If you’re a backyard chicken keeper outside of the UK, you’ve probably heard that mealworms provide a tasty, nutritious snack for your chickens.
You may have even fed your chickens some, in either live or dried form.
If you live in the UK, however, you’re not allowed to feed mealworms to your chickens.
But why is it illegal to feed chickens mealworms in the UK?
Is there something we should be worried about in other parts of the world?
Well, in 2014 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced they were placing a ban on feeding mealworms to chickens.
Defra is the government department responsible for safeguarding the natural environment in the UK.
Most UK residents will not of heard of Defra. But they are operating in the background playing a major role in making sure the food and water are safe for UK residents.
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Why Did Defra Ban Mealworms?
To make something clear, it’s fine if your backyard chickens are finding mealworms and other insects in the yard and eating them.
It’s buying mealworms for the purpose of feeding them to your chooks that is not allowed. This is because most mealworms are imported, and they’ve often been found to carry disease.
Mealworms produced on mass are sometimes fed animal proteins and waste products to fatten them up quickly. This increases the risk of disease.
If this seems like a drastic measure, it’s not when you consider that the UK has had some serious disease epidemics before as a result of livestock eating insect proteins.
The BSE, or mad cow disease epidemic in the 1980s affected hundreds of thousands of cows and caused huge disruption to farming communities across the country.
Then there was the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in the early 2000s that also affected millions of cattle and was estimated to have cost the UK around $13 billion.
Knowing this, it’s a little easier to understand why the Defra would take preventative measures if they think there is any risk of infecting poultry or any other livestock.
Are Mealworms Healthy for Chickens?
If you’re in a country where feeding mealworms are allowed, or if your chickens are finding them in your yard - they make for a healthy snack.
Depending on the type of mealworm they can provide anywhere up to 50% protein, with extraction methods of freeze-dried yellow mealworm being as high as 75% protein (source).
That’s actually way above the recommended 16% of protein an adult chicken requires from their diet. So, if you are feeding them to your chooks they should make up a small part of their diet.
The “treat” part of their diet as I like to call it.
When Is More Protein Better for Chickens?
Sometimes you’ll want to boost your chicken’s protein intake, this is when something like mealworms really comes in good.
Younger chickens and pullets will benefit for some extra protein as they are in their growth phase. As will chickens that are in molting season and during the winter when they need to fill out their coats.
What Other High Protein Foods Are Good for Chicks?
If mealworms are off the menu but you still want to boost your chicken’s protein intake, try some of the following foods:
Boiled/Scrambled Eggs (90%+ Protein)
It’s fine to feed chickens boiled or scrambled eggs, it’s not as strange as it first sounds. Plus, eggs are one of the best protein foods we have available to us.
Just remember that you’re not preparing the eggs for yourself. No milk in the scrambled eggs, so salt, seasoning, don’t add anything else. Just give them a little bit too.
Fish (30%+ Protein)
Oily fish, such as salmon and tuna is high in protein and contain a wide range of nutrients and vitamins that are also great for chickens.
If you’re using tinned fish just be sure to pick up fish that’s being kept in water. The same applies as when you’re preparing food, you don’t want any salt, preservatives, etc finding its way to your chicks.
Oats (11%-17% Protein)
Chickens love oats, and whole or rolled oats contain anywhere between 11%-17% protein. You can feed them oats either cooked or raw, and I’ve included them on the list as it’s one of the easier and quicker options.
If you’re outside of the UK, don’t be spooked by the fact that feeding mealworms is illegal in the UK.
It sounds a lot harsher than it really is. It’s not that mealworms are bad for chickens, it’s a precautionary measure to prevent diseases being spread through mealworms that have not been approved.
If you’ve been feeding your flock mealworms and it’s allowed where you live, continue doing so.
There are some other was to boost your flock’s intake of protein as I covered above. Mix it up and try some other foods from time-to-time too, your chicks will enjoy the variation.