Monday, December 14, 2015

Selling your tilapia

This is something you should think about before buying your fish. Who are you going to sell the tilapia to? There are several different options and today I would like to discuss some of these with you.
Here on our farm we use combination of these.

The first option is selling them yourself to individuals. Basically people come to you and want to buy a few fish, sometimes just one for dinner. Although both of you are cutting out the middleman and you can get a higher price for each fish, this is hassle. Catching one or two fish at a time is time consuming and as they say, “time is money”. This is still a viable option and often the other person may offer to help you. Be warned, they will be pickier than if they bought it from a store.

Another option is selling to a store. This is something we do on a weekly basis. We sell to a few corner shops. They usually require the fish for the weekend and like them to arrive Thursday or Friday. On average we sell between 25-40 kilos a week per shop. There are several small shops nearby and most of these sell fish. If this is something you plan to do, you will need a suitable vehicle for delivering these, especially if you deliver to more than one store. Although you will be quick in each store you go to, the fish should be kept cold or as cool as possible. Use large Styrofoam boxes with ice to keep the fish from going off.

The third option is selling to a middle man but smaller quantities. This too is something we do on a weekly basis. Our weekly local buyer, arrives early on a Saturday morning. We get the fish out of the lake, weighed and he is on his way. Because we try and support our local community, if he can't pay us upfront it isn't a problem, he sells the fish and then returns with the cash less his commission of course.

The last option we have used is selling to a large buyer. He sets a date, arrives with a truck loaded with ice and boxes. He also provides his team of men to prepare the fish. His men get the fish out of the lake, clean them, weigh them and then we are paid. This is a long day for everyone concerned but it means you are selling the bulk of your fish. The larger ones of course command the highest price per kilo. Our buyer paid more for anything over 800grams. The next size the pay was less and then the smallest ones less than 500 grams was less still.

Something which we haven't done is sell to a company for export to the USA. This, although profitable, isn't something we were interested in doing as all our fish were various sizes. Locally there was a tilapia farmer who looked into this and by the time he calculated the cost of the machinery he would need, and the fact that their restrictions were so tight, he too decided to pass.

These are just some of the options for selling tilapia, there are of course more and in future posts, we will be looking at even more.  

Friday, October 9, 2015

Killer Tilapia: Fact or Fiction

Sometimes you don't even want to read or listen to the news because there will be an attention grabbing headline that will make people change their eating habits, learn what is going to kill them or at least provide them with something to talk about over the water cooler at work.

The truth is most people read a headline, maybe scan the page and suddenly they know it all.

There has been a lot of mudslinging with regards to tilapia and one "expert" even suggested it was worse than bacon! Let me tell you, I eat tilapia and I also eat bacon. I suspect so does the journalist who wrote the article. They don't care about facts, they just want you to click on their page.

The world has gone crazy with regards to food. Tell me one food which hasn't been attacked and vilified, I don't think you can.

You can't eat the fruit and veg because they are genetically modified. Eggs the risk of salmonella, ocean caught fish have plastic in them.
So what are we left with All-bran and a eco- friendly vitamin pill on our plate?

Nope not for me. I plan to eat as I always have with a well balanced diet. Everything in moderation and choosing from a wide variety of meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables.

It has been stated in the media that tilapia isn't good for you for several reasons.

  • The commercial feed isn't healthy: Of course there are fish farmers who use a lesser quality of fish food. We use half fish food/ half duckweed. The fish food does contain genetically modified soy products but check your manufactures ingredient list. Remember fish is a good source of low fat protein. The beef and chicken are also fed on GM foods, unless you go to a specialist retailer who sells organic meats. The fish food will have protein which may be from chicken which has been retrieved by use of high pressure hoses. It is claimed that chicken excrement may also find its way into the mixture. I believe that is very possible. Here though I would also like to point to the fact that many foods we already consume are made from this 'goo or pink slime ' as it has been called, which is extracted this way. For example hot dogs lesser quality foods are using this. 

  • The use of antibiotics: Here on our farm, we have never used antibiotics. We know of some tilapia farmers who have though. This greatly increases the cost of rearing fish and if possible should be avoided. Keep your water clean, and reduce the numbers of fish to keep the growing environment healthy. Commercial farmers walk a tightrope between profit and loss. The general public never see this, they only want to hear the dirt about the farmers.

  • Pesticides in water: In some areas this could be a problem. Have your water tested if you are in an area where intensive agricultural farming or animal rearing is occurring. We don't have this problem where I live in Brazil and as a result our fish are stronger and healthier. If your water is contaminated with pesticides, calculate the cost of digging a deeper well after speaking to a someone from your water board. If you are reliant river runoff, see if you can determine where the pesticides originated from. If this has affected your farm adversely you could be able to file a complaint against them and may be in line for compensation. The legal road is a long one to take and is often hellishly expensive.

  • Farmed vs. wild caught: I hate this comparison because it immediately conjures up the wrong image. You have the image that some weathered and smiling fisherman  using a fishing pole is catching a salmon, just for you to enjoy. Wake up and smell the coffee! Your “wild caught salmon” is depleting the ocean's resources and is probably caught by a net which when snagged, is cut free and left. This then creates an unseen barrier for dolphins, whales and others.  Plus have you not read about all the garbage in the oceans? It is thought that ¼ of the fish caught off the Californian coast have consumed plastic. This is in the form of micro beads and other other types of plastic such as bags. California has now, thankfully  passed a bill  preventing micro beads from being used in cosmetics and other toiletries such as toothpastes. My point is, don't think that farmed fish is something to avoid. Weigh up the pros and cons before buying fish.
  •  Tilapia and inflammation: It has also been claimed that tilapia can cause problems for people with asthma, heart problems, and arthritis. This is due to the ratio of Omega 3 and Omega 6 in farm fed tilapia. If you suffer from any of these conditions, consult your doctor and explain your concerns. 
These are the main reasons why people have concerns over eating tilapia. For most people, it is a low cost food which can be enjoyed in so many different ways. The fact that kids are eating something other than tuna, and one which parents are happy to prepare will still keep tilapia at the forefront of everyone's weekly menu for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Is tilapia farming right for you?

