Cover imagery Cement vs Earthen Ponds

When I started my catfish farming business, I had to make an important decision: should I use cement or earthen ponds? At first, I chose a cement pond due to its reputation for offering a controlled environment and being durable. However, as my business grew and changed, I switched to earthen ponds. In this post, I want to share my personal experiences with both types of ponds, including practical aspects and nuances that could affect your aquaculture decisions (Cement vs. Earthen Catfish Ponds).

What is Concrete Cement Catfish Farming?

 Concrete Cement fishes inside water


Concrete cement catfish farming involves growing catfish in cement ponds instead of natural bodies of water or earthen ponds. These cement structures, often rectangular or square, are tailored to fit the size of the farming operation. The popularity of cement ponds in aquaculture is rising due to their efficiency and the increasing demand for fish protein.

Why I Settled for Cement Ponds Initially:

My journey as an entrepreneur did not begin with fishery farming. However, after running a customised sweatshirt business in school and freelancing after graduation, I turned to fish farming. My mother’s success inspired this decision in scaling her poultry farm and the achievement of a local earthen pond farmer near my house. I was encouraged by my family to venture into catfish farming and decided to construct a 500-square-meter cement pond at the front of our home.

This decision was strategic, as a cement pond was a better option for beginners in catfish farming. If there was a huge loss, our costs of setting it up would be reduced compared to renting an earthen pond. We also had the cement pond to ourselves, and it could be converted into other things. Additionally, it offered a high level of control over environmental variables such as water quality and temperature.

Benefits of Concrete Cement Catfish Farming:

1 Cost-Effectiveness and Construction: 

Our initial reason for considering a “cement pond” was budget constraints. Constructing the pond cost about 100,000 Naira in 2021, which was feasible because we sourced materials ourselves and employed an affordable yet skilled local bricklayer. The investment was also offset by the pond’s longevity and lower risk of predator attacks.

2 Controlled Environment:

Water Quality Management: Cement ponds provide better control over water quality. We used water from our well and knew that water problems were already solved, regardless of the weather conditions. All we had to do was pump the water out and replace it with new water. Parameters such as pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen can be monitored and adjusted more easily than in natural ponds, resulting in optimal conditions for catfish growth.

Disease Control: Cement ponds’ better isolation from external environments reduces the risk of disease introduction and spread. This control is crucial for maintaining healthy stock and reducing losses.

3. Controlled Stocking and Feeding: 

Controlled stocking and feeding made managing the pond environment easier. I was able to closely monitor and adjust feeding patterns and densities, which helped minimize losses due to over- or underfeeding. Activities such as feeding, harvesting, and sorting became more straightforward, thus enhancing overall farm management.

4. Durability and Security: 

One of the benefits of having a cement pond is that it is highly resistant to predators and adverse weather conditions. This means that you don’t have to worry about breaches or damage caused by external elements, which is a relief because it reduces the potential for losses.

5. Ease of Maintenance:

Cement ponds offer a distinct advantage in terms of maintenance due to their smooth walls and flat floors. This design simplifies the cleaning process, allowing for quick removal of debris and waste. Without the nooks and crannies typical of earthen ponds, it’s easier to prevent the build-up of harmful bacteria and parasites.

The straightforward maintenance routine not only ensures cleaner water but also reduces the time and effort needed, making cement ponds ideal for farmers who value efficiency and disease prevention.

5. Easy Harvesting in Cement Ponds:

One big advantage of using cement ponds is how easy it is to harvest the fish. Unlike earthen ponds, which often have uneven bottoms and muddy conditions that make harvesting tough, cement ponds have flat and smooth surfaces that make the job much simpler. There’s no need to pump out water or deal with mud. As you can see in the video above, we could move the fish straight from the cement pond to the white plastic tanks quickly and easily. This method saves time, cuts down on labor costs, and keeps the fish from getting too stressed, which is a major plus for using cement ponds.

Challenges I Faced with Cement Ponds:

1 High Initial Investment: 

“The cost of building the cement pond was much higher than what I originally budgeted for. It was a significant upfront investment that posed a substantial financial barrier, despite our budget-conscious approach. Although this shouldn’t be an issue, we wanted to explore the option of using earthen ponds instead.”

