Marion, Illinois — Todd Goodman jokingly calls himself a “bug rancher.” But he is serious about his job.
“I’m a farmer,” he said, walking around the empire he’d built.
Owners of Timberline Live Pet Foods have turned their local feed business into the nation’s largest producer of exotic animal feed. And although the “livestock” he raises weighs less than a gram, he takes the same meticulous attention to product that cattle ranchers and pig farmers do.
A small family-run company that supplied local foragers with worms, crickets and minnows decades ago has become a major national wholesaler. Timberline supplies exotic animal feed to all Petco his stores and half of Petsmart stores in the country. In addition, we sell insects to several zoos, including the St. Louis Zoo, San Diego Zoo, and Brookfield Zoo.
The business started by his father, Ray Goodman, was successful, but never more than a local venture with a handful of employees. Timberline Fisheries remains the name, but has virtually nothing to do with today’s fishing industry.
Todd Goodman had a vision to take Timberline into a brave new world.
“I grew up in this business,” he said. “I counted worms when he was eight years old. When he graduated from college in 1988, I knew there was a professional challenge ahead.”
He looked closely at the industry and realized its limits. For one thing, the bait business is seasonal. And there is little room for growth. His eyes opened when he attended an exotic pet food show.
“I said, holy cow! There’s a whole new world out there. No seasons, no localities,” he said.
The son persuaded his father to go another direction. Instead of selling bait, they will sell fodder.
“Almost everything I truck for bait also feeds the exotic animal business,” said Goodman. “From eight he had to find a way to keep ten employees busy.”
He did, and now has a workforce of about 160 people, working in a campus of dozens of buildings with state-of-the-art equipment.
When Todd Goodman took over, Timberline’s business was 1% pet food and 99% feed. Today it’s the other way around.
He believes in his ambition and the right timing for the company’s success. didn’t like
“That’s how we targeted pet stores,” he said. “We told them we were new.
Lifestyles were changing, including having pets.
“We came in at the right time when the specialty segment of the pet industry was growing,” he said. “We found out what was going on with people.
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Pop culture was also a factor.
“Jurassic Park had just come out, and strangely people wanted to get their hands on little dinosaurs,” Goodman said.
Timberline ships billions of crickets, flies and earthworms each year. About 50 million people walk out the doors of the company’s main campus just south of Marion in Williamson County, Illinois every week.
The fate of his living product has not changed over the years. They are all edible. But today the emphasis is different. Instead of fishermen hoping to catch crappie, consumers are reptile and bird owners.
“Now we are discussing nutrition with our customers,” he said.
Timberline has worked with scientists to develop optimal feed formulations for insects. It took me ten years to come up with the right combination.
“We take all the seeds we grow and mimic the diets they forage in the wild because they forage on a variety of plants,” Goodman said. “Just like farmers want fatter cows and pigs, so does our industry. But it was cheap food.
About 22 years ago, Timberline reached out to Purina for help designing insect bait to meet the company’s priorities. The proprietary feed Timberline processes as much as 50 tons per week consists of milled grains moistened with nutrients such as fatty acids and carotenes, then dried again. It basically appears as a corn- or soy-based powder.It is also used as a bedding for insects during transportation.
“It took me 10 years to come up with the idea,” Goodman said of the feed, which is made in his own plant in Missouri.
Timberline has added products to its line. Hornworms, flightless fruit flies, and calciworms are now offered. But crickets are still the biggest seller. The company ships 10 of his bugs, which are the smallest sizes that fit on Pinhead.
“Chameleons are born alive. They require very small food,” Goodman said. When I ship it, it will reach this size in a few days, so I have to get it to the customer quickly.”
Reptiles and amphibians are the main consumers. But the company also supplies birds, tropical fish and even primates. Crickets also find their way into large ape enclosures in zoos as exercise equipment, not as food.
“They would throw a thousand crickets out there,” Goodman said. “It moves them. They chase them. They eat some, too.”
In some societies, insects are consumed by humans, and some environmental activists advocate increased consumption of high-protein insects.
“I’m not going to make this a food grade insect farm for four reasons: the USDA,” he said. “We’re regulated now, but that’s another story because they’re here and want us to come clean. Plus, I’m not going to eat bugs.”
Regardless, he does not believe that insect production is more sustainable than livestock.
“Take it from a cricket farmer – it’s not,” he said.