The decision to become a tilapia farmer isn't one to be taken lightly. It is easy to think of fish as something other than livestock but livestock they are. You have to be committed, day in and day out until they are off to market or on your dinner plate.

With other animals there is a constant reminder as you see them on your farm or homestead. Because fish aren't usually seen until you are feeding them, it can be easy to think, “oh, I will feed them tomorrow.”

If you wouldn't treat you dog/cat like that, then don't treat your fish like that. 
There is an exception to this and that is delayed feeding which I have written about previously.

So back to the original question, is tilapia farming for you. You have to ask yourself some questions.
  • How many do you plan to raise. Is this for your own consumption or to sell?
  • Have you calculated how much it may cost you to feed the until they are ready? (use the chart)
  • How are you going to remove the build up of excrement from  the water?
  • Do you have measures in place to heat or cool the water if need be?
  • What is your intended time frame?
  • Where are you going to keep them?
  • Who is going to be responsible for the feeding and buying of food?
  • Who will be checking the water quality.
  • How will you harvest them.
  • If you plan to sell, who will buy them?
All of these need to be taken into consideration before you put your money on the line to purchase your fish. You might have the goal but you need to do some prep work first.
Getting these straight from the outset will save you headaches down the road. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Selecting and Using a Net

If your tilapia are free swimming in a lake or pond, netting will be the quickest option to catch them. You can of course use a fishing pole and reel if you are only planning to feed one and you feel lucky.

The size of net you will need will be dependent on the area you need to cover and the depth of your water and the size of the fish you are wanting to catch. 

The method we used was shown to us by locals here in Brazil They encircle the area, kicking the shallows to heard the fish to deeper water. They in essence corralling  the fish. The fish begin to panic, and when they swim away from you, they get caught in the net where they will stay until you remove them. The net should not be tight otherwise instead of the fish swimming into it, they bounce off as though it were a trampoline. 

The gauge of net has to be strong enough to catch the bigger fish. The spaces in the net or the openings need to be the correct size in order to catch them at the gills. You are not wanting to scoop the fish out, you are wanting them to get caught or embedded in the net. 

It is a good idea to have a variety of sizes of nets. We have about 5 different ones.

This will allow you to catch the big fish, and the others can stay and grow. 

There will of course be different sized fish caught in your net, but you can make the judgement call to keep them out or return them to the water. 

The easiest way to remove the fish is to put your thumb into the mouth and your index finger in through the gills. These are forming a ring. If you keep this secure, your fish won't be able to move. Use your other hand to pull the net off the tilapia. You will want to pull the net towards the tail otherwise it will get caught on the fins and scales. 
You may find that the tilapia has twisted itself in the net. When they are caught, they will often thrash about and become so tangled we have had no choice but to cut them free and repair the net afterwards.

Depending on the depth of the water you could pull them closer to the shore in order to remove them. This makes it much easier on you.  

One thing I would definitely suggest is wearing gloves! The mouth of the tilapia is serrated and removing one or two fish isn't a problem but after that the skin, which is soft from being in water,  will become very sore and red.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Which type of predators

The predators can be other fish or birds.

When we arrived at our home, our lake already was stocked with fish, some of these were predators which kept a balance. These included peacock bass, or as they call it here tocanare and also triara. Before we decided to start tilapia farming we use to catch the triara by using a piece of styrofoam with a hook and line attached. To this we would put a small fish as bait. We tossed these into the lake in the evening and in the morning, we had caught a triara. 

The birds can be problematic to control if you find they are taking your larger fish. Obviously those you don't want them to take and giant egrets will take amazingly large fish.
Some of the birds could be:
The cormorant is a diving bird which will be on the surface of the water and dive down for fish. These birds are notorious as they can decimate a lake of fish. We have only seen one here on our lake and he was encourage to leave.

The egret will wade into the water and stab at the fish. There are many different types and sizes of egrets. We have seen the smaller snowy egret work as a team herding small shoals of fish into the water's edge where they are easily plucked out. The giant egret prefers to work alone and in fact will often chase off others who want to encroach on its feeding ground.

The heron will wait at the shore for fish to come within striking distance. We have seen them using bait, namely fish pellets to lure a fish to the shore.

The last is the kingfisher. Here we have three different sized kingfishers and all hover above the water, spot their target, pull their wings back and with the accuracy of a missile plummet into the water, normally coming out with a fish. 

Depending on your circumstances and the size of your fish, you may wish to encourage or discourage the birds. If you have an over population problem then these will be a help. If your fish have just arrived and are small, then they are easily preyed upon and should be discouraged with nets, noise or other birds such as geese. We found when we had geese they were aggressive against other waterfowl.

Deformities in Tilapia

Deformities in tilapia

In fish farming it's important to think about the end user. If your fish are going to be fileted before the consumer sees them there is likely to be no problem. However if you are selling to restaurants which serve whole fish, you need to be producing not only heavy fish but also attractive ones. The consumer, doesn't want to know about what goes on at a fish farm just as they don't want to know where their beef, pork, chicken or lamb comes from.
The truth is in fish farming you get fish with deformities. It isn't that there is anything wrong with the quality but visually this could be a problem for the unsuspecting public.

So what causes this to happen?

When you buy multiple fish from a breeder it is likely you will have some with deformities due to breeding conditions, such as over crowding or even injuries which didn't heal correctly.
We noticed fish which had eyes missing. This could have happened due to the intensive breeding conditions.

We also had some which appeared to be a birth defect. This was evident in the lack of a dorsal fin. Perhaps, given a high volume of fish, there will always be this anomaly. If you are new to fish farming or farming in general, this can be quite disturbing to see. I can't say this impeded the development of these fish as they ate and swam as well as the others.

For us it didn't affect the value of our fish as we sold them by the kilo. If these were sold to restaurants, it could be that they would take only fish without any obvious abnormalities if they were to be served to their clients as whole fish.

Another thing I would like to mention here is specific to keeping fish in cages. The fish although they know they are caged, will swim into the sides. This leads to red mouths or contusions. This too doesn't affect resale value if selling by the kilo but yet again, doesn't look correct when eating at a restaurant.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Backyard tilapia farming.

