A mealworm farm can be a nice little side business, but it can also play an important role in your food production. If you raise chickens, ducks or reptiles, you can breed mealworms to provide them with a steady, low cost supply of high protein feed. That’s how we got started in mealworms years ago, both as a way to save on feed costs and also as a a means of being self sufficient so we could provide food for our chickens even in a disaster scenario.
As it turns out, a mealworm farm is a pretty fun project, especially if you have children. They can do the regular maintenance and enjoy watching and learning about the life cycles of mealworms as they transform into beetles.
Initial Investment Cost
The cost to start a mealworm farm is very minimal. Like most ventures, the more money you have, the quicker you can get going, but this income idea can get started with less than $100.
- Housing, Sterilite 3-Drawer Cart ($26)
- Bedding, 50# wheat bran ($15)
- Pantry moth traps ($8)
- Packaging, Plastic Portion Cups ($12)
- 1,000 Live Mealworms ($15)
- Household veggie scraps ($0)
You can use many options for housing, but we found the 3-drawer cart was the easiest and most user friendly. We’ve also raised them in a fish tank. Any straight-sided container should work. They don’t fly but can climb if the sides are sloped. We’ve used the system in this video as well, and it’s a great way to save time and semi-automate.
Mealworms eat their bedding. A mixture of wheat bran, cornmeal or rolled oats will work, but the most cost effective we’ve found is wheat bran from the local feed store. It comes in a large bag but you will continually add more throughout the year so it’s an investment that will work out in the long term.
Pantry Moth Traps
The mealworms themselves do not bring in moths, but the bedding (any grain) will. If you set traps from the beginning, you will help keep larvae from hatching and moving into your human food. Gently baking and freezing the bedding helps tremendously, but I prefer being proactive with traps too.
Plastic cups with lids are great for small batches. Depending on where you’re selling your worms, you may need to seek out other options. When I’ve ordered online, my worms have come in fabric bags. Small and large clamshell containers will work too. Think of your target market when deciding what to package the worms in.
The worms linked above are from the same company I purchased from when I started my own mealworm farm. I highly recommend them and would buy from them again if I needed to. You can find worms for sale on other websites and most likely locally, too; our feed store sells them in 50-100 worm batches, but the cost per worm is much higher than buying online. If buying online, be diligent in checking reviews because some sellers seem to have trouble with quality.
Household Veggie Scraps
Mealworms eat their bedding but need a source of moist food to get their liquid requirements. Fortunately, you probably already produce more than enough kitchen scraps to keep your worms in food. Some things they like include carrot and celery ends, apple cores and potato scraps.
Your mealworm farm can fit into the space of an unused closet. The low space requirements are one of the biggest draws. The downside is that they do need to be inside during cold winters; they do best at around room temperature.
Mealworms go through several life cycles. What you use and sell is the larva stage of the adult darkling beetle. When you buy worms at the store, they are in larval form and will be in that form for 8-10 weeks, before they pupate and stay in pupa form for 1-3 weeks. The pupa will transform into a beetle, which will start breeding in 1-2 weeks, laying eggs that hatch into larva after 1-4 weeks.
This means that from larva to larva, the total life cycle–turnaround time–is 3-4 months.
Daily Time Requirements
Mealworm farms are very low maintenance. Once established, you can do everything you need to maintain them in an average of under 10 minutes per day. If you develop a habit of checking the worms after your evening meal prep, you can simply drop some veggie scraps in and go.
Gathering worms takes a bit of time, but you can rig up a screen to easily sift them and have it done in a few minutes.
Marketing is another area where you’ll spend time, but that can be as little as 10-20 minutes a week placing ads when you have inventory available to sell. Line up a contract with a local feed store or other retailer and you can eliminate regular marketing altogether.
Mealworms are not going to make you a millionaire, but can produce a steady stream of income. Local sales can net you higher prices than in competitive online markets. With the exception of additional packaging, the above startup costs can last you 1-2 years.
Online, you can find mealworm starter packages that include beetles, eggs and larvae for $15-$40. Our local feed store sells 50 live worms for around $8. And on competitive Amazon, you can see above the price of $15 for 1,000 live worms. Clearly, local sales will be a better bet but a combination of both will give you a more rounded platform. At those prices, I think it’s reasonable to expect $100-$200 per month in steady sales when you get started with a 1,000 mealworm investment, though of course your results may be different. If you can secure a contract as a supplier, you might see those numbers soar.