Feeding is the most important task in the intensive pond production of catfish, in a normal situation, for catfish can be seen only when they are coming up to feed, and their feeding behavior can be an important clue to general health and to other conditions in the pond.
Catfish farmers are able to feed a nutritionally complete diet that provides required levels of nutrients and energy in a readily digestible form. It is essential to provide a complete diet because catfish can synthesize only a small portion of the required nutrients and the quantity of nutrients from natural food organisms in the pond is relatively small. Forty nutrients have been identified as necessary for the normal metabolic function of channel catfish.
Based on current knowledge, a digestible energy to crude protein (DE/P) ratio of 8.5-10 kcal/gram is adequate for use in catfish feeds. Ratios above this range may lead to increased fat deposition and if the energy ratio is too low, the fish will grow slowly.
Catfish feeds contain grain or grain by-products that are rich in starch. In addition to providing an inexpensive energy source, starch helps bind feed ingredients together and increases expansion of extruded feeds so that the feed pellets are water stable and float in the water.
There are various types of catfish feeds. The type being used at any particular time is a function of size of fish being fed, whether the fish are feeding at the surface or in the water column, and if an antibiotic is incorporated.
Catfish fry in hatcheries are fed finely ground meal or flour-type feeds containing 45-50 percent protein. Fines or crumbles from 28 or 32 percent protein feeds for food fish grow-out are suitable for fry stocked in nursery ponds until they reach 1-2 inches in length. Larger fingerlings should be fed small floating pellets (1/8 inch diameter) containing 35 percent protein. Advanced fingerlings (5-6 inches) and food fish are generally fed a floating feed of approximately 5/32 – 3/16 inch in diameter containing 28-32 percent protein. Some producers switch to a slow-sinking feed during the winter.
Antibiotics are administered to catfish through incorporation in feeds. Depending on the particular antibiotic chosen, the feed may either be floating or sinking.
Feed is typically blown onto the surface of the water using mechanical feeders. Feeds should be scattered over as wide an area as possible to provide equal feeding opportunities for as many fish as possible. Feeding with prevailing winds allows the feed to float across the pond and minimizes the amount of feed washing ashore. Overfeeding should be avoided since wasted feed increases production costs.
Despite considerable research, feeding catfish is far from an exact science. It is a highly subjective process that differs among catfish farmers. Experience should be found gradually in feeding process.