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meal worms

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
so the feeding poultry maggots thread got me thinking. Is it possible to raise mealworms for chickens? would it be economically worth it?

One hang up I see is that it would be difficult to provideĀ  food o them without purchasing some. so the question becomes whynot to jsut buy food for the chickens instead. but the meal worms are around 40% protein but are fed mash or grains that aren't nearly that.

second difficulty to overcome would be keepingthe temp around 77-80 for maximum production. easy in the summer but more trying of course in the winter which is when we really need a good source of protein available for the chickens to keep them laying.

I am envisioning several bins made of sifting cat litter boxes. if the right bedding and foods are used you ought to be able to sift out the larger meal worms daily in a snap and toss to the chickies. theoretically the bedding, food and eggs would fall through to start the next generation. with some calculation regarding the standard timeframe in regards to the lifecycle Iought to be able to work out how many bins I would need.http://www.sialis.org/raisingmealworms.htm

definitly worth some more thought....


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paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15108
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I took a bunch of plastic trays and stacked them in the house behind a chair.  Each had about half an inch of feed at the bottom of the tray.  I checked on them about once a week. 

They convert low protein feed into protein.  Then you can feed the chickens the mealworms and the feed that the mealworms were living in.


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Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
The mealworms don't crawl out of the boxes?

Don't you have to buy the meal worms?  And do you have to put a screen over them to contain them as they go through their life cycle?  I know my cats would have a good time chasing the beetles around the house, but...

Maggots are free.  All I would have to do is add raw chicken tails, furry spaghetti, and stuff like that.  Otherwise, the flies do the work, and the chickens are self-feeding.

Sue
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15108
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I bought the first gob of mealworms for something like five bucks.  Over the internet.

The mealworms couldn't get up past the top edge of the box. 

These were shallow boxes too.  I think they were supposed to be used to store stuff under a bed.  I just used short sticks of 2x4's between each layer of boxes so I could stack them.

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Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
the maggot method wouldn't work around here in the winter, which is when a good protein supplement to their foraging is really needed. according to the article, as long as you have 1" of smooth plastic rim they can't crawl out.

Paul - how did it work out financially as opposed to just buying high protein feed? was it just too much hassle?
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15108
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
My mission in raising chickens is multi faceted.

I'm not a big fan of feeding soy to chickens. 

I have this powerful feeling that the moment you put an animal in a cage, you accept the responsibility of taking damn good care of that animal - because it isn't like the animal can wander off and take care of itself.  Therefore, feeding it whatever is best has more value than what is cheap. 

The protein source for chickens is insects. 

In the winter, a little extra protein makes an ENORMOUS difference in laying quantity.

And, why have chickens at all unless there is economic value? 

My experiments lead me in a direction to try and solve all of this. 

The mealworm experiment went pretty well.  Much better than my earthworm experiments.  But I never got to the point of doing it on a large enough scale to see what the payback was.  But ....  I think just leaving some mealworms in some chicken feed for a few weeks just translates to a bucket of chicken feed with a lot more protein!  It seems like a big winner.


Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
So, do you keep buying the meal worms?  Or do you let some keep going, turn into beetles, and eventually get more meal worms?

It doesn't seem very cost effective.

Okay, how about this for a protein source for the chickapoo? I've given it all of thirty seconds of consideration... 

I'm working toward a 17x17ft chicken yard with coop.  The coop is finished except the ramp isn't up yet (it's raining).  The chickens think it's okay and are currently hopping in by themselves at dusk. It isn't fenced yet, and they are roaming over 2/3 of an acre.  They will still have access much of the 2/3 acre after the chicken yard is fenced, at certain times.

What if I dig a hole about two feet in diameter and one foot deep within the chicken yard, and turn it into a sort of worm bin. I have a tub of shredded leaves, so I could add food waste and dump it all into the hole, then cover it with a piece of plywood.  Just let it sit there until the worms move in.  Keep adding food wastes.

Occasionally remove plywood and fork out a bunch of debris and worms for the chickies, and add more compostables, and put the lid back on.

Granted, November isn't the best time of year to do this, but maybe it will attract more worms, as the hole contents is less likely to freeze (it rarely freezes 6" deep here), and they can party and breed through the winter, assuming that worms do that in winter. I've never heard that they're seasonal breeders, but who knows?

So, what do you think?  It's still cheaper than meal worms.

Sue

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15108
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I let one batch out of seven turn into beetles, and then that one batch gets divided into seven batches.  I bought meal worms just one time.

