Mini Livestock Ranching

The University of Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago

  • Rohanie Maharaj
    The University of Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago


      The rising demand and cost of animal protein, food and feed insecurity, environmental and climatic challenges of livestock agriculture have made the option of insects as food sources a viable topic. This chapter presents existing information and research on edible insects, insect farms and value-added insect products and assesses insects as a potential source of food and feed. Mini livestock ranching where edible insect species are reared, can reduce some of the negative environmental effects of livestock agriculture as it will produce significantly less greenhouse gas emissions compared with traditional livestock and have similar nutritional profiles. Edible insect species also; have a much lower feed to meat ratio, require small areas of land and have an almost negligible water requirement. There is an untapped potential to increase access to this nutritious, climate-smart food via intensified semi-cultivation and raising insects in farming environments, developing value added products and also a potential for a significant source of income.


      World population growth has been projected to be nine billion people by the year 2015 (Gerber et al., 2013) and accompanying this projection is a prediction that the food production rate will have to double in order to feed the future population. This together with rising food insecurity, concerns of agriculture contributing to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and how climate change will, in turn, affect agriculture productivity, are causing experts to reassess diets and approaches for food production (FAO, 2010a and 2010b). Increasing food production and especially protein production in the future by increasing agriculture and livestock farming intensity, brings with it many challenges:

      • • There may not be land available to expand agriculture,
      • • If current overfishing of the oceans continues, this may deplete this resource for future populations,
      • • The high cost of animal feed brings with it a debate on whether grains should be used to feed animals or current human population and
      • • Increasing competition for scarce water resources.

      Alternative solutions to conventional livestock and feed sources have led to the serious consideration of the potential for edible insects and commercial insect farming or rearing as an environmental, climate, land and water resource-friendly solution to contribute to food security, health and livelihoods (FAO, 2013). Raising insects for food would avoid many of the problems associated with livestock as they; require less land and water than livestock, they produce less waste, they do not have to be fed grains and they are not significant contributors to GHG emissions. Insect farms also do not require high resource inputs, technology or even medical services as compared to traditional livestock farms. Since insects are so different from man and vertebrate/livestock animals, risks of sharing diseases and co-infection are lower. However, there may be minor concerns of transferring microbial contaminants when feeding livestock with insect based feeds. Of all the known animal species, insects are abundant as 80% of animals walk on six legs (Dicke & Van Huis, 2011) and over 1,900 edible species have been identified by the UN so there are many different varieties that can potentially be sources of proteins for humans and animals with different flavors and potential for different value added products.

      This chapter looks at the negative environmental effects associated with livestock farming including the high water and land resources needed to feed the expanding population. Rearing insects requires minimal land and water while offering an opportunity to counter nutritional insecurity by providing emergency food and by improving livelihoods and the quality of traditional diets among vulnerable people. The purpose of this chapter is to present information on edible insects and mini livestock ranching as alternative sources of food and feed; as a viable climate change strategy to combat challenges of conventional livestock farming, and that has the potential to become as important as traditional food production.


      While industrialized agriculture has produced buoyant economies, it also has high external costs related to its environmental impact, climate, human health and animal welfare. The current challenge is producing food sustainably for more people, with fewer resources (particularly fossil fuels, land and water) and less environmental impact.

      Current crop farming practices of land clearing and inefficient fertilizer and pesticide use, lead to significant release of GHG. Livestock production is also a major source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions from ruminant digestion and improper manure management is said to be responsible for 18% of GHS emission worldwide, more than is contributed by the transport sector (FAO, 2006b).

      Potable water consumption by cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens in intensive livestock rearing has been calculated to be 103, 17, 9 and 1.3-1.8 litres per day respectively. This is exclusive of the service water requirements for the intensive rearing of these animals which is already water intensive. It takes approximately 8, 4 and 1 kg of cereal to produce 1 kg of meat from cattle, pigs and chickens respectively (FAO, 2006a). From these figures, it can be seen that chicken production is among the most energy-efficient; but it is still more energy-demanding than cereal production.

      The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has estimated that 12 x 106 hectares of agricultural land is lost every year and this translates to a potential loss of 20 x 106 tons of grain (Bai et al., 2008). This is a significant deficit/loss in grain production for human consumption and for animal feed and puts an extra strain on the remaining, limited available arable land, that now has to be split between crop agriculture, grazing and feed production for the meat industry (FAO, 2006a; 2008). Currently grazing land occupies 26% of the earth’s ice-free land surface, and 33% of cropland is dedicated to the production of feed for animals, thus only 67% of cropland is dedicated to directly feeding the world’s population (FAO, 2009). Although there is a portion of livestock that is grass-fed, industrialized livestock rearing depends largely on imported grains and soybean feeds. Such feeds would have been grown on land formerly occupied by forests which were cleared and then heavily treated with fertilizers and pesticides. Many small scale farmers feed their animals “human food waste” or material unsuitable for human consumption to try to offset energy efficiency and make it a more environmentally friendly farm. However, this is not the case for intensive pig and poultry production in specialized stables, where instead, an increasingly larger proportion of the production of feed crops is utilized (Keyzer et al., 2005).

      To reduce the effect of agriculture on the environment, and the resultant climate change on food supplies, livelihoods and economies, we must, as an urgent priority, increase adaptive capacity in agriculture. Adaptation encompasses both long-term climatic trends, and increasing sustainability and variability in food production. Interventions at both the local and global scale are urgently needed to transition current food production patterns so that they can satisfy human needs while; reducing carbon footprint, adapt to climate change and be balanced with the planets’ resources. This can be achieved through the application of science and advanced technology in several aspects of livestock production including;

      • • Feeding and nutrition,
      • • Genetics and reproduction, and
      • • Animal health control.

