We live on our 100-acre farm and rent additional acreage for our 120 cow/calf operation. With the rising cost of fuel, feed, fertilizer and etc., it was necessary to find another source of income to utilize our existing resources. The farm had a large pond and an excellent water supply, therefore we started our fish/prawn operation to offset expenses.
We have always worked hard to slow down soil erosion using terraces, leaving trees standing, and common conservation practices. We are mowing more weeds instead of using chemicals for weed control.
The fish/prawn operation was new to our county, so many questions have been asked. The most asked questions are: why we chose the fish/prawn project, how we got started, and of course – does it pay? We share our ideas with each other on how to cut costs, how to grow a better – larger and better quality – product for the consumer. We have brought new business to our local elevator, employed several people, and provided a quality product for the area. The DEMOLAY organization has financially benefited, as well as became familiar with a new project. [Editor’s Note: For information on the DeMolay youth organization see: http://www.demolay.org/.] This gave us the opportunity to meet a group of good young men in our area. We have had visitors/consumers such as optometrists and their young children, doctors, State Representative Barney Fischer as well as people as common as ourselves. Visitors are welcome to sample our prepared product. One local Relay For Life Team provided lunch. All proceeds were for them, of course.
We knew the need was there for added income. It was necessary to use the resources available on the farm. The existing water supply could be utilized. Research showed the SARE grant provided us the opportunity to get the help we needed to get started. Personnel from Lincoln University Carver Farm in Jefferson City, Missouri provided answers to our many questions.
All of the feed was purchased at a locally owned elevator. It was necessary for their personnel (Lincoln University) to contact Purina for the feeds we needed.
We needed to know about the pond design, how to construct the fish cages and materials used, variety of fish product, feed kind and quantity, how to test water quality, how to check water temperature and oxygen levels. Fertilizing the water was a new concept for us. We are willing, and have shared our information with others.
• Bates County Health Center was contacted to gain information about processing options.
• Chuck Hicks and Russell Gerlach from Lincoln University Carver Farm have been and continue to be our most valuable information sources. They were the information source for the prawn pond design, fertilizing the water to grow zoplankton prior to pond stocking. Questions to them about our project were answered promptly.
• This project would not have been possible without the financial support from our local bank.
The prawn harvest has brought many visitors/consumers to our farm. The young men from the organization, DEMOLAY (as previously mentioned) that has helped with our projects have brought their family and friends to the farm. The young men as well as ourselves worked hard, as well as had fun together. One of these young men has inquired at Lincoln University about pursuing an aquaculture degree. The yield was low for the prawn due to a short growing season.
The water temperature is a major factor for them to remain alive. Therefore we tried to raise rainbow trout through the winter months. The trout grew well during the winter months, however we did not have the market needed for them. Trout, of course need the colder water, so they needed to be harvested in early spring.
Raising two incompatible species in one same body of water proved not to be the most efficient. The growing season for prawn in our area is such a short period of time that it is not efficient due to the amount of labor involved in removing the bluegill from the cages. Harvesting prawn requires the pond be drained. It is necessary to transfer the bluegill form the cages to another pond to be returned to the cages.
We have learned when a quantity of fish is delivered from a producer, it is necessary to carefully check the size. Our cages were built for 4 -5 inch bluegill, however the producer did not deliver all of them at the size agreed on. Some of the bluegill were smaller, and therefore escaped to surrounding water over the prawn. The bluegill ate some of the prawn. Lesson learned; carefully check the product before it is unloaded. This is somewhat difficult with a large quantity.
• Joe was the guest speaker at the Butler Lions Club and Rotary Club lunches. Joe gave an informative talk and provided pictures about our project. The groups were very interested, as this project is new to our county. A question/answer session followed.
• Several people have toured/visited our operation/fish farm.
• Personnel from “Adrian Journal” and “News Express” have visited and published informative articles. Our local radio station, KMAM, has aired a feature story as well.
• Joe participated in the Extension office’s “Train the Trainer” program located at Jefferson City, MO. I was instrumental in helping a new prawn farmer, in our area, get started. I visited his farm for a tour and answered his questions. We attended his prawn harvest. He joined Missouri Aquaculture Association (MoAA) at the January meeting. [Editor’s Note: for details about MoAA see: http://moaquaculture.org/.]
• Joe presented at the 2012 NCR-SARE Farmers Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference. A video of this can be viewed online through NCR-SARE’s YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/rDBch4I5630