Constructing a Snailery
The type and dimensions of your snailery depend, obviously, on the snail growing system you choose, and on the quantity of snails you intend to produce. As far as housing is concerned, your snail farm could be extensive, semi-intensive, or intensive depending on your management and financial inputs.
Regardless of the size and type of your snail farm, the housing system must meet the following conditions.
- Escape-proof: snails are master-escapists and unless prevented from doing so they will quickly wander all over your (or your neighbors’) garden or house;
- Spacious, in accordance with the growing stage of the snails (hatchlings, juveniles, breeding snails, or mature snails fattened for consumption). Snails suffer from overcrowding, which impedes their development and increases the risk of diseases.
- Easily accessible and easy to work in or with, for handling the snails, placing feed, cleaning and other tasks;
- Well-protected from insects, predators and poachers. Different materials can be used for building snailery depending on price and availability.
Caution: It is important to know that you don’t use chemicals on a land proposed for snail farming. If after clearing the farm land there are still some unwanted parasite; then you gather the dried weeds and burn them on the farm land to kill the parasites.
Types of Snail Food
What Snails Eat:
Snails are vegetarian and will accept many types of food. All snails will avoid plants that have hairy leaves or produce toxic chemicals, like physic nut (Jathropa curcas). Young snails prefer tender leaves and shoots; they consume about twice as much feed as mature snails. As they get older, mature snails increasingly feed on detritus: fallen leaves, rotten fruit and humus should be introduced gradually.
What Snails Need:
Snails need carbohydrates for energy, and protein for growth. In addition they require calcium (Ca) for their shells, as well as other minerals and vitamins. Snail meat is low in crude fiber and fat; for that reason, these components are of minor importance in snail feed.
Recommended Food Items For Snail Farming:
Leaves: cocoyam, kola, paw paw, cassava, okra, eggplant, loofa, centrosema, cabbage and lettuce. Paw paw leaves (as well as its fruit and fruit peels) stand out in many trials as good snail food.
Fruits: paw paw, mango, banana, eggplant, pear, oil palm, fig, tomato and cucumber. Fruits are usually rich in minerals and vitamins, but low in protein.
Tubers: cocoyam, cassava, yam, sweet potato and plantain. Tubers are a good source of carbohydrates, though low in protein.
Household waste: peels of fruit and tuber, like banana, plantain, pineapple, yam especially paw paw, and leftovers like cooked rice, beans, fufu and eko. Caution: household waste must not contain salt!
Recommendations on Natural Feed For Snail Farming
Market waste: because snails are vegetarians, the cheapest way to feed them is by collecting rejected food from marketplaces. At the end of any market day, some perishable vegetables and fruits still useful for snail consumption can be collected from the dumping areas. This would reduce the cost and labour of buying or cultivating vegetables and fruits only to feed snails. Caution: you should not collect vegetables and fruits that are decaying.
Snails can feed on a large range of food items but feed containing waxy or hairy leaves should be avoided. Providing the forest snail with a mixture of foods, rather than only one or two items, will enhance its growth. Food attractiveness is important in the nutrition of this species. If the food is appetizing (e.g. paw paw) the snails will eat a lot and grow quickly. If food is unattractive, however nutritious it may be, the snails will not eat much of it.
Paw paw leaves, fruit and peels are a good source of crude protein. For strong growth and good shell development, powdered calcium sources from egg shells, limestone, wood-ash, oyster shells (crushed), or bone meal, should be added to the feed at a level of about 15 to 20% of diet dry matter. Crushed oyster shell calcium is best.
Snails need water! Most is supplied by the food they consume, but additional water must be supplied in the growing pens: a water soaked sponge or a dot of cotton wool for hatchings and juveniles, in shallow dishes (otherwise the snails may drown) for mature and breeding snails.
Supplementary vitamins: Other food plants known to contain moderate amounts of vitamins D, E and K should be added. Examples are sunflower and copra cake (vitamin D), wheat germ, lettuce and other vegetables (vitamin E), cabbage and African spinach (vitamin K).
Supplementary calcium: If the soil is not high in calcium, supplementary calcium will be needed. This can be provided by sprinkling powdered oyster or snail shells or ground limestone onto leafy vegetables.
Supplementary minerals: Other minerals can be provided by placing licking stones containing the mineral in the pen.
Predators, Parasites And Diseases of Snail Farming
Snail farmers must be aware of several predators, parasites and diseases if mortality rates are to be kept to a minimum. Snails have many natural predators, including members of all major vertebrate vertebrate groups, carnivorous snails, ground beetles, leeches and even predatory caterpillars. Humans also pose great dangers to snails in the wild. Pollution and destruction of habitats have caused the extinction of some snail species in recent years. Human poachers pose a great danger to farm grown snails as well!
The major predators a snail farmer may have to deal with are field mice, rats and shrews, frogs and toads, thrushes, crows and domesticated birds such as ducks and turkeys, lizards and snakes, drilled and carabid beetles, and millipedes and centipedes. The frogs tend to take only the young snails, while the reptiles eat both eggs and snails of all ages.
In areas with high bird predation, it is necessary to place cover nets over the pens. Keeping some of the other predators out may require building fences around the pens. The fences should be between 15 and 30 cm high and dug well into the ground. It is also advisable to set bait or traps outside the snail farm area.
Leftover food should be removed daily from pens because some predators, particularly rats and field mice, are attracted by the uneaten food. These predators can decimate a farm in a few days.
However, the main predators are humans looking for a nutritious meal at the snail farmer’s expense. Snail farmers must introduce any legal measures they consider necessary to protect the farm against poachers.
Major parasite on snails was found to be a fly that belongs to the same family as the housefly and the adult resembles the adult housefly. This fly lays 20-40 eggs in the snail shell or on the snail. The eggs hatch in about one week and then start feeding on or in the body tissue. They feed until the body is reduced to a putrefying mass, and then pupate within the shell. After a 10-day incubation period, the adults emerge. The best protection against these flies is to cover the pens with nylon mesh.
Basic hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of diseases. Therefore pens should be cleaned out regularly to remove excreta and uneaten food, as well as any other decaying matter that may serve as substrate for pathogenic organisms.
It is also advisable to sterilize the soil in hutch boxes by steaming or heating every time they are being prepared for a new batch of egg clutches (i.e. when the breeders are transferred to the boxes for egg laying).