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There are several different types of aquaculture feeds, including natural feeds and artificial ones. The natural feeds fall into one of three categories: natural animals and plants, trash fish, and live food organisms. Aqua farmers raise natural animal and plant foodstuffs with the fish as opposed to the trash fish, which are not a live foodstuff. Live food organisms are a specialized food generally fed to very small fish or aqua-farm products in their larval stages. Some specialty feeds have additives, such as vitamins, medicines, or vaccines.
Natural animals or fish and plants have several advantages and disadvantages. Often these foods are cheaper than some of the other choices. The fish or other seafood are free to feed whenever they are hungry since the natural products co-habitat with the aqua-farm product. The aqua farmer has less control over these aquaculture feeds, and they may not meet the full nutritional requirements of the aquaculture crop.
Rough or trash fish feeds, which are noncommercial fish, are more expensive than natural aquaculture feeds. An aqua farmer needs to factor in the cost of keeping the trash fish refrigerated or frozen. Some fish or seafood will not accept artificial foods, and therefore some aqua farmers rely on trash fish. The disadvantage to using trash fish is that these fish are slow to fatten the fish. A longer period between hatching and harvest means a lower profit.
Manufacturers offer artificial aquaculture feeds in floating or sinking pellets, crumbles, and flakes, as well as paste and moist forms. Typically, artificial feeds contain a high percentage of fishmeal. Artificial food increases growth relatively quickly. One major disadvantage is that the aqua farmer must customize it for the food crop, using species, age, and other factors as guidelines. Some fish or seafood may not eat the artificial feeds.
Live food organisms differ from natural aquaculture feeds because they are microorganisms like microalgae, microscopic animals called rotifers, and others. This type of foodstuff is beneficial for newly hatched fish and the larval stages of some species. Depending upon the species, the live food organisms may be plants or water animals. There are many disadvantages to using live food organisms. Typically, a person needs special skills and knowledge to raise the organisms, and the process is very time consuming, which increases the wage expenses.
Supplemental aquaculture feeds are cheaper and more abundant than many feeds. They are not suitable for being the only food source, but supplement the normal foodstuff. Usually these feeds contain only grains, such as soy, wheat, and rice. The disadvantage of having the extra cost of a supplemental feed is offset by the increased growth the feed produces.
Aqua farmers give their fish crops medicated feeds to combat many diseases and other stressors that attack their crop's health. Fish and other aquaculture crops are susceptible to stress from overpopulation, poor nutrition, and other problems. Poor water quality, such as low oxygen and high ammonia or nitrites, may affect the crop's health. Manufacturers formulate some medicated aquaculture feeds to counteract these problems. They design medicated feeds specifically for each species, and aqua farmers need to be mindful of this when purchasing this type of feed.