It is easy to think that you need some sort of a big set up to raise tilapia with lakes, or big tanks but that isn't true. If you are wanting to raise tilapia for your own consumption there are other, smaller methods of doing it. 
Below is a video of such a set up in Florida. I can tell he has thought of potential problems, such as water quality, water temperature, algae growth and potential predators. He has found some very inventive ways to solve these problems. Tilapia farming, especially on a smaller scale needn't be expensive but it takes a creative, 'thinking outside the box'  mentality. Problem solving, I think, is an underrated skill.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The need for predators in tilapia farming

For some this may make no sense as to why one would want something to eat their fish, if they are trying to grow and raise them. I felt exactly the same way at first.

When you purchase your tilapia, the majority, and I am talking about 98-99% here will be male. The reason for this is they are given a hormone at the start of their life which can alter their sex. 1-2% doesn't seem like a lot of females but when you realize the amount of eggs a female can produce, and many of those will be females. you can see how the problem can escalate.

There are several reasons why you don't want breeding to occur. The first is you will have a population explosion. These fish will all be competing for food. As such none will grow to the intended size you had hoped for.

The second problem will be as the fish are breeding, they make holes (nests) along the edge and bottom. This will result in an uneven bottom making netting much more difficult. When the time comes to net the lake, the fish will be able to escape below the net using one of these holes.

Another problem which we were unaware of at first was the behavior of the fish. We netted some larger fish and put them in our tanks waiting for them to sell the following weekend. It was here where we saw behavior which would also be occurring in the lake, although unseen.

In tanks with a female, she would stay in a corner guarded by a male. The other fish would hover around waiting for their chance to be 'top male'. They were so interested in her, they weren't eating. Tilapia which aren't eating aren't gaining weight and aren't going to earn you money.

It is for the above reasons why you need predators if you have your fish swimming freely and don't sell all of them before breeding begins, which can be as early as 4 months

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fish theft on our tilapia farm

In this post I would like to discuss something which many people don't consider before entering fish farming. That is the potential of theft of your fish. Just as people steal herds of cows so too can they steal fish. I touched on this subject in an earlier blog post and today, I would like to tell you about our experience with it and what we have done to rectify this problem.

It is easy to think that fish won't be stolen, after all they have a very short life outside of the water, unlike land based animals. It still occurs and because the fish are out of your view, if they are in a lake or in cages in a lake, you won't know they have been stolen until it is time to harvest and your numbers, are way down. In that sense it is a perfect crime waiting to happen because the owner may not even know if there are fish missing.

We only discovered we were being robbed when the thief left his flip flops behind. Here in Brazil everyone wears Havaianas (a popular brand of flip flops). My husband brought these back to the house and said, “you left your flip flops out by the lake.”
To this I replied, “those aren't mine!”

It was at that point we knew someone had been in here at night. When we looked at where my husband found the sandals we could see drag marks across the grass to the corner of our property. The thief had filled bags full of fish and dragged them to his bicycle which was waiting in the shadows of the road.

We telephoned the police and they arrived but of course there was nothing they could do. They did tell us that what we do on our property to secure it and our business is down to us. (within reason of course)
We have dogs but we found that the thief had been feeding the dog which was loose at the time to keep it quiet. We saw margarine tubs and bags. Because people in this area burn their own trash, we had assumed these had blown in. We were wrong.

When I look back now at how easy we made it for someone to steal our fish, I am angry with myself as well as the thief.

Our lake was surrounded by tall reeds making this an ideal hiding place. We also had long grass growing near our fence which obscured our vision of the property line. 

We knew that the fish would have to be sold the following morning and knew that it would be a Thursday or Friday night the thief would return.

My husband cut down the long grass near the fence. Cutting the reeds was going to be a mammoth task so in the short time we had (one week) we decided to place broken glass in the area he had walked in and out of the lake. This is something which many of the walls have cemented across the tops to prevent someone climbing over them.

Wearing camouflage clothing my husband waited up on the outside terrace for him to return. If he came in, again he wasn't going to be leaving in the same condition. Armed with a piece of hardwood the length of a baseball bat, my husband watched and waited. I joined him on the front terrace sitting in the dark waiting. Just before 1am we saw a bicycle approach. We are the last house on our dead end lane and anyone who is there, shouldn't be. Because our eyes had adjusted to the darkness we could see him moving in the shadows. This was about 150meters away.
I don't mind telling you my heart was beating like crazy and my palms were sweating. My husband is in his mid 60s and an amputee but he had already worked out his route to approach him from behind. This thief wasn't going to be leaving without some serious damage. First was going to be the knee caps, the head, and then the body. He was going to be made an example of!

If this sounds extreme, wait until you are put in this position. We are not like the typical foreigners who come to Brazil. Most have full time housekeepers, and gardeners. We have neither and we work harder than anyone I know.
Here in rural Brazil, there is an uneducated percentage of the population which thinks if you are a foreigner, you are rich and it is okay to steal from you. The anger I still feel about this incident, although several years has passed, is still there. I would have had no qualms seeing my husband inflict repeated blows to this man.

Because we had cut the grass near the fence, I believe the thief knew we were on to him and rode away.

Making changes
We have made some changes since that incident including improvements to the fence. We have several runs of barbed wire on reinforced concrete. This is okay until someone brings a pair of pliers and cuts the wire. Still it is a visual reminder.

Better watchdogs. Although we had two mutts we added to this with a Brazilian mastiff. These dogs, although gentle with their owners can bring a man down with their sheer size. The downside with dogs is people here poison them by throwing tainted meat over the fence. This is what I have been told although it has never happened to us.Here in Brazil, as long as you have a sign up warning people you have a dog, you face no problems if your dog injures or kills someone who enters without your permission.

Better lighting around the property. Thieves like the cover of darkness. Adding lights also helps neighbors and their dogs to keep a watch out for people on your property.

Cutting of the reeds. This was a huge job and we did hire someone in to help us. Although we love to see the reeds and enjoy the privacy they provide, they allowed the thief to hide in them.

