The raising of snails for food is called Heliculture (Snail farming). Snails are hermaphroditic (capable of self-fertilization) in nature; this means that each snail has both the male and female reproductive organs. Snails reproduce rapidly; they are capable of producing more than 300 eggs, which hatch into snails. It is now possible to produce 1,000,000 snails twice a year. This is made possible because of the availability of the highly prolific Achatina Marginata species of snails, which lay 200-400 in one batch 2-3 times a year.
Snail farming in Nigeria is one of the most neglected and yet one of the most profitable animal rearing business anywhere in the country. It provides one of the finest opportunity to make good money at a very short time. But why are Nigerians not yet fully engaged in this money making animal rearing? The reason is ignorance.
Most people in Nigeria still have the believe that snail can only be picked in the bush. The culture of going to the bush to pick snails in the villages during raining time has been there for generations. So, it has been difficult for people to come to term that snail can actually be kept and grown at home.
Just like in many other aspects of farming in the country, Nigerians are yet to discover the great money making potential in snail rearing business and that is why we suffer in hunger and poverty. We neglect where the money is and keep pursuing it where it is not, going from one city to the other looking for one petty trading after another to trade on.
SNAILS FARMING SYSTEMS
There are two main systems of snail farming. These are: Indoor and Outdoor systems
Indoor System: This system involves raising snails indoors in pens located in a building. The snails are fed a mixture of fresh vegetables, concentrates, and other food materials. The system utilizes little space as the snails could be raised even in trays placed on shelves on the walls. In advanced management, the system allows for temperature regulation, controlled lighting, regular cleaning, and health care.
Out-door System:In this system, snails are raised out-doors on pastures. The snails may or may not be fed. The farmer has little control over the performance of the snails. The snails move about feeding on natural food materials.
A modification of the out-door system is one in which the snails are confined outdoors in enclosures and fed both synthetic and natural diets.
It is easier to control and manipulate snails in this setting. This system fits in very well into the Nigerian farming system.
HOW TO SETUP A SNAIL FARM
Location and Environment
Because of the high dehydration level of snails, the farm must be located in a less windy environment else, the moisture-loss rate of the snails would be high, which would subsequently lead to a highly dehydrated state for the animal. Keeping them away from windy environments would prevent them from losing water quickly.
The perfect environment for your snail farm would be an area with adequate trees (vegetation), usually located downhill. Planting crops like mangoes, bananas, and a few others around the farm would be wise, to reduce the impact of any winds skimming through the snail farm on the snails.
Not all soil types are suitable for rearing land snails. Since the natural habitat of land snails is generally the soil, it’s important that the soil they’re raised on, has all the chemical substances and components that make it suitable for the snails to survive and fully mature.
An ideal soil that is suitable for rearing snails must be non-acidic, not water-logged, must be balanced, and must not be too dry. In the selection of the soil type, sandy and clayey soil must be totally avoided for your snail farm. What should be used is loamy soil that doesn’t hold too much water.
CONSTRUCTION OF PEN (SNAILERY)
The type of snail pen depends on a number of factors which include:
*The scale of the snail farming enterprise;
*The type of snails farming i.e. In-door or Out-door;
*The stage of development and habits of the snails.
Size of Snail Pen:
A snail pen can be large or small depending on how many snails the farmer wants to raise. For a new farmer, it is advisable to start with a small pen
He would need fewer materials and fewer snails for this. As he becomes more experienced in snail farming, he can build a bigger pen and get more snails to raise. A5m x 5m out-door pen is a suitable size to start with.
1 Hutch Box Method: The hutch boxes which could be single. The floors of the boxes are filled with sieved organic soil to a depth of 5 – 8 cm, which must be slightly limed (Caco). The bottom of the hutch 3boxes have holes to allow excess water to drain out. The hutch boxes are put under trees like rubber, cocoa, citrus and even plantain for shade. When hutch boxes are used, the soil is changed once every two to three months.
2.Trench Pens : in the trench type, pens, square or rectangular holes (depending on the desired shape of pen) are dug in the ground about 50cm deep. The dug up area is divided into pens and the sides are built up to 2 – 3 blocks high from the ground level while the bottom is covered with loose soil. The pens are covered with nylonmesh nailed to wooden frames for lids. The trench pens which more or less look like the hutch pens could be used for hatching snail eggs, rearing and for finishing.
When sourcing snails for your snail farm, the ideal location to get them are in the forests, bushes, or any vegetative environment that is partially dry and wet. This location is far too important. Avoid getting them from the markets because, a large exposure to sunlight would leave them highly dehydrated. Snails drink a lot of water, and an absence of adequate water supply can make them easily dehydrated, which could subsequently lead to infertility in the snails.
While getting the snails from the bushes may be the best option, many individuals will not be able to pull through with this. What then you can do is to buy the land snail eggs from a market, then put coco-yam leaves in a plastic bowl with wet sand in it, and leave them to hatch. Within 21 to 28 days, the eggs would have fully hatched, and you’d have a lot of fertile snails ready for your snail farm.
If you’re going to get them from the bushes, the best way to do this is to clear a small expanse of land during a rainy season, then dress it up with fruits, vegetables, and other snail foods that snails generally find enticing and can’t resist, in the evening, everyday between 4pm to 6pm. Later in the night before 9pm, you can head back to the spot and pick up the snails gathered there that are great for rearing.
Before purchasing any snail eggs, it’s important you’re very familiar with the types of snails suitable for rearing as stated above, and should know what it would take to raise them.
