Walking around the State Fair looking at the livestock and the kids that raise them, it struck me that Mini-Livestock were not represented. Considering the fact that they’re easy to raise humanely, they’re sustainable and super nutritious, it was a shame that they weren’t represented. So, I decided to do something about it and wrote this article on How to Raise Crickets.
Crickets offer a real animal protein with all nine essential amino acids. They are a prebiotic fiber (nutrition for probiotics), high in antioxidants, a perfect Omega 3:6 balance, high in B12, Calcium, Zinc, Iron, and more. They are a very bio-available food source.
Raising crickets is not terribly hard and can be a lot of fun. It’s a great activity to do with kids.
Crickets can be fed leftovers and since the females lay around a hundred eggs during their six to eight week lifetime, once you establish your mini-herd, it will re-populate even after a heavy harvest.
You can use the crickets whole or ground into powder. ‘What a great way to get homegrown protein, antioxidants, prebiotic fiber, and a strong shot of very bio-available vitamins and minerals.
Building your micro-farm and maintaining your herd of crickets is something just about anybody living anywhere can do. It’s low tech with a high return on investment both financially and personally.
Many of the items you need for your cricket farm you may already have around the house. If not, the products you do need to buy are inexpensive. Plus, once your farm is set up, you can be growing crickets for years to come. There aren’t any significant expenses for maintaining your farm, especially since you feed your herd your meal leftovers.
Crickets will eat just about anything from meat to vegetables, excluding hot/spicy stuff like onions, peppers, garlic, etc. In a way, crickets are what they eat. If you want gluten-free protein powder, feed your herd gluten-free food. Organic food equals organic crickets. Feed them carrots, and they’ll be high in vitamin A. It’s pretty cool that way.
Below is a list of supplies. Most of these, you probably already have. The two significant expenditures are the tote and the heat pad or lamp (if needed). Totes are easy to find. The heat pad or lamp may be necessary if you do not have a warm spot in your house.
Crickets like it to be in the ’80s all the time.
You should have everything ready for occupancy before going to the pet store to buy your livestock.
Suggested Supply List:
• Plastic Tote(s)
• Empty Egg Cartons
• Metal Door Screen
• Organic Potting Soil
• Kitchen Sponge
• Glue (a hot glue gun works well)
• Vermilite / Pearlite
• Flat board
• 3 Small Glass or Hard Plastic Dishes
• Lid for one of the dishes
• Shoe-box with Lid
• Spray Bottle
• Heavy Duty Scissors
• Small Rocks or Pieces of Wood
• Heat lamp or heat pad (optional depending upon conditions)
Once you have all the materials together, it’s relatively easy to build your farm.
Constructing the Cricket Barn
To create housing for your herd, you can use an ordinary plastic tote with large holes cut in top so they can breathe. When choosing a tote, make sure the lid fits securely. A smooth-sided interior will keep the crickets from climbing the walls.
To begin building, cut large holes in the plastic lid, then use the metal screen, secured with glue, to cover the holes so your crickets can not escape.
Although it doesn’t look as nice, it is a good idea to have the screen on the top of the lid which will give the crickets inside minimal access to the glued area. Crickets may work away at the glue and, over time, create holes big enough to escape. Having the glue on top gives them limited access to the glue and allows you to monitor their progress if any.
Once you have the lid ready (that’s the hard part), you can fill the bottom of the tote with about ½” of vermilite/pearlite – this prevents bacteria and reduces odor. Then, stack the egg cartons vertically on top. Stack the egg cartons neatly so you can put a flat surface on top of them. You need a flat area to put the food, water, and breeding dishes on. The flat surface can be a piece of cardboard or thin wood. I’ve seen people use paper plates.
Now you’re ready to add the food and water dish along with the egg tray. Your barn is almost ready for occupation.
Building the Feeding Trough
Like all animals, crickets need food and water. For the food bin, all you need is a glass or hard plastic dish with low sides. This dish is where you will place your meal leftovers. Put it in a convenient and easy to reach spot because you will need to clean it every so often. The low sides are essential. The crickets need to be able to get in and out of the dish, and they can’t climb glass and most hard plastics. To give them access to the dining dish, put a few rocks or pieces of wood on the inside and outside, giving them a bridge of stone or wood to walk across.
For water, all you need is a small glass or hard plastic dish with a sponge in it. Add just enough water to keep the sponge damp and make sure you do not have any standing water. Crickets can’t swim, and they can find ingenious ways to drown themselves. Like the food bin, this dish will also need a stone or wood bridge or two to give your crickets access to the sponge.
Another option is to buy water crystals and use them instead of the sponge. The advantage here is that they will last longer needing less attention.
Over time, add food and water as needed. They don’t eat a lot. When the food gets too rotten for you to stand, take the dish out, and wash it. The crickets will eat spoiled food, but they do prefer fresher food, especially vegetables.
You can feed your crickets almost any food we eat, excluding hot/spicy stuff like onions, peppers, garlic, etc. Like us, they will be healthier with a high amount of fresh greens. Mix it up; variety is healthy.