It seemed pretty cost effective to me:  low protein chicken feed converted itself into high protein chicken feed with very little effort.  And the quality of the feed was first rate.

your worm bin hole idea:  I think you would probably be ahead of the game if you just fed those scraps to the chickens.  I think earthworms are gonna cruise the area just because of the chicken poop and other organic matter.    But it just isn't gonna be a lot - either with or without the hole.    Think about how many worms you might have when it is going full speed ahead:  they just aren't gonna reproduce that fast.

Sue - cruise around on the internet a little and see what it costs to get mealworms.

Hell, you can probably get a small container of mealworms from a local pet shop for about two dollars.

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
paul wheaton wrote:
  Therefore, feeding it whatever is best has more value than what is cheap. 




to a point, yes. but in order for healthier food to be available then it has to be be economically viable first and healthiest, within that context, second. healthy food is worthless if you can't afford it.  it should be the healthiest choice within the economic criteria. and a crucial part of my outlook on life is efficiency including money matters. use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without. the oft repeated homesteaders motto.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15108
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I think that is true for a lot of stuff, but ...  with an animal in a cage, I think that you take on the responsibility of giving that animal a better life than it would have in the wild.

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
absolutely. I feel great responsibility when it comes to the care of my animals. I think economics of animal care are very important though. there will never be widespread sustainable agriculture productions if people cannot produce a product that others can afford.  and developing ideas and methods to obtain that is crucial to salvaging the planet. since it is not likely, desirable or even possible for everyone to raise their own chickens(unless there is a widespread human die off) coming up with economically viable methods for farm and home production is the only realistic option.

getting people to change be it putting less chemicals on their lawn or feeding and raising their chickens in ways that don't pollute the waterways is hinged on whether people can afford it. its just reality.
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
So how time- and labor-intensive is raising mealworms? 

What do you use for bedding?  How often do you change it?
Can you raise them outdoors? What about freezing temps?
What do they eat?  How often do you feed them?
Is there a way to make them self-serve, buffet style? 

Could you give me an overview on raising them, or a website?

Sue
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
they are kept in the "food" from what I gather and the only major time expense seems to be perodically sifting them out and replacing the food/bedding approx once a month. they produce best at about 80. feed can be any type of grain or chicken mash and a vegie to give them a drink. the link in my first post gives some excellent more indepth info.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15108
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
labor:  I seem to recall putting a wet paper towel in once in a while.  But other than that, it seem like I looked in on them about once a week.  Pretty easy since they were in the house.

I never really "changed" the bedding.  More like when a bin became empty, I would refill it with chicken feed and then toss a scoop in from another bin.

Outdoors:  can't remember.  I just raised my indoors for some reason.  I think they might require a certain amount of warmth.

Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
If they need warmth, I guess they're not an option.  I'm basically living in the three rooms closest to the wood stove right now, and will do so for most of the winter.  I don't think the cats will give up their heating pad to worms.  In fact, I can guarantee it.

I still think I'll dig a hole in the ground and fill it with shredded leaves, and dump my kitchen waste into it, then cover it with a piece of plywood.

I just shifted the plastic composter and its contents, and there must have been a million worms in there.  I saved out a couple of gallons of them and am storing them in compost about ten feet from the wood stove so they don't freeze.

Now, all I need is to get rid of this exceptionally cold weather so I don't have to dig the hole with a pick.

Sue
Suzy Bean
steward

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
    
    8
Paul shares about his success with raising meal worms for his chickens in this podcast: podcast


www.thehappypermaculturalist.wordpress.com
Mark Harris


Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 73
Location: Portugal
I raise "live foods" as part of my living, so I have alot of experience in this area. Mealworms are great if your prepared to follow a certain routine in sifting out lots of different trays on a weekly basis. They need to be kept at around 27c for best growth, and need daily care. Either you need to heat the area they live, or heat the trays in rack using heat mats underneath them, all set on a thermostat. All in all quite complex. Plus you need to buy in grains for them, and they do best with the addittion of soya meal, which probably you are trying to avoid in the first place !

There is an alternative. An insect where all live stages live happily together. Are very easy to breed. Do not need complex care. An insect that loves eating kitchen leftovers, peelings, windfall fruit etc.

But its a roach !!! There are roaches and there are roaches. I am not talking about the sort of roach that will infest your house. But a species that is being bred in thousands of homes across the world by reptile keepers, without problems. That species is commonly known as the Lobster roach. It grows to around 3cm and gives birth to live young. All you need is one heated container. Its important to smear some vaseline around the top of the box to keep them in, as they can climb smooth surfaces. About 28c is perfect for them. But they will tolerant temps much colder for short whiles and hotter temps too. Inside the cage you need to increase the surface area for the roaches so more can live in there. Egg crate stacked up is ideal. All you do is feed them, and they breed.