2 The First Fish Tank Challenge:

When we constructed our first cement tank for fish, an expert advised us to add water, red oil, and cow poop to neutralize any harmful chemicals like alkalinity that could harm the fish. Unfortunately, despite taking these measures, we lost many fingerlings during the initial phase. However, this was a valuable learning experience that taught us the importance of pre-treatment and seeking expert consultation. We later managed to reduce the death rate of the fish quickly by using salt.

3 Repairs and pH Challenges: 

One of our ponds had cracks, which caused the water to leak out very quickly. Fortunately, it was a single concrete pond, so it wasn’t too difficult to repair. However, if we had multiple ponds with similar issues, it would have been a much bigger problem. Additionally, we faced significant maintenance challenges with our earthen pond, which I’ll describe later. Maintaining a neutral pH in the pond required constant attention, as the cement used in the pond construction increased the alkalinity.

4 Behavioral Limitations for Catfish: 

I noticed that the catfish in cement ponds were less active and showed fewer natural behaviors which could impact their overall well-being. We used to give them floating feed, and once they were full, the food would soak and spoil the water. Initially, we used to leave the remaining feed, but they fell sick due to excessive feeding and the soaked feed. Unlike earth ponds where there is sand around, adjusting the feed strategies and ensuring proper pond design helped mitigate some of these issues.

5 The amounts of fishes: 

Conc

Fishes at Two 1/2 Months

When it comes to the growth of fishes in a cement pond, the number of fishes you put in can make a big difference. For instance, when we first started, we put in around 800 fish with the intention of sorting them later. However, we noticed that some of the fishes were not coming up to eat because the bigger ones were scaring and eating the smaller ones. To solve this problem, we bought a white tank and sorted the fishes, but because the smaller ones had already developed fear, they weren’t eating much in the shallow tank. As you know, the growth of fishes is subject to the quantity and quality of their food.

A little break time:

I wanted to let you know that in our upcoming blog posts, I will share my experiences, practical tips, economic decisions, feeding and selling and a lot more in Concrete (cement) ponds. So, if you have any questions or personal experiences with cement ponds, feel free to comment, and I would be happy to answer them. Your contribution is welcome! Now, let’s continue with our blog.

TRANSITION TO EARTHEN PONDS: 

The decision to expand into earthen ponds was influenced by the need for larger space and the desire to enhance natural fish behaviours, which are less observable in cement ponds. The earthen ponds, located a brief 20-minute walk from our house, provided a different experience and insight into more traditional forms of aquaculture. 

Benefits of Using Earthen Ponds:

1 Operational Observations:

In my experience with earthen ponds, I have observed a marked improvement over concrete ponds. The transition from concrete to earthen made me run the business more efficiently because of the substantial financial investment I had made in renting, clearing, bagging, and other materials. I have noticed that earthen ponds maintain a more consistent temperature throughout the year, which is advantageous for the health and growth of the fishes. which is crucial for the health and growth rate of catfish. Furthermore, temperature fluctuations in concrete ponds are affected by weather conditions. The temperature fluctuates depending on the weather, but earthen ponds’ natural insulation properties help moderate extreme temperature swings.

2 A More Natural Environment for Fish: 

The shift to earthen ponds brought an unexpected delight—watching my catfish exhibit more natural behaviours. These ponds mimic the catfish’s natural habitat, complete with microbial life and aquatic plants. This ecosystem is not just a pond; it’s a thriving biotic community that supports the fish in essential ways. The fish forage, hide and interact in ways they never did in the more sterile cement pond environment. This not only makes for happier, healthier fish but has boosted their growth rates. The diverse plant life and natural food sources enrich the nutrient cycle naturally, which enhances the overall vitality of the pond.

3 Better for the Environment:

One of the most gratifying aspects of using earthen ponds has been their contribution to local biodiversity. These ponds don’t just sustain my farm; they support a broader ecosystem. The natural setup allows for the integration of various aquatic species, which in turn fosters a balanced environment. This balance means I use less energy managing water quality and regulating diseases, as the pond’s ecosystem naturally controls pests and helps maintain equilibrium. It’s incredibly fulfilling to see my aquaculture practices not only yielding profit but also contributing positively to the environment.