Setting up and Maintaining the Egg Tray
Female crickets lay their eggs in moist soil.
To set up the egg tray you will need another low sided glass dish, organic soil, and a piece of metal door screen cut out to fit as snuggly as possible over the dirt. The screen allows the female crickets to lay their eggs while protecting them from being eaten by the herd.
Looking at the image, you will see that the female has an Ovipositor which is used to lay her eggs. It will fit between the holes in a window screen.
You need to make sure that you always keep the dirt moist but not wet. Use a spray bottle to achieve this.
Your cricket barn is ready for the move-in!
Crickets Like It Hot!
You’ll have limited success if you keep your herd at room temperature. One indicator of how happy your crickets are is whether they chirp or not. If they look healthy, but you do not hear chirping, consider moving them to a warmer climate.
Tropical House Crickets will survive at sixty-eight degrees (f), but they are happier and will breed faster if they are warmer. Mid-seventies to high-eighties is best. If you have a warm area of your house, that’s a good spot for the barn. If not, you might consider buying a heat pad or a heat lamp (commonly used with reptiles).
Humidity is another issue. Generally, if the holes in your lid are not too large, the plastic lid will keep your crickets in 50% or better level of humidity. 50% to 60% is optimal. Too much humidity is also a problem. If you start to see mold or notice a moldy smell, make the holes in our lid larger.
How large should the holes in the lid be? Well, that’s a tough one. It depends upon the environment where you live. It will take a bit of trial and error. The dryer your climate, the smaller the holes should be.
Keep in mind, the best indicator of heard health is the chirp. If your crickets are chirping, they’re happy. No, or very little chirping, means you need to adjust heat or humidity.
Populate Your Herd
To begin building your herd, start with a small number of crickets purchased from a local pet shop. Twenty-five to fifty crickets is a good amount to start breeding. Most pet stores carry the Tropical House Cricket. It’s for good reason. They are the easiest to raise and not as prone to disease as either type.
The Tropical House Cricket
Native to Southwestern Asia
Note: Since our biology is so different, passing pathogens from insects to humans is extremely rare. You do still have to be careful to wash up after handling your herd.
Once you bring the livestock home, simply dump them into the barn.
For the next month, allow them to live in peace while they breed. Female crickets can lay from eighty to over a hundred eggs during their four to eight-week residency. So, you will not need to buy any more stock after the starter crickets reproduce.
Incubation & Rearing of Young Bugs
After a month of laying eggs, your egg tray is packed with hundreds to thousands of eggs. At this time, you will need to remove the egg tray and place it in its own container. For this, a shoe-box, with a lid, will work.
Put your egg tray into the center of the shoe-box. On one side, add a few egg carton sections and, on the other side, add some paper towels. You can make the side with egg cartons a bit larger.
Eggs and bugs need high humidity to survive.
Place a lid over the egg tray so it covers 95% of the tray, leaving just enough room for the newly hatched bugs to escape. This will keep the eggs and newborns in a high humidity environment. Keep the egg tray, and the paper towels, damp so the whole box is humid. Make sure there are no wet areas. Bugs are so small they can drown on a wet paper towel.
During this time, check the box daily and make sure the dirt and paper towels are damp.
Within a week or two, you should start to see tiny babies emerge. Baby crickets are called Pinheads. Leave your pinheads in the shoe-box until they have tripled in size. Now you’re ready to move them into the barn.
Now That You Have a New Generation on the Way, What To Do with Your Starter Stock?
Adult crickets not only eat eggs, but they also eat smaller crickets. So, you need to keep your herds separated based upon age.
A hard choice you have now is what to do with your starter stock. At this point, they may have begun to die off naturally since they have such a short life span. You can build a new barn for their offspring and let them continue to live in the original barn until they have all passed, or you can euthanize them as described below in the processing section and then throw them out.
It’s generally recommended that you do not eat your starter crickets because you don’t know what they ate before you purchased them. The idea is to use them as breeding stock and only eat the crickets you raise because you know what they eat. I’ll admit, some people think this is being over-cautious and have no problem cooking and serving crickets they purchased at the pet store. It’s your decision to make.
Do not release them into the wild. It’s unethical and probably against the law in your state.
Do you know someone with a lizard? They’ll gladly accept your food donation.
Move Your New Herd into the Barn
Always clean the barn before introducing a new herd.
Once your shoe-box is teeming with pinheads, you can move them to the new barn.
Depending on the humidity in your house, you may want to put a small plate in the condo with a damp paper towel to help maintain high humidity for the first week or two. Covering a few holes in the lid will help as well.
Over the next couple of weeks start to bring the humidity back down to 50% to 60%. Watch for mold and make sure you remove rotting food.
From here, you can get back to the daily routine of feeding and misting. It will take from six to eight weeks for your crickets to grow to full-size adults.
Once your crickets reach full size, it’s time to harvest them.
Before harvesting, remove the food, and give your crickets a day to fast. This will eliminate unwanted waste products.
There are two ways to harvest your crickets.
- Harvest all of your crickets at once.
