In the short time I’ve been a fish farmer, I’ve interacted with dozens of people and I’ve seen numerous fish farms; a lot of these fish farms are unique, and their approach are sometimes different from mine. That’s a good thing.
However, I believe that there are rules that are essential when building a catfish farming business.
If you’re doing this for fun or as an hobby, feel free to ignore the rules. If, however, your aim is to build a successful catfish business; whether you’re in Nigeria, in Vietnam or in the USA, these rules are universal.
Rule #1. Your Number One Metric Should Be PROFIT
If I had a penny every time my teacher tells me this, I’d be a millionaire already!
I’ve been in the catfish farming business for a while now, and after encountering some losses myself, I can’t help but agree with this rule.
When running a catfish farming business, the most important metric is profit; the size of your fishes doesn’t matter, their age doesn’t matter, and what they are being fed doesn’t matter. What matters most is profit.
My first attempt at catfish farming resulted in a loss, and the average size of my fishes then was 2.2lbs in 4 months.
I was impressed with the size of my fishes, and people kept telling me that my fishes were really big; now, while that is flattering, the reality is that while I had big fishes, even after selling them my bank account became much smaller.
It’s not about your fish size or age, but about how much profit you return on your investment.
So, ultimately, your goal as a commercial fish farmer is to maximize your investments; at the end of the day, when you calculate feeding costs, logistics costs, maintenance and payment to employees/contractors, you should make a profit.
To me, anything above 50% within a 6 months period after deducting every expense is impressive. From what I have seen, 100% profit, or more depending on the market situation, isn’t unusual. My teacher once recorded a record 160% profit in 6 months. Now, that’s what we call doing business!
Rule #2. Get Your Fishes from the Right Sources
This can’t be emphasized enough.
Most catfish farmers will ignore this point but it is absolutely essential.
When I first ventured into fish farming, the person who supplied me majority of the fishes I first stocked gave me rubbish; the growth of the fishes I was supplied from that source was poor compared to other sources I have used since, and at a point the rate at which the fishes he supplied me were eating reduced drastically. This all impacted my bottomline, and it was one of the reasons I recorded a loss.
That said, a good way to know how well your fishes will perform is by observing how well they respond to feeding; if they eat a lot, they will most likely grow a lot.
The two ways I recommend going about getting quality fishes are:
1. Look for major suppliers: Ask farmers around you who the major suppliers are.
If a company could succeed well enough to be recommended by local farmers for the quality of its fishes, you can be sure that the company has quality fishes. There’s no way around this.
The only caveat to this approach is that the wait time for getting fishes from major suppliers is usually longer compared to smaller suppliers; occasionally, you might have to wait 2 – 3 months to get fishes from the companies. It is usually worth the wait, though.
2. Go with a verifiable individual: If you see a fish farmer around you doing really well, ask him where he got his juveniles from and tell him to recommend the source to you.
If someone contacts you directly, ask the person for the kind of results his clients are getting and try to verify his claims; if his clients are getting average results, or even slightly above average results, you can go with this supplier.
My farm is in an open place, in front of a small road and quite a center of attraction; as a result, I get the occasional pitch from suppliers who want me to stock my pond with their fishes.
I ask for typical results, and if I’m convinced they are honest and if I like their results, I will do a test run with them before going in full.
Out of a round of stocking 6,000 – 10,000 fishes, I can give a new supplier a try by going for 1,000 – 2,000 fishes, putting it in a special pond and seeing how well it performs. This ensures I don’t miss out on potentially good sources, while at the same time ensuring I’m not significantly affected if a new source is bad.
So far, the last time I did this, I’m really proud of the results. In fact, the fishes I got are on track to be the biggest I’ve ever had at my farm.
Rule #3. The Growth of Your Fishes Correlates with the Quality of their Water
While the feed you give to your fishes is essential, and I’ll get to that in a moment, it is just one of the “most important factors” when running a fish farm.
The most important factor contributing towards the growth of your fishes is the quality of the water they are in.
You need to realize that they aren’t necessary in their “natural” environment, so water quality should be given special attention.
