If you’ve been thinking about how to make money farming, but don’t know how to start farming with no money, becoming a butterfly farmer warrants your consideration.
Butterfly farmers can start small, very small. Two of the leading butterfly farmers and experts in the field, Rick and Claudia Mikula of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, didn’t know how to start a farm when they started raising butterflies. They used two screen houses in their backyard.
Is it for you?
Is Butterfly Farming Profitable?
Yes, although that depends on the starting costs and the type of business.
A butterfly farm can be a destination business that people visit. Visitors pay a fee to enter the facility. The first established tourism business in the US was Butterfly World, Coconut Creek, Florida, which opened in 1988.
Or a butterfly farmer can raise butterflies and sell butterflies. Butterfly sales can be to a butterfly tourism and conservation business, or to the general public. The Mikula’s pioneered the sale of adult butterflies to be released on an occasion, such as a wedding, funeral, or graduation.
A business that sells butterflies can earn $100,000 a year.
What Do Butterfly Farmers Do?
It is fun to raise butterflies and the whole family can be involved. Even with the entire family pitching in, it is very hard work.
The areas that house butterflies, in all life stages, need to be cleaned and the butterflies must be fed. For example, caterpillars continually shed their outer skin as they grow, which is cast off and dropped to the bottom of their pen.
In addition to feeding and cleaning, as butterflies are raised the farmer must be on guard against wild predators (including insects such as wasps and bees), parasites, and funguses.
How Do Butterfly Farms Make Money?
Adult butterflies lay eggs on specific plants. The eggs hatch into caterpillars which feed on the plants. The caterpillars eventually become pupa, or chrysalis, which will hatch in the butterfly.
The butterfly farmer can sell eggs, caterpillars, pupa,s or adults.
A butterfly zoo can make money by charging admission, as well as providing information programs about butterfly conservation and habitat restoration.
What You Will Need to Begin Butterfly Farming – Simple Steps
Learn Everything You Can About Butterfly Farming and Wild Butterflies
Internet access makes it easy to start your education and you should join organizations that support the field. There are organizations such as the Association for Butterflies which offer online classes and webinars. On FB, check out the Association for Butterflies Conservation, Research, Farming and Gardening.
One of the most important facts you must research is which species you can raise and sell. The United States Department of Agriculture regulates this. For example, many species of butterflies may not be shipped over state lines in this country. Many species can not be caught in the wild.
Acquire a Suitable Area for the Butterfly Farm
Whether you start in your backyard or go big, you’ll need to raise caterpillars from the egg in an area or room with controlled temperature and humidity levels. Many farmers rehab an existing greenhouse or buy a greenhouse. You don’t need a lot of room or land to get started, but you do need to preserve the proper environment.
The butterfly habitat must be enclosed, as protection against insect pests that thrive in Mother Nature, such as wasps and bees. These insects lay eggs either in or on a caterpillar, which will kill the caterpillar.
Growing Host Plants
Each species of butterfly has a specific host plant that caterpillars eat. In 99% of the species, the host plants and flowers that the adult butterfly uses for nectar and the host plant for that butterfly’s eggs are NOT the same species. Only the monarchs use the same host plants for both, which is milkweed.
The only butterfly caterpillars which feed on artificial food are the painted ladies. The painted ladies are also the species that has most often been approved to be shipped across state lines.
Most farmers choose to grow their own host plants, to make sure the food plant hasn’t been treated with an insecticide that would harm caterpillars. Also, you would save money by growing your own plants instead of buying them.
Adult butterflies are pollinators but may lay eggs on those same plants.
Start Planning Your Business
Once you’ve done the research you can start planning. The main season for raising butterflies runs from spring through fall. The life span of a butterfly is short, with most living for about a month.
Create a Butterfly Farm Business Plan
As with every new business, you need a written plan. The plan should include a mission statement, as well as projections for future growth and a description of the business structure and operations.
Do a Market survey
If you’re going to sell to other butterfly farmers, which species would be in demand? If you’re going to sell to the general public, which species are in demand?
For releases of adult butterflies, often Monarchs and Tiger Swallowtails are preferred, for their bright colors.
Form a Legal Entity and Register Your Butterfly Business
Get the legal checklist finished by choosing a business structure, most likely a limited liability corporation or LLC. You must also register the business with your state.
Name and Brand Your Butterfly Business
One of the most important aspects of how to start a business is choosing a great name. Choose a name that describes the focus of your business.
Open a Business Bank Account
When you open a business bank account also get a business credit card.
Shipping throughout the country will require USDA permits. Only certain species may be shipped across state lines. Containers vary according to the life cycle stage that’s being shipped and must be insulated.
Acquire The Equipment Needed for a Butterfly Farm
Get as many of the supplies as you can at garage sales to save money. For example, you may be able to save by acquiring supplies such as containers and shelving second-hand.
You’ll also need disinfectant, breeding cages, netting, insulated shipping boxes, lights and startup stock.
Purchase Eggs and Raise Caterpillars
You can purchase from existing farmers who are listed with the AFB.
Focus on Disease Prevention
Best management practices for disease prevention are installing netting over host plants, providing good ventilation and climate management (never too cool), and rinsing plant cuttings before providing them as food. It’s a good idea to feed using cuttings, instead of moving a potted plant into the raising area. The earth or soils could contain bacteria.
Once the caterpillar has formed a chrysalis or pupa, there will be about 28 days before the butterfly emerges. It’s another 24-48 hours before the wings are dry and it can fly.
Join your local Chamber of Commerce and network. You’ll have tons of ideas on where to sell, such as business openings and special events.
Make Money By Selling Butterflies or Eggs
You can set prices based on what’s current in the industry.
Run Education Tours Focusing on Conservation Efforts
Once you are established, you may want to reach out to schools and conservation groups to promote butterfly raising, as well as ways people can enhance butterfly habitats.
Things to Consider Before Starting a Butterfly Business
From Spring through Fall, there are no days off. It’s not the type of business where you can hire just anyone to check on things. Disease prevention, temperature, and humidity – are all things that need expert oversight.
If starting a butterfly business isn’t for you, there are other options to consider. For example, you could start a bee farm, cricket farm, or even learn how to start a worm farm. Some entrepreneurs may even raise multiple types of insects at once.
The Bottom Line
Two caterpillars were crawling across a field when a butterfly flew by overhead. One caterpillar said to the other, “You’ll never get me up in one of those.”
You may never have considered butterfly farming as a viable business venture, but it is. In addition to making money, the business has a rewarding end product which is beautiful.
Image: Envato Elements
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