      Adaptation of technology in other general animal husbandry practices such as waste and water resource management can also be used. For example, the anaerobic digestion of manure has a twofold benefit of reducing methane emissions and composting of solid manures. Composting can also lower emissions and act as organic amendments for soils. The substitution of manure for inorganic fertilizers can partially offset emissions and improve soil condition and productivity. However, in the developing world, it is difficult for farmers to improve their farming systems due to:

      • • Lack of access to new technologies,
      • • Outdated land tenure regulations,
      • • Discriminatory inheritance laws,
      • • Biased resource rights, and
      • • Extremely limited finance options.

      Low profitability and poor technology access are particularly problematic for women and marginalized ethnic groups, as they generally do not have the social power or networks to overcome such barriers. With the exception of pastoralists, another common division between richer and poorer farmers in the developing world, is the ownership of livestock. Livestock requires significantly more land, labor and technical skills to manage than small holder crops. Commercial production of livestock or livestock products also requires access to veterinary services, which are often costly or unavailable in the developing world. The role of women farmers in developing countries is changing rapidly, as women become more empowered and more female-headed households are required to take on production and marketing of their agricultural goods.

      A landmark, United Nation (UN), Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report in 2013 recommended insects for human consumption and a viable and sustainable source of protein for human consumption and feed for animals. Entomophagy, or edible insect species for human food and animal feed, is a widespread informal practice for approximately 80% of the world’s population. Insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people according to 2013 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization: Edible Insects, Future prospects for food and feed security. Figure 1 below shows the most commonly eaten insects and was generated from percentages listed in the report.

      Figure 1. The most commonly eaten insects worldwide
      Source: (FAO, 2013)

      Entomophagy is particularly popular and acceptable in countries in the southern hemisphere. Insects ranging from ants to beetle larvae are eaten by tribes in Africa and Australia as part of their subsistence diets, crispy fried locusts and beetles are enjoyed in Thailand, red and white maguay worms, moth larvae and butterfly larvae are eaten deep fried or braised, seasoned with a spicy sauce and served in a tortilla in Mexico. Aboriginal women and children in Australia eat grub either raw or lightly cooked in hot ashes. There are many reasons for the consumption of insects in these countries and are not merely a famine food eaten in times of food scarcity. Many people around the world eat insects by choice, because it is environmentally friendly, nutritious, and cheaper than meat or poultry, but most importantly because insects taste good. These insects are usually harvested from their natural habitats by women and girls. Insect gathering and rearing as mini livestock at the household level or industrial scale can offer important livelihood opportunities for people in developing countries through the sale of excess production as street foods and also in developed countries through mass rearing and large scale production. There are some countries that have well established insect farms that supply insects for animal feed, human consumption and even to supplement manufacturers as main ingredients in their production. Thailand has over 20,000 registered insect farms producing around 7,000 tons of food each year (Hanboonsong et al., 2013). In recent times and after the 2010 UN report which recommended insects for human consumption, persons in the United States (US) and Universities in Northern Europe launched insect farms and meal worm farms as potential sources of protein to combat hunger in the developing world. An entrepreneur from the US developed a method of making flour out of crickets and has been able to successfully export his products internationally. Since these events, persons from across North American, Australia and some European countries, namely France, United Kingdom, Belgium, Switzerland and Netherland have been trying insect flour, other processed insect products such as bamboo worm vodka and even unprocessed edible insects such as honey roasted hornet larvae. In Europe, a small number of insect foods have been marketed. Notable UK examples include cubes of ground-up insect produced by the London Ento69 and bags of whole mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers marketed by Planet Organic. The Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo has been selling insect burgers and nuggets since autumn 2014. Research by Mintel News (2015) concluded that some consumers in non-tropical countries who had not eaten insect sourced protein would be interested in trying it. Mintel market research determined that these figures were; 21% in Germany, 26% in the US, 27% in the UK and 52% in China.

      Figure 2. Protein bar made with insects, Photo Credit: Kickstarter/Crobar
      Source: (Protein Bar Made With Cricket Flour, 2015)

      Figure 3. Silk worm pancakes
      Photo Credit: Tiny Farms; Source: (Tiny Farms, 2013)

      Insect specific regulations have traditionally focused on limits of insect fragments that can be accidentally included in food and not on insects as food. Insect farmers and food producers in the United States (US) have requested official guidance from regulatory bodies which has led the US Food and Drug Association (FDA) to state that, insects farmed for food, rather than fish bait or reptile feed, must be specifically bred for human consumption. Even with this US FDA statement, because there is still no regulation on the use of insects as food, there are some countries such as Germany that refuse entry of these products in their countries. However, all this may soon change as the EU will be issuing a ruling in 2015 on insects as food under their Novel Foods Regulations.

      The FAO (2013) report highlights that the high demand and consequent high prices for fishmeal and soymeal, the negative environmental impacts of the production process for these feeds and the increases in aquaculture production, will drive research into the development of insect meal for aquaculture and poultry farms. Current research shows that insect meal products are comparable with fishmeal and soy based feed and, therefore, should have a similar market for these feeds (Reed Business Media, 2014; Makkar et al., 2014; Veldkamp et al., 2012). There is an increase in lobbying by the private animal feed sector in both the United States and Europe for the development of specific legislation on the use of insects as feed. The European Commission’s Directorate for Health and Consumers in working on allowing insect meal to fall under processed animal proteins (PAPs) that are allowed to be fed to aquaculture species and also as allowable PAPs in pig and poultry feed.

