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Automatic Feeders with Acoustical Feedback

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): In Thailand, our farm pioneered the use of automatic feeders in shrimp ponds.  That put us in a unique position to cooperate with a highly advanced team of scientists using acoustic technology to monitor and control feeding in shrimp ponds.  Eventually, semi-intensive farms all over the world will have to use auto feeding to stay competitive.

 

Russ Allen (shrimpone@aol.com): Daniel, I agree with you 100% on automated feeders!  We tried everything on the market, and none of it worked with our system, so we built our own hardware and wrote our own software to control it.

 

With the automated feeding and harvesting, there’s not much room for traditional labor, which results in big savings, no matter what you are paying your help!

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): Russ, yes, when listening to the actual feeding activity of the shrimp and feeding minute-by-minute around the clock, auto feeding has the following advantages:

 

• Improves feed conversion ratios (FCRs) by 30%

• Improves growth rate up to 30%

• Reduces the amount of feed fed

• Reduces feed costs

• Reduces labor costs by 80%

• Increases the harvest size of shrimp

• Increases the price you get for your shrimp

• Prevents leaching of nutrients

• Prevents degradation of your water quality

• Prevents feed wastes from accumulating on the pond bottom

 

Dallas Weaver (deweaver@mac.com): Daniel, you underestimated the value of getting better FCRs.  For all non-flow-through systems, whether algae-based or bacteria-based, the capacity of the system is primarily determined by the feed rate, not by the standing biomass or growth rate of the animals.  At a constant water quality, the percentage in the improvement in your FCR will almost equal the percentage of improvement in production.  For high-cost recirculating systems, reducing FCRs has a significant impact on the bottom line.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): Dallas, I totally agree with you, but I don’t see how you came to the conclusion that I am underestimating the value of improved FCRs.  Actually, improving FCRs is our main focus!  Biofloc systems cannot compete with our natural pond management (NPM) system in terms of FCRs.  Under commercial conditions, we routinely get FCRs of 1, and that accounts for the restrictions imposed on us by organic certification, like no more than 20% animal products in our feeds and a limit on our stocking density.  If we were not an organic farm and had more flexibility to formulate our feeds and stock our ponds, we would be able to reduce FCRs to less than one.

 

But yes, on a traditional, non-organic shrimp farm, lower FCRs allow higher stocking densities, higher biomass, larger average sizes, more kilograms of shrimp sold at higher prices and lower production costs—so profits are dramatically improved.

 

Dallas Weaver (deweaver@mac.com): With my fish systems, feeding was the first thing I automated back in 1980.  The ability to use acoustical feedback from the shrimp advances the technology to a new level.

 

With shrimp, I have always had questions about their slow eating and the leaching of soluble vitamins from their feeds.  Automated feeding with feedback controls minimizes the leaching time and allows the shrimp to consume exactly what you are feeding.

 

Laurent Queffelec (l-queffelec@markeaprawns.nc): Everybody, there’s an existing system called “AQ1-SF200” made by an Australian company.  Is that the system you use, Daniel?

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): Dallas and Russ, I just uploaded a sample report on our auto feeders to the photo section of the Shrimp List.  The devices work by picking up the sound that shrimp’s mandibles make when the shrimp are eating.

 

Not only do the auto feeders respond instantaneously to actual feeding activity, they also provide detailed hour-by-hour and day-by-day reports on that activity.  If a sudden rain or molting event stops feeding activity, the feeders stop.  If conditions are favorable for feeding, the feeders will keep on feeding as long as the shrimp are eating.

 

This not only maximizes growth by continuously feeding to satiation, but as Dallas pointed out, it also reduces leaching and improves pond water quality.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): Laurent, yes I am using AQ1’s technology, and I am one of their development partners in Thailand and for some other countries where I do consulting.  I work closely with their engineering team to optimize their feeding algorithms.

 

Nelson Gerundo (nelsongerundo@yahoo.com): I did a background check.  AQ1 specializes in sensor-based, feeding control technology, mainly for aquaculture.  The AQ1-SF200 feeder helped produce world record tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon) harvests at Gold Coast Marine Aquaculture in Australia sometime between 2009 and 2010.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): Nelson, the test in Australia was actually with AQ1’s SF500 an early R&D version of the equipment.  The animals in that study were from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) breeding program.  Gold Coast produced the equivalent of 22 metric tons of 45-gram tiger shrimp per hectare, a figure that any P. vannamei farmer would envy.

 

That’s the reason I believe that monodon will make a comeback, but this time with the addition of copepods, diatoms—and an acoustical-feedback, auto feeding system.  I am currently in discussions with a major monodon broodstock company on a deal that would include my natural pond management (NPM) system and, hopefully, auto feeders.  The benefits of acoustical sensors and automatic feeding for broodstock breeding companies are great because a lot of the “noise” created by the human factor and different management styles is removed, and the companies get a cleaner picture of which genes contribute to growth.  AQ1’s SF200 is the production model that was just released for field testing this year.  The data I uploaded to the photo section of the Shrimp List is an automated report on the SF200 from one of my farms in Petchaburi, Thailand, where I am doing demonstrations of my natural pond management technology.

