So, what are the Butterfly Farming Basics? Butterfly Farming can be very rewarding. You are you own boss, able to work from your home, and get to hear from many of your butterfly customers how inspiring your butterflies were that you sent them. You can take satisfaction in knowing that your business has a positive impact in the environment and gives happiness and healing to many people.
But to become a butterfly farmer, you will need lots of dedication and perseverance to turn into a successful butterfly farm. Below is a list of what you will need to venture into this exciting and rewarding business of a butterfly farmer. If you are seriously considering on becoming a butterfly farmer, please read the whole way through. Many people venture into butterfly farming thinking they can become rich fast. This is not true. It takes time and dedication and sticking with it through the hard times. Those who stay with it and work hard in all areas say they see their business grow each year.
What you will need:
Place to raise caterpillars
You will need a place that you can raise your caterpillars in. You will want to be able to control the temperature and the humidity. This room will need to be disinfected from time to time, so a room with carpeting is not a good idea. This room will be only for your caterpillars. No adults should be kept in this room.
Room to grow host plants
Host plants are the plants that the caterpillars need to feed upon. Each caterpillar has different host plants. Painted Ladies are currently the only butterfly that can be successfully raised on artificial diet. Unless you are raising Painted Ladies, you will need living plants for your caterpillars. Location plays into how much and how you will need to raise the host plants. Down south, you must protect your host plants from contamination from wild butterflies or you must wash them to disinfect from any contamination. In colder climates, you will need to have a means of starting host plants early so you can be ready with adults for the peak butterfly season. Caterpillars eat a lot. Some locations have an abundance of wild host plants available so finding a food source is not a problem. Others must grow all of their host plants, so will be limited to how many they can raise.
Knowledge on how to raise healthy host plants
You are what you eat. This is the same for caterpillars. Feed caterpillars diseased, bug infested plants and you will raise unhealthy, diseased caterpillars. You will have to raise host plants with very limited pesticides. Many pesticides will kill your caterpillars, so you must have knowledge of which pesticides you are able to use. So, you will have to learn how to raise healthy plants to feed your caterpillars.
Knowledge on how to raise caterpillars
This is the tricky part. How you raise your caterpillars depends a lot on location and your personality. What works for Farmer A may not work for Farmer B. It is strongly advised that you take some courses through Butterfly College and experiment several different ways to find out which way works for you. You will also want to take the course “Disease Prevention in Lepidoptera” to learn about diseases in butterflies. You can find more information by clicking on the Butterfly College link mentioned above. Disease will happen, but knowledge will help to lessen the chances.
Once you decide which way you will be raising your caterpillars, you will need to purchase enough to raise many. Here is a list of supplies you will need to raise from egg to an adult:
Caterpillar raising containers
Cages for butterflies to lay their eggs (breeding cages)
Cages/containers to keep butterflies till you sell them
Greenhouse/netted tent – Optional depending on which species you are raising your area and or if you need one for raising host plants. Some areas this is a necessity.
Clip on lights
Start up stock
Artificial Diet – if raising Painted Ladies (optional but recommended)
Insulated shipping boxes
A computer, printer, internet access and office supplies are a must along with an email account. Knowledge on how to use all of these along with computer programs is strongly advised. You will need paper, ink, staplers, pens, etc.
Some farmers do not have a website, but if you want to expand and grow, you will need to be found by potential customers. A website is strongly encouraged. If you have enough knowledge that you can make your own, you will save money, if not, you will have to pay someone to create a website. You will need to be able to supply content for this website.
Butterflies shipped across state lines in the United States are controlled by the USDA. You will need to apply for permits for the species you will be shipping out of state. The USDA only allows nine different species to cross state lines and they are not allowed to be shipped into all state. You must research which species you can raise and then apply for the appropriate permits for all of the states you will be shipping butterflies into. Permits are good for three years, they are free, and you only need permits to ship across state lines. Most states do not require permits if the butterflies are going to be shipped within the state. You will need to check with your state to see if you need state permits also. You can raise any local butterfly, the USDA does not dictate what stays in the state, just what is shipped across state lines.
Shipping outside of your country
When shipping out of your country, the person who is receiving the butterflies must apply for a permit to receive. The sender does not need a permit to ship out of their country. Check with your country to see what the rules are.
Lots and lots of time
Raising butterflies takes lots and lots of time. You will be raising seven days a week. Caterpillars eat constantly. Many people do not realize the amount of time that goes into raising an egg to a butterfly. You may not be able to take a day trip somewhere, and summer vacations will not be possibly. Unless you have an employee that you have educated properly and know the proper way of raising and disease preventions, just having a school kid or the next door neighbor coming in to feed, will not work. You may find that all your hard effort will be dead or dying when you get back. Raising butterflies starts early in the spring and runs clear through till fall. If you plan on making this a full time business, you will want to raise all during the peak season.
You will be shipping your stock all over the country. You will need to apply for a shipping account through either UPS or FedEx. Starting out, your shipping costs will be high. As you ship more and more, you will get a greater discount.
Join an emailing list/association
You will want to join an emailing list and or association. You will want to ask questions on problems you have and an emailing list with other farmers is recommended. It is a good idea to join the Association for Butterflies for many reasons. You get a discount on many courses you will need to start out, will be put on a emailing list with other established farmers who can answer your questions, get listed on the website so those who are looking for butterflies will find you, and will be also supporting an organization that is working to protect your business and the industry and also that is working to grow the industry to keep the demand for butterflies high. Also, you will want to work on a committee. If everyone works together, this industry will continue to grow, which means your business will grow.
To take courses
To become a butterfly farmer, you can not go to college and learn how to do this. Yes, you can learn how to run your computer, how to market, etc but you will not learn how to successfully raise a caterpillar to an adult. Look over the courses that Association for Butterflies offers. You will not find any other courses that will help you learn how to raise. Association for Butterflies take great pride in offering quality courses to teach you the knowledge you need to make your business a success.
Wear many hats
To become a successful butterfly farmer, you will need to know how to market, keep records, take orders, talk with customers, where to advertise, how to social network, along with all of the other things we mentioned earlier. It takes time, dedication, and perseverance.
How much money will I need to invest to get started?
A lot depends on what you have already. If you already have a good computer, printer, internet, etc you will not need to consider those as start up costs. Costs of courses, equipment and supplies, start up stock, etc will be items that you will need and can’t get around. Depending on whether you need a greenhouse or just a screened tent dictates how much you will be putting out. Do NOT try to start out too big. It is better to test and experiment and then invest instead of jumping in only to find you need to reinvest in other items. Start with one species and then branch out from there. Garage sales, www.craigslist.org, www.ebay.com, etc are good areas to find discounted or free items you can use. If you need a greenhouse, consider you location and one that will withstand your climate. Join Association for Butterflies and ask questions before purchasing. Learn from others mistakes and learn the best sources for supplies by talking with other farmers about where they found the best deals. Farmers enjoy sharing information.
So, why become a butterfly farmer?
We asked butterfly farmers what they wished they had known before they started into butterfly farming and their responses were they wished they had realized how satisfying butterfly farming was and how much they loved doing it and learned from it. They said they wished they had learned more before going into the business to avoid costly mistakes. Butterfly farming is hard work. It is not for everyone, but if you have a love of butterflies, nature, are dedicated and have a will to succeed, then butterfly farming may just be what you are looking for.
To take our free course, “So, You Think You Want to be a Butterfly Farmer,” visit Butterfly College and learn what it takes to become a butterfly farmer.
To receive discounts on courses and access to an exclusive email list to learn even more, Become a Member of Association for Butterflies.