Raising baby chicks is a super fun experience but, because they are babies, it is completely normal to worry about what treats are safe to feed them.
Most babies, of any species, have delicate stomachs and we want to make sure we are feeding them the best foods possible to ensure they grow strong and lead long, healthy lives.
So can baby chicks eat mealworms? Baby chickens can eat mealworms starting at around one to two weeks old. In fact, their high protein value makes them much more nutritious than many other treats.
You might be wondering why I recommend waiting until at least 1 – 2 weeks of age. Let me explain.
Chickens don’t process food in the same way humans do. Because they don’t have teeth, their beak is used primarily to tear their food.
That food is then stored in the chickens’ crop and eventually making its way to the chickens’ gizzard. The gizzard is responsible for the majority of the work done breaking down the food.
For free-roaming chickens, and chicks raised outside, small particles of rock accumulate in the gizzard. These pieces of indigestible matter serve a very important purpose, they help to grind up the food in the gizzard.
As the strong muscles of the gizzard contract, food is moved around with the rock particles. This process is most like how a mortar and pestle works to grind down food.
Digested food particles then pass from the gizzard to the small intestine, then to the large intestine and finally is passed through the cloaca.
But why does this matter?
Baby Chick Digestion
Most chicks are purchased from a farm store or ordered from a hatchery. These chicks, which are raised by humans, don’t have natural access to grit. They need time to naturally accumulate grit.
The mealworm naturally has a hard exoskeleton. Chicks that are very young may have trouble breaking that down and fully digesting the mealworm.
It is better, instead, to be sure your chicks are offered chick grit (I get mine from Amazon.com), and then wait at least a week or two before offering this yummy treat option. That way, your baby chicks will have had time to build up the grit they need in their gizzard to digest the worm when offered.
How Do You Know When Baby Chicks Are Old Enough to Eat Mealworms?
There isn’t really a scientific answer to this one. You could feed your baby chicks mealworms a couple of days after they are born and they might be fine. For me, the age thing is more about caution.
I haven’t read anything in the scientific literature that actually defines a minimum age. In the wild, a hen would be hunting up bugs and worms to give her babies as soon as they were able to leave the nest.
For my flock, there are only two things I look at to know if my chicks are ready for treats:
- They have had access to chick grit for at least 1 week.
- They have grown enough that their primary feathers are now actually feathers instead of fuzz (like the babies below).
Each breed of chicken is different but most chicks reach this stage by 1 – 2 weeks of age.
Nutritional Value of Mealworms
Mealworms are nutritious because they are high in protein. In fact, they can easily be 14 – 25% protein depending on what they have been fed and how big they are!
Mealworms also contain vitamins like potassium, copper, sodium and selenium.
It’s the protein, however, that is the big benefit for your chicks. Compared to other chicken-safe treats you might offer, like fruits and veggies, the high protein level in mealworms helps keep the overall protein level in your baby chicks diet up.
Most chick starters are at least 18% protein to encourage proper growth. They can even go up to 22% protein. A higher protein level is needed when you are brooding multiple species. Turkeys and gamebirds, for example, are usually fed 22% starter.
How Many Mealworms Should You Feed Your Baby Chick?
Mealworms should be fed in moderation. My rule of thumb is no more than 1 mealworm per week of chick age. So, in that case, I wouldn’t feed a 2-week old chick more than two meal worms.
Of course, sometimes it is fun to just set a few in a plate and watch all of the babies run and grab one and run off with it. This usually ensures a pretty fair distribution too!.
I might, for example, give a dozen baby chicks 15 mealworms to share and then watch the hilarity ensue!
Other Safe Treats for Baby Chicks
Aside from mealworms, there are many treats you can feed baby chicks. These include:
- Dubia Roaches
- Alfalfa Hay
- Alfalfa Sprouts
- Wax Worms
- Shredded Meat
The key is to ensure that the treats you are providing your baby chicks are high in protein as well as nutritional value.
While many other foods are technically safe for chickens, and baby chickens, their nutrition profiles aren’t optimal if you are looking to provide a healthy start for your babies.