Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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How to raise silkworms

Silkworm closeup

In a previous post, I wrote about the potential of feeding silkworms to chickens.  But how do you raise them?

Holding silkwormsAlthough you can buy commercial feed for silkworms, those who want to create a sustainable system will first need to plant or track down a mulberry tree.  Silkworms don't eat as adults, and the caterpillars live entirely on fresh mulberry leaves, preferably white or black mulberries.  I haven't found information on how many silkworms you can raise on the leaves of one tree without damaging it, so I'll have to report on that after a season of experimentation.  In the meantime, I've scoped out a few additional sources to supplement my young Illinois everbearing mulberry if I run short.

Silkworm life cycleYour next step is to find a source of silkworm eggs.  There are several different varieties of silkworms, but I've opted to buy so-called Peace Silkworms since the adults of this variety are able to break free of their cocoons and breed naturally.  Many other varieties have been bred to optimize silk-production and have such thick cocoons that the adults perish inside.  I'm going to try out Aurora Silk, where you can buy 200 silkworm eggs for $30 with free shipping.

Once your eggs arrive, you can keep them in a ziplock bag in the fridge for up to a few months to delay hatch.  When your mulberry tree is well leafed out, take the eggs out of the fridge and leave them at room temperature in a box or on a tray.  It should take about a week for your eggs to hatch, and you'll know they're nearly there when you see dark rings forming on the eggs.  Just before the eggs hatch, layer some mulberry leaves underneath for the caterpillars to eat, then put a clear lid with some air holes on your tray to hold moisture in the leaves without suffocating your insects.

Silkworms on mulberriesSilkworms are voracious eaters of mulberry leaves, with various sources recommending topping off their feed once to three times per day.  When you do so, be sure to supply fresh mulberry leaves with no water on them --- young caterpillars, especially, can drown in drops of dew.  Every other day or so, clean out the old leaves (perhaps using mesh trays so that the caterpillars can crawl up into the fresh leaves without your help).

Chickens are supposed to like silkworms best when they're less than two inches long, but the insects will keep growing up to three inches.  At that size, about one month after hatching, the Harvesting mulberry leavessilkworms stop eating and turn yellow --- your cue that they're ready to move on to the pupation phase.  Take out any remaining mulberry leaves and place the bottom half of a egg carton in the silkworm habitat, providing about one egg cup per caterpillar.  It's best to try to save at least twenty caterpillars to reach this stage if you want to keep the cycle going.

Within three days, the silkworms should have spun cocoons, and three weeks later they will emerge as flight-less moths.  Provide paper towels or another type of bedding and the female moths will mate and then lay 200 to 500 eggs apiece.  If you want to raise another batch right away, just put the eggs in a container and wait for them to hatch in a week, or move them to the fridge to store until the mulberry leaves are flush again.

The Avian Aqua Miser is an automatic chicken waterer that makes chicken care so easy you have time to raise silkworms.

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What an interesting post! I grew up in Taiwan and every year in elementary school we would have an optional silk worm science project. The canteen at the school would sell students some silk worms and mulberry leaves in a clear plastic bag with holes in it, then I would bring it home and my grandmother would help me put them all in a paper box. We had a mulberry tree right in our yard. I used to pet them as worms, but when they got to the moth stage you can hear them fluttering around in the box and I would get scared. I didn't know they're a common food for chickens in Asia until I read your informative post. They were extremely easy to raise.
Comment by Lydia Monday afternoon, February 25th, 2013
Lydia --- Fascinating to hear about your childhood silkworm projects! I'm looking forward to trying it out --- sounds like I should be able to do it if kids can. :-)
Comment by anna mid-morning Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

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