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How We Grow Crawfish
The Short Version:
|Grow a rice crop in water from March to July.|
|Seed crawfish in the rice field in June.|
|Drain water and harvest the rice in late July/August.|
|Re-flood the old rice field and it becomes a crawfish pond in September/October.|
|Harvest the crawfish from November to July.|
|Drain, plow, and level the field to repeat the process in July to March.|
The Long version:
First thing we do is to grow a rice crop. This crop is grown for commercial harvest and is planted in early March through April. By June the fields have really filled out, and the crop looks like fields of green grass. Rice is grown in about two inches of water. When the rice is tall enough and thick enough to form a canopy over the water and keep it cool, we begin to add “seed” crawfish.
The first crawfish farmers, including us, got seed crawfish from the wild crop, mostly from the Atchafalaya Basin. The basin is one of the largest river basins in North America, stretching from Simmesport, Louisiana all the way to Morgan City and the Gulf of Mexico. Today we get some wild and use some of our own.
As water temperatures continue to rise, built-in survival instincts of the crawfish take over. They begin to dig and build burrows underground. Despite the popular myth about “mudbugs,” crawfish do not wallow around in the mud. They are more like rabbits that dig a burrow underground.
By late July, the rice fields have been drained completely and the crop is maturing to a golden blanket of grain. We harvest the rice crop with a combine. Meanwhile, the crawfish are safe underground in their burrow. Rainfall at this period is critical to the burrow survival rate.
Droughts can severely impact crawfish production. We can pump as much water as we want and flood the ponds, BUT crawfish may not “activate” and reproduce. Experience has taught us that crawfish are activated to reproduce from barometric pressure changes that occur during periods of weather events usually accompanied by natural rain. So no weather events… no crawfish.
After the rice crop is harvested, we wait for cooler temperatures of late September to flood the crawfish ponds. If all goes well, we will begin to see female crawfish coming up out of their burrows with baby crawfish about the size of ants attached to her tail. Each female will hatch 400 to 900 babies and may reproduce multiple times in a season. Crawfish feed on the biomass of stubble leftover from rice crop. Our crawfish are rice fed, and this makes a huge difference in taste. It takes about 90 days for the crawfish to reach market size.
Crawfish, like crabs and lobsters, have to “molt” to grow. They come out of their old hard shell in a new soft shell and can nearly double in size each time they molt. Soft-shell crabs and crawfish are a delicacy to some markets.
Harvest begins as early as November in a warm year and as late as February with colder weather. Unlike other farm-raised products crawfish are trapped with bait; therefore, harvest is dictated by the catch. Bait consists of pieces of fish in colder months and manufactured pellets with warmer temperatures. Crawfish are harvested in a specially designed crawfish boat. This process is very labor intensive and continues rain or shine.
Harvest continues through late June until water temperatures force the crawfish into burrows. We generally shut down harvest around the 4th of July. By then, everybody is usually really tired and ready for a break. Besides that, crawfish shells get so hard you would need a ball peen hammer to crack them open. We take a break, go on vacation and then start all over again.