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April 23, 2014

Choosing the Right Fish Feed and Feeding Pattern For Your Farm

To begin your feeding program, speak to your local feed store about the types of feed they have available. Most ponds have a variety of different size fish, therefore we recommend purchasing a 1/8" pellet. This pellet is small enough for most young fish to consume, but large enough to satisfy your adult fish. You may have some difficulty acquiring a 1/8" pellet as it is not always considered a stock item. If this is the case, you may have to choose a 3/16" or 1/4" pellet.

Always purchase floating pellets. Floating pellets will enable you to monitor the exact amount of feed that is being consumed. It is very difficult to determine how much sinking food is being wasted. Wasted feed will reap havoc on your water quality and over a period of time could contribute to a "turn over" or algae problems.

The Protein level on your feed should be in the 28% to 32% range. There are higher protein feeds on the market, however, they are not necessary for most non-commercial pond environments. Higher protein feeds are typically reserved for production ponds with commercial stocking densities.

Getting Started

Choose an open area in your pond where the water is no less than 3' deep, preferably away from any established spawning areas. It is important there be no obstructions present in your feeding area. Once you have selected a feeding area, it is best not to change too often. Fish are creatures of habit and will return to this area each day once they have been trained. Do not attempt to feed your fish when water temperatures are below 60 degrees, as the cooler temperatures will result in only limited activity.

Training your fish to feed on a commercial feed is quite simple. Start out by feeding a 16 ounce cup of feed every day until you start to see some activity. From that point on, feed your fish 5% of their total body weight, or whatever they are able to clean up in 10 minutes. When broadcasting your feed, try to cover as wide an area as the fish will actively feed in. This is important because larger fish will concentrate where the bulk of the feed is, forcing the smaller more timid fish to the perimeter of the feeding area.

When feeding your fish, never throw out large amounts of feed at one time. Always broadcast the feed a scoop at a time, allowing time between scoops for the fish to clean up the feed before throwing more out. Throwing their full complement of feed at one time will result in wasted feed as the wind and wave action forces it into shallow areas. Also, feed left floating for too long may sink. Either scenario can negatively effect your water quality over a period of time, as well as your bottom line!

Dissolved Oxygen In Pond Water And Fish Farming

Barometric pressure, altitude, salinity, water purity, and biological oxygen demand all affect the amount of naturally occurring dissolved oxygen levels in water. The amount of additional oxygen water can hold through the aeration process is a function of temperature, altitude, and salinity. Colder water holds more oxygen than warm, water in higher elevations or with higher salinity levels has a decreased saturation level of oxygen. Once you have reached the saturation level, oxygen cannot be added without the help of photosynthetic activity or the introduction of pure oxygen.

In ponds, the introduction of oxygen via some type of aeration device can:

    Allow for greater densities of fish
    Eliminate the potential for Spring and Fall turnover
    Prevent wither kills caused by low oxygen levels
    Improve overall water quality
    Speed up the rate of organic decomposition
    Reduce the amount of phosphorus, which would otherwise be available for plant growth
    Thermally and chemically destratify the water
    Cause circulation currents that might create favorable conditions for more desirable algae to out  blue  green algae
    Decrease the severity of algae blooms and algae die-offs
    Shift the level of carbon dioxide by venting it into the air, which could limit the amount available for plants

Introduction to Temperature Problems In Fish Farming

Now that we understand some basics of dissolved oxygen, we can get back to the temperature problems in your pond. Temperature problems are a seasonal issue. As the sun exposure to the pond increases through spring and into summer, the water warms. As the summer progresses, the water at the surface continues to warm faster than the water below because not as much sunlight penetrates the lower portions of the water column. The area of the water column that receives sunlight is called the Euphotic Zone. The layer of warm water is known as an epilimnion. Also, warm water is less dense or lighter than cooler water, so warm water stays at the surface and colder water sinks to the bottom.

As the summer continues, this temperature difference expands. The surface water is very warm and the water below much cooler. The cold water layer is known as the hypolimnion. As stated earlier, the cooler the water the more oxygen it can hold. However, if the cool water has no exposure to the air or oxygen, it cannot hold the oxygen, no matter how cold it is. Therefore, the cooler water near the bottom does not have a continuous oxygen supply, and over time can turn anoxic or have all of its oxygen used up. When this occurs, organisms such as fish and bacteria need to move into areas of higher oxygen or end up dying. This limits the area your fish have to live and also greatly limits the amount of decomposition of organic matter at the pond bottom.

The transition area between the warm water and the cold water is called a Thermocline. The thermocline is very important to your pond health and can act as a barrier between aerobic and anaerobic areas, and prevent water mixing. For the organisms in your pond that require oxygen, the thermocline can mean life of death. Basically, the lower down the water column the thermocline is located, the better off they are.

Advantages of Supplemental Fish Feeding

One of the keys to any successful pond or lake is food supply. Without an adequate food supply, growth rates will fall below normal levels and the overall balance of your pond can be put in jeopardy. For this reason we always recommend that you supplement your fish with a commercial feed.