Obstructions:At the time we had fish in cages and in swimming free in the lake. To ensure no fishing with a net could take place we submerged large tree branches. This would snag any net being used.

Better cage security:We also securely tied the tops of the cages down. It has been known that some thieves will cut the plastic below the water line and put a bag over the opening. The fish swim out of the cage and into the bag.

We also changed the lights in the house and put some on a timer switch. If someone thought people were still awake, they would be less likely to enter. 

We have not had a problem since this occured.
 I have read that in some areas of the Far East they will have someone sleep on a platform near the fish cages to prevent theft. 
I am aware of large shrimp farms near here which hire armed guards to protect their livestock. There are always options available which need to be weighed up which is best for your situation.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The cost of electricity

For many people this could be the making or breaking of a profitable tilapia business. The cost of your electricity is something which needs to be taken into consideration before embarking into the fish business.
The electricity usage would come from a few different avenues.
  • Aeration
  • heating of water
  • water pumps
  • security lighting

The aeration, if you are using, can be costly and this would have to be weighed off against the increase in the number of fish you can rear with using it. Some people we know only used their aeration systems over night. We used ours 24/7.

The heating of the water is something you may have to consider depending on where you live. This isn't always necessary as tilapia are hardy fish and can take temperatures as low as 45ºF (7ºC). Although that means your fish might survive it doesn't mean they will thrive. Remember you are in this business to make money and that means you want to spend as little as possible to make maximum profit. If your fish are using their energy (provided by the food you are feeding them) to keep warm, they aren't using those calories to grow.

Water which is naturally warmed by the sun is best for your pocket.
This is one of the reasons why Brazil, where I live, is perfect for raising tilapia, we never have to heat the water.

In saying that, if we were pumping straight out of the ground into tanks, it is cooler and would affect production and profitability.

That brings me to the next item on the list. If you are moving water from one lake to another or continually adding fresh water you will be using some sort of pump. There are many types available. To know which is best for your set up, it is worth speaking to an adviser who sells them. They will be able to tell you the volume of water each pump can move through the various pipes. This is also dependent on the depth of your well. 

Security lighting around your farm is necessary. You have a valuable and easily removable crop and lights are necessary. There is also the added benefit that these lights attract insects which fall into the water. An additional ( and free) protein source for your fish. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Cages for fish rearing

Here on our tilapia farm we have three different types of cages. There are several materials which you can use to make the structure with and also those which form the netting of the cage itself. You can buy them ready made on places such as Ebay or you can make them yourself.

We bought ours used, and did a few repairs to them to get them ready for the fish.

Our cages which are 3m x 2m are on aluminum frames and the cage itself is plastic coated wire. This has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is it is lightweight. When you are moving or lifting it , once filled with fish any extra weight just makes your job more difficult.
The metal cages could take fish beginning at 50grams, any smaller and they could swim out through the space between the chainlink.

tilapia cage

The other type we have is heavy duty plastic on a wooden frame. These are 2m x2m and are heavy.This is due mainly to the frame as all the wood here in Brazil is hardwood. Yes the wood will last virtually forever but it is heavy. The plastic netting is very strong and the gaps are smaller which allowed us to buy smaller (less expensive) fish. When using the plastic cages, we could buy fish which were 30grams.

The third type which we bought, we didn't use as, although it was lightweight, it was cumbersome. This was made out of pvc pipe and was rigid.

The truth is you can make the size you want or need using most anything.
The 3m x2m has the capacity to hold 900 fish and the 2m x2m can hold 600. We always kept the amount less than this as we didn't want to stress the fish.

To keep it afloat we had a welder make small baskets into which we put empty plastic bottles. These had originally held industrial cleaning products but once empty were sold off for various uses. If you use this idea, be aware that after a time in the sun, the plastic does become brittle. It is always a good idea to have spares around, otherwise your fish could escape as the cage would sink on the side where your container has filled with water.

It is also necessary to have a lid on your cage for a couple reasons.
  1. Fish can jump out.
  2. To keep fish eating birds out. This includes herons, egrets, cormorants etc
  3. To keep birds from eating the fish food.

Along the top edge of the cage you will also need to put a fine mesh. This should be tied down to the cage. This keeps the fish food from floating out before the fish eat it. 

Sometimes you may notice the tilapia have red or bleeding mouths when raised in a cage. This is from hitting the side of the cage, trying to get out. This however never affected resale value as we sold by the kilo. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to build duckweed ponds

Here on our farm we built 5 duckweed ponds after reading about this fabulous plant. We had not seen this plant growing locally but luckily a friend of ours, found some in a pond in the mountains near here. He brought us two types, on with smaller leaves and one with larger. He was studing botany and told us the smaller leaf variety did better in a shady spot and he was right as our ponds were in the full glare of the sun and it was the larger leafed variety which grew well in our conditions.
View across duckweed ponds

We hired a backhoe and a driver to dig our lakes which were 30 m long by 2 m wide (98' x 6.5'). We then put clay down and lined them with a plastic liner. These are shallow, only about 2' deep.
Clay lined duckweed pond

 As you can see these take a bit of organising but in the end, they aren't that difficult to create. If you were to build them there are a few things to keep in mind.
The liner is crucial. Here we had to take several things into consideration.
  • Ability to cope in extreme UV conditions. (we have over 300 days of sun a year and more often than not our level of UV (Ultraviolet light) is in the extreme category. Your local weather forecast can help you determine what your UV index is for your area. 
  • Non-leaching. We had to make sure that no toxic or unpleasant chemicals would leach into the water which could cause problems for the duckweed and subsequently the fish.
  • Robust. We had to have a strong plastic liner. Often bits of twigs might end up in there. Also we have chickens. We needed something that was tough enough to resist being damaged.
Various stage of completion
We first lined ours with clay as you can see in the pictures. This was delivered and we spread it manually and flattened it down to prevent any pebbles from damaging the liner. The reason we used clay is if any water were to seep out from the liner, it would be a slow leak. We have sandy soil here and it sucks up water better than a sponge, hence our need for clay.
Overflow system for duckweed ponds
Because this was only designed by us, we had to solve problems as we went. What you see pictured above is the ingenious (and cheap) solution my husband came up with. The problem was, we needed an overflow system for water to run out if the ponds got too full. We can get heavy downpours in our wet season which would have sent our duckweed up and over the edge in a rainstorm. We could have lost it all if that happened. Remember, duckweed is a floating plant, it isn't rooted into anything.

