Fish offer alternative to traditional farms

This article submitted by Molly Connors on 11/19/96.

Kevin and Shirley Klaphake do chores every morning. They care for cows, chickens and fish.


Yes, fish. The Klaphakes built a fish barn, dug a new well and installed six 10,000-gallon tanks on Aug. 24.

They also raise chickens for Gold'N Plump Poultry. Aquaculture, or the fish-raising industry, is similar to the poultry industry.

The Klaphakes have a contract with Glacial Hills, the company that builds tank systems like the one Klaphakes' own. Glacial Hills also supplies them with fingerlings, or small fish, and markets their fish when they reach full growth. Their Gold'N Plump contract works in a similar manner, with the comp providing the chickens and the market.

Fish farming is easier on Shirley, because it's cleaner and little manual labor is involved. Shirley likes the fish farm. She's also an accountant/ bookkeeper in Sauk Centre, so she can do fish chores in her work clothes. She won't come out of the barn covered with manure or smelling, she said.

"(Aquaculture) was another way of looking into farming. It's something for the future," Kevin said. In this investment, Kevin also thought of his parents, with whom he farms now. Fish chores are something they can easily do after they retire, he said.

The fish barn has six 10,000-gallon tanks. One is a biofilter tank, where bacteria grow. Four tanks hold equal numbers of fish. The sixth tank is the purge tank, where fish go before they are harvested.

Glacial Hills systems don't use pumps. All the water is moved and recirculated using air and gravity. The system is called the Closed Loop Recirculating System. Water in each tank is completely recirculated every 45 minutes, said Shane Wendt, Glacial Hills vice president of marketing.

The water runs from each fish tank through a screen filter. This filter traps all solid wastes, like fish waste and uneaten food. Then the water runs through the biofilter tank. A graph of two by four planks cover the tank. Plastic strips hang over the boards.

The plastic provides surface area for bacteria growth. This bacteria processes ammonia and nitrites. It's similar to the role of rocks and weeds in a pond.

Fish are transferred to the purge tank when they are ready to harvest, or ready for the processing plant. The fish spend four or five days in this tank. They aren't fed at all, so the meat is clean and has no waste products when it arrives at Glacial Hills' processing plant in Starbuck.

During the seven months before the fish are ready for harvest, Kevin and Shirley feed them every morning and every evening.

Feeding is "critical" for the fish, Shirley said. The time the fish are fed is flexible, but the amounts are stricter. The fish are delicate and if they're overfed, they tend to quit eating, Shirley said.

Each fish tank also has a feeder that operates on a 12-hour belt, so the fish are fed throughout the day. The lights in the fish barn are on timers. The fish get four hours of darkness every night.

The Klaphakes feed the fish twice a day so they can observe the fish. They check the appearance and behavior of the fish.

Right now, the Klaphakes have yellow perch in their tanks. There is a high demand for these fish in the Great Lakes states, according to Wendt. Pollution, overfishing and strict regulations make the natural yellow perch supply unable to keep up with market demands.

The Klaphakes expect to produce around 60,000 pounds of yellow perch per year. Once their system gets going, they will have harvests each month, maybe every other week, Kevin said.

The future of the Klaphake's fish farm looks bright. The price per pound of yellow perch was listed at $9.59 in the Mid-West and Canadian Wholesale Market Report.

Any inquiries about the Glacial Hills system can be directed to 1-800-592-FISH.

Kevin said they won't be holding an open house, to avoid problems with the system. Anyone who is interested in the system or would like a tour can contact the Klaphakes or Glacial Hills.

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