One very important advantage to this species over mealworms is that they are what I called 'battery breeders'. Once a mealworm is fully grown, it turns into a beetle pretty quick. These are not so good for chickens. So its easy to create lots of mealworms in the summer, if you are using natural summer warmth, but production crashes just when you need it in the winter. Adult roaches live for about a year, and continue to breed while you 'store' them. So the roach colony is like a battery. It charges up in the summer, when your chooks are finding lots of wild bugs. You can use more roaches in the winter and let the battery 'discharge' for a while, just when you need them, knowing it will 'recharge' in the warmer half of the year.

Every few weeks I scope out some of the poop at the bottom of the cage, and scatter it outdoors where the chikens forage. There is always a few roaches there amongst the poop but the chickens don't complain. They absolutely adore these roaches.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
I wonder what sort of feed conversion ratio mealworms have? I know earthworms are close to 1.5:1, and BSF are about 5:1.

It would be great if you could feed them a waste product, like wheat bran or molded grain. Are there other available wastes?

And don't forget that mealworms are edible to people, too. Maybe take out a step (chickens), and eat them yourself!


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Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Mark, I would be interested in learning more about your roaches.
Could you describe (even post pictures) of your system for raising them?
Do you know their feed conversion ratio?
How do you harvest them?
Do you separate young adults out for future breeders?
What do they eat?
What are their reproductive rates (say you start with 2, how many do you have in 6 months)?
I have a dark room that stays about 66 F (19C) year round. Would this be too cold for them?
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
one of the reasons I like BSF is because they can convert wastes (especially manure) into protein. Do any of these other species (roaches, mealworms) convert manure into protein? Manure is something everyone has if they have a chicken roost...
Mark Harris


Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 73
Location: Portugal
Abe Connally wrote:Mark, I would be interested in learning more about your roaches.
Could you describe (even post pictures) of your system for raising them?
Do you know their feed conversion ratio?
How do you harvest them?
Do you separate young adults out for future breeders?
What do they eat?
What are their reproductive rates (say you start with 2, how many do you have in 6 months)?
I have a dark room that stays about 66 F (19C) year round. Would this be too cold for them?


I will take some pictures later on. Sorry I have no idea on the food coversion factor. I have a large plastic bucket with quarter inch metal mesh fixed on the bottom. To harvest adults I simply shake some of the egg crate that they live in, into this bucket. The adults stay in the bucket, smaller ones crawl through the mesh.

I only feed them vegetable based foods. But our houasehold is a meat free one, so I have not tried them on leftover animal protein. They will eat pretty much any fruit/veg, plus any cereals you have as well. Because I am breeding them to feed hundreds of lizards, I use alot of chicken mash too. Right now we are planting alot of fruit trees on our land to reduce the input costs later on. They would eat stale bread, especially wetted would be very popular (any bakers nearby would be handy to know). There was a lizard breeder in the US (now dead) who bred 2000 plus lizards a year, fed on roaches, that were fed supermarket out of date veg/fruit/bread.

They take 3 months to reach adult hood and each female lives for a year and produces around 180 eggs in that time. For more info see http://www.herpshop.com.au/CareSheets/FeaderRoach.html

Speckled feeder roach is another name for them. I think 19c would be too cold for them to do well.

If you had time and space you could have several colonies going so you could select only old breeders. But in reality I think they are so productive, that it probably isn't worth it.

I am working with around 10 species of roach right now, continually experimenting to find the ideal species for me. Most of my lizards are fed roaches and other insects in feeder dishes, so a climbing roach isn't ideal for me. Another insect you should look into is Blaptica dubia. These are more popular amongst reptile keepers as they cannot escape from smooth sided boxes, and are also very easy to culture. These are probably better for in home culture. Lobsters shouldn't take over your house but are more likely to escape.
Mark Harris


Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 73
Location: Portugal
Abe Connally wrote:one of the reasons I like BSF is because they can convert wastes (especially manure) into protein. Do any of these other species (roaches, mealworms) convert manure into protein? Manure is something everyone has if they have a chicken roost...


I have around 20 chickens, and BSF are naturalized in this part of Europe. I know in large scale factory farming style operations, that BSF will eat chicken and other manures. Do you use chicken manure for BSF yourself, and can it be done on a small scale ? My BSF go through kitchen wastes in the summer months. Would you just add the chicken manure to the same bucket and let the flies get on with it ?