My husband place plastic pipes from one lake to the other. Then to keep the duckweed in and allow the water to flow out, he simply cut the bottom off a 2 liter soft drink bottle and insert this onto the plastic pipe. The excess water would escape and the duckweed would stay in the pond.  Sometimes the solutions to problems are easier than we think.

We started these ponds with just a few duckweed plants and yet you can see how quickly and how full they became. It can double itself in about 16 hours!

Feeding your Duckweed Pond
You will need to help your duckweed to grow by adding manure. We used chicken manure which a friend of ours sells. He buys it in from a factory farm and it is extemely strong. My husband would half fill a plastic trash can with manure and add water to soften it. This he would then throw into the duckweed ponds with a bucket. This ensured it was spread throughout the pond. If you have put enough manure in, you will see a growth spurt. If you don't, look at the roots of the duckweed plant to see how long they are. If they are long, perhaps more than 2 inches, you need more manure. Duckweed loves mucky water. Infact there are countries, Palestine for example, which use duckweed to clean their water supply. It is one plant which has so many uses. For more information about some of the other uses, I have written another article on Hubpages.

Cleaning your duckweed pond

I know what you are thinking, that this is going to be difficult but it isn't and it is necessary from time to time. If your duckweed seems to be slowing down with its reproduction it might be time to change the water and start again. We had to do this when we had a build up of sawdust in our ponds. This came in with the manure as this is what was used on the floor where the chickens were kept.
There are a couple of ways to do this, either let the water evaporate or drain it with a bilge pump, or a siphon. If you are going to be siphoning this, using your mouth to start the flow of water, remember how much manure you have been putting in there.

Remember keep some duckweed as a starter  

This starter can be kept alive in water until your pond is ready to go again. Once dry, sweep and remove any twigs, leaves or other debris from your pond. This is a good time to inspect your liner below the water line.

Havesting your duckweed

Harvesting is easy. We used a swimming pool net on an extendable aluminum pole. We briefly let the water drain from the net and then turned the duckweed into a large plastic box. We filled this full. This was then loaded onto our kayak  to take to the tilapia which we had transfered to cages.
Because we were harvesting every other day we were able to check the liner for any problems above the water line as a matter of course. A quick once over as we were scooping it out meant any problems were dealt with early and were thus easier to control.

Cost vs Savings

The cost for us was perhaps more than it would be for yourselves as we had to hire a machine to dig the holes for us. But compare this to the savings. If you calculate that your fish are only eating commercial fish food every other day, you have halved your food bill. If you only have a small number of fish, maybe this isn't commercially viable. We had bought 10,000 and had it definitely made financial sense to do this.
We produce healthy, weighty fish at half the cost of other fish farmers in this area.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Types of aeration for your tilapia farm.

There are various forms of aeration you can use on your tilapia or other fish farm. Some of these are more costly than others, and some more efficient than others.Let's discuss these.

Here on our farm we used three types of aeration. The first is natural wind. This is by far the cheapest and easiest. Where we live in the northeast of Brazil, it is windy a good portion of the year. This always causes ripples in our lakes. Any time the surface of the water is moved or disturbed, air is getting into the water. This is suitable if you don't have many fish and a constant wind. In many places the wind is decreased at night. This is what happened here. We would wake to find our fish gasping for air on the surface. Trust me when I tell you, this is a depressing sight. The lack of air in the water is also increased if there is algae in your lake as this consumes oxygen overnight, thus depleting the oxygen available for your fish.

The second method we used was floating aeration systems. Depending on the depth of your lake, there are various models you can buy. Some need to be in at least 1.5 meters of water. It sucks water up from the bottom and throws it out the top. It is like a big fountain. We left ours on 24 hours a day, although I know some who only turn it on at night. It is worth bearing in mind the cost of your electricity. We benefit from a rural electricity rate and the cost was low to run these machines. We secured ours by running lines from one site of the lake to the other.

Another type of floating aerator is one with paddles. This can be used in shallower water, and this breaks the surface of the water with paddles. Like a paddleboat, as it digs down into the water air is being forced in.

Another type we used in our tanks, was a blower which was connected to several bubblers. Ours was actually a commercial vacuum which sucks on one side and blows on the other. We also used a compressor. These were connected through flexible hose to bubblers or disk aerators which we suspended about two feet into our tanks. These can also be used in a lake, however the pressure to push the air down to a depth you require may be too great. It is also worth mentioning here, the size of the bubbles produced is critical as that will determine the amount of oxygen being delivered in the water.

One problem we had was how to sink the hose and to keep it from kinking on its way to the disk aerators. We decided to use small lead weights which are used for diving, these we attached with plastic coated wire. Some times the solution to a problem isn't costly, it just needs to work.

There are also windmills which can be used. These move the water by sucking it up and returning it to the lake. This would be a good option if there isn't electricity available but have a steady wind. .

Sunday, May 17, 2015

How to Save Money on Your Tilapia Farm

Once you have your fish and your aeration (if using) sorted, the biggest expense is the food. There are things you can do to keep the costs down. It is these, I would like to discuss today.

Delayed feeding. This is a hard one for people to get their heads around, especially if your are dealing with your first lot of fish. The idea behind this is your young fish will eat the algae in your pond or lake. If you have your fish in a cage or in tanks, this isn't an option for you. This is for free swimming fish in a mature lake where there is plant life and algae growing.

It is worth mentioning at this point that in many areas tilapia are put into canals and rivers to help clean them and also keep the mosquito population down. In some parts of Asia, they will put the fish in the rice fields, which are flooded. When the rice is ready to harvest the tilapia are also harvested. These fish in the wild would find food, so don't think they will starve if you delay their feeding.