FEEDS AND FEEDING OF SNAILS
Snails are voracious feeders and may consume about 10 time their body weight of leafy vegetable or plant material every day. To be successful in snail farming, the farmer must ensure a steady uninterrupted supply of foodstuffs to his snails throughout the snail growing season.
Food Plants: Snails feed on a wide variety of cultivated and wild plants. Young tender green leaves as well as dead and decaying leaves are eaten. Green leaves of Amaranthus, cocoyam, cassava, lettuce, cabbage, fluted pumpkin, hibiscus, are all eaten by snails. Before beginning, the farmer should find out what plants his snails like to eat. He can thus get information from an experienced snail farmer in his locality. He can also with his lantern watch snails at night and see what they are eating. Different plant materials could be dropped in the pen and by trial and error, he could find out which ones the snail would prefer.
Fruit Trees as shelter and food Plants: Some fruit trees provide shelter as well as food for snails. Banana, plantain, mango, pawpaw, sweet oranges, cocoa etc serve dual purpose of providing shelter as well as fruits. Snails prefer feeding on over ripe fruits of these trees .Ripe oil palm fruits, broken pods, seeds and seedlings of cocoa are also consumed by snails. Generally, snails usually hide on shelter plants during the day when it is dry and move to food plants to eat at night or early in the morning when they are wet with dew.
Other Feeds: Snails also feed on synthetic diets containing a good amount of protein, calcium and phosphorus. An example of such diet is poultry marsh. Wet poultry droppings, rotten vegetables and dead animals are all consumed by snails. Apart from the items mentioned here, there are many other foods in the farmer’s locality which snails like to eat. As stated earlier, these could be found out by trial and error.
Feeding Habit of Snails
Snails are nocturnal and feed on a wide variety of feed mainly in the night, early morning, evening or on cold rainy day. Their activity level (including their rate of feeding) fluctuates with the ambient temperature.
CARING FOR SNAILS
After the snails are put in the pen, the farmer should:
*Watch them carefully to see that they are eating well.
*Give them the right type of food in adequate quantity.
*Wet the food and shelter plants and moisten the ground regularly.
On dry days during the snail growing season, water the ground daily. Always water in the evening at sunset. Ensure that the soil is moist and not wet. In areas with dry season, when plants do not grow, snails dig into the ground to rest. They should not be watered at this time, otherwise the snails come out of the ground when they should not. The snails breeding season in Nigeria corresponds to the period of the rainy seasons.
CAUSES OF MORTALITY IN SNAILS
Snails have many enemies. These include termites, soldier ants, frogs, toads, rats, snail eating birds, lizards, and larvae of some beetles. Common salt is also poisonous to snails. Over crowding is a serious cause of mortality in snail pens. When too many snails are crowded in a pen, they produce undesirable secretion which is observed to reduce their productivity. To remedy these;
*Examine the pen fence regularly and mend any openings.
*Use materials that keep out pests from your fence.
*Maintain the right stocking density in you pen.
*Keep away poisonous chemicals like common salt.
Generally, snails that are well fed and managed would be ready for harvesting within 12 to 24 months from the date of stocking. Also, when the farmer sees a lot of baby snails in the snail pen, he could harvest the fully grown snails that he first put into the pen.
Average weight of a snail a well matured snail of the giant type is 200gm. It takes not less than two years of efficient feeding to attain this weight. Growth rate is slow and a lot patience has to be exercised in snail farming.
Your snails can be harvested into containers, bowls, boxes, baskets, or through other means. It’s important that during the harvest process they are handled with care, because of their high fragility. Because of this, it’s important that every container the snails are harvested into shouldn’t exceed 10 kilograms, so they can be easily convened.
Also, your snails should be harvested only when they’ve reached full maturity, so you can sell them for a good price and make high returns from your investment. Check the brim of their shells to know if they are well mature. The brim should be harder and generally thicker than every other parts of the shells if they’ve matured enough.
ECONOMICS OF SNAIL PRODUCTION
Unlike other livestock enterprises, housing for snails is cheap to construct. Snails could easily be kept even in make shift housing. The feeding of snails is cheap, snails do not compete with man for food, rather, they feed on the wastes from man’s kitchen, poultry droppings, leaves and over ripe/rotten fruits. Snails have very high multiplication ratio.
The A. marginata for example lays up to 80 – 100 eggs/growing season while the achatina lays up to 300 eggs or more in a growing season. Snails hatch within 30 days and in 12 – 24 months are ready for table. One snail therefore can in a growing season give 100 – 300 new snails (depending on the breed).
Labour requirement for attending to snails is very low. 1 man hour/day can care for 100 snails .If a farmer started with 10 snails which cost about N600 – in a growing season the 10 snails will give about 10 x 300 eggs = 3,000 eggs. When hatched and reared, and allowing 10% mortality, in a growing season, the farmer will come up with about 2,700 new snails.
Feeding on leaves, fruits and kitchen waste, the farmer spends nothing on feed. At maturity; the 2,700 will sell at 2,700 x N40 = N108,000.
Internationally, snail meat commands good market in Europe and North America. The French snail requirement is about 5 million kg/annum, out this, more than 60% is imported. Italy is said to consume about 306 million snails annually. Back home in West Africa, Cote d’Ivoire has an estimated annual snail consumption of 7.9 million kg. Although the annual snail consumption figure for Nigeria is not known, one thing is certain that the demand is far ahead of the supply. Snail farming in Nigeria therefore has very bright future.
For more details on how to start up a Snail farm contact;
Agro News Nigeria;
Email; agronewsnigeria@gmail .com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Call; 08035044364, 07031097516.