- Harvest small amounts at a time and have two totes set up, one for the current herd and the other for the offspring.
To harvest, you simply pick up sections of egg crates, with the crickets hanging on, and shake them off into a bag. Once you have them in a bag, close it and put it into your freezer to euthanize them. This is like winter coming on, so we assume it is a humane way to harvest. Once frozen, they are ready to process.
In the wild, crickets die off each winter, and only their eggs survive.
You can leave them frozen until you’re ready to process them. They will last up to a year.
Processing Your Livestock
Processing crickets requires two steps. First, clean them, and then cook them.
To clean your harvest, thaw the crickets and put them in a pot of warm water. Swish them around in a slightly rough way to knock off any unwanted debris. Then, let them sit for a few minutes.
After setting for a few minutes, you’ll have three levels of unwanted crud. On the top of the pot, you’ll see stuff floating and on the bottom, you’ll see the junk that settled. Your crickets will be sitting in unclear water as well. So, first, sift or pour the top layer of crud off. Then, use a slotted spoon to scoop the crickets out, leaving the dirty water and crud on the bottom behind. Do a quick clean water rinse of the crickets to remove the final layer left from the dirty water.
Your crickets are now ready for the chef.
Freeze what you’re not going to use.
For immediate use, the whole crickets can be boiled and added to a dish or they can be cooked with foods like soups and casseroles. In these two approaches, the crickets will need to be consumed promptly. Like fish, they go bad quickly.
The third way is to roast them and once roasted, their shelf life can extend to a year or more depending upon the humidity. Dry roasted crickets will remain fresh and crisp as long as they are not exposed to high humidity. So, always seal them in a bag or jar when you’re not using them.
To roast your crickets, spread them out on a cookie tray one layer deep. Put them in an oven at 180 degrees and cook for two to three hours. You can tell if they are done by trying a few. If they are dry and crunchy, they’re done.
Eating What You Harvest
“Crickets taste really good!”
When people try crickets for their first time it’s common to hear them exclaim how good they actually taste.
Crickets have a mild and pleasant umami taste.
There are two ways to eat crickets. One is whole and the other is in powder form.
Recipes that use crickets can be found online but you can easily make your own. Just add crickets to about any dish. Tacos and burritos are favorites along with adding crickets to salads.
Chocolate covered crickets are also a favorite of many people. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how it was a camp activity fondly remembered by people of all ages.
Making Cricket Powder
Making cricket powder is as easy as putting dry-roasted crickets in a blender and grinding them until they are a fine powder. The cricket powder you make will be a rough grind but that gives it a nice crystalline crunch. Mix your cricket powder with chocolate for a delightful candy. It’s surprisingly good! Although this powder is generally not fine enough to blend smoothly in shakes, it’s still easy to use in many dishes and sprinkled on salads.
Because cricket powder has a mild flavor, it is easily masked by other flavors. So, if you are not thrilled with the taste, you can still use it for the health benefits without even realizing it’s in the food.
Making Cricket Flour for Baking
Using cricket powder, you can bake protein-packed cookies, high antioxidant donuts, and cakes with prebiotic fiber. Using cricket powder offers a whole new nutritional profile to baked goods.
To make cricket flour, add one part cricket powder to four parts regular baking flour and mix thoroughly.
Taking Your Livestock to Market
It’s possible to make money from your cricket farm.
Here are a few quick ideas.
- Sell live crickets to pet shops
- Sell roasted crickets and cricket powder to local health food stores
- Make your own products using cricket powder
- Become a speaker at local schools and community organizations
A Note About Cricket Poop
Insect poop is called frass and it makes an incredible fertilizer.
Frass is a microbial inoculant that is natural and safe for children and pets. It delivers probiotics and boosts the immune system of plants. ‘Kind of a vitamin pill for plants.
For a double whammy, dump the contents of your cleaned barns, frass and all, into your compost pile. It will increase the speed of composting while providing essential nutrients.
Entomophagy Education & School Giveaways
Since you are now an Entomophagist (someone who eats insects), please consider sharing your knowledge of Entomophagy (the practice of eating insects). It’s an honorable thing to do. Plus, when you say you’re an Entomophagist, most people will have no idea what that means and assume you have a degree in Entomophagy 🙂
You’ll find interest from elementary schools to universities, Scouts and 4-H, as well as other community organizations. They appreciate the opportunity to learn and experience entomophagy.
If you develop a presentation, it can be a lot of fun. I do quite a few presentations and always enjoy the interactions with students. I learn a lot as well. You’ll hear all sorts of stories about the experiences of the students and their parents. The stories range from eating insects on a dare to cultural experiences and even those of survival.
We need more Entomophagists speaking out to promote insects as food.
Food Security Issues
By the time my kids are my age, there will be half again as many people on our planet and meat production will need to double. This is not possible. Food insecurity is a major cause of strife and war. Edible insects, already consumed by billions of people worldwide, is one answer.
Attitudes are changing as science begins to show us the significant health and environmental benefits of insects as food and feed. Coupled with the concern over factory farms and inhumane treatment of livestock, edible insects make sense.
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