Snail farming is one of the fast-growing and less time-consuming agribusinesses in vogue. It entails the rearing of snails in an enclosure or captivity, such that their basic needs such as feed, lime, water etc. are provided therein for them on daily basis with adequate care and their well-being guaranteed.
Before now, snails are hunted in the wild during a specific period of the year, normally during the rainy season; hence, making snail meat seasonal. With the new snail farming techniques, snails can be reared and harvested for regular availability and profit making.
Systems in snail farming techniques
There are three main snail farming methods, they are;
- Extensive system: Also called outdoor, free-range snail pens; here, snails are reared on pasture field majorly. There is no precise feeding requirement and little attention is given to the snails; they are allowed to move around the pasture sourcing for food and water. This is a traditional method of rearing snail and commercially, it is not productive as it slows the growth rate of the snails.
- Mixed, or semi-intensive system: Here, the snails are commonly reared on pasture but at times, in cages, where minimal attention is given to the snails. They are commonly served supplements feed to provide some nutrients and improve the productivity of the farm. In this system, egg laying and hatching occur in a controlled environment; the young snails are then sorted after 6-8 weeks after hatching to grow-out pens for fattening depending on their sizes.
- Intensive system: This is a commercial system and the most productive system of rearing snails; in this system, adequate attention is channeled towards the welfare of the snails. They are kept in a controlled system, where feeding, watering, and proper medications are provided at a regular period.
Selection of site for snail farming
To establish a standard snail farm, there are several factors you must consider before siting the farm. These factors are environmental factors that are very crucial to the well-being of the snails and the enterprise itself.
These factors are:
The soil is the basement of the snails; hence, they are of paramount importance as snail have a preference for some soils over others. Snails naturally prefer a damp soil; a damp soil is a soil that is neither very wet nor dry. A soil that contains a moisture content of about 35%. Also, the land must not be prone to flooding. Damp soils allow the snails to move freely and dig into the ground to rest and lay their eggs.
In an extensive and semi-intensive system, the snail farm should be sited in a place where the soil is endowed with humus, decayed plant and animal materials. Such soil serves as a natural source of nutrients and minerals for the snails since these are not normally provided in these systems. However, in an intensive system, the soil should be supplemented with lime and calcium to aid good shell formation. Any soil selected for snail farming must be well drained and less compacted and well aerated to allow air penetrate into the soil easily.
Water is an important factor in any livestock farming. Water is an essential nutrient; snails need water to aid digestion and growth. For you to successfully keep snails in captivity, you need a stable source of water to ensure all-year-round production. A source of water has to be provided for feeding and keeping the snail pen damp always.
These two environmental parameters are very important and should be treated as important factors as well. They both determine the activities of livestock, with snail inclusive. Snails are a cold-blooded animal; hence, they are very sensitive to change in temperature and humidity. Snails prefer a place where the temperature is neither too cold nor too hot. When the temperature is too cold or too hot, the snails withdraw into their shell, this act is called HIBERNATION. Snails thrive best on temperature ranging between 10- 23oC
Guide on Construction of a snail pen
Construction of a snail pen must be done with several factors in mind, most importantly security from all forms of pests. There are basic requirements a snail pen must meet; they are:
The first 3 weeks of the stocking is always very tedious in snail farming; if your snail pen is not escape-proof, it is very possible you lose all the snails within this short period. Ensure your snail pen is built with minimal holes and crevices.
The space requirement depends on the growth stage of the snails. Young snails require less space compare to adult snails. The older your snails the more space they need to survive well. The more the space provided, the better the growth of the snails.
Stocking density of snails
Recommended stocking densities are 100 snails per 1 m2 of floor space for hatchlings and 7-10 snails per 1 m2 for breeding snails. The pen must be spacious enough to carry out routine management practices such as: handling the snails, placing feed, cleaning, and other activities.
The materials used in the construction of snail pen
The material used for snail pen construction must be able to shield the snails from pests such as insects, predators, and poachers. Different materials can be used for constructing a snail pen, depending on price and availability. You will need the following materials to construct a good snail pen:
- Tenacious timber that is resistant to insect attack cement blocks, or mud bricks.
- Galvanized sheets or polythene sheets.
- Wire mesh, for protection.
- Mosquito nets or nylon mesh, for covering the pens as protection against insects.
- Spent household materials, like car tires, oil drums, and old water tanks.
Aside from the construction of a snail pen; you also make use of the following materials for rearing snails. They can be used for small scale or medium scale snail rearing.
- Hutch boxes/cages
- Trench pens
- Mini-paddock pens
- Free-range pens
Snail farming equipment
Equipment needed for snail farming is not much, they are locally available and easy to get. They are:
- Feeder: You need are a flat tray, preferably a plastic material; where you serve the food daily.
- Drinker: The drinker can be of medium-sized curved plastic that can accommodate enough water without spillage.
- Broom: For daily cleaning of the pen, you need a broom.
- Sprayer: You need a hand sprayer for pest management.
Selecting snail species of breeding
Only snails that are sexually mature, usually weighing at least 100-125g, are stocked for breeding. Snail rearing should preferably start at the beginning of the wet season because it is the breeding season of snails.
Farmers may, therefore, collect snails from the wild or buy them cheaply from hunters or snail pickers in the peak season and fatten them in captivity in the offseason. Snails can be collected at night and on cloudy or foggy mornings.
It is advisable and recommended that farmers procure the parental stock from known breeders or agricultural institutes.
Although the parent snails might be more expensive there than snails from hunters or snail pickers, they are better and safer because they have performance record and history you can always refer to predetermine their productivity.
