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Rice Harvested on Frugé Farms

Farmers are Different… In a Great Way!

by Michael Frugé & Pat Bonin
August 2012

Last week on my way back from a business trip in California, I accidentally left my iPad at the airport gate (but I did remember to put the charger in my bag!).

For those of you who know me, I’m sure this is all very understandable.

I noticed my mistake immediately upon boarding the plane, but I wasn’t allowed off to retrieve my iPad. So I immediately clicked on my handy “Find My iPad” app on my phone to locate it and lock it down. A perfect plan and quick thinking on my part, right?

Wrong! The app never found my iPad, which is frustrating because Apple uses serial numbers to create iTunes accounts. So Apple knows where my iPad is, and the airport knows where my iPad is… but that’s a story for another time.

So what does my long lost iPad have to do with the spirit of American farmers?

When I got back to the office, I heard the dreaded “H” word:  a tropical storm was brewing in the Caribbean and was headed to the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes are a fact of life here, but no matter how many times you go through the drill of getting prepared, it’s always time-consuming, frustrating, and worrisome.

In case you didn’t know, my brother and I are also rice and crawfish farmers here in south Louisiana, and the last thing we needed was another storm, especially as our rice harvest was concluding.

Actually, my brother Mark is the real farmer, and I’m the salesman… at least, that’s what people tell me!

I wasn’t particularly worried yet because all the forecast models shifted the storm towards Florida.  Last Friday when I finally came to my senses, quit forgetting things, and heard that tropical storm Isaac had actually formed, I called Mark and asked him how the rice harvest stood.

He wasn’t really concerned because Isaac was heading east and told me it didn’t matter anyway.  Even if we had ten combines (we only have one), we had no place to put the crop because all of our storage bins were full. We couldn’t move the rice we had already harvested because it wasn’t dry enough!

Well, just because he wasn’t particularly worried, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t concerned. It’s what I do – I worry and compute the figures, and then worry some more, and rework the numbers again. And again… and again… just in case!

With the acreage we had remaining, even if we could move it, there was no way we’d be able to harvest it all in time to beat the storm, which had now begun to move further west towards us. The numbers didn’t look good to me at all.

Hurricane-wise, we’ve been pounded pretty good here on the farm though the years. We lost our very first rice crop to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and we lost about 200 acres (and our office building) to Gustav in 2008. We dodged a bullet with Katrina, but Rita put us through hell in 2005.  Lily literally blew up every building on the farm in 2002. So I didn’t think I was overreacting as I worried some more and ran some additional numbers…

At this point, you might be wondering how my brother could be so calm. Trust me – we argued and fought about that for years, and then it hit me – it’s because he’s a great farmer!

He keeps everything in perspective, stays on an even keel, and goes out every day and produces.  If a farmer actually stopped and calculated the risk he was taking year in and out, we would all starve because nothing would ever get planted. But that’s not what they do – they get up every day and make it happen. They have a short-term memory, and keep moving forward.

I know this because Mark seemed really puzzled over why I was getting so upset. I told him I was tired of these storms, tired of the losses, and tired of rebuilding.

His answer was telling, “Well hell, Mike. Katrina was seven years ago!”

I’m like, “…Are you serious???”  Katrina didn’t even hit us, but Rita and Gustav sure did, and that was only about three years ago (by the time we rebuilt).  He honestly didn’t remember! I guess he just doesn’t have time to worry about the past (come to think of it, I wish I could do that more often myself).

The next time I talk to Mark my calculator was practically smoking, and I had racked my brain trying to come up with a solution. His response, delivered the way only a little brother can, was, “What’s the problem? Why are you so nerved up?”

clearing a rice binI’m launching into “educating” him on what is about to happen when he stops me mid-sentence.

“Hey…Hey…Hey…Michael… We got it… We’re done!”

WHAT!!!! How could it have happened? You see, I had studied this pretty thoroughly, and not only did we not have time to complete our harvest, we didn’t even have a place to put it! On paper, this just didn’t make any sense.

But it turns out, the answer was literally all around us. So simple, yet so profound…

Our neighbors came to our rescue.

Somehow, some way, our grain bin manager Paul “Ed” Guidry pulled off a minor miracle and cleared the bottleneck of drying rice from our storage bins. All we needed then were those ten combines Mark had talked about. (Turns out we didn’t need ten, but six got the job done!)

Five of our neighbors dropped what they were doing and came with all of their equipment and labor and helped us finish. And they didn’t just pitch in – they harvested fields totally independent of our equipment.

farmersAnd they wouldn’t even accept any payment.

