(Condensed version originally published by http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/red-worms-raise/ September 23, 2014)
Chicken Coop Chatter©
It's no secret that chickens and fowl of all kind love worms. But it's important to note that not all worms are equal and not all worms are the easiest to raise.
I've seen many articles on meal worms and raising meal worms, however as great as this may seem, meal worms have some serious draw backs that are very worthy of noting. Raising meal worms takes an active hands-on effort. There are four stages of growth and each stage of growth requires that you have hands on care for those individual stages. This will require 4 bins for the stages. Yes, you can raise them in one bin, however when you harvest them, you will have all 4 stages to harvest because they will not be easily separated. This pretty much defeats the purposes and ultimately you'll lose some of your breeding stock without working in the 4 stage method. A meal worm is exactly what the name implies. They eat grain meals. You raise fowl, you have grains, the first escapee suddenly becomes your enemy, but worse yet, it also becomes the enemy of your community if you are in farm or grain country. We've all heard the little song about the *bull weevil just lookin' for a home*, well a meal worm is about the same kinda guy. He'll seek out grains if he escapes and he will reproduce rapidly to become a menace. Worse yet, if you decide you don't have the time or interest to continue to raise them and turn them loose, you are creating a disaster scenario in your own grain environment.
I believe a much better option is the *red worm* or maybe known as *wriggly Red worm*. Red worms are small garden type worms, that enrich the soil with their castings which make great natural fertilizers. They don't require much hands on effort, can be raised in a single bin, and their food supply is as near as your kitchen without sacrificing your grains. They enjoy fruit and vegetation, coffee grounds, tea grounds and shredded paper, that we all have an abundance of. Why not make use of the red worm to compost that material for you and produce the worm castings important to the soil? And they can be raised year round when provided shelter from freezing or hot weather. And the best part is you can use the red worms for fishing bait, Chicken treats, and soil enhancement with no special equipment and no special hands on efforts. And if you tire of raising them, dump them in the compost or garden and let them enrich your own garden soil or toss them all to the chickens/farm fowl.
Worms through their digestive system produce calcium, magnesium, nitrates, phosphorus and potassium which are all earth elements. They double the calcium content. They increase magnesium levels by as much as two and a half times. The nitrates level goes up by five times. The phosphorous level increases by as much as seven times and the potassium level by eleven times. These are all elements that fertilizer companies refine and bag up for sale. These elements are what your plants, be them vegetable, herbs, grains or flowers need for a healthy life.
- Improves your soils physical structure
- Improves your soils water holding capacity
- Enhances germination, plant growth, and crop yield while improving root growth and structure
I raised red worms when I was studying Horticulture in college. They were easy to raise and at the end of my studies they could be turned out in the gardens without worry about any environmental impact other than enrichment of the garden soil. The bin was just a wooden box with a lid. All that was needed was to toss in some kitchen scraps periodically and keep their bedding moist. Regular potting soil or composted materials and manure works fine for a bedding material and an environment that doesn't get too hot or too cold (they tolerate from 40~80 degree temperatures best). Setting the bin in an area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade typically is the best. You don't really need a lid, except that the lid keeps cats from using it as a litter box, and the lid helps to retain moisture on warm days and keep rain out on inclement days. A plastic storage bin will work just as well, but will need ventilation if the lid is used. Even a screen over the top will work fine as long as some moisture can be contained. The worms can be raised in a bin in the kitchen or outdoors, wherever is convenient for you to toss table scraps or waste from fresh produce in as you have them. So even just outside the door of the kitchen to the outdoors may be a convenient location. I keep a bucket with lid near the kitchen work area, so I can just toss the scraps in it and then carry that to the worm bin.
Red worms are usually easily obtained from wherever fishing supplies are found. You can also obtain them online from the link provided in various quantity. Worms are Asexual, so they do not need a partner for reproduction, however the more worms, the more they will seek out partners for reproductive efforts. A regular plastic storage container can be obtained anywhere and size is reliant on how many you intend to raise. Anywhere from a shoe box size to a suitcase size or larger bin will work. If you feed them the scraps regularly, they will reward you with more worms and a handful of worms tossed to the chickens will create a feeding frenzy of appreciation.
If you're looking for an environmentally safe and friendly treat for your chickens, the red worms are a good option and maybe not as creepy to handle as a meal worm. Inexpensive to raise and easy to harvest. We here at Just Fowling Around would encourage you to raise the red worms for many environmental purposes, as a learning experience for children, and knowing you're providing a healthy source of protein to your flocks will give you peace of mind as well.
Worms work 24 hours a day producing the casts that will enrich your potted plants or garden plants. A mesh screen for separating the worms from the castings works well. Never deplete your supply of worms, or have two different bins of worms. Those separated from the casts and those in a reproduction bin, so you will always have them reproducing for you even as you are tossing some to the chickens or into the garden.
The worms cannot survive only on the castings, they must be fed to continue to reproduce. Too many worms in a bin, can halt reproduction, so separating them ever couple of months or so will be to your advantage. Replenish their bedding materials as needed. A bag of potting soil, peat moss, aged manure or compost will last a long time for the bedding material, so any initial investment is reduced to pennies as your worms and castings become productive. You may have to make no investment at all in bedding materials if you're a gardener, you will already have these materials on hand.