 

So more farmers can reap the benefits of acoustical auto feeding, I have worked out a deal with AQ1 to provide test units to farmers at reduced costs.  Please contact me off list if you’re interested.

 

Nelson Gerundo (nelsongerundo@yahoo.com): Daniel, you’re wrong about the model of AQ1’s sensor that was used in the monodon trials in Australia.  An AQ1 news posting on September 7, 2010, says: “In the first commercial test of AQ1’s Sound Feeding Technology (SF200) on black tiger prawn (P. monodon), the SF200 has recorded what may be the world record production equivalent to 22.7 metric tons per hectare in a single crop.”  It’s the 8th topic on this link.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): Aquasmart was the company that pioneered automated feeding for salmon.  Today, more than 90% of salmon cages have some kind of feedback feeding in them, and I guess the guys at Aquasmart have 70% of that market.  They sold their sea cage business to Akva from Norway and Akva became Akvasmart.  A team of scientists and managers at Aquasmart developed AQ1.  During my NGO days, I helped them with their business development in Japan.  Now we are cooperating on shrimp auto feeding in Thailand.  There is a lot of synergy between my natural pond management system and their auto feeding equipment.  We hope the ongoing trials in Thailand will prove that we are right.

 

Regis Bador (rbador@lagoon.nc): Daniel, Nelson and everyone else, there’s no doubt that the SF200 from AQ1 is the ultimate in feeding optimization.  It increases growth, reduces FCRs and reduces the need for specific attractants and strong binders because feed is eaten very quickly.  It also contributes to clean bottoms and reduces labor costs, especially when compared to staff that may not always be 100% reliable.  The SF200 has been tested with monodon, vannamei and stylirostris.  It delivers feed only when shrimp are close to the feeders, and they eat it as soon as it’s delivered!

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): Regis, I was just talking about you with some AQ1 personnel this morning.  I have a farm in New Caledonia that wants to try our natural pond system, and I am trying to get it to purchase AQ1’s system.  Would you mind talking to this farmer?  You must know him because the shrimp farming industry is rather small in New Caledonia.  Please contact me off list.  It would be great if you could share your experiences with him because he has to convince his management/ownership on the investment, and I’m guessing that his production hasn’t been so good for the last few years and that his purse strings are tight.

 

Jorge Córdoba (seabizec@yahoo.com): Daniel, will the AQ1 system work in extensive and semi-intensive shrimp ponds?

 

Nelson Gerundo (nelsongerundo@yahoo.com): You can all watch a video of the AQ1 SF200 in action.  It’s really a cool video, uploaded to YouTube by fellow Shrimp Lister Regis Bador.

 

Hank Bauman (hank_bauman55@yahoo.com): Sign me up.  How do I get the feeders to Belize for a trial?  We operate about 1,100 acres of semi intensive ponds stocked at the rate of 24 postlarvae a square meter.  Feeding is really difficult to control when you have employees scattering feed from small boats in the rain and wind, sometimes dodging crocodiles, and yes, sometimes hung over.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): Hank, please contact me off list.  One of the AQ1 guys or I will get you set up.

 

Regis Bador (rbador@lagoon.nc): Jorge, yes, this system works in five-to-ten hectare semi-intensive ponds.  The lower the stocking density, however, the longer the payback period will be, but it does work, and it does pay for itself over time.  In an eight-hectare pond, we observed that shrimp traveled to the feeders when they wanted to eat and then traveled to other locations in the pond when they were finished eating.  At the end of the cycle, the pond bottom was very clean.  This is almost unbelievable, but it is true!  Also, thanks to better growth, your yield may be larger or you may simply need fewer PLs for the same yield, or you may harvest earlier and get the same yield, which means more crops per year.

 

Freek Huskens (freek.huskens@gmail.com): How much do these nifty gadgets cost?  Contact me off list if you prefer.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): These are very high-quality, high-tech devices and as such they are not cheap.  Nonetheless, in Thailand, where most farms are intensive, we found that most farmers can pay for their investment with just one crop!  Less intensive farms will have a longer payback period.

 

Jorge Córdoba (seabizec@yahoo.com): Please forward information on how much the systems cost.

 

Dallas Weaver (deweaver@mac.com): Daniel, overfeeding and decomposing feed on the bottom of the pond increases the probability of opportunistic bacterial pathogens.  The bottom is probably a reasonably good culture medium for Vibrios like parahaemolyticus, which can cause early mortality syndrome.  Your tighter control over excess feed may be a major contributor to your success against EMS.  Opportunistic pathogens, like the Vibrios, make the shrimp sick and may cause them to stop feeding.  Then the excess feed that builds up on the pond bottom provides a culture medium for the pathogens and the system goes unstable and crashes.  With its high cost/benefit ratio, the AQ1 system appears to be a “no brainier” decision.

