Compost worms as a source of protein for animal feed


There are thousands species of earthworms which can be characterized into 3 major groups: Anecic (deep-burrowing earthworms), endogeic (upper-soil earthworms), and epigeic (surface-litter compost worms). The epigeic compost worms are suitable and potential on scaling-up production of vermiculture as a source of protein for animal feed from organic wastes because they have a high reproduction, growth and adaptation rates.

At least there are 5 aspects that should be taken into consideration in using compost worms or red wigglers as a source of animal feed from organic wastes: Chemical composition, quality of protein value, potential hazards, production economics, and legal constrains.

The chemical composition of compost worm is suitable for animal feed as the composition of worm tissues consist of 80 – 90% of water and the dry matter basis which are distributed into 60 – 70% of protein, 6 – 11% of fat, 5 – 21% of carbohydrate, and 2 – 3% of minerals with gross energy of 16 – 24 kilo Joule per gram.

The mean amounts of essential amino acids recorded from the composting worm tissue are very adequate for good animal feed if compared with the recommendation of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, particularly in terms of lysine, methionine, cysteine, phenylalanine and tyrosine. In addition to containing adequate protein content, earthworm tissues contain a preponderance of long-chain fatty acids, many of which the non-ruminant animals cannot synthesize. They have an excellent range of vitamins; are rich in vitamin B3 and provide a good source of vitamin B12.

The potential hazards of using compost worms as animal feed have been taken into consideration in case that they may carry diseases or contain toxic residues. There are many studies have shown that the population of plant pathogens (such as Fusarium, Pythium, Phytophthora) and animal or human pathogens (such as Salmonella, E. coli, enteric viruses) can be significantly reduced by the presence of compost worms. It is well known that compost worms produce anti-pathogen substances (anti-bacterial peptides) called fetidin in their gut and pass through to the worm castings or vermicomposts. On the other hand the beneficial soil microbes are produced during vermicomposting will suppress the pathogens. The toxic residues in the compost worms can be limited using organic waste for example food waste, farm waste or green waste with their sources are well-monitored and pre-composed in properly ways.

The economic return from compost worm production for animal feed depends upon the rate and cost of production, and the price available for the product worm protein. There have been several studies of the benefits of the production of worm protein. The general conclusions are that worm protein production has the best prospect of good profits, if it is done by larger farmers with considerable amounts of available unused organic wastes. The farmers may use the vermiculture – vermicomposting technologies in separating worms from vermicomposts to reduce the high cost of labour involved, and selling or using the by-product high quality vermicompost for their own organic (natural) crops; to replace the application of the chemical fertilizers. Furthermore, the purification of earthworms as a source of drugs i.e. as antioxidative, antiulcer, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, anticoagulative have scientifically been studied by the pharmaceuticals research for many years, and it will increase the value of the worm protein.

Compost worms do not eat meats or dairy products. Concerning the legal constraints of using compost worm protein as animal feed, if prepared by standard meat e.g. the cooking and drying that converts abattoir waste to meat meal for animal feed or by fish meal process, should meet little opposition, but again continual safety monitoring will be necessary.

The photos above were taken at the intensive vermiculture facilities at Zeeland province in The Netherlands.

If you have potential resource organic wastes and interested in processing them to be worm protein and vermicompost for natural farming, please contact us at to learn more about waste management using vermiculture – vermicomposting technologies. Bintoro Gunadi

Red Worm open eyes 8-8-2013

  1. Robert Van Ommering said:

    We operate a small vermiculture operation in southern California where we utilize the washed manure from our milking cow barn in outdoor windrows. We currently attempt to separate the majority of the worms from the castings by drawing them toward the fresh feed which is dumped along the other side of the windrow with a side dump truck. We then harvest the finished castings side with a 2 yard loader 2-3 times per year. We’re at that point where we have enough worms and can now justify harvesting equipment for worms. What would you recommend for a small scale operation that doesn’t want to do it by hand through a small drum screen but also can’t justify spending thousands on mechanized worm harvesting? What kind of processing would it take to feed red wigglers to dairy cattle?

    • Actually you can make yourself the worm harvester. I am still abroad and will be visiting Corvallis (OR) at the end of this year. In the meantime please visit and share with friends our up-date posting at FB to learn more about vermiculture-vermicomposting and natural way of farming. I hope will get like from you and friends from California.

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