How to start a cricket farm for under $3 and feed your chickens frugally

Title Image - How to start a cricket farm for under $3. Feed your chickens frugally. Never waste money again on crickets from a pet shop.

Never waste money again on crickets from a pet shop!

I mentioned in the frugal chicken feed post that we also raise crickets to supplement our chooks regular feed. While crickets are not the easiest feeder insect to raise–they jump and escape all over the place–they do provide a good change of pace from mealworms. Escaping crickets are also a good source of entertainment and exercise for pampered backyard chickens.

This is the way I grew my tiny starter colony of 20 crickets to the thousands within a couple of months. Try to resist feeding too many of the crickets in the first two generations before they’ve bred. Your chickens will beg, but you’ll be thankful you resisted when you find yourself with more crickets than you know what to do with by the third generation. Try to feed your crickets with a variety of vegetables and protein sources. Remember that the nutrition your chickens get from your crickets is only as good as what you feed the crickets.

Crickets on a piece of asparagus.
Baby crickets eating asparagus stem in a salad container.

What you’ll need and how much it’ll cost.

  • A rearing container. A regular salad tub–such as the big ones from Costco–will be enough until your cricket population gets into the 3rd generation. Once you have hundreds and thousands of crickets to handle, you’ll want to upgrade to a deep Rubbermaid storage container (or use one of those 20 lb kitty litter tubs if you’re cheap like me!) The important point is to make sure that your container has smooth plastic sides so the crickets can’t climb up. You will also need to poke air holes into the lid (if you’re using one) or use tightly woven metal mesh screen to cover the top. The holes in the screen should be smaller than 1mm, otherwise baby pinhead crickets can escape. Do not use plastic window screen as the crickets will chew holes in the plastic and escape all over your house! Cost: $0 (if you’re a tightwad like me!)
  • A smaller egg rearing container that fits into your outer rearing container. Once your crickets start breeding, you will need a small plastic box (like the ones pet stores use to sell 10-20 crickets) or a small Tupperware tub or yogurt tub so your crickets can lay their eggs. You will also need to fill this tub with some substrate like moist soil, peat moss, or sand. I prefer moist sand since soil and moss can harbor fungus gnats and grow moldy. The top of this container will need to be covered with a regular wire mesh screen so the female crickets can stick their ovipositors into the soil and lay their eggs (this video shows how crickets lay their eggs). You need to cover the egg tub since male crickets will dig out the freshly laid eggs and eat them. If you’re stingy like me, you can also use an old dryer sheet and a rubber band instead of buying wire mesh. Cost: $0 for cheapos who reuse.
  • Another big rearing container. Once you have a bunch of cricket eggs, you’ll want to remove the container of eggs from the adult rearing container and move it to another separate rearing container where you will incubate the eggs and let the young juvenile crickets hatch. Again, you’ll want to use a lid with lots of air holes or a very tight screen. Cost: $0 if you reuse.
  • Scrap cardboard. Crickets are carnivorous and will eat each other if they are overcrowded. Thus they need lots of nooks and crannies to hide out in. Paper egg cartons are perfect for this as is corrugated cardboard folded like a fan. Cost: $0
  • Some paper towels to line the bottom of your rearing container. One benefit to raising crickets is that you don’t need to provide a substrate unlike mealworms that need grain bedding. While you can technically just leave the bottom of your rearing container exposed, I learned the hard way that this is a good way for frass (cricket poop) to build up and get stuck. This means lots of scrubbing and scraping and bleach every time you clean out your cricket bin. It’s better to line the bottom of your container with paper towels so you can just remove the paper each time and your bins will be 90% poop free. Cost: $0
  • Food scraps. Crickets eat tough veggie scraps that even our chickens won’t touch. Occasionally you’ll want to give them some source of protein like meat trimmings and gristle. Other people feed their crickets fish flakes, cat food, or dog food, but I’m a cheapskate. They’ll grow fine on just veggies, but much faster if you give them some meat. Cost: $0 for frugal folks.
  • Crickets! The most important part of all. You can get away with a starter colony as small as 20 crickets. We started our cricket farm with 25 crickets from Petsmart. We even got rid of most of the male crickets before the crickets reached breeding age since they were cannibalizing each other. It took 3 generations before we had to upgrade our cricket bin to a large kitty litter tub (1000+ crickets). If you want a faster start to your cricket colony, or extras to feed your chickens without waiting, you should get at least 50 crickets. However, if you’re impatient and don’t want to wait months until your chickens have enough crickets to eat on a daily basis, just pony up some cash and get one of the 500+ count cricket deals on Amazon. 1/2″ crickets (about 3 weeks old) are the best as you can be sure the females haven’t already laid eggs yet, but they’re just 1-2 weeks away from full maturity and breeding age. Rainbowmealworms also sells 50 ct crickets for about $2.50. Cost: $2 for the patient penny pinchers

How can I tell if I have any females crickets?

All baby crickets look alike because they’re too small for you to see very many details, but once they grow to about the size of a grain of rice you’ll be able to tell the difference between male and female crickets. Female crickets have a long needle like protrusion from their behinds. Don’t worry, they can’t sting you! This protrusion is the ovipositor and female crickets use it to insert their eggs deep inside soil. Male crickets do not have an ovipositor.