No mealworms will not eat manures. They are cereal specialists. Roaches, I am not sure about. Certainly most of them would not. But when I see those wildlife films with caves filled with thousands of bats pooping everywhere, and the floor littered with roaches, its makes me wonder....
Mark Harris


Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 73
Location: Portugal
Blaptica dubia

Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
yes, BSF can be done on a small scale. I give them poultry and pig manure, plus scraps that earthworms don't like. They also like butcher wastes.

They do great for the majority of the year, but during winter (4 months), they don't produce anything. So, it would be nice to have another insect to fill that slot during those times.

Are there any roaches that will do well in 19C temps? I don't care if they climb, I can always build a closed cage, but it would be nice if I didn't have to keep them heated.

It would be nice to be able to grow these using wastes. I don't like the idea of feeding grain to mealworms, cause the grain can go directly to the animals (or me). I've seen folks using wheat bran or chaff for mealworms, and that would be fine. But, if the roaches could eat another waste material, that would be good, too.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6523
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
I have read that meal worms are calcium depleters in birds. As such, if you feed a lot of them to poultry, the calcium in layer feed may not be enough to counteract this. You should feed, free-choice, extra calcium to offset this deficiency.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
that is very interesting, John. Do you have any links or resources where we might learn more about that?

The best way to offset that might be to "gut load" them with calcium supplement, and/or feed another type of food that is high in calcium.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6523
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
Try here:http://www.sialis.org/feeder.htm#cal
Mark Harris


Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 73
Location: Portugal
There is a genus of Roaches called Eublaberus which are soil living types. One E. distantii is found at least sometimes , in caves in South America where fruit eating Oil birds live above them. This species are said to breed well at 23c. 5 years ago I wanted this roach , so I tried to get hold of some. Those I saw in Europe actually I think are hybrids with another species. The ones I wanted were in America. The man who had them wouldn't send any, but (knowing I was in Europe) said I was "welcome to come and collect some". So a few weeks later I got on that plane to Alabama. I was there for a week, my one and only trip outside of Europe.

The problem with them is that they are very slow breeders. It maybe that I am giving them the wrong food ? I am going to be trying them later on the closest thing I can get to Oil bird poop.

Mealworms have a calcium/ phosphorus ratio of around 1:15. What makes it worse is that bran is high in phytic acid which is said to block the absorption of calcium in the gut. In reptile circles it is normal to dust them with calcium powder before feeding them to reptiles. But simply allowing free access to calcium containing grits would seem sensible.

Here is central Portugal, BSF are only laying eggs for around 4 months of the year.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
I'm having a hard time finding detailed information on feed conversion for these insects. Also, recommended population densities per square foot or meter seem elusive, too.

I did find a few references that suggests that you need at least 200 breeding mealworms per chicken to have a daily supply. Roaches have even less information.

While these seem very interesting, it is hard to tell whether their production is a benefit over other mini-livestock like BSF and earthworms, without added data. Are they more efficient in terms of feed, space, resources?

I guess it depends on the waste streams you have access to. If you have a lot of grain material, it might be wise to grow mealworms (if feed conversion exceed that of earthworms or BSF).
Stefan Pagel


Joined: May 09, 2012
Posts: 27
I recently bought 1kg of mealworms here in the UK for something like 12 GBP (20 USD?).
Although I was breeding them before I only had a very small colony as I was only breeding them for one gecko.
Right now I am letting half of the worms turn into pupae and then beetles, the other half is kept cool for 3 months until I need more beetles.
I keep the worms and the beetles in plastic trays with a layer of oats and chick crumbs (non medicated) and add a little apple or carrot once a week for moisture after I cleaned them out.
The time spent is minimal and I am expecting enough worms to harvest by the winter to feed some to my 40 chickens and 30 quail each day to keep them laying longer in the winter (I just need to work out some off grid lighting for them as we only get 7 hours of daylight.).
My rats and mice (bred for my snakes) also love them.
I don't mind worms / beetles but I am not a fan of roaches...but I might try them one day.

