Why is it illegal to feed chickens mealworms?
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 chickens are eating insects from the garden so whats wrong with feeding them mealworms, crickets, maggots or other insects.
The problem here is not the fact that chickens are eating insects. My free range hens spend great chunks of their day hunting for and eating insects and worms.
The problem with chickens eating mealworms is that mealworms are raised on an industrial scale with processes that may include human waste and animal protein.
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 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 cant 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 dicover 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.
Certianly if you are selling the eggs or meat and using insect protein you are likely commiting an offence.
Some countries make keepers with a few chickens exempt from the laws that govern commercial operations but it is not good practise.
What is the problem with insect proteins and mealworms?
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.
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.
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 unecessary 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 eraising 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.