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Feeding Pond Fish Needs

With so many foods to choose from, retailers have a wide variety to offer customers.
By David Lass

The pond business is a strong and growing segment of the aquatics market. After filtration, what customers feed their fish is an important key to success in keeping pond fish, as well as a large, repeatable sales opportunity for retailers.

Industry Voices

What are the important factors when choosing foods for koi and other pond fish?

“A feed should be designed to meet the demands of early development. It should contain ingredients that would enhance the vibrant color of the fish along with improved immune function and healthy tissue development.”
—Susan Thompson, marketing services supervisor for Zeigler Brothers in Gardners, Pa.

“Always look for vitamin C content, freshness, packaging, and a name you can trust. Most ‘named’ foods have the nutritional requirements, but certain elements, such as vitamin C, will readily break down once the food is opened.”
—Carolyn Weise, consumer relations manager—pond for Ecological Laboratories in Malverne, N.Y.

“High digestibility is very important, since with better digestibility there is much less waste, and much less solids in the water.”
—Michael Massie, president of Young Again Pet Food in Stacey, Minn.

“Freshness is a key ingredient in selecting any food product. This helps to ensure that the vitamins and nutrients are feeding your fish effectively. Look at the ingredients and protein percentages. High-quality proteins should lead the listing. I would shy away from foods that have a high percentage of soybean, corn and wheat middlings in their ingredient list.”
—Eric Goldberg, national marketing and sales manager for Chengro Quality Koi Food in Havertown, Pa.

“There are a few things that are important when choosing koi food: higher protein content (unless it’s winter), type of ingredients, like fruits and vegetables, fish meal, and low ash and low fat content.”
—Dave Burns, owner of Backyard Getaway in Sarasota, Fla.

While the market has been segmented to offer specialty foods for koi and goldfish, many professionals state that both types of fish can eat the same food.

“The nutritional requirements are so close, it really doesn’t matter,” said Bill Wymard, director of operations for Aquarium Adventure in Columbus, Ohio. “In fact, just about every brand lists the food as good for koi or other types of carp.”

This applies to pond fish in the northern portion of the United States or in other cooler, temperate climates, as nearly all of the fish hobbyists keep in a pond during cold weather are koi or goldfish.

“Southern ponds may be stocked with cichlids, oscars and a variety of tropical fish,” said Carolyn Weise, consumer relations manager—pond, for Ecological Laboratories in Malverne, N.Y. “There are prepared foods specifically formulated for these fish. Will they eat koi food? Sure they will. Most fish will eat whatever fits into their mouth and has an appetizing taste.”

Others in the industry had similar sentiments. Several professionals mentioned the dichotomy between various types of foods. A group of professionals from Tetra, a division of United Pet Group, headquartered in Blacksburg, Va., including Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager for nutrition and water care, Jose Torres, brand manager, and Chris Davidson, pond sales manager, offered their views on trends in pond fish food development.

“The better quality foods tend to be made with the optimal health and growth of pond fish in mind,” the Tetra professionals said in a joint statement. “The lesser-quality foods are usually very dense and designed for use in aquaculture [and] trout hatcheries.”

Hobbyists with prized koi want very specialized foods, they continued, and such foods have the potential to bring out the brilliant colors in fancy koi, which are known to benefit from higher protein content in their foods.

In addition to feeding a high-quality prepared food, most industry professionals encourage hobbyists to supplement prepared foods with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Retailers may find it useful to provide this advice to customers.

“We like to feed our koi and goldfish fresh fruits and veggies like watermelon, zucchini, frozen peas, bananas,” said Dave Burns, owner of Backyard Getaway in Sarasota, Fla. “If it’s good for you, then it’s good for your koi.”

Ned Bowers, owner of Uncle Ned’s Fish Factory in Millis, Mass., agreed, suggesting pond fish keepers should feed yams to both koi and plecostomus catfish.

Just as consumers with dogs and cats have become more aware of what they are feeding their pets and in turn are offering a wider variety of more natural foods to their pets, so too are fishkeepers expanding the selection of foods they offer to their fish. The pond marketplace has seen a variety of pond and koi foods become available to meet this growing demand.

“Certainly, variety is important in any animal’s diet and the same goes for fish,” Wymard said. “The more variety, the better in the long run for the fish, which in their natural environment get lots of variety [in their diet].

“It’s all about marketing, as with everything,” he continued. “We are selling to the consumer, not to the fish, so you will see flashy graphics and advertising that appeals to ‘our’ sense of food.”

Advances in knowledge about koi nutrition have also contributed to the development and introduction of new and different foods for these fish.
“One of our favorite food lines is the Microbe-lift Legacy foods,” Burns said. “They have fruits, greens and immunostimulant foods that are supplemental foods.”

In tandem with the new foods are new supplemental ingredients, such as additives to improve food digestibility.

“Zeigler’s Koi and Pond Feeds now contain a supplement called Vpak, which is an all-natural additive designed to improve overall fish health and resistance to disease,” said Susan Thompson, marketing services supervisor for Zeigler Brothers in Gardners, Pa.

In addition to digestive aids, probiotics are another supplemental ingredient that are appearing in the pond fish food arena.

“Probiotics involve adding known bacteria that degrade fibers and nondigestible protein,” said Michael Massie, president of Young Again Pet Foods in Stacey, Minn. “If something is digestible, the body will be very good at using it.”

Probiotics are known to colonize the digestive tracks of fish, and in other animal models they have been shown to improve overall health, Massie added. Probiotics also promote fish immune system function. They help fish use as much of the food as possible, which means there is less waste entering the pond. “Feed the fish, not the pond” is a very common aphorism in the hobby.

“Probiotics assist fish in digesting their food more completely, thus passing less waste into the pond water,” said Eric Goldberg, national marketing and sales manager for Chengro Quality Koi Food in Havertown, Pa.

With changing seasons, water temperatures vary, and most experts recommend that pond keepers modify the types of feeds they offer to koi and pond fish in colder northern climates.

“Depending on the age of the fish and the time of the year, there are different feeds; feed used during the growing season and feed used during cool weather,” Thompson said.

Water temperature averaged between day and night is the main factor to consider in offering different foods. Koi do not really have a stomach, but rather just have an extended intestinal tract. They eat frequently, and their nutritional needs are determined by water temperature.

“As temperatures decrease, so does a fish’s metabolism and digestive ability,” said David Acland, a marine biologist and head of the aquatics science department for That Fish Place/ That Pet Place in Lancaster, Pa. “High protein foods are more difficult to digest than high fiber foods, so care should be taken as water temperatures go down.

“It is much safer to feed high-fiber, lower-protein spring and fall formula foods, once your water temperature has fallen below 60 degrees,” he added.

As temperatures continue to drop in colder climates, the fish cease to be able to metabolize food, and feeding should stop until spring. Retailers may wish to keep these points in mind when stocking pond fish foods or when offering advice to customers. <HOME>

This article first appeared in the August 2010 issue of Pet Product News International. Click here to become a subscriber.

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