Everything you need to know about Snail Farming (Heliculture)
Heliculture commonly known as snail farming or heliciculture is the process of raising snails specifically for human use, either to use their flesh as edible escargot or more recently, to obtain snail slime for use in cosmetics or snail eggs for human consumption as a type of caviar. In this post, All you need to know about Heliculture (Snail Farming), these and many more questions will be answered: What is the meaning of Heliculture?, How do I start a snail farm?, How much money do snail farmers make?, What food makes snails grow faster?, Do snails eat their babies?, How often should I feed my snail?, How often should Mystery Snails be fed?, Can you overfeed a mystery snail?, what are the types of snails we have?, Do snails get lonely?
TYPES OF SNAILS, THEIR DESCRIPTION AND PICTURES
1. Achatina Fulica
The East African land snail, or giant African land snail, scientific name Achatina fulica, is a species of large, air-breathing land snail, a terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusk in the family Achatinidae. It is the smallest in size among all the desirable species for rearing in Africa.
Achatina fulica has a narrow, conical shell, which is twice as long as it is wide and contains 7 to 9 whorls when fully grown. The shell is generally reddish-brown in color with weak yellowish vertical markings but coloration varies with environmental conditions and diet. Light coffee color is common. Adults of the species may exceed 20cm in shell length but generally average about 5 to 10cm. The average weight of the snail is approximately 32 grams (Cooling 2005).
2. Achatina Achatina
Achatinaachatina, common name the giant Ghana snail, also known as the giant tiger land snail, is a species of very large, air-breathing land snail, a terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusk in the family Achatinidae. Giant African land snails are hermaphrodites, meaning they possess both the female and male reproductive organs. Two snails are still needed for breeding, but they are very prolific breeders.
Similar to the other species in the genus, Achatinaachatina’s shell can attain a length of 200 mm and a maximum diameter of 100 mm. They may possess between 7-8 whorls and the shell is often broadly ovate. The body of the animal is silver-brown in color although albino morphs may exist.
Achatina-Achatina is very good for commercialization as well, because of its profitability. This is because of the volume of eggs it lays at once. Each achatina lays 300 to 500 eggs at a time in clutches, three times a year. Therefore, if you start a farm with about 1000 snails, in one year you would be getting about 1.5 million snails going by the number of eggs they produce.
3. Archachatina Marginata
Archachatina marginata, common name the giant West African snail, is a species of air-breathing tropical land snail, a terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusk in the family Achatinidae. They can grow up to 20cm long, and live up to 10 years.
Among these three species, Achatina Achatina is the most desirable for farmers because it grows so big to become the biggest snail species in the world. AchatinaAchaina has its origin from Nigeria, get to Liberia from Nigeria and then Ghana
Another reason is due to its high yield capacity. The other species are very good too but I will focus on Achatina Achatina and Archachatina Marginata in this blog post because they are easy to find in Nigeria.
Having decided on the specie, let’s take you through the step by step how to set up your snail farm in a small scale level and starts rearing your snail towards harvest.
SUITABLE ENVIRONMENT FOR SNAIL FARMING
Snails are easily dehydrated, and wind increases the rate of moisture loose in snail which in turn, leads to the dryness of the animal. To prevent snails from losing water so quickly, your snaileries (the snail house) must be located in an environment that is protected from the wind.
Climate: A mild climate 15–25 °C (59–77 °F) with high humidity (75% to 95%) is best for snail farming, though most varieties can stand a wider range of temperatures. The optimal temperature is 21 °C (70 °F) for many varieties. When the temperature falls below 7 °C (45 °F), snails hibernate. Under 12 °C (54 °F), the snails are inactive and under 10 °C (50 °F), all growth stops.
When the temperature rises much above 27 °C (81 °F) or conditions become too dry, snails estivate. The wind is bad for snails because it speeds up moisture loss, and snails must retain moisture.
Moisture: Snails thrive in damp but not waterlogged environments and thus a well-draining soil is required. Research indicates that water content around 80% of the carrying capacity of the soil and air humidity over 80% (during darkness) are the most favorable conditions. Many farmers use mist-producing devices to maintain proper moisture in the air and/or soil. Also, if the system contains live vegetation, the leaves are to be periodically wet.
Soil: Snails dig in soil and ingest it. Good soil favors snail growth and provides some of their nutrition. Lack of access to good soil may cause fragile shells even when the snails have a well-balanced feed; the snails’ growth may lag far behind the growth of other snails on good soil. Snails will often eat feed, and then go eat dirt. Sometimes, they will eat only one or the other.
A low plain, downhill site surrounded with enough trees is perfect for snail farming. You may plant plantains and bananas around your snail farm to prevent the impact of wind.
TYPE OF SOIL FOR SNAIL FARMING
Snail’s major habitat is the soil, and soil contains some of the components and chemical substances that it needed to survive. However, not all soils are suitable for snail rearing. The shell of the snail is mainly calcium and it derives most of them from the soil. Snail also lays its eggs on the soil and drinks water out of the soil.
Hence, the suitable soil for snail farming must contain these elements. Must be balanced, not waterlogged, not too dry, and must not be acidic. The most desirable soil for snail is sandy-loamy soil with low water holding capacity. Clayey soil and acidic soil must be avoided.