 

Laurence Evans (ecotao@yahoo.com): Regis, I checked the video and the website and found lots of pretty pictures but not much data.  I very much doubt what I see and can only say the idea has potential.  To sell the idea, more data is needed, and I found none that validates the technology.  We need comparative FCRs, information on growth rates, survival and yields—and information on how much it costs to set up a pond.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): Laurence, the technology works wonderfully.  It improves FCRs and growth, which is simple to understand because shrimp are actually eating to satiation.  When no feeding is taking place the feeders automatically stop.  One thing we have learned from the technology is that shrimp eat pretty much 24 hours a day and that hungry shrimp travel to a feeder when they are hungry and away from it when they are full.

 

There have been a few studies on the AQ1 system.  There was a study done in southern Thailand in intensive vannamei ponds, another in Australia in monodon ponds and Auburn University in the United States has done some research in vannamei ponds.  Currently there are tests going on in Thailand.  In addition, I know of tests with japonicus in Japan, and Regis may be able to tell you about some work done with stylirostris in New Caledonia.

 

Let me know what your current system is, and we will try to find the data that is most relevant for you.  As for cost, that depends on the distribution agreements that AQ1 has in place.  I can tell you for Thailand that the cost of the system was more than returned with one crop.  Every crop thereafter was like printing money.

 

As a rough guide I would say a 15 to 30% improvement in FCR should be expected as well as a 10 to 20% improvement in growth.  Water quality is improved as observed by most farmers, and amazingly but somewhat logically, the ponds don’t have any leftover sludge in them.  Regis observed this in ponds, and in my ponds, using my natural pond management (NPM) system, very little sludge is leftover after harvest.  This of course has implications for shrimp health as well.

 

Farshad Shishehchian (farshadshrimp@yahoo.com): Please look at this link for another kind of auto feeder: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JLN72guagNY.

 

Nelson Gerundo (nelsongerundo@yahoo.com): Farshad, I just watched the video of the Blue Aqua Autofeeder.  The video is a little bit blurred.

 

Farshad Shishehchian (farshadshrimp@yahoo.com): We at Blue Aqua offer a different kind of automatic feeder.  Many of our customers are able to get FCRs of 1 or 1.1, depending on the numbers of days the shrimp have been in the pond.  When we integrate this feeder with our patented Mixotrophic farm management system, we get the best results.  We have more than 1,000 farmers using our system around the world.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): Farshad, are some of the farms that use your system in Thailand?  Could we visit one of them?  Does your feeder work with a timer or does it monitor the minute-by-minute feeding activity of the shrimp.  Have you ever tried the AQ1 controller with your system?  Also, your feeders look exactly like Aran Feeders, but they have your logo on them.  Are they Aran Feeders?

 

Regis Bador (rbador@lagoon.nc): Laurence, I fully agree we need reliable and consistent data to be convinced.  Please have a look at my presentation at World Aquaculture Society Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, USA (February 2013): http://innovaquaculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Conference-AQ1-BADOR-at-WAS-2013.pdf. [Editor: I had problems getting this link to work.  I was most successful when I went to Regis’s home page—http://innovaquaculture.com—and then copied the entire link into the address bar at the top of his page.]

 

Farshad Shishehchian (farshadshrimp@yahoo.com): Daniel, yes, we do have a farmer in Thailand that uses our auto feeder, and you are very welcome to visit him, or you can travel to Indonesia, India, Vietnam or Brazil, where we also have installations.  My partner patented the software for the Aran Auto Feeder.  I will be more than happy to answer your questions regarding our Mixotrophic system.  It is well known on large farms in Asia and South America.  Feel free to contact me off list.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): When choosing automatic feeders you should be aware of a few important points.

 

The feeder has the job of throwing the feed into a generally circular pattern in the pond.  One thing to look at is the spread pattern and the diameter of the throw.  Both of these are very important.  If the feed is spread evenly, but thrown in a relatively small diameter, the shrimp will compete for the feed, causing aggressive behavior and stress.  Generally the wider the throw the better.  Early feeders would throw the feed only five to ten meters.  Recent versions, however, are throwing the feed up to 14 meters and some up to 20 meters.  I personally believe a 14-meter throw is best for most farms.

 

Next you have to look at the spread pattern.  If the distance is sufficient, but the pattern is a doughnut shape, then you will still have problems.  The feed should evenly cover the entire circular area.

 

Another problem is that some feeders, especially the cheaper ones, have an issue with leaving a pile of feed under the feeder because pellets leak out and fall into the pond, even when the device isn’t operating.  Needless to say this causes poor FCRs, growth rates and decreases water quality.

 

There are two basic types of auto feeders: timer-based and feedback-based.  Timer-based feeders are labor intensive since they require monitoring of feed trays many times per day to accurately judge the appetite of the shrimp.  Feedback-based feeders give the best FCRs, growth and biomass of any feeding method, while reducing the need for workers.

 

AQ1 has a staff of nine PhDs including mathematicians, acoustic engineers, electronic engineers and software programmers to back up its amazing product.

 

Sources: 1. The Shrimp List (a mailing list for shrimp farmers).  Subject: Auto Feeders.  June 17–23, 2013. 2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International June 27, 2013

 

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