Our Fishiest Idea

For all of our ideas and plans and dreams, there is one that, in my opinion, is clearly the most bizarre. Goats, pigs, chickens… those are all things that fit into my farmyard mind. They make sense to me. Tilapia, however, are a bit different. I don’t usually think of them when I think about a farm.

We first started thinking about doing tilapia when we noticed one of the farms we follow does them. By no means were we sold on it, but we definitely decided to look into it and see how it worked and what it had to offer. Some research led us to want to give it a try on a small level and see how it works.

The idea behind it is that tilapia don’t take up much space, reproduce quickly, grow quickly while being able to eat just about anything (from algae to gnats to worms to compost), and are tasty. This all sounds good so far, but how much work will this be?

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Here’s what a tilapia looks like. Photo courtesy of Michael Hayes.

First, we will have to acquire some tanks. Two regular old fish tanks that you would have in your home can suffice for the breeders. Another large home fish tank would be the first stop for newly born fish. Then, pools (you can choose how big you want them. They bigger they are, the more fish you can put in them. A lot of people use kiddie pools) are the final stop for the fish. In about six months, you can harvest hundreds of fish that each weigh a little over a pound. Their meat to body ratio is very high, so most of that is edible.

The biggest catch of this all is that tilapia are tropical fish. The water they are in needs to be kept at least 70 degrees, but preferably above 80. This is doable in the summer, especially with plastic over the pools to heat the pools and keep in warmth. That makes it possible to start them in the spring and harvest them in the fall, and hope the weather cooperates on both ends.

However, we have another idea, pending (and this is a big pending) how it works on a small scale and if we want to consider pursuing this further.  We have an extra port on our outdoor wood furnace, and we could run it to the pools, which we would put right behind the furnace and build a greenhouse over. The heated water would heat the greenhouse, and we would be able to do this year-round since we will be burning wood mid-fall to mid-spring (we could extend the burning season if need be, as we also get all of our hot water from it, thus burning wood late in the spring wouldn’t be too wasteful).

This is an enterprise that we have discussed and would like to try, but it is not on the top of our list. We don’t know yet when we would start it. It could even be two or three years down the road before we do our trial run. We still have to research what the laws are for processing and selling fish, and we would also like to see what the market for fresh tilapia would be. There are definitely a lot of question marks surrounding this venture, but it is a cool idea that is off the beaten path, and we are excited to see how, or if, it works when we get around to it.

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