4 Cost-Effective Expansion:

Economically, earthen ponds have proven to be a smart choice. Initially, setting them up involved some work like clearing and bagging, but these tasks were manageable. In the long run, these ponds are cheaper to maintain and easier to expand than cement ponds. This means I can grow my business without spending a lot on construction, focusing my budget instead on improving fish quality and increasing production.

5. Size of the Fishes:

One of the notable benefits of transitioning to earthen ponds is the visible improvement in the sizes of the catfish. I believe this is due to several factors inherent in earthen ponds: increased space for movement, the ability to eat more, and food from the natural ecosystem. These conditions allowed my catfish to grow at a more natural pace, leading to not only larger sizes but also higher market prices, enhancing the profitability of the farming operation.

Challenges I Faced with Earthen Ponds:

1 Maintenance and Seepage:

Water Quality Management: Managing water quality in earthen ponds presents new challenges, particularly in preventing seepage and controlling the influx of contaminants. Regular monitoring and occasional interventions are required to maintain optimal conditions.

Earthen ponds did present new challenges, particularly in managing water quality and preventing seepage. Yet, these ponds maintained a more stable temperature throughout the year, which significantly benefited the health and growth rate of the catfish.

2 Costs and Benefits: 

Renting a pond turned out to be more costly for us than building a cement concrete one, as we had to bear the expenses of de-mudding, clearing the weeds, insect control, fish net for protection, bagging for water in and out, changing pipes, blocking dangerous holes, and taking all preventive measures. The payment for renting the pond did not cover all of these costs. I still remember the stress we faced in the previous rented place, as the water flow was not smooth due to the construction of the earthen ponds. We had to carry water pumps every time, which was very exhausting. It was a traumatic experience, and we always recommend checking the water inlet and outlet, as we also pumped out dirty water, and fishes need clean water to live and eat.  

3 Harvesting Difficulties: 

Due to their irregular bottom, earthen ponds present several challenges during harvesting. Unlike cement ponds, extracting the desired products requires more labour-intensive techniques. This usually involves pumping water in and out of the pond to facilitate the harvesting process. Despite the difficulties, earthen ponds remain a popular choice due to their cost-effectiveness and versatility.

4 Initial Setup/ Infrastructure Costs:

Infrastructure costs are an important factor to consider when setting up a pond. Earthen ponds can be a cost-effective alternative to cement ponds. However, it’s important to note that earthen ponds require specific maintenance. This includes regular dredging to remove accumulated sediments and repairing water dams to prevent leaks. Effective pest management strategies are also essential to prevent infestations that can disrupt the pond ecosystem. Although these maintenance tasks may require effort and resources, they are vital for keeping earthen ponds in optimal condition and ensuring their long-term success.

Statistical Insights and Market Response:

In the first year of using cement ponds, the survival rate of our catfish was around 70%, with an average growth rate of hardly getting 1.0 kg per fish over nine months. After transitioning to earthen ponds, the survival rate slightly improved to 90%, and the growth rate increased to getting a lot of 1.8-1.9 kg per fish, likely due to the more natural living conditions. Additionally, the market response was notably better for fish from earthen ponds. Customers often preferred them due to their perceived natural upbringing, allowing us to price them about 20% higher than those from cement ponds.

Resources

You might want to read our previous blog post on 6 Essential Rules for Catfish Farming Business Success

Conclusion:

My journey from cement to earthen ponds Cement vs. Earthen Catfish Ponds was driven by expanding operational scale and a desire for more cost-efficient farming. Both cement and earthen ponds have distinct advantages and challenges, and your decision should be informed by your specific circumstances. Whichever path you choose, both can lead to successful and profitable catfish farming. (Cement vs. Earthen Catfish Ponds

Stay tuned for our next post where we’ll discuss how to design and construct your first cement pond, including practical tips and considerations to get you started on the right foot. I’d love to hear about your experiences or any questions you might have about setting up your ponds. Let’s keep learning from each other and improving our practices!