Bin with lid (ventilated for good air circulation) At least 8 inch high container with holes punch in the bottom for drainage
Compost/potting soil/aged manure/peat moss or a mixture of all with wood shavings/sawdust
shredded paper and cardboard scraps
pulverized egg shells
coffee or tea grounds
Large spray bottle (to keep the soil moist as necessary)
NOTE: No meat or bones, these tend to just get rancid and attract rodents and predators and insect pests. Generally whatever you toss into a compost bin will be good food for the worms.
Raising worms should not be the newest fad or the biggest marketing ploy but should be raised for the health aspects of your chickens and your gardens. We're never going to encourage fads or fancy packaging, that fall to the wayside because they are expensive or time consuming or not worth the effort past the initial *romantic appeal*. We offer good practical reasons to do what we suggest and if precautions need to be in place we will definitely make those known. Raising red worms is not a fad, and does not have to be expensive or time consuming to provide you with a natural healthy product that has benefits for years to come. Once you've established them in your garden, it's optional whether you continue to raise them in bins. I like to have them both in bins and in the gardens, working away for the benefit of the environment and food sources and those raised in bins, can be grabbed up in a handful for treats to the chickens while heading out the door to the chicken coop or run or hand fed to those chickens that come to you for their expected treats.
We hope the guidelines are encouraging and useful to getting your own beneficial worm community going and thriving. If handling the worms creeps you out, use disposable surgical gloves when handling them, but be assured the worms are harmless, they just wiggle a lot when handled. Or grab a fisherman, he'll be unaffected by the wriggling of his best fish bait or grab a kidlet that seems to love handling worms and use that opportunity as a learning moment for an environmentally friendly and beneficial creature of the earth.
And believe it or not there are actually people that do not know the benefit of worms and I've even read comments from people that want to destroy worms because they do not like them in their garden. That simply tells me how uninformed people really are about their own environment. All we can do is offer good solid information and hope the uninformed will become enlightened.
Step 1: Prepare a bin and punch holes in the lid if using plastic. Any recycled container will work. Old ice chests are ideal when holes are punched in for ventilation and drainage.
Step 2: Add compost, peat moss, aged manure, potting soil or combination of all and even some garden soil/dirt (about 6 inches deep), leaving at least 2 inches head room for the food source.
Step 3: Moisten the soil. (Do not saturate, there should be no standing water. You may need to punch small holes in the bottom of the bin to allow for any water drainage, but not too large that the worms can escape through the holes.)
Step 4: Add red worms.
Step 5: Add shredded paper (all paper is safe to use, but slick paper is harder for the worms to make use of.
Step 6: Add fruit/vegetable scraps (melon rinds are a favorite)
Step 7: Watch them multiply
Step 8: Add vegetable/fruit scraps and shredded paper as you see the need. This can be daily or as you see the food supply reduced. Just lay these on top of the bedding materials.
Step 9: When your bin is noticeably full of worm castings, separate the worms from the castings and toss into house plants or into your garden, working it in some with a rake. An easy way to separate the worms from the castings is to pile all the casting to one side of the bin, then add the food supply to the other end which they will migrate to, then you can scoop out the castings and screen them to remove eggs that may be in the castings. The eggs look similar to seeds. Replenish the bedding as you remove the castings. They need this bedding as a food/digesting source as well as a place to lay their eggs and stay moist and out of the sunlight.
Step 10: As your worms reproduce and multiply, you can start tossing some to your chickens for treats.
Step 11: Never deplete your supply of worms if you intend for them to continue to reproduce.
Step 12: Continue the cycle of feeding the scraps and removing the worm castings to benefit your soil and plants. You can also make a *casting tea* by placing the castings into a container of water, or filling a mesh bag and dipping it in water like a tea bag. Linen cloth, gauze, or pantyhose will work fine for a *casting tea* bag and is ready to be immediately utilized by your plants in the form of a natural liquid fertilizer. And it can be added to a spray bottle to spray on plant leaves that will not harm the leaves.
There are a variety of worms that can be raised, and all have the same basic requirements, however as noted early in this article, not all worms are created equal or easy to raise, so do your research if you decide you want to raise another variety of worm. Know their benefits and know their needs, but most of all make certain they are environmentally friendly and not something you could inadvertently introduce to the environment that can be harmful. Though we encourage raising worms for your own use, some of you may be interested in raising them for commercial purposes. Marketing is easy in a rich fishing community.
Worms are still the best fishing bait around for many local lake and river fish and the wriggly red worm is one of the best because it moves to attract the attention of fish, but a chicken community may also be a good market for your endeavors. And definitely a garden area where the worm castings will benefit the soil for community gardens. The worms typically sell for around $35.00 per pound. For the castings you will have to figure out per pound what value to place on them. I have no data to support the value of worm castings since most are used in making fertilizers rather than sold separately.
As you can see, the red worms have many attributes; soil enrichment, breaking down vegetative materials that end up wasted in landfills if not composted or fed to chickens, they are a good source of nutrients for chickens, especially those that can not free-range, and will help your flower and vegetable gardens grow lush and rich in needed nutrients. They are also very useful as learning opportunities for home or public school environment. They are the ultimate workers in the garden environment when well fed and allowed to multiply. A far better option than raising mealworms that may harm the environment if any escape.
For a Red Worm source, please refer to our link below.
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