      Many insects are highly nutritious and considered healthy food sources. They are loaded with high protein, essential vitamins and minerals, and fiber that is comparable to, or higher than those in fish or meat. For example, mealworms have unsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are comparable with that of fish (and higher than in cattle and pigs), and the protein, vitamin and mineral content of mealworms are similar to that in fish and meat. The nutritional value of edible insects is highly variable between different species and also even within the same group of species. The nutritional value of the insect is influenced by the metamorphic stage of the insect, the habitat in which it lives, and its diet. Research done by Rumpold and Schluter (2013) showed the variation in nutritional content from different sources, for example – crickets, grasshoppers and locusts were found to have 64.38% to 70.75% protein and 18.55% to 22.80% fats as compared to beetles which have 10.33% to 41.69% protein and 19.50% to 69.7% fat based on dry matter content. Figures 2 and 3 show the differences in several nutritional components and also compare energy released by the different groups of insects based on dry matter content. The authors concluded that many edible insects provided satisfactory energy and protein requirements, met amino acid requirements for humans, have high monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and are rich in several micronutrients such as:

      • • Copper,
      • • Iron,
      • • Magnesium,
      • • Manganese,
      • • Phosphorous,
      • • Selenium, and zinc as well as riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin, and in some cases folic acid.

      Insects that are collected from forest areas are generally clean and free from chemicals, and in some areas are even considered to be “health foods”. FAO (2013) stated that some insect species are also reputed to have beneficial medicinal properties. A greater impetus toward insect farming or collection of insects from the wild in larger numbers is needed, however, concerns regarding handling and processing practices, hygiene and overall food safety requirements must be addressed and the public educated. Relevant standards and regulations regarding insects as food will be required to assure increasingly sophisticated and health-conscious consumers of the nutritional quality and safety of insect foods.

      Figure 4. Comparison of the maximum percent protein, fats, nitrogen free extract, ash, palmitic and linoleic acid between three different groups of insects-figures are based on dry matter
      Source: (Rumpold & Schlüter, 2013)

      Figure 5. Comparison of maximum energy that can be released from consumption of three different groups of insects. Figures are based on dry matter
      Source: (Rumpold & Schlüter, 2013)


      Most edible insects are harvested from their natural habitats in forested areas. However, there are some well-known domesticated insect species, such as bees and silkworms. Farming systems have long since been developed for these species because of the ready market and value of their products. Other insect species are also reared in large numbers, not for their by-products but for the purposes such as:

      • • Biological control (for example, as predators to control disease causing organisms in plants),
      • • Health (for example, maggot therapy, as ingredients in medicines),
      • • For use in food (for example, cochineal, the red color derived from a mexican cactus insect parasite and sometimes listed on edible products as a “natural food coloring”, e120)
      • • And also for pollination.

      In temperate countries, insect farms are family-run enterprises that rear insects such as mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers in large quantities to supply as pet food or for zoos. Some of these firms have only recently been able to commercialize insects as food for human consumption and feed for animals intended for human consumption. However, the segment of their production geared for direct human consumption is still minimal. An example of rearing insects for human consumption in the tropics is cricket farming in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Vietnam (FAO, 2013).Insect farming offers particular benefits to those who want to reduce their environmental footprint. Insects are easier and more environmental friendly to rear than livestock; they are cold blooded and they do not need as much feed, water, space and health care as livestock. They are also exceptionally efficient at converting what they eat into tissue that can be consumed. Insects are twice as efficient as pigs and more than five times as efficient as beef cattle. Four and a half kilograms of feed yields a half kilogram of beef, one and a third kilograms of pork, two and a third kilograms of chicken and a little less than three kilograms of insect meat. Crickets, locusts and beetles, for example, require only 1.5 to 2 kilograms of fodder for every 1 kilogram of bodyweight gain or meat (see Figure 6). Factoring in their astounding reproduction rates and fecundity, the actual food conversion efficiency of insects may be 20 times that of cattle (FAO, 2013). Insects feed on a far wider range of plants than conventional livestock and will not compete with humans for grains as feedstock. Moreover, not only do insects require less food to farm but humans and animals do not have to eat as much insect protein as compared to other animal protein to survive (see Table 1.). Insects are also an extremely rich source of essential amino acids and vitamins.

      Figure 6. Comparison of the amount of feed/fodder needed to convert to 1Kg of meat
      Source: (FAO, 2013)

      Table 1. Nutritional content of insects compared with beef

      Protein (g/kg) Fat (g/kg) Calories (g/kg) Thiamin (g/kg) Riboflavin (g/mg)
      Black Soldier Fly (larvae) 175 140 1,994 7.7 16.2
      House Cricket (adult) 205 68 1,402 0.4 34.1
      House Fly (adult) 197 19 918 11.3 77.2
      Beef 256 187 2,776 0.5 1.8

      In addition, insects can be reared on organic side-streams (including human and animal waste) and can help reduce environmental contamination. A study done by Lundy & Parella (2015) determined that crickets fed the solid filtrate from food waste processed on an industrial scale via enzymatic digestion, were able to reach a harvestable size and achieve feed and protein efficiencies similar to that of chickens. However, crickets fed minimally-processed, municipal-scale food waste and diets composed largely of straw, experienced more than 99% mortality without reaching a harvestable size. Studies done by Collavo et al., (2005) and researchers Diener et al., (2009), and Offenberg (2011), found that there was an efficient conversion of feed from organic side stream to protein by crickets and other insects such as black soldier flies and ants. However, population densities in these studies were generally low, suggesting that, while the conversion efficiencies reported may be accurate on an individual basis, they may or may not apply to production environments with high-density insect populations.

      Another side of the feed story shows insect meal as more expensive than soymeal but less expensive than fish meal fed to animals. Despite an additional positive benefit in saving of potential fisheries stock, insects do not naturally contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 oils, which are essential dietary components of many fish species (e.g. salmon) and offer well-established health benefits for humans.