Personally, I use and prefer the earthen pond system to the “concrete” or “artificial” pond system, so my catfishes have as much of a natural environment as possible. However, they are still restricted in terms of space and inflow and outflow of water, so a lot needs to be done to ensure adequate water quality.
One of the best ways to ensure adequate water quality is to make sure quality “natural” water is entering and going out of your pond on a consistent basis. Also make sure the water entering into your ponds isn’t being polluted by other environmental activities.
Rule #4. Feeding is Essential to Your Fish Growth (not just quantity of feed, but quality)
Mainly, fish growth is dependent on the quality of the feed.
Unlike humans, fishes can’t just compel themselves to eat anything; their feed needs to have the right taste and flavour.
This is why you can give your fishes certain feed today and they will easily eat 30kg of feed, while the same fishes struggle to eat 5kg the next day.
If your feed doesn’t taste and smell right, they won’t eat it.
When you give your fishes quality feed and they eat really well, it is easy to be afraid due to how much they are eating; don’t fret, though. As long as you give them good quality feed, and you are not wasting the feed or abusing the formula, you don’t have to worry since they will convert what they ate into flesh that will result in good money for you when you sell them.
That said, while feed quality is essential, feeding pattern and quantity is just as important.
When you feed your fishes, especially with local feed, which is what I’ll be recommending, you need to realize that this is basically what happens:
- 1/4 of the feed is wasted in the process of feeding them
- 1/4 of the feed is wasted through metabolic activities and as through waste released by the fishes
- 2/4 of the feed is converted into flesh and increase in size/mass of the fish
That said, your aim is to give them enough feed to ensure they are able to grow, as that’s what ultimately leads to profit for you.
If you do not feed your fishes well, most of the feed you give to them will just serve as maintenance feed and what they really need to convert into mass that yields you profit will not be there.
Due to this consideration, I have two recommendations besides ensuring adequate feed quality:
1. Feed your fishes consistently; I feed my fishes every day, especially during the early days, and this is what I recommend others do.
2. Feed your fishes optimally; If you can somehow manage to curtail the 1/4 wasted in the process of feeding your fishes, you’ll be saving a lot on the long term. As a result, feed your fishes until they are almost satisfied and you can only see a few number of them coming up.
Don’t stop feeding them when dozens of fishes are still visibly eating, and don’t keep feeding them when you can only see a few fishes coming up to eat.
That said, you might find this article about feeding catfishes helpful; it includes information about feeding patterns, different feeding cycles, the feed formula I use, etc.
Rule #5. Fish is What Fishes Eat to Grow (every quality fish feed has ample amount of fish in it; while this is a fact, there’s a time when “more” becomes a waste, though)
My teacher usually emphasizes something to me when I just started learning from him. I have heard this repeated to me by several successful catfish farmers as well.
Here’s it in the Yoruba language (exactly how he tells me):
“Eja leja nje sanra/tobi”
Here’s the English translation below:
“Fishes eat fishes to become fat/big”
Essentially, what this means is that what catfishes prefer to eat the most is other fishes; so, having the right quantity of fish in their feed will ensure they respond well, eat the feed well and grow.
Having little to no fish in their feed will result in very lackadaisical response, ensuring they eat little and grow little.
That said, there’s also a limit to how much fish your feed ingredient should contain. I go into more details about this in my article about fish feeding.
Rule #6. Consistency is Your Biggest Advantage When Growing Catfishes
Fishes are unlike humans; they only eat what will satiate them and go away. Nothing more, nothing less (that is if you’re willing to give it to them!).
So, it is impossible to feed your fishes a lot today and not feed them for the next few days; it just isn’t possible. Doing that is recipe for disaster.
The best way to take care of your catfishes, to ensure they grow really well, is to embrace the principle of slow and steady.
If possible, feed them every day without fail; that is what I do, and that is what other successful catfish farmers I know of recommend.
This is especially critical at their early stages.
Until fishes are at least 4 months old from the juvenile stage, you don’t want to gamble at all with the consistency of their feeding; doing this could result in their growth being stunted, even if you eventually decide to feed them well.