Part 3: Raising worms to feed your chickens June 27, 2012

Dump a manageable amount into bin

Part 3: Raising worms
This is the third installment of my blog about raising worms as feed for your chickens. Part one can be viewed here and part two here. In this installment I’ll address harvesting the worms and feeding them to your chickens.

Harvesting worms and castings
There are several ways to harvest your worms. The method you use is dependent mostly upon how large your beds are. If you have a relatively small colony, separating them by hand will work quite well. If you have a large colony, there are mechanical ways to do the job which can cut down significantly on the amount of time spent on the process.

Separating by hand
Worms shy away from light. You can use this to your advantage when it comes time to separate them from the castings. Place a table or piece of plywood either in the sun if it is not too hot, or inside with a light suspended above it. Any large surface will work, but I like separate mine in the black plastic tubs used for mixing cement, found at any building supply store. They are relatively inexpensive and work quite well. The shape keeps anyone from squirming out! I like to position this at waist height so as not to put a strain on my back.

Almost fully separated

Dump a manageable amount of worms and castings onto the end of your surface or bin farthest away from you. Let it set for a few minutes and the worms will move away from the light, going deeper into the mound of castings. Begin by removing any large unprocessed pieces, and then gently pull the castings toward you leaving the worms where they are. (The larger unprocessed material can be returned to the worm beds when finished.) As you uncover the worms they will move down away from the light. Continue in this manner until you have a pile of castings near you and a pile of worms at the other end. You will need to stop from time to time to allow the worms to move away from the light and dig into the mound.

Separating mechanically
There are several mechanical harvester designs, some commercially produced and others homemade.

My homemade harvester.

I made my own. I used three 20” bicycle rims with the tires removed, 1/8” hardware cloth for the first section and 1/4” hardware cloth for the second section. The exact dimensions are not critical and can be whatever works for you. A small motor spins the screen barrels at a slow speed. You feed the worms/castings into the first section and as the barrel turns, the finest castings drop into a bin. The rest of the castings, along with the worms, continue to the second section where larger granules fall into another bin. The worms and any unprocessed material continue on and drop out the end of the barrel. Many harvesters will have only one screened section, and these work as well. The difference is that you just get one size of granules. The reason I like to separate the finer castings is that I sell them to local nurseries and use the castings from the second bin, the larger granules, on my plants.

I’m using an electric drill as the motor until I find a more suitable one.

Pros and cons of each method

Separating by hand

Pros:

  1. No wasted castings
  2. Less harmful to worms and worm egg casings
  3. Won’t lose many of the very small worms

Cons:

  1. Slow and laborious
  2. Hard to separate the castings from larger pieces of unprocessed material

Separating with mechanical separator

Pros:

  1. Much faster
  2. Easily separates castings from unprocessed material

Cons:

  1. Must allow it to dry a bit before putting through the machine
  2. Small, newly hatched worms may be lost
  3. Egg casings may end up in the compost rather than returned to the beds.

Feeding worms to your chickens
I feed worms to my chickens almost any time I am around the beds. Whenever I add produce to the bins the chickens come running over to get a treat. I’m careful not to feed them too many and not have enough left to maintain the beds. When it comes time to separate the worms from the castings you will probably have a very large amount of worms, too many to feed them all to your chickens at one time. There are a couple of ways to deal with this. You can put them in containers along with a small amount of bedding and store them in the refrigerator. Then you can give them to the chickens a little at a time.

I sometimes dry the worms when I have a very large amount and feed them to my chickens during the winter months. I have heard of people freezing them as well but I haven’t tried that myself. My chickens prefer them live but will readily eat the dried ones.

I’ve had a few people caution me about feeding worms to chickens saying that they can carry parasites that can be a hazard to chickens. This is true of worms in the “wild”. Wild birds can carry parasites. Worms (also snails and slugs as well) eat the bird droppings then pass the parasites on to your chickens. When raising your own worms, they are not consuming bird droppings therefore the likelihood of them passing any parasites to your chickens is very slim. If your chickens free range it is most likely they will get worms of one type or another. A good worming program should be followed any time you free range your chickens (and you might try our organic, all-natural wormer!)

If you have any questions or comments, please post! I’d be glad to help anyone out there considering vermicomposting.


7 Comments
Logue June 28th, 2012

I had read on the ‘net that feeding worms to chickens might give them ‘gapes’. I have lots of red wigglers in my indoor compost bin that I could be giving my girls, but have concerns about the ‘gapes’ issue.

Whaddya think?

les July 5th, 2012

It is true that worms can cause gape worms in chickens. It is carried in the droppings of wild birds. Worms (as well as slugs and snails) will eat the droppings and pass the worm on to chickens. When you raise your own worms they are not exposed to the droppings of wild birds so the chances of them getting gape worm is very slim. Any time you free range chickens you run the risk of having them pick up some parasite. A good worming program should be followed any time you free range your chickens (and you might try our Organic WormGuard Plus)

rebekah August 30th, 2012

Hi, I’m loving this information! I have one big bin ready and waiting on some red wigglers! (I also have some mealworms brewing) I like your 2 bin and bucket set-up, I think I’m going to scrounge up another bin and do ours that way. I was wondering about how often or how quickly they reproduce. I’m growing them for our chickens, with the added bonus of the super-awesome compost, so is it possible to grab a handful on a regular basis, or do I need to wait awhile and have a few big harvests? Ultimately, I’d like to grow or raise all of our chickens food so I’m real excited about the worms. AND I look forward to exploring your blog. Namaste.

les August 30th, 2012

Rebekah, to answer your question about how fast worms reproduce, this can get a bit complicated because the temperature that worms mate and the temperature that the eggs hatch are different. In my experience I notice that if they have plenty of food they reproduce faster. Whenever I’m tending my worms the chickens come running to get handouts. I usually give them a few worms each time. Then when it is time to harvest the castings there will be a very large amount of worms. I keep enough to stock the next round and feed the rest to the chickens. Often there are so many worms that I dry some of them to feed the chickens during the winter.

Bob Brouillet February 27th, 2013

It might be time to re-visit the white paper & colored paper issue.
Especially the colored stuff. Soy based inks are almost universal if for no other reason then price.
I do not give my worms any of the shinny papers or papers such as bank statements, mortgage papers or those which have the possible intent of a long life in someones file cabinet.
I am just getting into chickens. After much time searching for info I found your site.
That said you have got the one that qualifies as the benchmark as far as everything chicken & ease of navigating is concerned.
Just my opinions & thoughts.

Deta July 29th, 2015

How do you know it’s time to harvest castings?

ahmed bermo October 17th, 2015

hello,

what about worms which are raised on cow manure and waste food, are they willing to give them ‘gapes’ ?

thank you
Ahmed

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