      Traditional livestock carcasses have a high percentage of waste after processing; the proportion of livestock that is not edible or wasted after processing is 30% for pork, 35% for chicken, 45% for beef and 65% for lamb. By contrast, only 20% of a cricket is inedible and most meal worms and similar bugs have 0% that is inedible (Dicke & Van Huis, 2011). Jayathilakhan et al. (2011) had different figures for the average solid waste generation from bovine slaughter houses. They stated that 27.5% of the total live animal weight is wasted in the slaughtering of goat and sheep and there was an average waste generation of 4% of the live body weight of pigs. Insect rearing requires far less space, especially when compared to bovine and even poultry rearing. The livestock industry currently occupies 70% of agricultural land (Arkell, 2013) and according to, raising animals for food uses up to 30% of the Earth’s land mass. These figures do not consider the land needed for growing feed for these livestock animals. Breeding trials conducted by the E.U. initiative PROteINSECT have found that one hectare of land could produce at least 150 tons of insect protein per year. Questions remain over the water and energy efficiency of insect rearing, given the need for heat treatment and washing of larvae. Insect farms require minimal water, especially when compared to the production of conventional meat (it takes more than 10 gallons of water, for instance, to produce about two pounds of beef). Next Millennium Farms (@entmofarms, 2016) stated that if a family of four ate food made with insect protein at least once a week for one year, there is a potential to save 650 x 103L of fresh water a year. Figure 7 illustrates a comparison of the water and feed input needed to produce 10g of meat from different animals.

      Figure 7. A comparison of water and feed resources required to produce 10g of protein from different animals
      Source: (@entomofarms, 2016)

      Livestock production is responsible for at least 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions (Dicke & Van Huis, 2011). However, insects produce far less ammonia and other greenhouse gasses per pound of body weight. Oonincx et al., (2010) designed a study to determine carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide produced by five insect species (only three of these species were considered edible). At the end of their study, they were able to conclude that there were large differences among the species with respect to their production of carbon dioxide and GHG. The insects in this study had a higher relative growth rate and emitted comparable or lower amounts of GHG than described in the literature for pigs and much lower amounts of GHG than cattle, as illustrated in Figure 8. The same was observed for carbon dioxide production per kg of metabolic weight and per kg of mass gain.

      Figure 8. A comparison of GHG produced by three edible insect species and pigs and cattle
      Source: (Oonincx et al., 2010; Aarnink et al., 1995; Groot Koerkamp et al, 1998; Demmers et al., 2001; Nicks et al., 2003; Beauchemin & McGinn, 2005; Cabaraux et al., 2009 and Harper et al., 2009)

      In the livestock sector, there can be a proliferation of pathogens due to pressures resulting from the production, processing and retail environment. Some of these pathogens result in diseases that are zoonotics, such as; foot and mouth disease and influenza A. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) planning for farms should take into account critical control points to reduce host contact rates, population size and/or microbial traffic flows into the food value chain. Insects are very different taxonomically from mammals and humans, and thus compared with livestock mammals and birds, they should pose a low risk of transmitting zoonotic infections to humans, livestock animals and wildlife. However, insects for food and feed have not been tested sufficiently and further research to determine the risk that they pose in transmitting diseases to humans, and mitigating factors must be evaluated. Intensive insect livestock facilities with proper biosecurity will prevent farmed insects from coming into contact with insects from the outside. Facilities that always handle their insects hygienically should have less risk of zoonotic infections. Additionally, heating and drying treatments during processing can reduce the risk of microbial contamination and almost guarantee that insect foods and feed would be free from viral, parasite and fungal pathogens.

      Mini Livestock Ranching

      It is possible to rear insects using small scale cultivation methods under controlled conditions (mini livestock ranching) in order for them to develop and reproduce to have a cheap and sustainable food source. This alleviates concerns that such insects could have come into contact with pesticides and other chemical hazards when cultivated under such conditions. Some insects already farmed for human consumption, include:

      • • Crickets,
      • • Silkworms,
      • • Mealworms (beetle larvae), and
      • • Wax worms.

      Insect rearing can be very simple using low-technology. Insects do not require large horizontal areas to thrive. Instead, they can be stacked vertically for maximum efficiency particularly when space is limited. Numerous species can be raised in high densities, in order to get a much higher nutritional output per unit area (Spiers, 2013). Some factors to consider with respect to rearing insects such as mealworms are now reviewed.

      Equipment/Containerization: Abiotic and Biotic Factors

      A minimum of three plastic containers to a maximum of ten containers stacked high and placed along the length of a room can be used to rear insects like meal worm, grasshoppers or crickets. Plastic containers or crates that have a dimension anywhere between 41 cm x 28 cm x 15 cm or 50 cm x 44 cm x 20.5 cm or 10 Liter aquarium with a screened lid can be used (Food Insects Newsletter, 1996). Containers should be cleaned thoroughly before use and not placed in bright sunlight but rather a source of radiant heat such as from a light bulb or desk light can be placed close to or even inside the container. The light can be on for up to 16 hours a day. To provide proper air circulation and prevent condensation, holes are punched in the lid and it is covered with mosquito netting or cheesecloth. For insects such as crickets and grasshoppers, moist (but not saturated) sterile sand or vermiculite can be placed in the container for egg laying. A thermostat can be used to keep the humidity as constant as possible. A common range in insect facilities is 40 to 80% relative humidity, dependent on the species and the developmental stage. Van de Ven insect rearing company has found that the ideal humidity for their meal worms is 60-70%, and a fluctuation of 5% is adequate (Erens et al., 2012).

      Diets differ dependent on species. However, there are some dietary components that should be part of the nutrition of the insects. These include:

      • • Carbohydrates,
      • • Proteins,
      • • Lipids,
      • • Nucleic acids,
      • • Minerals,
      • • Vitamins, and
      • • Water (Erens et al., 2012).

