Forage Systems Research Center on raising catfish

The Forage Systems Research Center, in Linneus, Mo., does a variety of research and education on forage crops, cattle and now channel catfish.

Aaron Palmer, a farm worker at FSRC, was looking at raising catfish on his own. With more than 10 ponds at the Forage Systems Research Center, Superintendent David Davis suggested Palmer should look at raising catfish there, instead.

Palmer is working with Greg Pitchford, a Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries management biologist, to conduct the project.  

“Raising catfish isn’t as common as one would think,” Pitchford said. “I did raise catfish as a side project in college, but I’m no expert. I do know that I’m excited to help Aaron out. It’s going to be a fun project.”

There has been plenty of preparation for the catfish. Palmer built a cage for the fish, with a focus on keeping raccoons and otters out of the feed and away from the fish. He, along with other farm workers, also built a dock so the cage can be in the deepest part of the pond.

“I basically built a cage from scratch,” Palmer said. “We had a square cage, but they wanted a round cage. I had to take the square one completely apart and rebuilt it into a round one. I also built the float for it.”

The cage is four feet tall and about three feet across. Pitchford said there will be 225 catfish in the cage. FSRC also received 50 hybrid bluegill that will go in a separate cage.

“You can’t give the fish too much space or they’ll get territorial and fight,” Pitchford said. “You have to stamp out their desire to fight.”

Palmer will start with catfish that are six to eight inches long. Palmer said they want the fish to grow to 14 to 15 inches and weigh around 1 ½ pounds.

“When we get the fish, we’ll sample them,” Palmer said. “We’ll weigh them and measure them. We’ll adjust their feed and feed them for two weeks that way. After those two weeks, we’ve got to pull another sample out and weigh them again. We’ll do that until they get to market size.

“For cage culture, a floating feed is recommended. The cage was constructed so that the feed stays inside the cage. It will keep the feed from getting away from the fish.”

Once the fish get to market size, in late September or October, Palmer said FSRC will look at the best way to sell them.

“We’ll just have to see once we get that far,” Palmer said. “I’ll come up with a market plan if I need to. If that’s extra income toward the farm, that’s great. If not, we’ll be frying a few fish.

“We basically have some cattle water ponds that just kind of sit idle. If you can make a little money, it’s worth it to try.”