Aquaculture for all

Hog Barn Converted to Aquaculture Facility

US - Just breaking the surface, thousands of mouths gape open in a swarm of golden-orange bodies, fins flashing and tails colliding into each other. Looking at the six tanks filled with 72,000 gallons of water and more than 150,000 goldfish, its hard to believe just a few years ago the building was a hog nursery.

The Yingling brothers, Tom and John, at Woodside Farms in Bellevue, Ohio are among the farmers who have joined the growing trend of aquaculture, switching from raising traditional farm animals to fish.

Tom and John are fourth generation hog farmers who also farm 1,500 acres. In the 1990s with the dramatic drop in hog prices, the Yinglings looked around for something else to rear and after considering other niche markets like alpacas and Boer goats, the brothers settled on fish.

In 2002, the Yinglings started raising food fish, specifically bluegill, large-mouth bass and yellow perch. Using a tank system based on a farm in Maryland that they later customized, the goal for the first year was to not kill all the fish.

Shawn McWhorter, a research associate and aquaculture specialist with The Ohio State University Extension South Center in Bowling Green, said that raising fish is very difficult because they are tied so closely to their environment.

“It’s like having a henhouse with feces flying around in the air,” McWhorter said.

When fish are raised indoors in recirculating systems, the water quality and temperature have to be maintained all the time. Also, biofilters break ammonia and nitrite into forms less harmful to fish. McWhorter said he has an emergency system that monitors the oxygen levels, sound and temperature on his tanks 24 hours a day because if something goes wrong it will only be about 15 minutes until fish start to die.

At Woodside Farms, Tom and John found that with food fish they had to process and deliver the finished product to local restaurants in order to make money, which meant more time and labor. Keep in mind, Tom said, that traditionally farmers are great at production, but not so good at marketing.

Last year, they moved in a new direction and started raising baitfish, specifically goldfish that are later sold as bait for catfish in southern Ohio. After buying 2- to 3-inch fingerlings, they sell them about 8 months later at 6 to 8 inches. It’s comparable to buying heavy feeder cattle.

Source: Lancaster Farming