Feed Bites

Unveiling the Mechanics of Aquaculture Feeds: A Glimpse into What It Takes to Feed a Microscopic Animal

Written by: Guest   |   January 16, 2024

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By: Emily Alvarez 

Have you ever thought about what your shrimp eat during their lifetimes? We had not either, until a recent member visit with an aquatic feed manufacturer piqued our interest. Feeding microscopic animals is no small feat, but as aquaculture has gained traction in recent years as an important component of our global food system providing people with another source of protein, it is a challenge that our member companies are tackling daily.  

This blog aims to explore the dynamics of aquaculture, specifically focusing on the hatchery phase of aquaculture production, and to shed light on how one company, Zeigler Bros, Inc., a third generation, family-owned feed company based in Gardners, Pa., contributes to its development. Chris Stock, global director of aquaculture sales, shared more on the subject, particularly answering our questions about how companies in this space feed microscopic aquatic organisms.  

Microorganism Nutrition Essentials: How Do You Feed Them? 

Feeding microorganisms, in this case shrimp, in aquaculture is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, Stock explained. Varied species and stages of shrimp require specific nutrients to thrive. In alignment with feed industry practices, feeds are formulated to provide a balanced nutritional profile, catering to the varying needs of shrimp throughout their life cycle. Stock explained: 

“To be able to feed these organisms, we need to be able to get all the nutrients into one microscopic bite. We must ensure our diets have excellent water stability so that they do not leach their nutrients into the water, which fouls the rearing environment and deprives the animals of essential nutrition. We also must focus on the size and buoyancy of the food. We have created feed products as small as 10 microns and can control the sink rate of our diets. These are the fundamentals.”  

Like many other companies across the feed industry, Zeigler conducts scientific research and tailors feed formulations to match the specific requirements of various aquatic organisms. This approach contributes to the overall success and sustainability of aquaculture operations.  

“It's a bit of an art and a science,” he said.  

Pioneering Research and Adaptability 

To stay at the forefront of scientific advancements, the feed industry continuously evolves to meet advances in animal nutrition and changing environmental dynamics. Stock explained that his company started at a time when the scientific understanding of aquatic animal feed requirements was not well understood.  

“Today, aquaculture is rapidly evolving, you have intensification, higher stocking densities and you need diets that allow the animals to realize their potential. Shrimp genetics are advancing rapidly, and when you combine this with the adoption of advanced production practices, you have a need for a high-powered diet.”  

In the world of aquaculture feeds, research is a cornerstone, shaping the industry's trajectory. Zeigler, along with its peers, plays a role in this collective pursuit of knowledge. Stock said: 

“We act as an information exchange; we are always working with our customers in the field, and we take back information about our products, but we also stay abreast of new issues affecting the industry, and we are always transferring information between customers in different parts of the world.”  

Diving Into the Challenges of Aquaculture Feed 

The aquaculture industry is not without its share of challenges. Stock provided us with some of the daily obstacles aquatic feed manufacturers encounter.  

“When dealing with shrimp, in tanks that are stocked with millions of microscopic animals, it's much harder to get a headcount than other forms of agriculture. Hatchery managers must constantly draw samples to calculate the population and determine the developmental stages of life they are in to accurately feed the larvae. Producers must also set animal health and performance benchmarks to make sure their larvae are successfully growing and are healthy.  “You're putting microscopic feed into a tank with organisms you cannot see without the aid of a microscope, that in itself creates a challenging business.” 

Beyond the obstacles of feeding shrimp, feed manufacturers also worry about disease prevention and control. Stock said:  

“Diseases are the most consistent issues, market prices will come and go, but diseases are persistent, so we try and make diets that mitigate health risks through natural compounds to reduce usage of antibiotics.” 

As Zeigler collectively navigates the delicate balance of meeting the nutritional needs of shrimp, managing diseases and addressing other environmental and supply chain challenges, the pursuit of responsible and effective feeding practices remains at the forefront. So, maybe the next time you enjoy a shrimp cocktail, you can think about the cool things aquatic feed manufacturers get to do to ensure shrimp are fed well and remain healthy throughout their lives. 


Did You Know? 

Shrimp is America’s favorite seafood, based on annual consumption data from the National Fisheries Institute. Learn more>> 


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