Of course we owe them big time and we’ll repay the favor someday. Hopefully not the exact same way, because that would mean we would all be facing another hurricane!

pix of farmersMark and I would like to thank Dwayne Gossen, “Herby” Gossen, Jerry Leonards, Al Cramer, and Troy West once again for their generosity, not just for their equipment, but for their valuable time. I’m sure they had many other things to do at their own farms to prepare for the storm.

Their selfless act of generosity is certainly very much appreciated!

We had a barbeque today for all the guys who helped, and we sat around and talked for a few hours. I thanked all of them again, and even had them laughing at the stories of my smoking calculator that had computed our projected losses.

farmersOne of them had some good advice for me – next time, just put the calculator away until after all the work is finished!
We don’t hear much anymore about good people doing good things and expecting nothing in return. But that’s what happened here.  A group of people made it happen, and got the job done when everything was on the line.

Thanks again to everybody who played a part in our emergency rice harvest of 2012.

I can’t help but think if I’d have been lucky enough to forget my iPad in one of my neighbor’s pickups, he would have returned it long before I even knew it was missing.

Maybe Apple should come up with a “Find a Farmer” app. I think we’d all be a lot better off!

“Dirty” Crawfish Still Taste Beautiful!

crawfish with barnaclesBy Patrick D. Bonin
Photos supplied by Dave Schweitzer 

Ever see a crawfish like this one before? It almost looks like he escaped from our ponds, made his way to saltwater, and got covered in barnacles!

Actually, it’s not all that unusual to find some of these “crusty crustaceans” in our traps this time of year. (And don’t worry, the dirty appearance isn’t harmful and doesn’t affect the taste of the crawfish at all.)

What you’re actually seeing on this crawfish are the eggs of an insect known as “water boatman.” According to the LSU AgCenter, the water boatman eggs are laid on newly molted crawfish and are usually most abundant on the head and below the eyes.

Many non-harmful microorganisms and microscopic plants and animals use the crawfish’s shell as a hard surface for their growth, just like rocks or twigs that have been immersed in water for a long time, according to LSU.

Ed Guidry, operations manager of Fruge’ Aquafarms in Branch, La.,
explained why we don’t normally see crawfish like this earlier in the year.

“Right now, late in the season, the crawfish have pretty much stopped growing,
and that means they’re not molting out of their old shells any more,” he explained.
“So anything that gets attached now, we’ll see when we catch them.

“When this happens earlier in the season, we don’t see it because the crawfish
are constantly growing and molting,” he said.

Biologists refer to water boatman and other “fouling organisms” as ectocommensals.
Hot summer temperatures contribute to the process, as ectocommensals grow and spread rapidly on the crawfish’s shell when the water is warm.
Consequently, the combination of the crawfish not shedding its shell along with rapid
ectocommensal growth results in some mudbugs having a dirty appearance.

So if you ever come across a crawfish like this late in the season,
feel free to toss him in the pot with all the rest.
He might not be as “pretty” as all the others, but he’ll taste just as good!

crawfish barnacles

Thanks to Dave Schweitzer for sending these pictures and giving us a great idea for a blog.
If you have an idea for a blog we could write, let us know… we would love to write it.

First-Time Crawfish Memories!

Highlights: Getting Pinched, Crawfish Races and Quality Time…

By Patrick Bonin

eating crawfish

Life is full of incredible “firsts.” Your first words. Your first love. Your first kiss. Your first car.

And if you’re really lucky, your first crawfish boil!

CajunCrawfish.com recently conducted an on-line contest asking folks to write about their memories of the first time they ever experienced the amazing sights, sounds, smells and tastes of boiled mudbugs. You can see Mary Pitman’s entire winning entry here!

Apparently these tasty crustaceans make quite a first impression, especially with kids. From hosing down the sacks before the boil to getting pinched for the first time, mudbugs seem to evoke fond childhood memories.

“We would pick the biggest bugs out and have crawfish races,” wrote Lisa Anderson, of Conway, Arkansas. “Try getting a crawfish to race when he is turning around and holding his pinchers up like he’s going to snatch your nose off! LOL! Nothing like a big crawfish boil to bring family together!”

Allison Atkins from Maryville, Tennessee mistakenly thought all the crawfish she found in their old washtub were going to be new family pets!

“Once I found out we were going to eat them, I told my cousins that our family had lost our minds, and we had to set the little things free,” she recalled.

After a failed rescue mission, she initially refused to eat them, but couldn’t hold out for long.

“The smell was intoxicating. I grabbed one and fell in love! I went from animal rights activist to a head-sucking, tail-eating, crawfish-loving Cajun,” she wrote.

Jeremy Billeaudeaux, from Chino Hills, California, recalled an interesting visit he and his brother experienced with his grandmother in south Louisiana about 40 years ago. After getting a sack of crawfish, she left the boys in the car with the mudbugs while she stopped inside a grocery store to pick up supplies for the boil. That’s when the crawfish started making their way out of the sack…

“I bolted into the store in a pure panic,” Jeremy wrote. “(But) my 3-year-old brother was not so lucky. Forty pounds of crawfish were slowly making their way towards him.”

