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Do Chickens Eat Worms? [Earthworms vs Mealworms]

If you own a flock of chickens, then you may be wondering whether or not they will attempt to eat worms they stumble across. Earthworms are abundant in rich and healthy soils so it is only natural that they will rise to the surface from time to time. Particularly in wet weather. But what will happen when they do? Will your chickens attempt to eat them and is it safe and healthy for them to do so?

So, do chickens eat worms? Chickens do eat worms. In fact, it is very healthy for them to do so when foraging – a practice you should actively promote. Worms are highly nutritious and are abundant in protein and over 20 trace minerals including iron, copper, manganese, zinc, and calcium.

Both Earthworms and Mealworms are suitable in the diet of your chickens, and you can let your birds free roam and forage for them naturally or provide them as dried feed/treats.

Let us now take a closer look at the topic, so that you can learn all about the benefits and other considerations of your chickens consuming worms.

Can Chickens Eat Worms?

It is perfectly safe and healthy for chickens to eat worms.

Generally, chickens are very intuitive, resourceful and curious eaters. They will actively seek out new food sources and consume many food types presented to them.

We’ve already discussed ants in another article, but wealworms are equally as desired by chickens, just like many other insects.

When chickens free-roam free within an outside run/coop, you will see your chickens instinctively pecking at insects including: beetles, grubs, slugs, centipedes and spiders.

Some keepers even report that baby mice have been consumed.

However, it is important to note that much like any other animal, not all chickens will enjoy eating worms.

This is down to personal preference and you may even find that certain chickens within your flock will/won’t consume them.

There is nothing to worry about here, it is simply a normal and expected case of preference.

Sometimes, chickens will even play with worms. Picking them up in their beaks and opting to chase them without ever ingesting them. Again, this is normal behavior.

However, due to the nutritious nature of worms, it is vital that we actively encourage their consumption. We will discuss why in the following section.

Nutrition Of Worms For Chickens

Worms are are abundant in many nutrients. So much so, that human populations actually seek them out and consume them; a practice that has panned generations.

Astonishingly, Earthworms have been a traditional medicine in China for at around 2300 years.

The Royal Society even conducted a in-depth study into earthworms and the nutrients that they provide. The researched concluded that even for humans, they are in fact, a highly “desirable food”.

Earthworms are high in protein, and are abundant in amino acids and 20 other trace minerals.

This includes iron, copper, manganese, zinc, and calcium.

All of which are very important to the health and nutrition of living organisms.

Earthworm Nutrition
Earthworm Nutrition
Source: Nutritive Evaluation of Earthworms as Human Food

Perhaps the most standout conclusion drawn from the study is the following: “earth- worms contain potentially useful quantities of many nutrients that are critical to the health of the humans who consume them”.

If worms are nutrient dense and considered healthy for humans, then it should be clear that they are safe and healthy for chickens (who are omnivores) too.

How Many Worms Can A Chicken Eat In A Day?

There is no real limit for how many worms your chicken can consume in the day; they’ll never be able to physically over-consume them. So, this is not something that you will need to regulate.

Chickens are perceptive when it comes to their feed and nutrition. They will eat how many they want or require, or will ignore them altogether.

If your chickens are being fed liberally, you may find that they are less receptive to worms and other bugs and insects.

If however, you reduce their feed or their hunger levels are to rise due to increased activity, then their consumption of worms may rise.

It is important to note that if you provide and introduce more worms into the run/coop, your chickens will eat as many as they want/require and leave the rest.

Therefore if you provide too many these worms may be neglected and sit and start to decompose.

This is not preferable as it can lead to ants, flies and other vermin. You need to keep your chickens environment clean at all times to prevent these kind of situations from occurring.

How To Feed Your Chickens Worms

Earthworms will rise to the surface during times of rain, and you’ll often find your chickens pecking at them when they do.

On certain occasions, you may even find your chickens digging deeper below the surface to retrieve them from the mud.

In warmer temperatures, you can hand-pick them from other areas of the garden and take them to your chickens.

Its funny, but a lot of owners report that their chickens literally wait by the fence for food/scraps and treats like worms to be provided to them.

You can also purchase worms directly online from Amazon. You can pick them up for excellent prices. You have the choice between purchasing them alive or dried, both being suitable for different contexts and preferences.

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With dried worms, these can be crushed up or added to the rest of the layer feed that you provide your chickens. If your chickens are less willing to consume worms, then this is a great way to get extra nutrition in their diet.

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Risks To Chickens Eating Worms

It is paramount that the worms that your chickens consume/ are fed are themselves healthy and are not a carrier for parasites. The most notorious is Gapeworm.

Symptoms of Gapeworms include gasping (gaping), yawning, gurgling / respiratory distress, head shaking, loss of appetite, and eventually coughing and choking.

They can be fatal for your chickens, eventually causing your birds to suffocate from a lack of air.

This is because gape worms reside in the trachea (or windpipe) and/or lungs of a bird that ingests them.

Once an area is infected with Gapeworms, the parasite survives in the earthworms for a few years and can reinfect the chickens throughout that time.

They can even infect birds through your chickens eggs.

For the most part gapeworms are rare and do not occur with free-ranging worms and carefully sourced worm-treats.

However, you need to be aware of them as a risk to your flock. This is why it is essential that you source worms from respected and particular sellers.

Monitor your birds and if you see any signs or symptoms referenced above, you’d do best to contact a bird specialist/vet immediately.

Earthworms vs Mealworms

One final consideration is the difference between earthworms and mealworms. You may have even noticed that mealworms are also available on Amazon and may be recommended by other bird owners.

While they are certainly different species of worm, look different and carry a different proportion of nutrients, both are perfectly safe and healthy for your chickens (so long as they are sourced correctly and do not contain parasites as referenced above).

You may even find that your chickens do not like earthworms but they do enjoy mealworms and vice versa. This is something you will need to test and experiment with.

Be sure to try and offer both; this will give your chickens more variety and nutrition too.

In Summary

Chickens do eat worms, and they generally enjoy them.

Worms are abundant in nutrients and minerals, and this is exactly the kind of treat that you should be providing or helping them to consume.

Earthworms can be obtained naturally through free-roaming, especially in times of wet weather.

Mealworms on the other hand, are harder to come by and you will likely need to source them from marketplaces like Amazon.

Both alive and dried worms are fine too; and you may find that your chickens have a preference for one over the other.

Finally, you want to ensure you are sourcing your worms from specific and respected sources.

Parasites like gapeworms are a risk, but if you source carefully and monitor your flock you can diminish the likelihood of your birds ever contracting them.

As chickens will naturally and instinctively eat what is in front of them, if you have free-roaming birds you will never be able to 100% control what they eat.

So, chickens will always be susceptible to issues like gapeworm naturally.

Therefore, be vigilant of your premises and property, and keep their environment clean, clear and hygienic at all times.

Earth and mealworms are all in all a fantastic healthy treat for chickens. There is a reason why humans have been consuming them for thousands of years!

Wondering what else chickens can eat? Check out my comprehensive guide below: