Feeding to Improve Growth Rates

Supplemental feeding can improve the health and size of fish in your pond. Feeding should be considered supplemental and not the sole source of food for your fish. Having a balanced forage base in your pond should be the sustaining goal and feeding should be done to augment the natural food sources in your pond. Before starting a feeding program, you need to consider the fish species you have in your pond, the size of the fish in your pond, the dietary requirements, the type of feeding you will do, and the oxygen supply in the water to make sure your feed investment doesn’t go to waste.

Fish Species
Not all fish species respond the same way to supplemental feeding. Some species, such as Yellow Perch, are very difficult to feed train, especially if they have been in the pond for some time. Others such as Trout, Bluegill, Bass, and Catfish can be trained on feed more easily and if you have recently purchased them from a fish farm, they will be very easy to feed.

Another concern with species is how they feed. Trout naturally feed on the surface regularly, so floating feed is best. It allows you to easily see how much is being eaten so you don’t overfeed and since they are used to surface feeding, it will be easy to train them. Some species will feed below the surface more regularly, so sinking feed may be better for them. Catfish, for example, can use floating when water is warm, but do better with sinking feed as the water temperatures drop. It is easy to overfeed sinking feed, so try to limit this by feeding slowly or small amounts more often. Excess food adds more nutrients to the water which plants will use to grow.

Growth Rates

Fish Size
Just as fish come in all shapes and sizes, so does fish food. Whether it be floating, slow sink, or sinking, fish food is available in many sizes to range from fingerlings to adults. You must select the proper size feed for the species and age of your fish. In a properly balanced pond, you will have a good mix of small and large fish species and within those individual species, you will have small and large individuals.

If, for example, you only want to feed the Bass in your pond and not the forage fish, a larger pellet will suffice. If you would like to supplement the feed for all of your fish, you will need to supply multiple sizes to accommodate the various species and age groups. This can cause issues if large amounts of feed are unused. Not only is it a waste of money, but also adds loads of nutrients to the pond.

Dietary Requirements
Just as in deciding which style and size of feed you will need, you must also consider the dietary requirements of your fish. Fish feed varies in protein levels, fat content, as well as filler material. You should select the type of feed that meets the requirements of your fish species and age range. For example, if you are primarily feeding Channel Catfish, you should choose a feed with 28-32% protein and as little filler material as possible. Trout often require feed with high fat content to see good growth rates

Ways to Feed
Once you’ve determined the feed you will need to use, you need to determine how to get that feed to the fish. There are many commercial feeders on the market. The most common are timer based broadcast feeders and demand feeders.

Timer based broadcast feeders allow you to set when you want the fish fed and how much they are fed each time. These are great for controlling the amount of feed that is put into the pond and when they will be fed. The feed is broadcast around the feeder to allow for a wide area of fish to feed. The downside of this style is it does not take into account local changes with the fish. For example, if you have a large Mayfly hatch and your fish are stuffed from that buffet of bugs, your feeder will still pump out feed on the regular schedule, even if your fish cannot eat it. You also must provide power in the form of batteries or solar, which can add to the cost. All in all though, timed broadcast feeders do allow for good control of feeding.

Demand feeders allow the fish to decide when they will eat. Most have a rod that the fish will bump and feed will fall. It may take a little time for fish to be trained to it, but they will catch on. The major benefit of these is when fish are hungry, they can eat, as long as the feeder is full. The downside is, there is no control over the feed. If more comes out than can be eaten, it will be wasted. It also limits the areas where fish can access, so the big fish tend to crowd out smaller ones.

Hand feeding is the least expensive since there is no equipment to buy. However, unless you only feed occasionally, it can become a chore to have to go out and feed your fish. You can, however, see how much the fish are eating and control the amount that is put into the pond so feed costs are typically lower with this style as well. A good rule of thumb is to feed what the fish can eat in 5 minutes. If feed is still floating after 5 minutes, you need to cut back on your feeding quantities the next time. Wasted feed not only costs money, but will also add unwanted nutrients to your pond.

Oxygen Levels
Finally, you need to consider oxygen levels. Fish use up to 10 times as much oxygen during feeding as they do at rest. Therefore, the more oxygen you have, the more fish can feed and grow faster. Conversely, if you have low oxygen and feed the fish, you could stress them to the point of death.

It is important to have aeration in the pond if you plan to feed often. This will help ensure fish survival, but also increased activity and feeding. If you are hand feeding or using a timed broadcaster, make sure to feed when oxygen levels are sufficient. As a general rule, oxygen levels are lowest in late afternoon during very hot, still periods and early morning just before dawn. Try to avoid feeding during these times. Morning feeding, after the sun has been up but before it is too hot, is typically best. Once a day should be sufficient, depending on your forage population and the goal for fish growth.

There are many factors that go into feeding fish. To be effective and not waste your time and money, or put your fish at risk, consult with a fish farmer or pond manager before beginning any feeding routine. They can help you determine the right style, size, and nutritional value feed for your fish, how often to feed, and when the best time to feed is for your situation.