There are presently approximately 50 commercial catfish farms in Kentucky according to a survey done in 1998. In Kentucky, catfish farming almost always involves the culture of channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus).
Catfish spawn in late spring/early summer. Since catfish spawn three to six weeks later in Kentucky, the transportation of eggs from hatcheries in states farther south can functionally increase the growing season and produce larger fingerlings by the end of summer.
It takes about 5 to 8 days for hatching and another 4 days for the fry to use up their yolk sac energy supply. The fry become swim-up fry and are fed in tanks approximately every 2 hours for about a week.
They are then stocked into fertilized nursery ponds that have an abundant natural food source. (Fry can also be stocked into nursery ponds immediately after becoming swim-up fry). In the pond, the fry are also fed a finely ground, high protein feed such as salmon starter.
Fry mature into fingerlings and reach approximately six to nine inches in length by the end of the first growing season when they are stocked at 40,000 per acre. Catfish fingerlings are grown in Kentucky
but are often hauled in from other states farther south and stocked into Kentucky ponds. Catfish fingerlings can be sold to commercial fish growers or to recreational pond owners directly or by way of live haulers. Good business is generated by catfish fingerling producers who haul fingerlings to recreational pond owners.
In exchange for hauling small loads to the pond owner and providing technical advice, the hauler can charge more for the fingerlings, thus maximizing his or her profit. Fingerlings of 6-9 inches are stocked into grow-out ponds at approximately 3,000 per acre if aeration is available; or 1,000 per acre without aeration.
Stocking of grow-out ponds can be in the fall of the fingerling year or spring of the grow-out year. The catfish will gain more weight during the fall months when they are stocked at the lower density. In addition, they will be in the pond and ready to start growing at the first sign of warm weather the following spring.
Often times growers’ plans to stock in April are delayed until they can find an available source of fingerlings. This frequently delays stocking until May, and the valuable early-season growth opportunity is lost.
In grow-out ponds the catfish are fed a 28% to 32% protein feed containing soybean, corn, wheat, vitamin and mineral supplements, and usually fish meal. After they are fed, all the feed will be eaten within 20 minutes. This is approximately 1% to 3% of their body weight depending on water temperature and the size of the fish.
Ponds ranging in size from a fraction of an acre to 20 acres or larger are used to grow out catfish. Recent trends in large catfish producing regions in the southeastern United States are for 10 to 15 acre ponds to be used to maximize management efficiency as well as being economical in pond construction costs.
Ponds in Kentucky are typically smaller than this; there is a trend for the construction of ponds approximately 5 acres in size in the Purchase region of the commonwealth. Ponds in less flat regions are usually significantly smaller than 5 acres.
Water quality in commercial catfish production ponds must be monitored for water quality to ensure that the fish not only stay healthy, but are able to grow most efficiently. Water quality test kits are recommended for use by fish farmers. Workshops are held by the Cooperative Extension System to teach the proper use of these kits.
Ammonia should be monitored at least once a week and nitrite should be checked about 2 to 3 times a week. High nitrite can be neutralized by adding salt (NaCl) to the pond water, and it is highly recommended that catfish farmers maintain a prophylactic level of salt in their ponds in case nitrite concentrations rise unexpectedly. In some parts of the commonwealth, large quantities of agricultural limestone are needed to add hardness and alkalinity (buffering capacity) to the water. This helps to prevent drastic pH fluctuations, which can be stressful to the fish.
Taken from Catfish Farming in Kentucky by Dr. Robert Durborow
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