For commercial growing however it is worth noting that the faster they get to a saleable weight the faster you get paid. If you delay their feeding for the first month you will save quite a bit of money. There will be a reduction of weight compared to those which have been fed from the first day but not a large difference, about 10%. If you have a mature lake and enough water, this is an excellent option to try.

The second method is to feed every other day. Just as in humans the metabolism changes to the amount of food being provided. This is something we did in our second year with excellent results.

Although we fed our fish every other day. On the days we didn't feed them commercial fish food, we fed them duckweed. This reduced our food bill by half, a huge savings.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Different methods of tilapia farming

Here in Brazil, I have seen many different methods of farming tilapia so when someone tells you there is only one way, they are wrong.

The things which are necessary are water (of course), air (either natural or generated), and food. The health of your fish and the profitability of your business will be determined by those 3 factors and the quality of each of these things.

One couple in the village where we live, began their business in a roundabout fashion. They have a lovely home and small grounds. What they do have is a small stream which flows from the dunes down towards the sea. They dug out an area, about 15 feet across, laid cement and presto they had a lake/pond. The water was allowed to continue flow through of course. Into this they put their tilapia. In the center of the pond they had a aerator for the fish. They had a beautiful wooden deck surrounding the pool of water so you could see the fish. Their grounds also have picnic tables, a swimming pool and grassy areas.

They had started this as a 'fish and pay'. People, families in the main, would come and fish for fun, and when they caught a tilapia they would pay. I still think this is a great idea although in this area, it wasn't as successful as it would be in other areas.
Undeterred, this couple changed their plans. They continued to raise tilapia but found it more profitable to sell their fish to restaurants. They are one of the few people who allow their fish to grow big. The restaurants he sold them to wanted the fish at 2 kilos.

This couple also built a fully tiled kitchen prep area within their grounds. In here they prepared fish balls and other small appetizers which are frozen and then sold to the local stores. The advantage of this set up is everything is compact and easily managed. The running water is free from the dunes behind their house. The disadvantages are they are reliant on this water. If this dried up they would have to dig a well and pump it themselves. This isn't a big cost here, though. Because of the fish density and the time needed to grow their fish to 2 kilos, there is the potential for a disease which could wipe out their entire stock. There is also only one pay out which needs to last until the next harvest.

Another local tilapia farm has a completely different method. At this farm they had several shallow lakes, about 1.5 meters deep, spread across their land. In the center of each lake they had fixed aeration. They also had a small amount of water which flowed from one lake to another so they had a change of water. This was run by a couple of workers who lived on the grounds and the owner lived in the city and visited occasionally . They raised their fish to approx 450-500grams only. Then the lake was netted and the fish were sold. The reason for this is tilapia will begin to breed which causes problems to the profitability of your farm. Although the fish are relatively small when sold, they go to the local shops and to restaurants which make them into a casserole when the fish is cut up as opposed to serving someone a whole filet. At this farm we noticed they had netting stretched across the top. This was to discourage egrets, herons, and cormorants from eating the fish. Once their lakes were netted, the lake was drained and cleaned. These lakes are lined with compacted clay and once the water has drained or evaporated away the fish shit is scraped off and removed. Theirs is a year round business as they always have fish of different ages so they can provide a continuous supply. The advantage of this set up is there is a continuous supply and a continuing payout. The disadvantages are: The initial costs include the digging of the lakes and investment in the equipment for aeration, and considerable pumps to constantly move water around. This coupled with the employment of at least two people.

The next farm was some distance away and it is where we bought our used fish cages which we used for our second year of fish farming. This gentleman worked his business primarily on his own. He didn't own a body of water he merely put his fish in cages in a river. To feed these he used a row boat which took about 10 minutes to row out to the cages as they were secured in the center of this wide river. This way of tilapia farming has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is the initial investment was small. All he had to buy was his cages, fish and food. And a row boat of course. The disadvantage is the potential of theft. A person wouldn't know if fish had been taken until either no fish came to the surface to feed or at harvest time when you realize your numbers are way down. This man knew many of the families who lived near this body of water and they all watched out for each other. We asked him if he was concerned about this and he had made it clear to people of the serious consequences of stealing from him. Here in Brazil people take action themselves and don't always rely on the police and the judicial system.

The system we used the first year had its advantages and disadvantages as well. There was a low start up cost because we already had the lake so we just needed to buy fish and food. Although we live in an area know for its wind we still needed to increase the aeration in our lakes. We bought two surface aerators. These were sufficient for our needs. The disadvantage was the harvesting of the fish. Because they had to be netted. Being novices to this we assumed the buyer would do this. In the end, everyone was doing it. Although not as we had planned, our harvest was spread across two days and we had the workers sleeping in hammocks over night here. We knew we had to become more organized and so we went and bought some used cages.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Water, Air, Food and Fish. The 4 Key Ingredients to Fish Farming

As I have stated in a previous blog post, the 4 key factors for rearing tilapia are water, air, food and good stock. If one of these isn't right, you have a lesser quality fish or perhaps dead fish. Let's look briefly at each of these items.


Firstly is the species and the quality of the fish. We raised Nile tilapia which are the most popular for a few different reasons. These grow fast, are hardy, and start breeding at 4-5 months. You should source your fish from reputable tilapia suppliers who have given their fry hormones to alter the sex to males. This will be done before you receive them. The suppliers can't guarantee 100% males but the ratio is much higher with the hormone. Male tilapia grow faster and are therefore the preferred sex to have as stock.

Water and the quality of the water.

Tilapia although a freshwater or sweet water fish can tolerate some brackish water. I know of one farm here who's water turns brackish as the sea comes up the river at high tide. This is useful because it will help clear the fish shit out to sea. The external color of tilapia will darken with the presence of salt in the water.

Other considerations regarding water is the depth, temperature and the Ph balance of it.

Regarding depth tilapia can live in virtually no water. I have seen them wallowing in a muddy pool only a few inches deep. This of course is not a good condition for your fish to be in. Aim to have a depth of at least a meter and a half. Depending on the number of fish you plan to raise there should be some way of moving water to reduce the risk of algae. The greater the number of fish the more air you will need and the more likely you are to have algae as a result of the fish poop which algae loves. Discussing algae will be covered in a later post. There are good and bad reasons to have it.