In true Cajun fashion, they returned to the car and found the youngster calmly picking the crawfish up and throwing them back towards the sack!

“He had successfully fended off a mad crawfish attack at three years old,” Jeremy recalled. “Later that night after everything had calmed down, we all had a great laugh about the youngest Billeaudeaux fending off 40 pounds of crawfish as we enjoyed the spoils of the great crustacean battle!”

Aside from being a culinary delicacy, it seems the powerful lure of crawfish has even played a part in launching some long-term relationships!

Allyson Bossie of Hurdle Mills, North Carolina recalled her first date with her “now husband” at a restaurant serving boiled crawfish, where he eventually got her to try them.

“They were scary looking for sure, but so amazing tasting,” she wrote. “Turns out we have been inseparable ever since and now that we are married, we have crawfish every year for our anniversary.”

Kimberly Butler’s first mudbug experience came with her fiancé at the Crawfish Festival in Syracuse, New York, where she initially refused to sample the crustaceans.

“His family said they would pay $200 (they pooled their money together) for me to try it and I did! I tried it for the first time and fell in love!”

Butler, of Newburyport, Massachusetts, is getting married in October, and now crawfish is on the menu at the reception!

Dana Fontenot of Durango, Colorado even attributes her marriage to her “lightning fast” crawfish-peeling skills that she learned as a child at big family crawfish boils.

“My future husband would just stare at me at a crawfish boil because I could peel those darn things three to his every one,” she wrote. “I think that’s why he married me!”

Mark Kirshbaum from Humboldt, South Dakota wasn’t motivated by love, but rather the prospect of living the lifestyle of the rich and famous when he first sampled crawfish.

“My father said they were miniature lobsters, which we thought only the rich people ate. My cousin and I, both about 9 or so, decided we would be just like the rich,” Mark wrote.

So as they were seining for minnows, they filled up a coffee can with the crustaceans, headed home and removed the tails and shells before boiling them!

“We made a mess,” he recalled. “All we knew was that they had to be boiled, so into a pan they went… They were so overcooked they chewed like rubber. By the time we finished eating, we had decided that if this is what rich people eat, we would stay poor.”

The magical powers of freshly boiled Louisiana crawfish even had one entrant contemplating loyalty to his home state.

Lee Levesque was born and raised in Maine, where seafood is abundant and lobster is almost everyone’s dish of choice. But after a stint in the Army landed him in Louisiana at Fort Polk in 1967, mudbugs won him over.

“Ever since that day many years ago, I still think I prefer crawfish over lobster,” Lee wrote. “I am sorry, Maine. I’m not renouncing my statehood, but I do love crawfish!”

We understand Lee. Because while crawfish themselves are delicious, and the corn and potatoes and sausage and mushrooms and onions all taste unbelievably amazing, one of the most important ingredients at a crawfish boil in south Louisiana is the presence of family and friends. Having the opportunity to sit down elbow-to-elbow and visit makes memories for everyone, everytime!

Sarah Cary, of The Colony, Texas, never totally understood why everyone got so excited talking about crawfish boils when she moved from Michigan eight years ago… until she went to her first one last summer.

“I TOTALLY GET IT now!” she wrote. “Not only is it delicious, but the camaraderie of cracking (the shells) and eating is priceless!”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Thanks to everyone for entering, and stay tuned for more contests in the future!

Savory Cajun Crawfish Cheesecake with Roasted Red Pepper Hollandaise

Delicious recipe made by Genêt Hogan raisedonaroux.com

cajuncrawfish cheese cakeIn South Louisiana, we have many, many food traditions. Those traditions vary from family to family, but all are tied in some way to the habits, cooking practices and specific foods of our region. During the spring, for instance, it’s all about our beloved dirt- digging crustaceans–the crawfish–and the way we catch, cook and eat them. My family traditionally kicks off this special season with a festive crawfish boil orchestrated by my husband who learned how to master his 80-quart boiling pot from his dad. It’s a rite of passage in these parts. We reluctantly end the seasonal rituals with a painstaking yet delectable pot of Crawfish Bisque. Inbetween, we prepare classics like Crawfish Etouffee and also experiment with new and exciting crawfish creations. This crawfish cheesecake recipe is the result of one such experiment. It’s a creamy concoction of crawfish, cream cheese and zesty spices nestled in a savory crust of bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and pecans–fresh Louisiana pecans. And it’s a testament to the fact that crawfish are not just for boiling and cheesecakes are not just for dessert!

