Raising Earth Worms as Feed for your Chickens has many Benefits
- Low-Cost Feed
- Chickens love Worms
- Manure is a common Resource on farm
- Manure on Farm must be taken care of / this is a positive green use
- Raising Nightcrawlers are not Labor Intensive
- Minimal Capital Startup foe worm Beds
- Great to Use in Homestead Environment
- By Product of Garden Soil
Continuous improvement of the genetic potential through breeding studies in poultry has led to an increase in the nutrient density of the feed rations given to these animals. In poultry farming, approximately 70% to 75% of the operating costs constitute feeding costs, of which about 15% are animal proteins. The protein requirement of poultry is provided by feedstuff rations and usually by soybean meal or fish meal.
Limited production opportunities and price increases have led to the need to use alternative feed additives that can be substituted for these products.
Worms include protein in the dry matter at a rate of 64.5% and 72.9% and are very precious protein sources. The level of the proteins, which are accepted as structural elements and which take part almost in every physiological function. In addition, worms contain carbohydrates at a rate of 8-20% of the dry matter of their bodies.
The kinds of worms used in commercial systems are not the species commonly found living in the soil. Likewise, the worms raised in these systems will not survive long-living outdoors. The most common species raised in the United States is Eisenia fetida.
They require high levels of nutrients, reproduce quickly and tolerate being raised in captivity. Their preferred temperature range is about 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Often called red wigglers, manure worms, or tiger worms, there are many common names used to market this type of worm. Some are called hybrids; some are even called nightcrawlers.
True nightcrawlers, Lubricus terrestris, are not well-adapted to commercial production. However, if you check the species of the worms you are buying, you will be fine, no matter what the seller is calling them. When stocking a bin, start with a pound of worms for every cubic foot of the bed. This allows plenty of room and ensures that the worms will be in close enough proximity to continue breeding.
Populations are self-adjusting. When conditions become crowded, larger worms will eat less and try to avoid younger or smaller worms. Reproduction rates then decline and worms will try to leave the bin.
If you are using worms to produce a valuable soil amendment. In either case, you will need to tend to the needs of your worms. Consider them as livestock that has feed and housing requirements. Worms are vulnerable to pests but less susceptible to diseases.
Key environmental conditions for growing worms are:
- High moisture percentage throughout the bedding
- Continuous oxygen within the growing container
- Optimal bedding temperature Slightly acid pH (acidity or alkalinity) in the system
Methods of Raising Worms
- Manual Methods
Manual methods are the ones used by hobbyists and smaller-scale growers, particularly those who use worms for birds feed. Manual harvesting involves hand-sorting or picking the worms directly from the compost by hand. This process can be facilitated by taking advantage of the fact that worms avoid light.
If the material containing worms is dumped in a pile on a flat surface with a light above, the worms will quickly dive below the surface. The harvester can then remove a layer of compost, stopping when worms become visible again. This process is repeated several times until there is nothing left on the table except a huddled mass of worms under a thin covering of compost.
Self-Harvesting (Migration) Methods
These methods, like some of the methods used in vermicomposting, are based on the worms’ tendency to migrate to new regions, either to find new food or to avoid undesirable conditions, such as dryness or light. They often make use of simple mechanisms, such as screens or onion bags.
This is a trommel device, a rotating cylinder about 8-10 feet in length and 2-3 feet in diameter. The cylinder walls are composed of screen material of different mesh sizes. The cylinder is rotated by a small electric motor mounted on one end of the cylinder.
The trommel is set an angle; at the upper end of the rotating trommel worms and their bedding including castings) are added. As the cylinder rotates, the castings fall through the screen. The worms ‘ride ‘the entire distance of the trommel and pass through the lower end into a wheelbarrow.
Oxygen is critical to the worm production system. The worm needs oxygen, which passes through its moist skin, to live. The microbes that live with the worms and help process the worm feed also need oxygen.
If the bedding becomes matted or water-logged, the system will become anaerobic (oxygen-limited). Incorporate some coarse bedding materials that won’t mat when they get wet. Pay close attention to this critical environmental factor. It is difficult to maintain high moisture and high oxygen conditions, but that is what worm production requires.
The bedding should be very damp. In order to breathe, a worm’s skin must stay moist. A moisture meter will accurately measure the moisture percentage in bedding. The ideal moisture range, from 80 to 90 percent, is higher than is practical for maintaining aerobic conditions, so the optimal percentage is about 65 to 70 percent.