      Most of the diets are provided to the insects as a powder. For mealworms, mixed grains such as:

      • • Oat or wheat kernels (10 parts),
      • • Rolled oats (oatmeal) or whole wheat flour (10 parts);
      • • Wheat germ or powdered milk (1 part); and
      • • Brewer’s yeast (1 part) are suitable.

      Brewer’s yeast can be obtained at health food stores. This is an important ingredient, because it provides proteins and trace elements essential to the insects’ growth (Food Insects Newsletter, 1996). Kreca, an insect rearing company uses flower substrate to feed a wide range of species including:

      • • Mealworms,
      • • Wax moths,
      • • Houseflies,
      • • fruit flies,
      • • Cockroaches, and
      • • Crickets.

      When using plant material, these should be well washed to remove any pesticide residue. Most insects get their hydration from their food and do not require further sources of water. Bits of vegetables (cabbage, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, and so on) or fruit (mainly apple) can be provided. Lettuce, cabbage and grass can be fed to grasshoppers and crickets. These items should be monitored daily and immediately replaced when mold growth appears (Food Insects Newsletter, 1996).

      Culture Management and Maintenance

      The larvae starter culture can be purchased from pet shops where they are used as food for reptiles and amphibians or bait shops or from other insect rearing companies. About 2.5 cm of the grain mixture is placed in one of the culture containers, and added to this, is the mealworm larvae, and bits of vegetables and/or fruit. As soon as the first pupae appear (this is a non-feeding and non-ambulating stage), they should be transferred to another empty box or container. This will prevent the larvae from eating the pupae. For the same reason, the adults must be separated from the pupae as soon as they emerge from the pupal ‘skin’ (exuviae). The adults are transferred to a third box, also containing 2.5 cm of the grain mixture and chunks of vegetables or fruit (Food Insects Newsletter, 1996). The males and females of the mealworm are indistinguishable. They mate 2-5 days after emerging, and the female lays up to 40 eggs a day. The eggs can take on average 12 days to hatch. The larvae molt several times over a period of about 10 months, until they reach 25-30 cm in length. It takes about 12 days for the pupa to complete metamorphosis into adults. The adult lives about only 2 months. At temperatures from 18 to 25°C, the insect’s life cycle is about one year. However to speed up its development, the home insect ‘farm’ should be kept at a temperature of about 25 to 30°C. Above 30°C, there are negative effects on growth and development. Insects should be kept in a number of different containers to minimize losses due to contamination or any other problem. The pieces of fruit or vegetables should be replaced when they dry out, and any dead insects must be removed. The grain mixture must be stirred from time to time to incorporate the larval skins, so that they will also be consumed by the larvae. The mixture should be changed when it begins to look sandy and the insects are removed or separated using a sieve. Cultures must be kept in a dimly lit, dry, and well ventilated place and the mixture kept as dry as possible to avoid mold and other undesirable organisms (Food Insects Newsletter, 2009).

      Yellow mealworms Tenebrio molitor (Family: Tenebrionidae), are some of the easiest insects to rear using the home farming system, as availability is year round through this method and with minimal cost impact. Mealworms are small, reproduce quickly and are resistant to disease and parasites. In addition, they are simple to handle and require little space and maintenance. There are four stages in the life cycle. The egg is 1.8 mm; the larva grows from about 2 to 30 mm; the pupa about 16 mm; and the adults are 16 mm. Tiny Farms, a company dedicated to increasing entomophagy in Oakland, California raises insects in bins. It has been reported that the silkworms are raised in an environmentally controlled tent and fed a prepared feed made with powdered mulberry leaves. The mealworms can be raised at room temperature in shallow plastic or metal trays in a bedding of wheat bran or another grain byproduct, and should be fed additional vegetables such as carrots, for moisture. The beetles are adult mealworms in a breeding bin, containing about 150 beetles laying over 100,000 eggs (Spiers, 2013).

      Cricket farming in Thailand started in 1998 and currently around 20,000 farmers raise crickets for human consumption. Cricket farming contributes to the livelihood and nutrition base of farmers and a value chain has established through which the crickets are marketed around Thailand. The technology presented in the FAO 2013 article is aimed at small scale producers in Thailand and neighboring countries, in which these species are also available in nature. Small scale producers can be farmers, but also other people and even groups, who see a business opportunity in selling crickets. The technology describes some of the common species used, how a cricket farm is set up and further describes the daily management of the farm, including processing for sales and challenges and risks with such a venture. Challenges include the high cost of protein feed, disease and in-breeding (TECA, 2013).


      Insect farming is a relatively new sector in the agri-food business. Despite the consumption of insects as food, there is limited research and information on the quality of insects that are used for food and feed. Additionally, information concerning their chemical, and microbial safety, their parasitical and allergic hazards, as well as the nutritional aspects of processed products and shelf-life are limited.

      Edible insects are currently consumed in various parts of Asia, Africa and America. In developing countries, protein and/or energy undernourishment is a major issue. Approximately 1800-2000 plus insect species are used for human consumption globally (Jongema, 2011; van Huis et al., 2015). According to Cook (2015), FAO states that globally the most commonly consumed insects are:

      • • Beetles (Coleoptera),
      • • Caterpillars (Lepidoptera),
      • • Bees,
      • • Wasps and Ants (Hymenoptera),
      • • Grasshoppers,
      • • Locusts,
      • • Crickets (Orthoptera),
      • • Cicadas,
      • • Leafhoppers,
      • • Planthoppers,
      • • Scales insects and true bugs (Odonata).