How do I breed crickets?

You can tell that crickets are ready to breed when you hear the male crickets begin to chirp. Leave the males and females alone for 2-4 weeks with a covered egg container and you’ll find it full of eggs. I would recommend that you keep a male:female ratio of 1:4 or even less. Too many males will result in cannibalism and fighting and they really aren’t necessary for breeding. Keep the soil in the egg container moist, but not soggy or you’ll risk drowning the newly hatched crickets.

Egg tub filled with sand inside rearing container with high humidity.
Egg tub filled with sand inside rearing container with high humidity.

How do I make my crickets grow and breed faster?

Crickets grow fastest when the temperature is around 85-99 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not let the temperature go up higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit or they will start to overheat and die. If the temperature is too cool, then it can take them months to mature and reproduce. If you don’t want to waste electricity on keeping your crickets warm, good places to keep your container are either next to a lamp, next to your water heater, next to your computer, or on top of your refrigerator. If you keep your crickets warm, they will hatch in less than 2 weeks and grow to breeding age within 3 weeks.

Cricket rearing container on top of LED shop light.
I keep my small cricket tub on top of an LED shop light that keeps them at a perfect 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whew, my crickets stink! How can I keep the stench down?

The horrible smell people complain about comes from the build up of their frass, dead crickets, and spoiled food. The best way to prevent strong smells is to clean out dead crickets, spoiled food, and frass as soon as possible. You will want to keep the adult rearing container dry to prevent bacterial growth and to keep the stink down.

My cricket eggs and pinhead crickets keep dying! How do I keep my newly hatched baby crickets alive?

On the other hand, you should keep the container of eggs and baby crickets (called pinhead crickets) nice and humid. Spritz the egg container with a water bottle or lay a damp paper towel over the top. But make sure there are no water droplets or condensation anywhere in the rearing container as the tiny babies can get stuck and drown.

How do I feed and hydrate my crickets without drowning them?

Do not leave open containers of water or any water in your container and do not let water droplets develop on the walls of your container. Crickets can drown in as little as one droplet of water. You can keep them hydrated by placing a moist sponge or folded paper towel in the container. The crickets will quickly swarm on the moisture source and suck out the water. Other people use water gels or jello, but that’s a bit too spendy for me! 😉 The crickets will also get moisture from the vegetable scraps you feed them. Some people feed fruit scraps and potato peels to their crickets, but I hate using these as moisture sources as they can rot and grow mold overnight and attract gnats and fruit flies. Gross! Greens are a much better water and food source as they don’t rot and leave a dry fibrous husk when the crickets are done eating them.

Baby pinhead crickets having a drink on a moist paper towel.
Baby pinhead crickets having a drink on a moist paper towel.

How do I keep my cricket bin clean and my crickets healthy?

You will want to check your bin every day for moldy or rotting food and get rid of them as soon as possible. Crickets that eat spoiled food will pass the bacteria on to your chickens and possibly make them sick. A deep cleaning where you remove all the crickets and give the bin a good scrub down with bleach is only necessary once every 1-2 months. You can spot clean by brushing and wiping away their frass once every week.

Baby crickets in a clean container.
Baby crickets in a clean container.

How can I tell if I have any cricket eggs?

The eggs will look like tiny white, waxy grains of rice, but much smaller. You might have to dig about a 1/2 inch below the surface of the soil to find them as the females bury them deep in the dirt to keep the males from cannibalizing the eggs. Your crickets will begin to mate once you hear the males begin to chirp. Give them 2 weeks or so to lay their eggs, then change the egg container with a new one (or feed the adults to your chickens) as baby crickets will start to hatch. Always keep the young and the adults separate as the adults will eat the babies. If you let them, the adult crickets will continue to breed and lay more eggs for two more weeks, though at a much slower pace. You should feed the adults to your chickens after this second round of egg laying as they’ll die soon.

Plastic tub with egg-laying container and paper egg crates.
This is my cricket egg incubating and baby pinhead cricket rearing tub. Always keep newly hatched crickets separate from adult crickets.

Help, my crickets keep jumping out each time I open the top of the bin!

There’s no good way around this, I’m afraid. It’s one of the reasons why raising crickets is such a pain in the butt. The best way to cut down on escapees is to use a tall bin where the top of the bin is at least 12″ from the very tallest egg carton or surface from which the crickets can jump off of. Make sure the plastic walls of the rearing tub are as smooth as possible, otherwise the crickets will climb their way up like Spiderman. Try not to open the lid too much when you add food to the container. This is why I love the giant Tidy Cat litter tubs for raising crickets. The tub is too tall for the crickets to jump out except for the occasional super jumper, the sides are too smooth for them to climb out, and the folding lid makes it easy to add and remove stuff, but lets me slam the lid shut at the first sign of a jumper.

Adult crickets crawling on egg cartons in a yellow tidy cat litter tub.
Large 20 lb. kitty litter tubs are perfect for raising adult crickets. The tub is tall enough that the adults cannot jump out.