In 2012, I made the decision to build a small aquaponics system in order to provide myself and my family with fresh vegetables and a source of protein in the form of tilapia in an effort to lessen our impact on this planet. With that as the goal in mind, I bought a 275 gal IBC tote, a small pond pump and some hydroton as a grow medium. The perfect little system. All I needed now was 25 tilapia to grow out and I was set. I soon discovered that
I could not buy the tilapia locally and I knew that overnight shipping of live fish was expensive and I could not justify shipping
tilapia from Florida every 8 or 9 months as replacements when I harvested my fish to eat.
It was at this point that I decided to just buy a breeding colony so I could grow my own babies and have a small supply of tilapia. Little
did I know what events would unfold (watch the video series on the home page).
A New Path
I am now assuming you know what the last five months have been like. To sum it up, in 5 months, I am no longer trying to grow vegetables, I have expanded my breeding facility, sold approximately 9,000 fingerlings, have about 3500 fry and fingerlings in the fish house and have all 5 female breeders carrying eggs. I have invested no more than $1,000.00 in this venture and have already sold a lot more than that in fish. But, this is a lot of work and very time consuming. Anyway, lets get to some specifics. A lot of what I will be talking about has already been covered in my videos, so I will attempt not to repeat too much of it.
Let's get Started
Blue Tilapia are an enjoyable and easy species to breed. All they require is good water conditions, quality food, warm temperature (they prefer 80 to 86 degrees) and a continuous source of dissolved oxygen in the water. The fish use oxygen to metabolize their food. Here is the rub, if you believe you can throw 6 or 8 fish in a rain barrel and not pay any attention to them, you would be mistaken. Sure, they might live and they might even get large enough to breed, but they would not thrive and give you a good, continuous supply of quality babies. It is important that you have a Freshwater Master Test Kit to keep track of your water chemistry, some good 50% protein food (I use Purina Aquamax 300) in the appropriate size pellet to feed them, heaters (depending on where you live) and air pumps. I started with a 55 gal tank and a 20 gal tank and was completely out of room in 2 weeks. They are very prolific.....
Pure Strain Blue Tilapia
Scientific Name: Oreochromis Aureus
Normal Water Temp: 60 - 86 degrees F
Minumum Water Temp: 50 degrees F
Best Breeding Temp: 80 degrees F
Best Breeding PH : 8.0
Growing Time: 7 months to 1 year from fry to harvest
Maximum size on record: 9.5 lbs and 24" long
Of all the numbers above, the most important above are Best Breeding Temp and Best Breeding PH. If your water chemistry is right and these 2 numbers are
right, then your Tilapia will produce an abundance of healthy babies, PH seems to be the trigger that will get your fish producing so keep it at 8.0.
There are a couple of ways to get a breeder colony together; First, you could do what I did and buy a breeder colony from a reputable dealer . This is a great way to get started faster, but it is more costly than the alternative. Second, you could buy some mixed sex fingerlings, maybe 25 or so, separate them into three groups when they are 3 to 4 inches, watch their behavior closely and eventually the males will become obvious. The disadvantage is the time it takes to really get started, the advantage is it is about 1/5 th the cost.
When you get your breeding colony established, it won't take long for them to start breeding.
I got my breeder colony April 2nd, thinking within a few weeks I would have a few hundred babies.
Well, within a few days two females had eggs and by the end of the week all five females had eggs. The
picture to your right is of the first five females in the breeder colony, all of which are carrying eggs.
Between them there are about 4000 babies.
Try to keep accurate records of what is going on with your fish. If possible, figure out a way to find the differences in the females then name them or number them. Keep breeding records. When a female starts to carry eggs, mark the day on your calendar. When I note that a female is carrying, I wait 8 days and just let her stay in the breeder tank. On day 8, I syphon about 4 inches of water into a 5 gallon bucket and gently net that female out of the breeder tank placing her in the bucket. Make sure you rinse the net into the bucket, they usually spit some fry into the net. Set the net aside and gently pick up the female holding her over the water in the bucket. With one finger, open her mouth and gently rinse the remainder of the fry out of her mouth by dipping her face in the water then lift her up and place her back in the breeder tank.....now you have a hungry mom in the breeder tank and a bunch of babies to take care of in the 5 gallon bucket. Make sure the mom gets a few good meals before the male starts harassing her to breed again. In a few minutes, the fry will be swimming all over the bucket. At 8 days the fry are free swimming and the vast majority will not have a yolk sac still visible. Take a digital picture of the fry in the bucket (using a white bucket helps), print the picture and count the fry by just putting a line through each fish, or a dot, or whatever is easiest for you. Now you have a complete record of which female had how many babies and all of your dates.
Now you need to take care of the new babies. I started with a 20 gal tank and was quickly out of room, so I added 2-10 gal tanks and I started raising babies.
At this writing, I have 2 - 55 gal tanks, 2-29 gal tanks, a 33 gal long, a 25 gal, and 2 - 10 gal tanks. I also have 3 IBC totes that have been cut down to about 150 gallons each and plumbed together in a system that contains about 600 gallons. You would think this would be enough, but I NEED MORE SPACE!!!
Anyway, put your babies in your fry tank. Up to 500 babies will do well in a ten gallon tank. Once your breeders grow larger, the number of fry they have will increase. I have one 8 inch female whose last 2 broods were 1130 and 1406 fry. Now, the fry can't stay in that 10 gallon tank for long, they will have to be moved to a larger container at about a half an inch. The fry will not start to forage for food for a couple of days after you harvest them, so on day 3 I start to feed the new babies. They will grow very quickly. I feed the babies about 10 times a day and I take care of the water in the fry tanks about every other day. All you need in the fry tank is a small heater, and a sponge filter with an air hose. They don't create a lot of waste, but in a small tank the water can get fouled very quickly so watch them closely.
The fry are perfectly salable and able to travel at a half inch. I like to give them the best start they can get. Again, proper temperature, proper water chemistry and a high (50%) protein food will insure that your babies get a great start in life and will dictate their health as they grow to full size.
Now don't let all the talk about water quality and water chemistry make you too nervous. I have had my problems with all of these things at one time or another in every aquarium and even what I call the big system. These little fish are VERY TOUGH!!! They find a way to survive and I have been very lucky because I have not killed any tank full of fish yet. But it is hard work to keep up with everything and you need to be detail oriented and keep good records and you will be successful.......I am 60 years old and had an accident that took my left leg about 7 years ago and I know that if I can do it, then you can too.
Winter Update - A Word about Winter Water Heating
If you have watched the video on the fish house on the Home page on this site, you know that the fish house is made from a 10 x 17 portable garage purchased from Harbor Freight Tools. In preparation for winter here in East Tennessee I lined the inside of the fish house with R10 styrofoam board on the lower 4 feet of the portable garage. I put a couple of tank heaters in the cut down totes and hoped for the best. As winter progressed, I found that I had to add hot water to the system almost daily as the temperatures were dropping to 64 -66 degrees by morning. I went to the county CO-OP and bought a 1000 watt bucket heater made by Ice-N-Easy. Just this week (the week of Jan. 5th), along with just about everyone else in the country, we experienced record cold temperatures. Here in East Tennessee, the record low for Jan. 7th was broken with an actual temperature of 2 degrees. The great thing about this heater is that it is small and compact and you just have to plug it in. While we were trying to figure out how to get to work without freezing, the fish were outside enjoying 70 degree water. I have not had to add a drop of hot water to the system and it has held at 70 or above for this entire week.....this heater literally saved the 1500 fish I have left in the fish house and now all I have to do is keep them fed.
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