The need to procure parental stock ends as soon as your snail farm is established; you can now select breeding stock from their own snails for subsequent batches.
Breeding stock are usually selected during the wet season; the farmer must select breeding stock based on the following attributes:
- Fecundity: This is the number of eggs expected from the snail, based on numbers laid in previous seasons
- Hatchability: The percentage of eggs likely to hatch out of the total number laid
- Survival rate: The percentage of snails likely to survive after hatching
- Growth rate: The variation in the growth of the snail after hatching
- Shell strength: The thickness of the hatch from hatching.
All these attributes can only be gotten from the performance record of the snail kept during the production phase. This is why it is very important for farmers to keep record irrespective of the size of the farm.
Sorting of snails
It is very important you sort the snails at regular interval. The growth rate of snails differs greatly, ensure you maintain snails of the same growth rate or size in a single pen. Do not rear mixture of small and large snail types in the same pen.
Species of snail to rear
There are several breeds of snails with different characteristics. Commercially, only two breeds of snails are reared; they are Archachatina marginata and Achinata achatina.
Archachatina marginata: These snails are also called swamp snails, big black snail or giant African land snail. These species of snail are found in places where it is warm all year. They have brown to pale brown colour shell with vertical streaks on its shell. Their weight at maturity ranges from 150-200g; if well fed properly, they grow to full size in 24 months.
They lay fewer eggs of big sizes and high survival rate; they lay about 7-10 eggs four to eight times each during the growing season. The breeding season is always during the rainy season, May to October. In an intensive rearing system where there is a regular supply of water, food, and lime, they can grow and reproduce throughout the year. They have a rounded tail.
Achinata achatina: Also called forest snails or they are native of West Africa. They have strong brown shells with ziz-zag lines on its shell and grow to full size in two years under good management conditions.
They are highly fecundity; they lay large number eggs, ranging from 100-300 in number, one or two times each growing season but the eggs are relatively smaller in sizes with high mortality rate. They have pointed tails.
Stocking of snails into the pen
It is recommended to stock snails during the cooler parts of the day, early in the morning and late in the evening. Do not stock on a sunny day, when the soil in the pen is warm. The stocking density of the snails is very important to allow healthy and even growth. Do not stock more than 15-25 matured snails per m2. Avoid overstocking.
After the introduction of snails, check intermittently the following morning to see that they have all moved. Dead or weak snail should be removed and replaced with another one.
Feeding of snails
Snails are vegetarian, they thrive best on green plants but will accept many types of food. All snails sternly abhor leaves that possess hairy leaves. Young snails prefer succulent leaves and shoots; they consume about twice as much feed as mature snails. Generally, adult snails prefer to feed on detritus, such as fallen leaves, rotten fruit and humus should be introduced gradually.
Nutritional requirement for snails
Like other animals, snails need carbohydrates for energy, protein for growth and most importantly, they require calcium (Ca) for their shell development, as well as other minerals and vitamins. Snails require low crude fiber and fat; they should be added in minute quantities.
What do snails eat?
- Leafy part of the following crops: Cocoyam, kola, pawpaw, cassava, okra, eggplant, cabbage, and lettuce. Pawpaw leaves, as well as its fruit and fruit peels, emerged as the best among these foods after many trials as good snail food. They are rich in vitamins needed to support the growth of snails.
- Fruit crops like: Pawpaw, mango, banana, eggplant, pear, oil palm, tomato, and cucumber. They are usually rich in minerals and vitamins, but low in protein.
- Tuber crops: Tubers are a good source of carbohydrates, but low in protein. Examples are cocoyam, cassava, yam, sweet potato.
- Household waste: Snail are well adaptive to household waste such as: peels of fruit, like banana, plantain, pineapple, especially pawpaw, and leftovers like cooked rice, beans, fufu.
Calcium is very important in snail food; ensure calcium is available always as it supports the development of the shell. Calcium can be gotten from the soil but it is recommended to supplement it by sprinkling powdered oyster or snail shells or ground limestone onto leafy vegetables before serving. Minerals can be supplemented by placing licking stones containing the mineral in the pen.
Ensure you serve clean and fresh water always. Water aids digestion of snail food and helps to regulate temperature.
Caution: Do not feed snail with any food that contains salt. It is highly poisonous to them.
When do snails eat?
Snails are nocturnal in nature; they feed mainly at night, early morning, evening or on cold rainy days.
Causes of mortality in snails farm
Several factors can threaten the healthy growth of snails; apart from the environmental factors like high sun intensity, pests are also a great threat. Common snail pests are majorly insects, frog, rats, snail-eating birds, lizards and larvae of some beetles.
Aside from pests, overstocking can as well cause mortality in snail pen. When snails are overstocked, they have limited space to carry out their metabolic activities which can result in retarded growth and mortality.
To prevent these, the following should be done;
- Stock at recommended density
- Regular cleaning of the pen to discourage pests invasion
- Remove all left-over food before serving fresh ones
- Keep away poisonous chemicals like common salt.
For better pest management, you can spray neem oil twice in a week. Neem oil is a strong pest repellent.
Harvesting of snails.
Within 12-24 months from the date of stocking, snails can be harvested. It is expected that the snails weigh 200g. harvesting of snail is done by handpicking the snails from the pen.
With the new snail farming techniques, snail farming can be reared in an environment with good turn over; the quality of snail meat has paved an uncompetitive way for it coupled with its recommendation by the health practitioners. If you are looking for an agribusiness to invest in, you can give snail farming a shot, I am very sure you won’t regret it.
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READ: SNAIL FARMING: HOW TO CONTROL PESTS IN A SNAIL FARM
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