By Tom Allen*
When I think back to that cold November back in 1970 when I attended my first Annual in St. Louis, I can easily remember the thoughts that crossed my mind as I proudly accepted my two third place award cards... how do these breeders get all that size on their fish? How many of you can also think back to your start in the hobby and will admit to having parallel thoughts'? I've spent the last 25+ years trying to answer that one big question. Admittedly, back in 1970, I was a complete novice in the hobby but I always tried to learn from others and made it a point to listen whenever one of the "big names" in the hobby was talking.
Here are some "big name" secrets that you probably already know:
1) Size is as much a result of genetics as it is of feeding. if you are working with a strain of fish which has been inbred to the point where generation after generation, you breed small fish, nothing short of an outcross to a compatible strain will make bigger fish. Consider the opposite as well... you can disguise poor feeding habits if you have a strain which is genetically "big."
2) Males reach 90% of their final body size within 4-6 months of birth. Does it pay to continue to feed baby brine, etc. for the ' remaining 10%? Wouldn't you be better served by giving this extra boost to younger fry?
3) Two feedings of baby brine each day are 10 times better than one feeding. Hatch more than you need for your main meal and keep the remainder in some brine solution with an airstone. Don't forget to rinse before you feed. Feed only to "growing" (see above) fish.
4) You don't have to feed 12 times per day to get big fish. Four to six quality meals will do just as well. Twelve meals, most times, gets you dirty and polluted tanks and stressed and diseased fish.
5) Work is not an excuse for not feeding. You can easily develop a feeding program which takes advantage of the time you are at home. Make it convenient for yourself... fit meals in during commercials. Feed before work, feed after work... just feed!
6) Newly hatched baby brine shrimp is the "A #1" food that you can give your fish. Following right behind is frozen beef heart. There's no question that there are a lot of more exotic blends and mixes with expensive ingredients, but the above 2 foods coupled with 2-4 feedings of quality food each day, should give your fish the size you want. One word of caution - the smallest of babies may not recognize frozen beef'heart for its food value and it may go uneaten.
7) Don't skimp on portions. So what if there is live-brine swimming around in the tank while you are away at work. Isn't this ideal... the very best food in front of your fish all day long. Try to feed more than you think the fish will eat. Yes, your water may get a little cloudy, but what are you shooting for, big fish or clear water? As long as the fish are healthy, who cares?
8) Don't put little fish in big tanks. How do you expect them to grow if they cannot find the food?
9) When good shrimp eggs are available, take advantage of the situation and stock up. I've gone through two (or three, I can't remember) periods when good hatching eggs were impossible to get. Spend the extra money now... who knows how long the good eggs will be available. Also, strip the inedible shells off any poorly hatching eggs to take full advantage of their food value. Your fish will eat these shell-stripped eggs and, as long as you rinse thoroughly with clean water, there will not be any adverse reaction to this food.
10) Look for compatible lines/strains for outcrosses. Pass your quality line(s) to other members in your club to insure having a healthy strain.
Well, there it is in a nutshell... now there are no more secrets in our hobbyists' space.
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