Although all types of fish do not feed on a commercial feed, all of the fish in your pond can benefit greatly. Any time you add an additional food supply to your pond or lake, all of your fish will reap the rewards!
 
Advantages:
    Will double the growth rates of all fish that accept commercial feed - catfish, bluegill, etc.
    Will greatly enhance the table quality of your fish.
    Conversion rates can be as high as two pounds of feed to one pound of fish.
    Reduces competition level for forage fish, increasing food supply for sport fish.
    Leads to higher survival rates for new hatchlings during critical spawning season.
    Is especially beneficial during low water situations when demand for food is highest.

FISH POND TREATMENT: pH Levels & Liming Your Pond

Liming Your Pond

It will soon be time to begin your pond fertilization program for the year. However, you should first lime your pond to optimize the benefits of adding fertilizer. Unless you live someplace like west Texas or Missouri, which have limestone aquifers with hard water, your pond probably needs one to three tons of agricultural lime per acre. In this issue, we will look at how to test your pond, what the results mean, and how to add it.

pH

To understand why a pond needs lime, you must first be familiar with pH. In technical terms, pH is defined as the negative log of the molar concentration of hydronium ions. In practical terms, pH is a measure of acidity. The pH scale ranges from 1-14, with a pH of 7 being neutral. Readings less than 7 are considered acid; readings above 7 are basic. To make matters more complicated, the pH of a pond's water increases during the day, as photosynthesis takes place, removing carbon dioxide. So a single measurement really does you no good.

Why Lime?
Several factors contribute to lowering the pH in ponds. Rain is acidic, usually with a pH of 5.2 to 5.6, and industrial pollution can lower it to 2.5. In areas with coniferous forests, rain percolates through the pine needles, making it even more acidic. Over time, this leaches all the minerals out of the soil. Also, the clay bottom necessary to keep a pond from leaking is acidic, and decaying plants can release additional acids. Agricultural lime is crushed limestone (calcium carbonate), which will neutralize these acids and act as a buffer to keep the pH from changing rapidly.

Fish can live in water with a wide range of pH, from about 4 to 10. However, rapid changes in pH can kill fish, even within this range. While fish can adjust their body chemistry to different environmental pH values, this takes energy which could otherwise be used for growth and reproduction. Maintaining a constant internal pH in an extreme environment causes fish stress, making them susceptible to disease and parasites. In a limed pond, the fertilizer element phosphorus is in the soluble, orthophosphate form that is available to plankton; otherwise, it will be mostly tied up in bottom sediments. Finally, liming can increase the amount of carbon dioxide in water, which is used in photosynthesis. For these reasons, liming ponds has been shown to double bluegill production in ponds, without adding any fertilizer.

Testing

The proper way to collect a sample is to gather bottom mud from several locations around the pond. It is best to lay out a grid to be sure all areas are represented. Attach a soup can to a long pole to get samples from a boat. Put all the samples together and allow the mud to dry out. Mix thoroughly and take a sample from this.

Testing your pond is a simple laboratory procedure. Check with your county extension agent or nearest agricultural and mechanical (A & M) college. Your local farmers' co-op may also be able to send samples to a commercial lab. Be sure to indicate that the sample is from a pond. Test results can take two forms: how much lime is required to raise the pH to 7 (or neutral), or what the pH will be if you add one, two, or three tons of lime.

Adding Lime

The best way to add lime to your pond is to scatter it evenly over the bottom. This is usually done by loading lime on a barge and either shoveling it off or washing it off with a hose. There are very few people who are equipped to provide this service. Check with your state game and fish department or local farmers' co-op for leads.

Other Methods

If you can drive around the pond, another option is to get a special lime spreader to distribute the lime. The problem is that half the lime will be spread on the bank, but some of this will wash down into the pond later. Some co-ops will loan you a truck if you buy the lime from them. There is usually an 8-12 ton minimum, but lime is cheap. Ag lime usually sells for $15-$20 per ton. Delivered and spread it costs around $40 per ton, depending on your location.

Another option is to build one or more platforms at the edge of the pond and 4-6 inches below the surface. This is naturally easier to do when the pond isn't full. Place lime on the platforms and allow wave action to wash it into the pond gradually. This has the added advantage of providing cover for your fish.

Finally, the least preferred method is to scatter lime around the edge of the pond. If you do it this way, pelletized lime formed from ag lime dust may be easier to handle, and is twice as strong as regular ag lime. The drawback to pelletized lime is the cost - $120 per ton in bulk, or even more in bags

Conclusion

In order to get ready for the growing season, you should have your pond tested and add any lime needed to neutralize the pond bottom sediments. Unfortunately, this has to be done every 3-5 years, as the lime dissolves and is washed out with the overflow. However, lime is cheap, and the cost and effort are greatly rewarded in healthier, faster-growing fish.
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