Snail Farming (Heliculture)

snail-farming-heliculture

Snail farming is nothing new, with snail cultivation having begun in the prehistoric age where humans used snails both as a food source and for their medicinal benefits. It’s seen an increase in interest in recent years, with more people deciding to become growers at all levels of the industry, from smaller, hobbyists, to industrial scale farming for both food and snail slime creams.

Suitable Place and Soil

An open pasture is considered best for snail farming, as this allows you to grow suitable plants which act as both feed and shelter for the snails. Sheds are not typically used, however some growers prefer to raise their snails off of the ground, but this is their preference and it’s not necessary. It’s important to pick a site for your farm that has some exposure to wind, as this works to effectively dry out the soil. Once a site has been decided on, you’ll then need to remove predatory insects and pests which may compete with your snails.

It’s for this reason that soil analysis and growing leafy, green crops are a necessity. It’s also important to keep friable soil at its optimum PH level, this being between 5.7 and 7.5. As well as this, you should ensure that your soil contains calcium, as this is essential for both the snails development and reproductive process.

In addition to plants, snails should also be kept moist by night time dew, rain or collected misting. The reason for this is that snails move more quickly and easily, allowing them to get around and eat more, leading to faster growth.

It’s important to have a proper drainage system as it’s important that there is no water puddles where snails are being reared. This is especially important if you’re farming at ground level, however, if like many farmers you intend to raise your snails off of the ground, this shouldn’t be an issue. It’s also important to remove any large trees or other places where predators and insects can grow, as well as this, trees can also add shade which helps to promote plants that thrive in shaded areas and hinders dew fall.

Size of Farm

The size of snail farms depends heavily on the category of grower, this ranges from cottage industry growers or hobbyists, who typically utilise between 1000 to 2000 square meters, to small businesses who use 3000 to 10,000 square metres, and beyond, to large scale farming operations that can utilise anywhere from 2 to 30 hectors for their farms.

Constructing a Snailery

There are a number of different types of snailery that can be used to breed and raise snails. Which type a farmer uses depends on their snails stage of development and species habits.

Snaileries typically make use of decay and termite resistant timber, such as Iroko, Opepe and Ekki sandcrete blocks, along with polythene sheeting and mosquito nets. The most comment types of snailery are:

  • Hutch boxes
  • Trench pens
  • Mini Paddock pens
  • Moveable pens
  • Free range pens

Feed

Most species of snail are vegetarian and can be reared on a variety of different feeds, including green leaves, fruits, tubers and flowers. Recommended types of feed for snails include:

Leaves: Cocoyam, kola, bokoboko, paw paw, cassava, okra, eggplant, loofa, etc.

Fruits: Pawpaw, mango, banana, pear, oil palm, fig tomato etc.

Tubers: Cocoyam, cassava, yam, sweet, potato and plantain.

Flowers: Oprono, odwuma and pawpaw.

In addition to these feeds snail farmers also incorporate feeds that are higher in nutrients that are designed to increase the rate at which their snails grow, making it typical for most farmers to fee their snails a mixed feed.

Mating and Egg Laying

Snails are somewhat unique as an animal, as they are hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. Despite this, they do engage in intercourse with another snail of the same species before they lay eggs. From one season to the next, snails change their rolls in the reproductive process, acting as males one then acting as females the next.

Snails mate once they reach adult maturity, and typically mate from late spring to early summer. After mating, snails can store sperm for up to a year, allowing them to fertilize their eggs at a later date, however, it’s more common for snails to use up this store, producing eggs within a few weeks of having mated.

For snails to successfully mate, at least two inches of soil is needed for egg laying. This soil must be free of pests, such as ants, earwigs, millipedes, etc. The soil must also be moist, with dry, clay and heavy soil not being suitable, decreasing the reproduction and hatching ability of snails.

Whether eggs hatch or not is dependent on soil temperature, humidity and composition, with rich soil being the most suitable. Reproduction is often hazardous to snails, with as many as a third losing and being able to recover their weight after laying their eggs, resulting in their death.

Diseases

Snail farms must be constructed in environments that are hygienic, as this can help to inhibit the development and spread of diseases that affect snails, increasing their health and rate of growth. Farmers can also take additional measures to ensure their snails remain in good health, including the daily replacing of food to avoid spoilage and adding earthworms to the soil to prevent infections from bacterium Pseudomonas.

When snail populations are too dense they can also come under attack from parasites, nematodes, trematodes, fungi and micro arthropods, making it important to limit the number of snails per square meter to no more than 20-30 snails.