24 acres of grass/bog land in the Scottish Highlands
(Kune kune pigs, pygmy goats, chickens)
Planned: Build a RMH in the animal house, Build a green house
Mark Harris


Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 73
Location: Portugal
Are you using porridge oats ? Its a good but expensive feed. I would recommend you try bran for around half of the food mix. Its incredibly cheap, and good for breeding mealworms. Here in Portugal its around 10 euros per 25 kilo. Bran is very light for volume, so that is a large sack. What temp are you keeping them at ? I keep mine at around 27-28c. Maybe yours are cooler ? Mine are fed 'wet' foods daily ! I feed enough carrots or other 'wet' food, so they nearly run out, or have just run out at next feeding time. Once a week doesn't seem enough to me, unless you are keeping them very cool. I need mine to grow fast, as I am feeding hundreds of lizards.
Stefan Pagel


Joined: May 09, 2012
Posts: 27
I can't find any bran here at all and the shipping costs are prohibitive. Porridge oats are cheaper than the bran I could only find at the health shop. I used to keep them at 28-30C in the snake room but as I don't have the time to check them every day too many were dying. Also all he pupae were dying at that temp. so I moved them to cooler room where its 24-25C in the day and 18-22C at night. They seem to do a lot better.
I live in an area with loads of rain fall and the air humidity is high most days so the worms don't really eat much wet food. The oats are moist enough for them. They ate loads more wet food in the hotter room where humidity is low as there is heating running all the time.
Mark Harris


Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 73
Location: Portugal
Yours temps are fine but they will breed more slowly. Have you given any thought to what sort of weight of mealworms you will want to use per day, per chicken ? Breeding enough for 40 chickens I think will be quite a challenge, based on how many roaches/mealworms our chickens can get through given the chance.

If you buy any sort of food in for your furries/feathered animals, the same suppliers should be able to supply bran. I can buy it easily from pet shops in London for example. They can order it in for me. The ideal humidity for them is around 65%. Any more humid and you risk mould in the cereals. Less humid and they grow slower and are smaller.

What sort of snakes do you keep ?
Stefan Pagel


Joined: May 09, 2012
Posts: 27
I'll ask around for the bran but I am not hopeful. I can't even get grit for the hens up here, have to order it from down south. 6GBP for the grit and 18GBP for delivery Thankfully I only need one bag every 2-3 years....
I keep ball pythons (have done for 25 years with a few years gap after my oldest died at 20+ years old but recently got hooked again) and planning to breed later this year for the first time.
The mealies are more for a treat but if it goes well I might keep more breeders back and increase production to save feed cost for the chickens and rats/mice(ASF). Currently waiting for several hundred pupae to turn to beetles....
Stefan Pagel


Joined: May 09, 2012
Posts: 27
I have a few questions. A lot of my pupae died although I removed the hatched beetles straight away so they wouldn't feed on the pupae.
Why did they die? I lost roughly 20%.
The beetles seem fine now but how do you separate the eggs from the beetles? I tried a sieve but don't think many eggs fell through as they cling to the bedding.
No luck with bran, I am looking to get some delivered from an online shop but postage to the scottish highlands is very expensive...
Any other hints to make this project successful ?
Mark Harris


Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 73
Location: Portugal
I can't explain the 20% loses except the German books I have read suggest that it is best to use a sieve that will allow the non pupated worms to fall through but keep the pupae. IF the worms are short of moisture they may nibble on the pupae. I don't generally bother doing this.

What I am using for food at the moment is white flour and bran (50/50), with veg every 1-2 days (mainly carrots). I would use wholemeal flour but it is much more expensive. My mix is very easy to sieve, so all that all the cereals fall through, just leaving the beetles, which are then placed in new tray with fresh foods. I sieve them weekly. That way you have a tray of cereals and eggs ready to hatch, and x weeks later mealworns all the same age/size. I can see why that would be difficult if i used porridge oats which are not as fine.

You need a third sieve to remove the 'frass' (droppings) once the mealworms have grown a bit, and have consumed all the cereal foods.

This might sound like a lot of hassle to some, but actually mealworms are very little work. Takes me around 5 mins a day, about 15 mins extra once a week. I produce around 1-2 kilos of worms a week.
Stefan Pagel


Joined: May 09, 2012
Posts: 27
That sound good. What size and how many trays do you use? And how often do you have to replace the beetles ?
Stefan Pagel


Joined: May 09, 2012
Posts: 27
Found a place today that sells broad bran...is that any good?
I use white flour as well as the eggs cling to it better than the oats and I can sift it through the strainer but bran would be better...
Mark Harris


Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 73
Location: Portugal
The trays are 55cm x 40 cm floor space and 15cm high (large contico trays). I have a rack system with 10 of these trays, but it could fit 14 trays. A heat strip is under each pair of trays and is on a thermostat set to 28c. Imagine a rack system you might use for leopard geckos and you have the general idea.

Broad bran I believe is another name for (wheat) bran, i.e. what you want !
 
 
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