06 February 2006

A day in a Koi farm

While I have been travelling around, I missed out on a lot of exciting things happening in the Moz clan ... a cousin became an F18 pilot in the TUDM (Royal Malaysian Air Force), one opened a Koi farm and is now Malaysia's best Koi producer, amongst others.

In the aftermath of my open house, one of my cousins, San, invited me to visit his Koi farm, Koi Plus Sdn. Bhd., in Rawang. He dangled a few snakehead fishes (Sang Yu to the Chinese, Ikan Haruan in Malay) as carrot. Figuring that it would be educational, fun and I'll learn something new, and also with a few snakehead fishes for CNY, I couldn't resist the offer, so last Saturday, I took off to Rawang with my dad, Wong Sifu, MC and Taikotang in tow.

Finding the farm was half the adventure. Somewhere along the Rawang-Batang Berjuntai road, we had to turn off into a dirt road. The landmark is a muslim cemetary. Then you go off the paved road onto dirt road. Then you look out for a tree, turn left, then turn right, then you look out for a turning to the left when you're next to a river. Then you go until you find a farm house, go around it, then ... gosh ... I get confused just remembering the directions.

I often wondered to myself what I was doing on a dirt road driving my Honda City *gasp*. It felt like Camel Trophy for a very long while, we got our bearings all totally out of whack !! We made a few wrong turns, ending up in places like a car repair shop in the middle of nowhere and a dairy farm (nice cows. Really) ...

We were stuck in the middle of almost nowhere a few times ..

Eventually, we got our bearings right and found the koi farm ... but not without my car sustaining some cosmetic damage *tsk* - the Honda's undercarriage scraped some rocks on the dirt road. I hope all it well ... After 15 minutes on the dirt road, we started to come across what was unmistakably man-made ponds - no doubt the Koi 'ponds'. However, unlike your family koi pond, these have less than crystal clear water ...

Then we saw it ... the Koi farm office. Well, it's not much of an office, but how much paperwork do you process when you do Koi farming?

I don't mind an office like this, even if the nearest Starbucks is like ... 30 minutes away. Who needs coffee when you do Koi farming?

San welcomed us all, and gave us a tour of the place and a talk on the operations of the Koi farm. Turns out it's a full time job many times over ...

The koi from his farm are all export quality Koi's. He exports to mainly to Europe, since the local market is too small. According to San, the Koi's in his farm alone will take over a year to sell in Malaysia. In comparison, in just the short summer season (4 months) in Europe, he can sell of all the Koi's. That's over 2 million Koi's we're talking about.

First off, you have to breed the Koi's. San breed in-house to save cost and ensure quality. Each month, he and his staffs will select Koi's for breeding - trying to produce the Koi's with the most beautiful patterns. Once this has taken place, the Koi hatchlings will all be house in concrete ponds in the farm complex, being prepared for the next stage in Koi farming ...

Concrete ponds at the farm houses breeding, hatchling, selection/grading facilities and packaging facilities.

Selection. In this stage, little Koi's, about 1.5 inches long, are screened. Even at this tender age, a trained eye can tell if the Koi will grow into one with beautiful, marketable patterns Koi farmers strive to produce. Koi's are deemed to be unattractive/unmarketable solely based on the color-pattern combination. Since it is possible to predict the color-pattern early on, unattractive/unmarketable Koi's are screened early on. These rejected Koi's will be sold off to local aquariums as fish food or low-end Koi's. It also helps safe costs, not having to feed and care for Koi's that won't make it.

These are the unlucky ones - they are rejected because they would most likely grow into Koi's with patterns that are not attractive enough to export.

Once selected, grading follows. Some Koi's are more priced than others, and these would be kept in some more protected ponds (that might have nets over the pond, for example to prevent birds from feeding on them). Grading also takes place in various stages of a Koi's development, ultimately resulting in Koi's being graded - according based on criteria such shape, size, patterns - into grades ranging from AAA to C. Only the AAA, AA and A grades will make the cut.

Maybe it's my ignorance - but I can't believe that even these ones don't make the grade !! This is a rejected batch !!

And then, there's the bread and butter task of looking after Koi's - the twice daily feeding (guess what? Koi's are fed with dog food !!), the monitoring of water quality (pH must be close to neutral), the disease monitoring (I didn't know fishes can get mites. And no, I didn't know there is currently a watchout for a fish virus. Then there's bacterial and fungal infections) and the management of the reservoir from which the ponds draw water from.

