, but the fat and high-calorie count can throw off their body’s nutrients.
Use it only as a treat for your chicks.
Organic Mealworms For Chickens
There’s no official organic watchdog system to guarantee when a company claims something is non-GMO and fed an all-natural diet, but looking into some companies and their reputation, you’ll find there are some you can trust.
Of the options out there, we like the dried mealworms from Lucky Qworms linked here to Amazon.
They cost a bit more, but the company seems to take its mission of safe and natural feed very seriously.
Plus, they have different purchasing options, including large bulk and smaller single bags.