      Insects contain more polyunsaturated fatty acids and have higher contents of minerals. However, the chitin in insects can be undesirable in many food products due to its indigestibility which limits nutrient absorption. Thus, methods that extract the nutritional content from insects while leaving behind the chitin are highly desirable (Morales-Ramos et al., 2013). Insects as food and feed can only make a significant difference if they are mass-produced. This is done already in Thailand where 20,000 domestic cricket farms produce an average of 7,500 metric tons of insects a year for home consumption and for the market primarily through drying. Finding methods of preserving them in parts of Africa where the humidity is very high is often a challenge (van Huis et al., 2015; Hanboonsong et al., 2013). Preparation and processing methods such as sun drying, boiling, frying or even freeze drying can also influence nutritional composition. A summary of the processes for preservation and processing of insects (Anses, 2015) includes:-

      • • Slaughter

        • o 24-hour fasting to purge digestive tract
        • o Freezing 24 hr at -18°C
        • o Boiling (1-5min)

      • • Processing and preservation techniques

        • o Dehydration in a ventilated oven (60-110°C)
        • o Deep-frying (>160°C)
        • o Toasting
        • o Freeze-drying

      • • Preservation

        • o Whole or fractionated insects/flour (after grinding)
        • o Optimal conservation methods (cooking, acidification, fermentation…)
        • o Packaging finished products (sealed to avoid becoming rancid)

      Insect Products

      While there are a number of culturally different ways to prepare and cook insects, mostly they are consumed whole. There are three ways insects can be consumed namely:

      • • As whole insects,
      • • Processed in some powder or paste form, or
      • • As an extract of protein, fat or chitin for fortifying food and feed products.

      Whole insects are often consumed as a fried snack or as part of a daily meal with rice. Live, ready to eat insects or those boiled can be sold at local markets. Farmed insects can be processed into a dried form such as insect powder, suitable for protein enrichment for a variety of low-nutrient foods or feed. Protein could also be extracted from insects and applied in food and/or feed as alternatives to soy or meat protein (Klunder et al., 2012; FAO, 2013).

      Before insects are prepared for meals, precautions such as killing the larvae by freezing them alive for about forty-eight hours can be a method for inactivation. The frozen insects can be kept in the freezer for a few months if they are properly wrapped in airtight bags or containers. Insects can deteriorate quickly, just like meat that is left unrefrigerated, so it is important to keep them in the freezer until they are ready for consumption. When insects are taken out of the freezer, a good practice is that they should be rinsed in running water before cooking. Insects which are of a suspect quality such as emanating a rotten smell, unusual color, and such like; should be discarded. With excess mealworms, the late instar larvae (older larvae, about to pupate) can be placed in plastic containers with small perforations in the lid. Such larvae can be covered with wheat bran and placed in the refrigerator up to one month using this technique, prior to cooking (Food Insects Newsletter, 1996).

      Pastes/Powders/Protein Isolates

      In societies where consumers are not accustomed to eating whole insects, granular or paste forms may be more suitable for consumer acceptance. Edible insects can be processed into paste or powder and added to otherwise low-protein foods to increase their nutritional value. This can be done through techniques of grinding or milling (FAO, 2013). The application of Sorghum frequently consumed in African countries and enriched with nutritious termites (Macrotermes spp.) can be consumed as part of the daily diet. Sorghum can be enriched with boiled or roasted and ground termite powder and the mixture fermented and used for porridge preparation (Klunder et al., 2012). There are also insect powders that are being incorporated into other bakery and food products such as noodles/pastas. Research is on-going on the use of insect fat for ice-creams and salad dressings (Cook, 2015).

      Separating extracted protein from insects based on their solubility in solvents produces water-soluble and water-insoluble fractions, which can be used for specific applications in both the food and feed industries however these extraction techniques can be costly. Extracting fats, chitin, minerals and vitamins are also possible. At present, such extraction processes are too costly and more research is required to further develop the process and to render it profitable and applicable for industry use (FAO, 2013).

      Cricket Flour and Other Secondary Products

      The cricket (Acheta domesticus) due to its high protein content and taste is a preferred insect that can be converted to secondary products. Cricket flour and cricket protein products can be used in recipes instead of the practice of serving full insects and crickets in meals. Cricket flour can be obtained from companies that buy live crickets from local cricket farmers, or frozen crickets from cricket farms, or from breeding and raising their own crickets to make cricket flour. Additionally, it has been reported by some breeders, that the taste of the crickets can be determined on the choice of food fed to the crickets such as apples, mint, among others. (Cricket Flours, 2015).

      Most companies harvest their crickets around 8-weeks in their development, but they can also be harvested from about 6-weeks, before their exoskeleton has fully formed. Once the crickets have been gathered at the cricket processing facility, they must be dried before the cricket milling process. Crickets can be dried by several methods:

      • • Including solar,
      • • Freeze-dried,
      • • Placed in a food dehydrator, or
      • • Baked in an oven.

      Depending on time requirements and desired taste profile, these parameters can be experimentally varied. After drying, the crickets are then ground using two different grinding or milling machines. The first machine is set to a coarse grind. Once the crickets have been placed in the first machine, the coarse cricket flour is then sifted to remove the lighter content which consists of legs, wings, and such like, and is removed from the final cricket flour product. Next, the remaining coarse cricket flour is placed in the second milling machine which is set to a fine grain size to produce fine cricket flour. Most cricket flour production processes will follow this general method using the cricket feed, the freezing processes, drying processes, along with the final grinding procedures (Cricket Flours, 2015; FAO, 2013).

      The Farmed Insect Company ( are producers of cricket protein powder (cricket flour), that has become popular within recent times. Organically reared crickets are sterilized and dehydrated before a grinding process that converts them into an extra-fine light fluffy flour. This flour is then incorporated for use in energy bars, biscuit baking, protein shakes, and other protein supplements. It must be noted however that the Codex Alimentarius standards relating to cereals, dried vegetables, legumes and plant protein materials prohibit the presence of whole live insects in flour or grains, but authorize a maximum of 0.1% of insect fragments by mass of the sample (Anses, 2015).