It's quite ingenius, really. The whole farm is built between a hill and a river - water from a stream running down the fill is dammed off to create reservoirs, and through a series of pipes and waterlocks, water runs from the reservoir into intermediary ponds (where water pH is neutralised first) and then into the Koi ponds.

This reservoir supplies water to many of the Koi ponds - but the water is too acidic, and needs to be neutralised using ammonia-based fertiliser in intermediary ponds.

In the drought, when the reservoir runs low/dry, water is then pumped from the river, and again, purified/prepared in intermediary ponds before being pumped into Koi ponds.

There's about 50 ponds in San's farm - and all are kept in tip top condition by his 10 staffs, kept busy most of the time.

Koi's are ready for 'harvesting' at many different stages. Some are sold when as little as 2 inches, while some are 18-24 inches. The locally bred ones don't grow as big, topping the scale at 2.5 feet.

And then, there's 'harvest' time, when Koi's need to be fished from the ponds for one last selection/grading before being packaged, and sent to an export center in Subang. There, the Koi's are kept under quarantine, and prepared for export to the world. Koi's from San's farm goes mostly to Europe, but do end up in US, Singapore and other countries as well.

It's sad to note that while the locally bred Koi's don't lose out much to the ones imported from Japan and Taiwan, local Koi enthusiasts almost never buy local Koi's. They rather spend a few times more money buying similar quality Koi's from Japan and Taiwan!! Hehe ... I was informed that the really good quality Koi's from Taiwan and Japan are sold back in Taiwan and Japan (where it fetches better price) and USA (where it fetches better price too) ... go lah ... buy imported ones lah ... :-P ... the Malaysian syndrome strikes yet again

MC, Wong Sifu, Moz and San at the reservoir.

Unfortunately, lack of local support isn't the only risk in Koi farming. Weather conditions (too much/too little rain), disease (mites and viruses), success of breeding and other factors could all throw a spanner in the works. Also, since San sells mostly to Europe, he only has 3-4 months during the summer to sell his Koi's there, so an entire year's labor is all depending on his harvest during this short period (which is about now) .. and there's increasing competition from farms in Thailand and Israel, and the lack of direct cargo flights to Europe (compared to say ... Singapore ... which is why over 50 Singaporean companies are exporting Koi's while only 3 from Malaysia).

Still, this year, San expects to sell between 2-3 MILLION Koi's. Wah ... so many ... already, he's sent a batch just a couple of weeks ago, which is why I didn't get any pictures of the real nice Koi's, to the export center. Once the quarantine period is over sometime this week, it should be heading to Europe, in time for summer.

Phew ... didn't realise there were so many things to consider in a Koi enterprise. *Admires San* ... I really respect San for his entepreneurship.

My reward for the visit was 4 snakehead fishes (1 kg+ each). These fishes are reared in a few ponds, because their refuse is actually used as feed for hatchlings ... One Fish's Shit is Another's Meat? ... and around CNY each year, they would give some to us (it's a delicacy to my dad).

We got 4 snakehead fishes (Sang Yu) from San.

So ... here's what happened to these fishes. Vegetarians, please look away and keep your comments to yourselves !!

We took the 4 fishes to a local restaurant on Sunday night, had 1 steamed, 2 sliced and cooked with ginger and spring onions, and one more deep friend and then cooked with beehon (rice noodles) "Yu Tau Mai". Then we invited a few family friends, an uncle and a cousin nearby, and viola ... dinner is served.


I don't normally do fishes, but I have to admit that this fish is delicious, despite the many bones.
Goes well with a small dose of whisky too ;). Yeah, my uncle coaxed me out of my self-imposed alcohol ban ... but only very little ... Wong Sifu, Taikotang, Sean ... your not lost is my gain. Thanks for Fong Fei Kei ...

Oh, yeah, the disclaimer part. Look, I am not a professional Koi farmer, I'm professional procrastinator. Information in this page about rearing Koi's are based on the talk given to me by San. And with my notoriously short attention span, I won't be surprised some facts might have been omitted or misreported. If you start a Koi farm based on my writeup, you have my blessings and best wishes, but you would do extremely well to consult professional help. Please don't sue me if you don't make it. If you make it, you are free to contribute some gratitude fees to me, but that's entirely up to you.


angel said...

One Fish's Shit is Another's Meat.


Wu, CanRou said...

I really like your photo of the reservoir except I really don't like Nikons color, especially the color of the sky. However, it’s a nice composition nevertheless.

moz monster said...

angel: sad but true.
luncheon meat: thanks for the comment. i'm still saving for my first SLR ...