Worms in an over-watered bed will become large, soft, and sluggish. Breeding rates decline under such waterlogged conditions. It is useful to know how bedding with the optimal amount of moisture feels. Taking a handful of bedding and squeezing it should produce a few droplets of water between the fingers. This indicates about 70 percent moisture. If there is not enough moisture, the worms have trouble breathing.
Other pests will also move into a very wet environment, especially if it becomes so wet that oxygen is limited. Be sure that excess moisture can drain away from the production area, but be careful to control such runoff, because it is considered livestock effluent. The laws designed to prevent livestock effluent from contaminating water resources apply to worm production as well.
Each worm species has different ranges for optimal growth and reproduction. Keep the temperature of the bedding between 60- & 80-degrees Fahrenheit for all worms except tropical species.
Although the worms will survive relatively extreme temperatures (some will even tolerate gradual freezing), the goal is to maximize growth and reproduction, which is most efficient in comfortable conditions. Where cold temperatures are a concern, electric heating mats or cables can be used underneath the production area to keep the bedding warm.
You can also insulate the production facilities with straw bales or other available materials. In areas where the soil doesn’t freeze deeply, burying the beds below ground level helps protect the worms from extreme temperatures, although drainage issues must be addressed. Increased microbial activity will raise the temperature in the beds.
This is helpful in keeping beds active in colder climates, but it is a problem if the bedding or feedstock has not been pre-composted and the bed becomes very hot. When using raw materials for this purpose, be sure the worms can move away from the source of heat. In hot climates, shade is essential to maintaining an optimal temperature range. Half buried production facilities can be helpful in these situations as long as there is plenty of moisture and airflow for evaporative cooling. Some producers have used mist systems. Remember, consistent temperatures provide consistent results.
The pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the system is important, but only if conditions range too far from neutral or changes occur too rapidly. Worms can tolerate a pH range from 5 to 9, which is broad because the difference of one number means that the lower number is 10 times more acidic than the next number up.
Some feed and bedding materials will change the pH when added to the growing area. For example, high-protein feeds tend to make the system more acidic, as do many vegetable wastes. Nevertheless, changes in pH are usually gradual and don’t affect the worm population.
When conditions are not within tolerable limits, worms will be stressed. How can you tell that there’s a problem?
- When worms are climbing up and exiting the bin.
- When worms are staying low and not coming up to feed.
- When worms mass together in a ball.
Feeds and Bedding
Some materials can serve as feed and bedding. Successful producers provide for their livestock’s (worms) need for both. Both the feed and the bedding will be consumed by the diverse population of organisms in a worm production system and both will need to be replaced as the material is converted to worm castings.
Worms eat a wide variety of organic materials or, more accurately, a wide variety of the microbes that feed on organic materials. Almost any plant or animal waste could be used as a worm feed. But remember that, like other livestock, worms need vitamins, minerals, protein, and carbohydrates. Feeds should contain more carbohydrates and cellulose than protein.
Usually, the feed has nitrogen and is balanced by the high level of carbon in the bedding. A carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 30 parts carbon to 1-part nitrogen is about right for a worm production system. Too much nitrogen creates ammonia, which is toxic to worms and to many of the microbes that the production system relies on. Excess carbon slows microbial activity and reduces overall productivity.
Fat or oily materials such as soybean or sunflower meals should be avoided because oil slows bacterial breakdown, shifting the pH toward an acid bed. Animal byproducts, dairy products, and meat are generally avoided because they attract flies, rodents, and other pests. However, animal waste especially livestock manure mixed with straw or sawdust is good for a worm business because the feed and bedding are already combined. Use good sanitary procedures when handling raw manure to prevent the spread of infection from possible pathogens in the manure.
Manure for Feed or Bedding
If the product is consistent, and you are observant about your system, you will not need to test it often. A pile of fresh manure, even when mixed with straw or sawdust bedding, immediately begins a thermophilic (heat-producing) composting process.
Bacteria cause this activity and the resulting compost is microbe-rich, but make sure the thermal composting process is done before using this manure in your worm beds. Many vermicompost systems rely on thermal composting prior to feeding the organic material to the worms. Pre-composting, as it is sometimes called, can disable viable seeds and kill some human pathogens that may have been in the feedstock.