      Two species of fly, the black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens, and the housefly, Musca domestica, are being studied and their larvae used to recycle organic waste into fertilizer. Other compounds which can be extracted from the biomass of insects, apart from protein intended for animal feed, are chitin for its antimicrobial action and lipids for the production of biodiesel (Anses, 2015).


      Farmers and Processors should take the following precautions to ensure the health of their insects and that they deliver a safe end product:

      • 1. Ensure that the design of the breeding facility can allow for controlled ventilation and humidity and that it mimics the natural conditions in which the species of insects are found, as much as possible.

        • a. Insects are very sensitive and will react in a negative way when the artificial conditions deviate too much from their natural conditions. Microbial contamination by air can be reduced by air filtration. Visitors should not be allowed in breeding areas to prevent contamination by humans. Measures should also be put in place that would minimize rodents and wild birds from entering. If the humidity is too high, this may result in fungal or other disease problems and might even cause drowning of larvae and asphyxiation of adults (Schneider, 2009).

      • 2. Control population size

        • a. For most species crowding is not a problem since they live together in high densities in nature as well. However crowding can lead to heat development and disease is not only dependent on a microorganism, but also an interaction with the environment and host. Microorganisms that live in the alimentary canal of insects, and so not harming the insect under natural conditions, can become infectious pathogens under abnormal conditions such as too high density, and this can lead to death in a large proportion of the population.

      • 3. Newly introduced insects should be bought from registered farms that have cGMPs and not harvested from the natural environment.

        • a. They should be screened and tested for the presence of pathogens that can affect the rest of the insect population on the farm and inoculated for prevalent diseases (for example, MdSGHV).

      • 4. Records of registration of feed, sources, storage temperatures and so forth, should be retained.

        • a. Artificial diets may contain various fungi and bacteria. Antibacterial agents can be used to prevent contamination from artificial diets. The same can apply to nutrients such as vitamins, wheat germ, caseins, tap water and gelling agents. Natural diets, such as leaves and fruits, can also be contaminated with microorganisms, especially on their surfaces but also inside tissues, these can be stored in dry areas to prevent population growth of these microorganisms as too high humidity can cause mass population growth of many microorganisms, especially fungi.

      • 5. Proper slaughtering and processing – when insects are reared for human consumption, hygienic measures must be taken especially after sifting.

        • a. Insects should be sterilized in hot water then freeze-dried and refrigerated or preserved using acid and dried. Insects should always be kept in a freezer until they are ready for use and good practice entails rinsing them in running water prior to cooking.

      • 6. Preservation, packaging and cooking at the right temperature is critical.

        • a. Because insects are far more distantly related to human beings than pigs, cattle, and sheep, it is far less likely that the pathogens that affect insects would affect humans. However, insects should still be cooked properly because uncooked insects can carry nematodes that can infest human hosts and spore forming bacteria can be a concern even for cooked mealworms and crickets. Since insects are nutritious for us they are also nutritious for bacteria. Even in insects that have already been cooked, there exists possible contamination from bacteria, so proper measures should be put in place during packaging, to prevent recontamination of the product. Packaging should always be food grade and should not be stored in material that has bisphenol A (BPA), lead or any other material identified as containing harmful compounds. Follow proper processing procedures for each species. Some insects are toxic to humans as is the case with the grasshopper species Zonocerus variegatus which stores toxins from the plants they consume. They can be made safe as long as they are prepared properly, such as heating the insects in tepid water to extract toxins, and then changing the water before cooking.

      • 7. Proper labeling and allergy warnings on products

        • a. Humans with Immunoglobulin E-mediated allergies have been known to suffer food allergies to crustaceans, and may suffer food allergies to other arthropods as well.


      In some instances, consumers are willing to pay a premium for the safety of street foods including insect preparations if prepared, stored and sold in a hygienic condition (Akinbode et al., 2011). In 2010 in the USA, an attempt was made to promote the industry by organizing an international seminar on ‘The potential of edible insects’ at Linvile, Alabama, USA, by the Southern Institute for Appropriate Technology. Similarly, a workshop at Chiang-Mai in Thailand on ‘Edible insects’ co-organized by the FAO in 2008 was a great success. Entomophagy can be revalidated by worldwide campaigns and launched in those countries that are facing acute food shortage.

      The capturing, processing, transporting and marketing of edible forest insects provide interesting income and livelihood opportunities for an undetermined number of people around the world. Traditionally, these activities were all locally based and largely under-recognized. Recently, however, more sophisticated and wide-reaching marketing and commercialization of edible forest insects have been advanced, including attractive packaging and advertising.

      Insect gathering and rearing as mini livestock at the household level or industrial scale can offer important livelihood opportunities for people in both developing and developed countries. In developing countries, some of the poorest members of society, such as women and landless dwellers in urban and rural areas, can easily become involved in the gathering, cultivation, processing and sale of insects. These activities can directly improve their own diets and provide cash income through the selling of excess production as street foods. Insects can be directly and easily collected from nature or farmed with minimal technical or capital expenditure (for basic harvesting/rearing equipment). Rearing insects may also require minimal land or market introduction efforts, as insects already form part of some local food cultures. Protein and other nutritional deficiencies are typically more widespread in disadvantaged segments of society and during times of social conflict and natural disaster. Due to their nutritional composition, accessibility, simple rearing techniques and quick growth rates, insects can offer a cheap and efficient opportunity to counter nutritional insecurity by providing emergency food and by improving livelihoods and the quality of traditional diets among vulnerable people.

