African Worms Business Thrives In Northern Wisconsin

A young couple living in northern Wisconsin has undertaken a unique enterprise of animal husbandry: raising African worms and producing organic fertilizer. Starting with selected breeding stock, Ira and Lynn Follen have grown their "livestock" into a "herd" of 30,000 full sized marketable crawlers per month.

"Although worm farming might sound and look easy before you start, the process can be very complicated and you must have a love for labor," says Lynn. "It also takes more equipment than one would think. Combine humid environments, -30 degree temps, and worms that like to migrate around and you can have a real mess" The Follens got into the worm farming business in 2008. "We started with 4,500 breeding worms. We then took worm cocoons and put them in a special incubator that gets heated to 80 degrees for two weeks. Then we take the worms out and re-feed. They will be re-fed every two weeks. For the re-feeding process we purchased a worm harvester. The castings (worm poop) fall through the first screen, and the worm cocoons fall through the second screen.

At the bottom of the harvester sits a new production unit with the proper amount of new bedding mix in it which the worms will fall into. Once all of the worms have fallen into the unit it then gets placed on a pallet. This pallet then gets tagged with the worms' age and when they were fed and gets placed into a worm storage room that is kept at 70 to 72 degrees. It will sit there for two weeks and then the process starts over.

"It takes 6 months for a worm to reach full size from a cocoon. We now have around 250,000 worms. There are a lot of things that need to be controlled to ensure timely weight gain and length such as proper air, moisture and feed as well as temperature."

They sell worm castings as organic fertilizer in 1-lb., 4 1/2- lb. 15-lb., and 30-lb. bags as well as bulk 1-ton sacks. They produce roughly 10 tons a month. They also offer worm cocoons for gardening and composting. They hope in the future to get into selling fertilizer "teas" and selling direct to fish and chicken farms.