Temperature is also something you need to keep an eye on. Depending where you live you may need to heat the water. Tilapia are pretty tolerant fish and can take quite high temperatures but of course for maximum growing you want optimum conditions. (or at least as close as you can get).

Air for fish farming

Air might not seem like an important ingredient in raising fish, after all they aren't air breathing. When you see your fish on the surface gasping for air, you will realize they do. We thought we had enough air in the water because we have a strong wind. Where we live in northeastern Brazil is known for its kite surfing because of the wind for many months. During the day the wind would blow and the fish were fine. At night the wind would reduce and this put undue stress on the fish.

This wasn't only because of the reduction in wind however. During the day, algae produces oxygen but during the night it consumes it. To ensure our fish would not only survive but thrive until harvest time, we bought two aerators. The type we bought floated on the surface and sucked water from beneath throwing it like a fountain into the air. We held these in place with line strung from one side to the other. Their are other systems in place for pond, lake, tank or even river aeration. This is a decision which shouldn't be taken lightly as the welfare of your fish depend on it.

Tilapia Food

For maximum growth in the shortest amount of time, purchase commercially prepared food. It will have all the ingredients necessary to encourage growth for the age of your fish. The fish pellets we used contained soya products which are from genetically modified strains. Brazil has crops of soya and maize which are GM. If you are concerned about this it may be possible to source GM free fish foods. Although we bought the type recommended, from a local factory it is possible to buy a 'carnivore' type. This apparently has a higher protein content which is what makes the fish grow. One of the farmers I have mentioned earlier bought this type. The factory we used was called Guabi and I believe they sell throughout South America.

After your intital purchase of fish and equipment, the food will be your biggest cost. If you are harvesting only once a year, you need to ensure you have enough capital to buy the fish food until they are ready to be harvested. Depending on the number of fish you plan to raise and how big you want to harvest them at, you are likely looking at several thousands of dollars (or whatever currency you work in.). We found that people who started this business didn't take into account the high cost of food when they bought their fish. It is also the reason some people have to sell the fish before they are 'market ready' , they have simply run out of money and can no long afford to feed them.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How to Feed Tilapia

If your tilapia are free swimming in a lake as ours were I would like to tell you how we fed them. In future posts I will tell you about the other ways of rearing tilapia such as in tanks, cages. Here though this is specifically about feeding in a closed lake.

Begin by weighing out the correct amount of tilapia food. Depending on the age, as determined from the feeding chart. This can be done with a simple kitchen scale. Correct food amounts are important for two reasons.

1. you don't want to underfeed them. This would of course would slow down the growth of your fish.

2. If you overfeed them, the food and money will be wasted. This not only causes problems to your budget but also your lake.

We found simply standing at the edge and throwing it in worked best for us. We found using an old ice cream tub worked well. We tended to spread the food in a wide arc to ensure the food covered a wide area. You will notice the fish, will be waiting for you to arrive. They know their feeding times.

As they come to the surface it is encouraging to see them eagerly eating. It is also a good opportunity to see the speed at which they are growing.

There are companies which make devices which catapult the feed into the lake. We didn't find this to be necessary however if you have a large lake or more fish, this could be an option for you.

One thing to keep in mind is you may get other animals eating your fish food when you feed your fish. We had geese at the time and they stormed in to help themselves to the floating fish food. As much as I liked having geese, this behavior wasn't acceptable and in the end we sold them.

When we moved to rearing our fish in cages, we found moor hens would help themselves to the food. This proved more difficult to control. One of the topics I will be discussing in future posts is the wildlife which you may see and the pros and cons of them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Storing Tilapia Food

Correct storage of tilapia feed is critical. You don't want to run out but you also don't want to store too much. There are a few reasons for this. Like anything the commercial fish foods have a expiry date. Obviously opt for sacks with the longest date possible. Also, as mentioned previously opt for specially prepared food which is suitable for the age of your fish. This will result in the best growth rate possible.

The tilapia food we bought came in sacks weighing 25 kilos. Now neither myself nor my husband are spring chickens but between us we managed to moved them. We just carried them but if you are going to move them any great distance, consider using a wheelbarrow. Here in Brazil, it is not uncommon to see men carrying this weight on top of their heads! I have even seen someone deliver a refrigerator by carrying it on their head. Sorry, I am going off topic, a bit.

The food should be stored somewhere dry and well vented. It also should be raised off the floor. Using pallets is ideal for this. It is also a good idea to put down poison for rats and possibly some cockroach bait boxes. You will be spending a lot of money on fish food, so protect it from animal or pest infestation.

It is a good idea to keep the area swept clean so you can see any droppings left by pests.

As with anything which has a shelf life, always rotate your stock so you are using the oldest first.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Growth Rate in Tilapia

After the arrival of the fish we were committed and were now fish farmers. Although feeding isn't recommended for a couple of days after arrival we went and bought food to ensure we were ready to start feeding when the time was right. 

As I have said, the factory is only a short drive and we have a VW Kombi so we could collect it. This made it easier as we had no delivery charge and we knew we could always get it when we needed it. It also meant I wouldn't be sitting on too much at one time.

The food for tilapia is in pellets. These vary in size depending on the age of the fish. They also vary in nutrition as well. That is one of the reasons I don't suggest buying just any fish food. The requirements of the fish vary at different stages of their life. Towards the end of their growing they are given ingredients to fatten them up.

Tilapia are a fast growing fish and with the correct nutrition, can increase their weight by 3 grams a day. 

The chart on the previous post shows the correct amount for each stage of the growing period.

