I’m thrilled to report that the experiment is on track and functioning as intended. This crude set up performs well even when air temperatures fall into the single digits. My only concern at this point is that I do not have enough fish in the tanks. That is not a result of my setup but just plain poverty. The early winter weather forced us to focus our efforts on caring for the other livestock and we couldn’t continue stocking the tanks. We should have had several hundred fingerlings by now. Hopefully we can start stocking again after the holidays.
I have noticed that while the water flow is not impeded by the low air temperatures, the air pumps are very much affected by the cold. In commercial operations aeration is accomplished by means of mechanical agitation of some sort, impellers at the water surface, paddle wheels. Tank culture is usually done indoors or if outdoors then in warmer climates. Fortunately as the air temp falls the air density increases making up for at least some of the diminished air flow. I have a couple ideas on how to fix this problem but the best one is to put a hoop structure over the water conditioner and main tank. It would be impractical to try and cover all of the tanks because of the fairly steep slope of the ground. It should not be necessary though as most of the air injection is done before the water flows to the downhill tanks.
Another important aspect of air pumps is that they require much less energy to operate than rotating motors. If larger fish are relocated to the pond though, it would be necessary to add one of these motors there. This is an important point I may have failed to mention. Once the limits of the system are reach, it would still be possible to increase production rates by using the pond. The pond also serves as an emergency relief point should all else fail.
While pond culture is common, for us it is not the best option because harvesting there is a whole other process and is very labor intensive. We prefer to net the fish from the tanks as needed. Once the next phase begins this spring, I will be able to determine the actual number or pounds of fish that can be raised with the given water flow rate.
Once we secured the water source we had to determine how much water we had, the flow rate. For large scale commercial trout facilities the flow rate is very large, even thousands of gallons per minute. There are few places in America where that much clean, cold water is available for private use.
Many of us however can have access to smaller volumes of water, perhaps enough to produce fish in sufficient quantities for it to be self-supporting. A simplified analysis may look like this: $150 per month for electric to pump water and air; $100 per month for feed; $400 per month replacement stock. This simplified analysis assumes a up and running project and does not account for any capital investment like the cost of the well and raceway.
So $650 is the monthly cost to produce 400 fish for market. Another assumption is that the project has been running long enough to produce a marketable item, a 1.5 pound fish. If we sell 400 fish each month for $7.50 per pound then we net $3850 per month. More than enough to service any capital investment with some pocket change left over. OK let’s say my figures are suspect even though they are not that bad and we double our input costs to $1300 per month, still not too bad. At any rate, it seems to be self-supporting.
This project has brought together all my favorite sciences and opens up a lot of potential new avenues for any other agricultural engineering fans out there. A few came out to see my prototype; its already had an important modification and is growing trout. You will notice I am using a variation of the common raceway and tank culture systems. Both methods have advantages so why not bring them together. I am also experimenting with different off the shelf tank designs that are readily available for far less than those tanks sold specifically for aquaculture.
This blog will show how we are setting up our small aquaculture business; visit our website for more information. This isn’t our first attempt at raising fish but this time we are changing our expectations. Our target production rate is much lower now.
Rainbow trout is one of the finest foods you can get from fresh water! It’s not something that you can generally find at your local grocer here in Ohio and it is not imported from China.
As with pretty much all meat raised on small farms the biggest obstacle to retailing ones product is processing costs. This single problem is what thwarted our first two attempts at bringing fresh fish to our farmers market. Now we will just offer the fish whole.
Things are changing at a faster pace now and not for the good in spite of what the media has been tasked with telling us. It’s kind of like looking out the window watching the rain fall while the news caster tells you it is warm and sunny outside. It feels better to believe what you are being told because it is what you want to hear so you just draw the curtain and say yes it is a beautiful day. We recognize the changes coming and have adjusted our expectations accordingly. Raising and selling several hundred fish is now good enough! A profitable farm endeavor has given way to a sustainable one; we are now in survival mode.
A small farm is a very personal thing and cannot be duplicated but you can borrow from those components that fit with what you are doing. What’s important is the economics, does it work for you? That will be partly determined by what resources you have available. Since we are talking about trout, then the most important thing you will need is clean, cold water.
The best way to get this is to own land with a spring on it, the bigger the better. One reason I am writing this is there seems to be little out there in the way of raising small numbers of trout. I believe the reason is of course money. It is the answer to most questions. Is it possible to raise a few hundred trout a year so that is does not cost more than the value of the fish?
If you own an artesian spring then the answer is easy, yes. But for the rest of us is it possible? The first step is securing your water source and for us that meant a deep well.