So how can feeding mealworms to chickens be a problem if the chickens are spending so much of their time eating insects they find themselves.
The question I normally get asked is something like - My free range chickens are eating insects from the garden so whats wrong with feeding them mealworms, crickets, maggots or other insects.
Table of Contents
- Should you feed mealworms to your chickens?
- Why is it illegal to feed chickens mealworms?
- What is the problem with feeding mealworms to chickens?
- Why can't you feed insect protein to chickens?
- Is it just the EU or is it USA as well?
- The problem with insect proteins and chickens?
- Do chickens need the protein in mealworms?
- What else is illegal to feed to chickens?
Should you feed mealworms to your chickens?
You should not feed shop bought mealworms to your chickens. It is illegal in the UK and the EU since 2014 and possibly in other territories as well.
Chickens love mealworms but shop bought ones are supposed to be for wild birds and have not had the same care and regulation put into their production.
Below: Chickens eating mealworms. This is no longer allowed.
It is important to remember here that all chickens are considered livestock in law, even if you only have a few as family pets in your backyard.
Why is it illegal to feed chickens mealworms?
The DEFRA ruling covers all commercially produced insect protein, not just mealworms.
It is illegal to feed mealworms to chickens because they are a health risk to both the birds and the people consuming the meat and eggs produced by insect fed chickens. Mealworms may be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, fungi, pesticides, heavy metals and toxins.
It is illegal to feed you chickens mealworms because:
- Mealworms may be contaminated with bacteria or viruses.
- Mealworms can contain harmful levels of heavy metals.
- They may have been fed on banned substances and growth promoters.
- Shop bought mealworms are not produced in controlled and regulated environments.
- Mealworms can accumulate toxins from their surrounding or the substrate they are grown in.
- Pesticides can accumulate in the growing worms as they feed.
- Substrates used to rear mealworms may contain pesticides, Dioxins and PCB's.
- There is a risk of invasive insect species causing environmental damage.
- GM or genetically modified crops may have been used to rear insects.
- Parasites can survive the desiccation process used to produce dried mealworms.
The problem here is not the fact that chickens are eating insects but that they are eating insects produced in an unregulated way that may be introducing disease and parasites in to your flock.
My free range hens spend great chunks of their day hunting for and eating insects and worms.
The following extracts are from a report for the European commission into the risk of the production and consumption of insects as food and feed.
Below: Insects accumulate heavy metals and arsenic as they grow.
Below: Drugs and hormones can accumulate in mealworms during production.
Below: Both live and processed insects harbour fungi and mycotoxins.
Below: The substrates mealworms are produced in may contain pesticides.
There are many reasons to avoid giving your hens mealworms as it may be affecting your health in the long run.
What is the problem with feeding mealworms to chickens?
The problem with chickens eating shop bought mealworms is they are raised on an industrial scale with processes that may include human waste and animal protein and may be contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, fungi, toxins and bacteria.
The other problem is a great many people are doing it at home in an unregulated way with basic information they have found on the internet.
Also they are produced in other countries that might not have the same strict laws governing their production and may contain diseases and toxins. Then imported as wild bird food which does not have the same regulations.
After a similar problem with contaminated cow feed led to NVCJD in the late 1990's and with sheep feed and scrapie it become illegal to feed animal proteins to farm animals to prevent the problem happening again.
Why can't you feed insect protein to chickens?
The simple answer is it isn't good for them, they do not need it and it is illegal in most countries.
DEFRA , the body that controls farm animals and practices in the UK implemented EU regulations and this is part of their statement.
"Insects that are dried and used in proteins are often raised on waste and animal protein. This could end up being a channel for diseases to enter what is one of the most tightly regulated industries in the modern farming world."
I discovered by accident that the red dye used in fishing maggots gets into the yolks and looks like blood. This happened after a fisherman started feeding his leftovers to my hens thinking he was doing them a favour as they liked them so much.
It took me ages to discover that there was nothing wrong with my chickens and it was the red maggots.
Is it just the EU or is it USA as well?
Most countries have legislation to control what goes into animal feed to protect their citizens.
Certainly if you are selling the eggs or meat and using insect protein you are likely committing an offence.
Some countries make keepers with a few chickens exempt from the laws that govern commercial operations but it is not good practise.
The problem with insect proteins and chickens?
Back in the 1990 there was a terrible disease identified in cows that spread to humans, it was nvCJD, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or mad cow disease.
It involved a misfolded protein called a prion.
Below: The prion risk from mealworms and insects from a food safety report to the EU commission in 2015.
It was a prion disease that spread because cows were being fed animal feed that was made with animal proteins. It is similar to scrapie in sheep and is thought to be spread by brain matter
The problem is that mealworm and insects raised for protein is they are fed on animal waste and may transfer diseases.
To avoid this is is best to confine feeding mealworms to garden birds like robins.
Any insect may transfer any toxin or infection it ingested over it's life to the animal it is fed to.
Do chickens need the protein in mealworms?
No. Live mealworms are 50 to 55% protein and dried can be 75 to 80% crude protein.
More than 16% is unnecessary for chickens and can even be counter productive causing problems with shell less eggs.
Too much protein can effect kidneys as well.
If you want to boost the protein your hens get them feed them a little grated boiled egg.
If you are buying the mealworms or insect then you are wasting your money and if you are raising them yourself you are wasting your time.
What else is illegal to feed to chickens?
Here in the EU is is illegal to feed hens kitchen scraps and table scraps. I know similar regulations exist for commercially produced poultry in the US but not for backyard keepers.
One of the old poultry books I have put it very well - "If you have a lot of table scraps to feed to your hens you need to look at how you manage your household!"
Basically if you regularly have waste from the table then you need to look at your own eating habits and human food is not good for chickens.