GETTING THE SNAILS FOR FARMING
To start up a snail farm, it is advisable to get snails directly from the forest instead of buying from the market after they have been exposed to sunlight and have dehydrated. This is because snails drink a lot of water, so they are easily dehydrated and these stresses them out, and reduce their fertility capacity.
The intending snail farmer could pick the snails from the bush with a very simple technique; clear a little portion of land during the rainy season and sprinkle spicy fruits like pineapple, pawpaw, plantain, banana, etc at about 5 o’clock in the evening, when you go back there about 7 pm or 8pm, you will pick up snails suitable for rearing. Repeat the procedure until you get enough quantity.
Another way could be to pick up snail eggs littered in the market place where it is sold and through a technique, check the fertility of the eggs because some of them must have lost fertility due to the exposure to sunlight. The eggs are later put inside a container containing wet sand and covered with cocoyam leaves. Between 21 to 28 days, the eggs would hatch into baby snails. You start feeding them and gradually you raise a snail farm.”
CONSTRUCTING THE SNAIL HOUSE (SNAILERY)
Snaileries can vary from a patch of fence-protected ground, sheltered from the wind to a covered box if you are breeding on small scale.
For a larger population of snails, you can dig a trench or make a concrete pen with soil deep of about 10 inches, and cover it with screen or wire all around to prevent the snails from escaping. Remember that snails can reproduce fast and become pests when their breeding is uncontrolled.
Snails love dark and cold places, but make sure the humidity does not drop to levels harmful to the snails. You can use fresh leaves and cloth that is regularly wet to regulate the temperature.
Also, the wire is useful in keeping away rats and snakes or other predators from eating the snails in your snail farm. But aside from these bigger predators, you should be wary about smaller ones like ants and termites. Your construction must have these predators in mind.
MATING AND EGG LAYING
Snails are hermaphrodites. Although they have both male and female reproductive organs, they must mate with another snail of the same species before they lay eggs. Some snails may act as males one season and as females the next. Other snails play both roles at once and fertilize each other simultaneously. When the snail is large enough and mature enough, which may take several years, mating occurs in the late spring or early summer after several hours of courtship. Sometimes there is a second mating in summer. (In tropical climates, mating may occur several times a year. In some climates, snails mate around October and may mate a second time 2 weeks later.) After mating, the snail can store sperm received for up to a year, but it usually lays eggs within a few weeks. Snails are sometimes uninterested in mating with another snail of the same species that originated from a considerable distance away. For example, a H. aspersa from southern France may reject a H. aspersa from northern France.
CANNIBALISM BY HATCHLING
The first snails to hatch eat the shells of their eggs. This gives them calcium needed for their shells. They may then begin eating unhatched eggs. If the snail eggs are kept at the optimum temperature, 68 °F (20 °C) (for some varieties), and if none of the eggs lose moisture, most eggs will hatch within 1 to 3 days of each other. Cannibalism also will be low. If hatching extends over a longer period, cannibalism may increase. Some eggs eaten are eggs that were not fertile or did not develop properly, but sometimes, properly developing embryos might be eaten. A high density of “clutches” of egg masses increases the rate of cannibalism, as other nearby egg masses are more likely to be found and eaten. Snail egg has 12 to 20 times the protein of lettuce. The protein helps the baby snails start developing quickly and be healthier. Snail egg is an excellent starter food for newly hatched snails, but they tend to only eat eggs of their own species.
SNAIL FOOD AND FEEDING
Feeding season is April through October, (or may vary with the local climate), with a “rest period” during the summer. Do not place food in one small clump so that there is not enough room for all the snails to get to it. Snails eat solid food by rasping it away with their radula. Feeding activity depends on the weather, and snails may not necessarily feed every day. Evening irrigation in dry weather may encourage feeding since the moisture makes it easier for the snails to move about.
Put the breeding snails in the breeding pens in April or early May. Feed until mid-June when mating begins and the snails stop feeding. Snails resume eating after they lay eggs. Once snails have laid their eggs, the adult snails can be removed. This leaves more food and less crowding for the hatchlings.
Snails especially Achatina mainly feeds on green leaves and fruits though they can utilize other ranges of foods. Feed your snails leaves, fruits, or even formula from the feed store. Aside from food to grow tissues, snails need calcium to grow shells.
Leaves: Cocoyam leaves, pawpaw leaves, okra leaves, cassava leaves, eggplant leaves, cabbage and lettuce leaves.
Fruits: Mango, eggplant, pawpaw, banana, tomatoes, oil palm fruits, pears. and cucumber.
Once they start growing, separate the big ones from the small ones. It take more than a year for the Achatina type to grow to harvest size. Others mature in two years.
DISEASES AND PESTS
Good hygiene can prevent the spread of disease and otherwise improve the health and growth rate of snails. Food is replaced daily in order to prevent spoilage. Earthworms added to the soil help keep the pen clean.
Parasites, nematodes, trematodes, fungi, and microarthropods can attack snails, and such problems can spread rapidly when snail populations are dense. The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes intestinal infections that can spread rapidly in a crowded snail pen. Possible predators include mice, lies, centipede etc.
HARVESTING THE SNAIL
It is not economically wise to harvest your snails before it’s maturity, it has to be matured before harvesting. To know if your snails are already matured enough, check the brim of the shell. If it is matured enough, the brim should be thicker and harder than other parts of the shell.
Do not harvest all the matured snails at once for the market. It is important to keep a few for breeding and to serve as base stock for your snail farm.