      There is considerable potential in widening the market for edible insects by incorporating insect protein in supplements, processed foods and animal feeds. Worms, flies and larvae are natural foods of poultry and some fish species in the wild. The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) is coordinating an international research project – ProteINSECT – investigating how insects can be reared safely and economically for feed production. Insect meal is rich in protein and nutrients, and industrial rearing in factories could theoretically produce far higher yields of protein per hectare of land compared to soy. GREEiNSECT is a consortium of public and private institutions investigating how insects can be utilized as novel and supplementary sources of protein by means of mass production in small to large scale industries in Kenya.


      Critical elements for successful rearing include research on biology, control of rearing conditions and diet formulas for the farmed insect species. The major challenges and opportunities will be discussed.

      The general market and potential consumers will need to be convinced to accept edible insects and food products with insect ingredients as palatable, viable and safe for their consumption. Masking the insect shape can be a strategy. An example is the use of insect powder in protein bars. Including insect ingredients in trial dishes at popular restaurants may also promote acceptance by providing opportunities for adventurous chefs. The market pull will drive a higher turnover for insect farms and this will assist insect farmers in overcoming the challenge of scaling up.

      Litigation and loss of market share can arise if there are any occurrences of allergic reactions due to improper warning on the packaging or because the public was not educated on potential allergies. There is the possibility of having similar reactions to edible insects if they were allergic or sensitive to consuming other arthropods such as shellfish.

      Current production systems can be expensive; a major challenge of such industrial-scale rearing is the development of automation processes to make plants economically competitive with the production of meat (or meat-substitutes like soy) from traditional livestock or farming sources. Another main factor is the high cost of labor in insect farms in temperate countries as compared to insect gathering in the tropics. Development and up-scaling of automation technologies in rearing, harvesting and processing are required to reduce costs and increase the competitiveness of alternative animal protein products. Mealworms are approximately three times more expensive than pork and about five times more expensive than chicken. Fish meal is more expensive than soy meal as feeds. Insect meal is currently substantially more expensive than regular meat or soy meal products. Raising species on manure and organic food waste, enabling nutrient recycling and large-scale production units can reduce costs. However, manure cannot legally be used as feed under current EU regulations.

      Developing legislation and standards, which will allow the use of insects as ingredients in food, the use of insects directly as food, and as feed for animals intended for human consumption is much needed. This legislation will open up the market for farmers/producers and, therefore, increase the market and hence allow the farmers to scale up their production and reduce the cost of their products.

      Legislation that will allow the use of organic waste as insect feed to be used for human and animal consumption must also be developed. This will streamline wastes and reduce the feed cost needed by insect farms. However, this can bring with it another safety concern of potential carryover of heavy metals from these waste streams to insects during rearing.

      More research and development is required for processing the insects as ingredients that can be incorporated into different food products (such as insect flour) instead of whole insects. This will mean increased automation and mechanization processes in order to arrive at processed end products and therefore increase the investment needed for insect farms and producers.

      Invasive insect species have the potential to disrupt the natural ecosystems and destroy crops. All precautions have to be taken to contain them during the transport of living animals across borders when supplying insect farms in countries where they do not naturally occur.


      There is no simple solution to sustainably feeding the world’s growing population. Dependence on scientific and technological innovation to improve conventional livestock farming and intensification must be tempered by the challenges of achieving this while also; controlling GHGs, conserving water, preserving or reducing biodiversity losses for easy grain production and all the while meeting the world’s food and nutritional demands. Mini livestock ranching has the potential to address these challenges. Edible insects not only contain high quality protein, vitamins and amino acids for human nutrition, they also have a high food conversion rate. For example, crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein. Compared to conventional livestock rearing, mini livestock ranching of edible insects has a minimal ecological footprint in that they require less land and water and also emit less greenhouse gasses and ammonia than conventional livestock. Insects can be grown on organic wastes and are easier to rear than livestock. Therefore, insects are a potential source for conventional production (mini-livestock) of protein; either for direct human consumption, or indirectly in recomposed foods (with extracted protein from insects); and as a protein source into feedstock mixtures. Edible insects can be processed into paste or powder and added to otherwise low-protein foods to increase their nutritional value. There is an untapped potential for novelty food items from edible insects, and insect gastronomy will play a key role in changing consumer attitudes and perceptions to consuming insects as a food of choice. Using insects as a source of food and feedstock can only make a significant difference if they are mass-produced. Developing insect farming technologies will assure that future demand requirements are met. But a key factor is understanding biotic and abiotic constraints to mass mini livestock ranching (insect farming. Further research to determine the risk that insects for food and feed will pose with respect to transmitting diseases to humans, must be done so that proper controls could be put in place. Additionally, new efforts and standards will be required to assure increasingly sophisticated and health-conscious consumers, of the nutritional quality and safety of insect foods and prevent restrictions on exporting insects and products made from insects into international markets.

      This research was previously published in Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change Adaptation Strategies edited by Wayne Ganpat and Wendy-Ann Isaac, pages 188-212, copyright year 2017 by Information Science Reference (an imprint of IGI Global).


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      Entomophagy: The consumption of edible insect species.

      Environmental Impacts: Possible adverse effects caused by a development, industrial, or infrastructural project or by the release of a substance in the environment.

      Food Security: When all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.

      GREEiNSECT: Is a consortium of public and private institutions investigating how insects can be utilized as novel and supplementary sources of protein by means of mass production in small to large scale industries in Kenya.

      Healthy Food: A healthy food is a plant or animal product that provides essential nutrients and energy to sustain growth, health and life while satiating hunger.

      Insect Farming: Practice of rearing insects for food and agricultural use.

      Novel Foods: A type of food that does not have a significant history of consumption or is produced by a method that has not previously been used for food.

      PROteINSECT: A European Commission FP7 funded project coordinated by the Food and Environmental Research Agency (FERA) in the United Kingdom.

    • Jan 16, 2020 | Posted by in GENERAL | Comments Off on Mini Livestock Ranching

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