Feeding Chart for tilapia

 Size of feed pellets Weight of fish (grams) Age of tilapia (weeks) Number of feeds per day Daily amount per 1000 fish
Powder 0.5-2 112225g
Powder 2-3.5210440g
Powder 3.5-5310680g
1.7mm 5-749600g
1.7mm 7-1258760g
1.7mm 12-20671.1kgs
2-4 mm 20-30 751.5kgs
2-4 mm 30-50 852.0kgs
2-4 mm 50-75 953.1kgs
2-4 mm 75-100 1054.4kgs
4-6mm 100-115 1144.8kgs
4-6mm 115-140 1245.7kgs
4-6mm 140-170 1346.2kgs
4-6mm 170-200 1447.4 kgs
6-8mm 200-240 1538.8 kgs
6-8mm 240-280 1639.1kgs
6-8mm 280-325 17310.6kgs
6-8mm 325-370 18312.2kgs
6-8mm 370-420 19311.9kgs
6-8mm 420-475 20313.4kgs
6-8mm 475-535 21312.6kgs
6-8mm 535-595 22311.3kgs
6-8mm 595-660 23312.6kgs
6-8mm 660-725 24313.9kgs
6-8mm 725-795 25311.4kgs
6-8mm 795-870 26312.5kgs
6-8mm 870-945 27313.6kgs
6-8mm 945-1025 28314.8kgs
6-8mm 1025-1110 29316kgs
6-8mm 1110-1200 30311.6kgs

Getting Advice on Quantity of Tilapia

When we started mentioning to people we knew that we wanted to start raising fish, everyone was an expert. They of course had never raise tilapia other than perhaps for their own consumption. Their idea was to put the fish in there and basically throw in whatever you wanted to feed them. They would throw in bread, rice, whatever was left over. We might not have raised fish before but we knew this advice was nonsense.

Luckily for us, the company which manufactures fish food is about 15 minutes up the road from where we live. They have a representative who came out to see our set up and discuss our options. We also were taken to another tilapia farm near-by whose workers were very helpful. When the man arrived we were told we could put 2,500 fish in our lake in front of our house. That was without additional aeration. Our lake is approx 50m X 50m and at the time was 7' deep.

 We got the telephone number of the company which sells fish and placed our order. We bought 2,500 tilapia weighing 30g each. These arrived in aerated tanks on the back of a truck. The truck changed the water with water from our outside hose. After that the tilapia were unceremoniously scooped out into crates and tipped into the lake. Our lake already had fish in it. Although we had netted it, it is almost impossible to remove all the fish in a lake. Some had been bought and others arrived on birds feet as eggs, it was a always a surprise when we fished it, what we pulled out. We did have two types of predator fish in the lake. The peacock bass and a fish called a triara. I will be talking about the need for predators in future blog posts.

 As our new fish were being tipped into the lake, the bass and triara were gobbling up as many as they could. It was like a feeding frenzy and was hard to watch our money being gobbled up right in front of our eyes. With the tilapia, as I imagine is the case with vast numbers of livestock, a 10% rate of mortality is expected. This could be weaker stock which couldn't take the moving or possibly shock of the new environment. Over the next few days, we had what seem to be a lot floating to the surface.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Why We Became Tilapia Farmers

Hi, My name is Mary and together with my husband we run a tilapia farm here in Brazil. Through this blog I would like to tell you how we have done it and also how other tilapia farmers here in Brazil operate their farms.

Perhaps you have considered starting your own fish farm and wondered if it is possible without experience. The answer to that is a resounding Yes! My husband and I had no experience in fish farming yet we were able to rear, sell, and profit by this. That isn't to say every decision we made was perfect they weren't. We read a lot on the internet and listened to ideas of other local fish farmers.

Sometimes though, you can analyze an idea to death and not get anywhere. We jumped in feet first, got some advice regarding quantity of fish, and ordered our first fish. I will be discussing more about quantity of fish for lake size in future blog posts.
I first would like to tell you how and why we started raising tilapia. In fact, before arriving in Brazil in 2009, I had never even heard of the fish as it wasn't sold in the UK for consumption. My husband knew the fish but only as a tropical fish for aquariums.

When we decided to move to Brazil, our idea was to run a small guesthouse for kitesurfers and other tourists who would wanted low cost accommodation. We came with drawings of our potential guest chalets which had been prepared for us in the UK. Our land here is 3.5 hectares, about 8 acres so we had plenty of space for these chalets.

Upon arriving we were thrilled at the space, the climate, and the abundant wildlife right on our doorstep. Unfortunately our little piece of paradise was quickly darkened. After being here just 12 days we were robbed in our home. Three masked men attacked us in the early evening. My husband saw them rushing at him and managed to hit one of them with a Maglite flashlight right on his temple. As they knocked my husband off the back step he fell about a meter to the ground. My husband is a below knee amputee and when he fell, his prosthetic leg came off. One of the thieves, put his knee on my husband's neck to hold him down and put a gun to his temple. The second of the three came in, grabbed a knife and held it to my throat whilst the third ran through the house looking for valuables.

Having just arrived with little more than a couple of suitcases, we didn't have much. What they did take was my husband's camera equipment, our passports, and car documentation. You cannot believe the hassle this caused us. Although the loss of these things cost us a lot of time, money and emotional stress, the biggest problem was we didn't feel safe and we felt like victims. If something like this has never happened to you, it is hard to explain the constant nagging fear of it happening again. I went to sleep with a crow bar, and a knife under the bed. If a dog barked I was at window at night looking out. After putting bars on the doors and windows, several kilometers of barbed wire fencing, security lights around the house and getting dogs we felt we did as much as we could.

It was because of this we changed our plans regarding building the chalets. How could we possibly keep tourists safe if we couldn't keep ourselves safe? I think we were both suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome after having arrived from England where even the police don't carry guns. We spent the late afternoon fishing in the lake in front of our house. I think this helped us recover some normality in our lives. We knew we had to earn an income but we didn't know from what.

One of our neighbors suggested netting our lake and selling the fish. We didn't have the slightest idea who to contact to do this, where to sell them or what we should ask for them. A man we had helping us with our gardening said he could organize it. He contacted a man he knew and they began pulling the fish out.
Seeing the amount of fish coming out, I thought to myself there is no way they could sell that many and keep the others fresh whilst doing so. As we didn't have scales, my husband went with the other men to the local shops. We had agreed we would get paid R$3.50 a kilo.

My husband arrived home about 20 minutes later with cash in hand. Every store they went to wanted what we were selling. It was at that point we knew what we were going to do as a business.