I want to share with you how I have learned to grow and keep mealworms in most of my pheasant pens and chicken coops so that they are available to my birds year round. First of all let me say that living in southeastern Colorado I would have never dreamt that common mealworms would be able to survive outside all year round. Our climate is characterized by a very wide range of temperatures. It drops well below zero many times during the course of winter here and hits triple digits many times over our typical summers. Yet, believe it or not mealworms not only survive but thrive outdoors here with just some shelter and a small amount of assistance from me.
Since the early 1990's, I have always kept a tub of mealworms in a closet (Yes, my wife is thrilled!!) and used them to get some of my more delicate pheasant, quail, and francolin chicks started eating right and to provide an excellent source of natural protein to growing or sick birds of all types. I would often gather a small dish of worms and head outside with a pair of tweezers and open up the back of one of my brood coops where I had some of my American Game Bantam hens hatching and rearing Satyr Tragopan Pheasant, Mikado Pheasant, Mountain Quail, Benson's Quail and other semi-delicate exotic chicks for me. I would train the hens so that when they saw me with the dish they knew that they and their chicks were about to get a nice treat. Like I said, this really helps chicks get off to a good start and also because they learn that I am the guy with the treats they become quite tame by the time they are several weeks old. The other thing this way of feeding chicks does is it gives me an opportunity to get a good close up look at all my setting hens and the chicks without having to chase them or catch them and stress them out. All I have to do is show up with worms and they come running to greet me. If there are any health problems or injuries, or if someone is just not feeling well I can usually spot it in time to get them the help they need.
Anyway, to make a long story short apparently I must have dropped a few worms during some of these feeding sessions or some of them might have evaded the eyes of the inexperienced chicks and hid under the boards I keep under my feeders and chick water jars. About ten years ago I lifted up one of the feeder boards to clean it and discovered much to my surprise that there were a couple hundred mealworms living under it. I was thrilled but completely flabbergasted. I then went to several of my other pens and found worms living there as well. I assumed that the mealworms would die off over the winter but found out that they survived just fine. So seven or eight years ago I purposely planted 15 or 20 worms under the feeder boards in all of my brood coops that I raise chicks in and most of my breeder pens as well. Now almost any board, brick or nestbox I lift up has mealworms and beetles living under it.
I have included a few pictures to show the boards I am talking about. They are just small pieces of plywood that I put under my chick water jars to get them up off the ground a little bit so they stay cleaner. I also put boards under my feeders to catch any spilled feed so the birds can clean it up. Now that I know I have mealworms everywhere I do occasionally throw a small handful of crumbles under the boards to help feed them. Over the winter when I lift the boards I find the worms in a dormant state. I never let the hens and chicks eat too many worms from under any one board. I always make sure to leave enough to rebuild that population. If you want more information about starting outdoor worms or using bantams for setting hens, give me a call or drop me an e-mail. Thanks and good luck.