Pre-composting takes much less time than completely composting the feedstock material. Since pre-composting is designed to allow some of the potential heat to dissipate, it is usually a short (often two weeks) but closely monitored process. Materials are combined and the pile is built. Proper moisture and aeration help create an active pile that heats to 160 degrees F for three days. The compost is often turned and allowed to heat a second time. After this stage, the material can be cooled and carefully added to a working bin.
Bedding and feedstock sometimes come together. Manure mixed with straw is an example. Worms will process the bedding as well as the feed. Bedding is typically a carbonaceous material that will break down more slowly than the feed. It is usually a coarse material that won’t pack tightly and therefore maintains air pockets within the growth chamber. It helps to absorb excess moisture from feedstock as well.
Possible Bedding Materials
- Shredded paper (newsprint, paper bags, cardboard, office paper, but not cross-cut shredded)
- Sawdust (but not from redwoods, pine or other aromatic softwoods; test first)
- Composted animal manure (cow, horse, rabbit)
- Shredded, decaying leaves Straw Peat moss (consider sustainability and cost issues)
- Coconut coir (consider transportation cost and sustainability)
Worms are not generally susceptible to diseases; however, they are sensitive to conditions in their environment. Protein poisoning or sour crop will result from the accumulation of unused feed in the bin. When this happens, the bed becomes acidic and gases are released into the bedding.
- Swollen or burst clitellum
- Knots along the worm’s body
- Worms that are stringy or crawl around aimlessly on the bed’s surface
- Worms that stay low in the beds and refuse to come up to eat
- Worms that turn white and die in the bedding
- An increase in the population of acid-loving worm bin residents
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Rare Breed Chicken Farming
|Rare Breeds||Country of Origin||Eggs/Week||Average Weight||Price / Chicks|
|Black Penedesenca||Spain||3-4||4-5lbs||$ 13.43|
|Black Sumatra||Sumatra||4 / Tinted in Color||4lbs||$ 4.56|
|Ameraucana||United States / Chile||3 / 4 Blue||5 lbs||$ 4.25|
|Lavender Orpington||England||4 / 5 Brown||5 lbs||$ 6.08|
|Partridge Chantecler||Canada||3-5 / Brown||7 lbs|
|Wyandotte||United States||3 - 5 / Tinted Brown||6 lbs||$ 4.90|
|Welsummer||Welsum Netherlands||4 / Dark Brown||5 lbs||$ 5.95|
|Silver Grey Dorking||UK / Roman||8 lbs||$ 5.95|
|Light Brahma||United States / China||Brown||13 lbs||$ 4.90|
|Silver Laced Cochin / Shanghai||China||5-6 / Brown||6 lbs||$ 4.90|
|White Marans||Marans / France||4 / Dark Brown||5 lbs||$ 6.08|
|Dominiques||United States||4 - 5 / Brown||7 lbs||$ 4.90|
|Exchequer Leghorn||Tuscany Italy||White||5 lbs||$ 4.25|
|Silver Spangled Appenzeller|
|Buff Brahma Standard||Shanghai China||Brown||13 lbs||$ 4.90|
|Silver Laced Polish||Poland / Netherlands||4-5 lbs||$ 5.95|
|White Sultan / Fowls of the Sultan||Turkey||2 - 3 / White||4-6 lbs||$ 7.75|
|Mottled Houdan||Houdan Paris France||White||4 - 5 lbs||$ 7.75|
|Dong Tao / Dragon Chicken||Vietnam||2/3||$ 2500 -|
|Ayam Cemani||Indonesia||3 / Cream||5 lbs||$ 50 - $ 2500|
|Onagadori / Honorable Chicken||Japan||$ 49.00|
|Polverara||Italy||2 / 3|
|Ixworth||Sussex UK||4 / Cream|
|Naked Neck / Transylvanian Naked-Neck chickens.||Transylvania||5||$ 4.25|
|Campaign||Belgium||7 / White||5 lbs||$ 7.75 / Golden|
|Deathlayer /||German||7 / White||$ 99.00|
|Serama / Smallest Chicken in the World||Thailand||.5 - 1 Lb||$ 39.00|
|Silkie / Silky||Chinese||2 / Cream||$ 5.75 / White $ 5.75 / Blue $ 5.75 / Buff
$ 5.75 / Black
Natural Foods for Free Range Chickens
|Insects They Love to Eat||Insects they will not eat|
|Fly / Maggots|
Insects they will Eat
Insects they will not eat