Transition of a Conventional Swine Operation to a Closed-system Freshwater Fish Operation
In converting our first building (which used to be a hot and cold iso-wean nursery), we installed nine 350-gallon poly tanks in our first room with all the plumbing, aeration, pumps, and filter system to raise our bluegill. We also had to beef up and support the decks with reinforcement and old metal to support the weight of the tanks after being filled with water, which was quite tedious and labor intensive. Grant money was used in this room for the tanks, plumbing, pumps, and aeration pumps.
Our second room was converted to a hatchery where we spawn and grow the bluegill for approximately 30 to 40 days and then move them to the previous room mentioned. This room has three different filtration systems in which one is used for the female tank, one is used for the male/breeding/phase-one system, and one for the phase-two system. Grant money was used here for tanks, plumbing, pumps, and filtration system. This second room has two 300-gallon tanks, four 125-gallon tanks, and eight 30-gallons tanks. Since constructing this room, we have had to modify some of the tanks so that the small fish could survive.
Like any other new project, there was and still is a huge learning curve that we are dealing with. Some of the things we’ve learned:
1. Fish need a really good source water to survive, especially the very small ones. As we reuse the water, we have learned that we need to dump the holding pits whenever we bring on the next set of production. Early on, we were not doing this and had a high mortality rate.
2. Fish need a very good and fresh feed supply. In order for this to happen, you must tell your feed supplier that you will not take any feed that is over 60 days old. This way you can feed it up before it gets too old. You must also keep it refrigerated to keep it as fresh as possible. As with anything, you must keep up with your current supply of feed and allow time for new feed to be shipped in to your area. Some feeds have to be shipped from different states.
3. The size fish that we are raising (3 to 5 inches) consume a lot of feed compared to their body weight (not for sure on the ratio), so we must clean tanks on a very regular basis. If we don’t, we get tanks that will overflow because the screening or netting that is used clogs up with fish manure. Siphoning is the best way to accomplish this. We made siphons with small plastic hose.
4. Never assume that all spawns will hatch and swim up (what fish do after hatching). There are many variables to contend with. It may be too many eggs in a nest (multiple spawns), bad fertilization, bad eggs, water quality and/or temperature, as well as human error (handling the nest and disturbing the spawn).
5. Estimating fish numbers for delivery is quite hard. We have been told that it will get easier as time goes on.
6. Raising fish takes lots of time and patience. Just when you think you have it figured out, you learn that you don’t. Feeding four times a day is somewhat labor intensive but according to [staff at] Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO who I am working very closely with, they say it will pay off in the production of my fish.
7. It’s also imperative that you have a backup generator for a power failure. After an outage, you have about 30 to 60 minutes to get the power up and going to get your pumps and aeration going.
8. As with any new project, it’s good to have someone that you can go to for guidance and support. And I have that with Lincoln University. They have made numerous trips to my farm to help solve problems and/or make new recommendations that they have made at their farms.
9. In shipping the fish, we have had no problems yet. We had to purchase a live fish hauler which was quite expensive but was necessary so we could deliver our fish.
10. As for our market, we have procured a very good deal. We sell to a high end retail store with public aquariums and their demand is greater than we can produce at this time. The original agreement was a verbal and was considered a pilot program. They were wanting a single source, isolated, and raised indoors bait fish. After three deliveries, they are ready for a more consistent production. With the estimation from this buyer, I will have to eventually convert another hog building (farrowing house) to more tanks to satisfy their needs.
WORK PLAN FOR 2007
We will continue to work very closely with Lincoln University and will raise our production to satisfy our buyer. We will not convert our next building until we know how much production we can support in each tank, as well as how much the filtration system can handle. As of this time, Lincoln is concerned that we may have to put in a bead filter system (a better filter system). We will not know until we can get all the tanks loaded with fish. If we do have to do this, it will be expensive, but we think we can make it cash flow if we can purchase a used system.
We are consistently trying to save time and labor and our plans for next year will be to make a better siphoning tool to speed up that process. Cleaning the tanks consumes 75% of our labor time. Our goal is to cut the cleaning time by 20% to 30%. Another option we will be looking at is a different pellet size of our feed. We are currently using one size feed once they get in the grower room and we feel we may go to a bigger size which may cut down on waste, which will keep tanks a little cleaner. We have not found a pellet size with the right protein level but are still looking. [The staff at] Lincoln feels there is one out there, but we have not found it yet.
We have had no field days yet. We wanted to be familiar with our whole system before we had groups of people touring and asking questions. We are much more comfortable now and plan to have a field day sometime this spring (2007). We will work with Lincoln University and University of Missouri Extension in putting on and promoting our field day. We have showed several (50 to 75) people our operation, which were mostly local people. I have also given two talks, one at Missouri’s aquaculture annual meeting and one at the 2006 Farmers Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference. Our plans are to also have the local FFA chapter tour our facility.