The day and life of Mr. Dom,
your average Thai cricket farmer.

After meeting Mr. Dom and tasting his insects, brought all the way from Udon Thani (870 miles away), I was very curious to know what the work life of the average insect farmer consists of. So with the help of a Thai speaking research assistant, we uncovered and compiled a pretty accurate representation of what Mr. Dom’s farming practices might look like, as well as the chain of distribution to get those insects to my plate. I narrowed this information to cricket farming specifically because it is the most common insect to rear and will allow us to use more specific data.

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Meet Your Average Thai Cricket Farmer: Mr. Dom

Mr. Dom is happily married with 3 children who help with the cricket farm located in Northeast Thailand. No help is needed outside the small family unless they want to some extra hands during harvesting. Before cricket farming, Mr. Dom farmed rice. When he heard of the low startup cost and extra income he could make starting his own cricket farm, he saved up 40,000 baht ($1200) and purchased the necessary equipment to start farming. It took him 26 months to get the proper equipment and methods down to run the farm efficiently. After the first year, he was able to pursue it as his single source of income. Two thirds of his cricket farming neighbors kept their prior jobs to supplement more income.

Prior Jobs of Mr. Dom’s Cricket Farming Friends:
Why They Started Farming Crickets:

Meet Mr. Dom’s Crickets

Mr. Dom built 14 rectangular cement wells and lined the inside with gypsum sheeted wells. In half he rears Sading crickets (also called Jingled Khoa – Acheta Domestics) and in the other half he has Thongdum crickets (also called Jingreedtoong – Gryllus Bimaculatus). The third cricket species commonly farmered are Thongdaeng (also called JingreedBaan – Gryllus Testaceus). He noticed about half of the other farmers stick to just one of those three main cricket stains because it’s easier to maintain.

Mr. Dom originally bought his cricket eggs from a neighbor; a 15 centimeter bowl of eggs cost him 100 Baht ($3.00). They took 9 days to hatch with the optimal temperature between 37 to 40 degree Celsius.

Feeding Practices

Mr. Dom knows his crickets prefer organic vegetables, but he’s always tempted to use commercial chicken feed because he can buy it on credit and it cuts down the time until the crickets are ready to harvest by 25%. During the nursing period (0 to 14 days), Mr. Dom makes sure his feed is very fine in texture and blends in a high dose of protein. From 15 to 30 days, he reduces the protein amount and is among half of the other farmers who add vitamins, mineral powder, chitosan, EM morass, and milk powder into his feed. After 30 days, the protein and supplements aren’t necessary but he continues to chop up his vegetables for easy consumption.

During the nursing period (0 to 14 days), Mr. Dom sprays water over the surface area of his cricket wells every two hours. Then 15 days and onward, his crickets will be happy sipping water from wet rocks and water bowls.

Breeding

Mr. Dom crossbreeds his Sading and Thongdum crickets around the age of 30 to 40 days. He avoids inbreeding his crickets, even though 68% of the other farmers do it. He noticed his neighbor always has smaller hatching percentages when inbreeding.

One of Mr. Dom’s well known tricks is to feed his crickets pumpkin to minimize an undesirable odor and green oil when cooked. He’s always happy to share his tips to help other farmers with their crops.

Harvesting, Distribution and Return

After Mr. Dom’s crickets are harvested (3-4 months depending on the feed he uses), he will wait a fewe days to see any mobile collectors come by to purchase them from him. If not, he’ll transport them to the closest wet market, collection center or street vendor.

In an average month, he will make 9,500 baht/month ($285) from his Sading crickets and 14,700 baht/month ($440) from his Thongdum crickets. This gives him an overall average of 120 baht per kg of crickets ($1.63 per pound). After his monthly $300 operational cost, that’s a 59% profit. From month to month his profit will range from 47–70% depending on demand, how healthy his crickets are and how well the other farmers did.

Opportunity Drives Mr. Dom to Seek Improvement

Recently Mr. Dom has been getting requests to supply crickets from his farm in Udan Thani to locations as far as Phuket, where I met him. Which is  a significant distance of 1400 kilometers (870 miles). Since then, he’s been perfectly happy with his small-scale operational process. But now that he has the opportunity to dramatically scale his business, he’s interested in how he can improve his overall production process. After doing some digging, he found quite a few ways that could make his farm much more efficient and desirable to merchants.

Consistent Climate: If there was a way to regulate a constant hot climate of 29–32 °C (85–90 °F), his crickets would reproduce more and grow faster. Colder temperatures can even cause death to younger crickets.

Disease: An odd, unknown infection disease incurs to some crickets during the age of 30-35 days. More research is needed.

Safety: Annoyances of pests such as house lizards, cockroaches, birds, spiders, etc.. exists but could be avoidable with the innovative housing adjustments. Crickets with poor health, like broken legs, can still be sold to buyers for a lower price.

Education: There is a lack of technical knowledge and appropriate farming management.

Equipment: Due to limited resources, farmers don’t invest in newer technologies that could significantly improve farming methods.

Hygiene: Sanitation of cricket housing seems to be ignored.

Still Many Questions to Answer…

What are the effects of inbreeding to health and nutritional value of the crickets? How can the developmental practices of farmers be adjusted to allow the use of appropriate technology? Can hygienic and sanitary standards be made? What about package labeling so consumers know if crickets ate organic vegetables or commercial chicken feed?

Mr. Dom and many other insect farmers know that this is just the beginning. Though until they receive a higher demand, it is unlikley they will be able to invest resources into new production technology. The momentum of cricket farming lies in the hands of the next generation. If they can continue to see the potential these critters have and adopt them as a sustainable food solution, then farmers like Mr. Dom will be given better means for efficient insect production.

References