Savory Cajun Crawfish Cheesecake with Roasted Red Pepper Hollandaise Recipe

boiled crawfish1 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely ground pecans
Pinch of cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
4 ounces marscapone cheese
2 eggs
1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins (Worcestershire sauce)
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound peeled crawfish tails, drained (but not rinsed) and chopped
1 1/4 cups Roasted Red Pepper Hollandaise, see recipe

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, pecans and cayenne pepper. Stir in melted butter. Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan lined with parchment paper. Place pan on a baking sheet and bake until set and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the crawfish filling by heating olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, green onions and garlic; cook until tender, 3-5 minutes. Set aside to cool. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and marscapone until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add Lea & Perrins, Creole seasoning, salt and black pepper. Fold in cooled onion mixture and chopped crawfish tails. Pour mixture over prepared crust and spread evenly. Return pan to baking sheet and bake until top of cheesecake is golden brown and center is just set (it should jiggle slightly when shaken), about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Carefully remove cheesecake from pan and slice into 8 to 10 wedges. Serve warm with a generous amount of Roasted Red Pepper Hollandaise drizzled on top. Makes 8-10 servings.

Savory CajunCrawfish Cheesecake with Roasted Red Pepper HollandaiseRoasted Red Pepper Hollandaise Recipe
1 0.90-ounce package Hollandaise Sauce
1 cup milk
1 stick butter
1 jarred roasted red pepper, drained and patted dry

In a small saucepan over medium high-heat, whisk together Hollandaise Sauce packet and milk; blend until smooth. Add butter and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to simmer and whisk until thickened, about 1 minute. Transfer Hollandaise Sauce to a blender, add roasted red pepper and process until smooth. Serve warm. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

 

About the cook…

Genêt created Raised on a Rouxto to celebrate the culinary traditions of her family and hometown of New Orleans, and to indulge her over-the-top preoccupation with everything food and reflect on the adventures and absurdities of trying to raise her own family “on a roux.”   She’s a native New Orleanian currently keeping house in the North Georgia suburbs with an incredibly loving and supportive husband and three young children.  She and her husband are fortunate to have grown up in a city with a rich food and cultural heritage and strong family ties and we’re determined to pass those traditions and values on to their own children albeit 500 miles away.

Genêt coined the phrase Raised on a Roux as a metaphor for growing up in and living life as a New Orleanian no matter where you are and sharing that lifestyle with everyone around you.  It’s about never meeting a stranger, working and playing hard, caring about your family, neighbors and community and living a meaningful, relaxed life.  It’s about eating and drinking with total abandon (well, most of the time) and honoring your ancestors by preparing their recipes and passing them on.  Being a New Orleanian is also about conveying life experiences and recalling major milestones in terms of food and sharing yourself with others by inviting them to your table for a home-cooked meal.

She invites you to stay a while, get inspired, cook, eat, laugh, reminisce and enjoy learning what it’s like to be Raised on a Roux! So join her at http://raisedonaroux.com

Crawfish Story Contest- Winner!

Crawfish Story Content Winner

Thank you to everyone who entered our Crawfish Story Contest!

We had over 50 entries, with over 50 different Crawfish Stories to choose from!

We had stories of crawfish attacking, stories of falling in love while eating crawfish, stories of falling in love with crawfish, stories of cross-country trips, and stories that take place in backyards. We will be posting the stories on this blog over the next few weeks.

We had a hard time picking the best story, but in the end we picked one that tugged at the heart-strings as well as our appetite!

Here is the Winning Story:

Uncle Wilson, by Mary Pitman

Uncle Wilson was eccentric. When I was a kid he was in his 70’s. This great man and his wife Aunt Alice, practically raised my father so he and Aunt Alice were special to us. On Sunday afternoons, we would go to his house to visit. Dear Aunt Alice had a baby grand piano. She was teaching my Mom how to play. One warm, sunny afternoon in April of 1969 when I was 8 years old, we made our usual house call and Uncle Wilson was sitting in a folding chair on his porch. There were little red shells around his feet. He motioned me to come closer and when I did he handed me a small lobster like creature that he called a “mudbug”. He demonstrated how to eat this strange thing and finished by sucking on it, juice dripping down his chin. Now I was 8 years old and girls did not eat bugs. Only boys did. Uncle Wilson threw back his head and laughed; his hat flew off, landing in a pile of mudbug shells. He picked me up with fishy smelling hands and patiently explained that these ‚”bugs‚” were okay to eat. He went on to say that the common name for the creature was a crawfish. Now that was different. We ate fish all the time and if Uncle Wilson could do it then so could I. Mom and Dad went inside the house with Aunt Alice and Uncle Wilson and I pulled our chairs together and dined on a meal of mudbugs. That was 42 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. We lost Uncle Wilson in 1993. He was 93. We never had the chance to eat those mudbugs again but I have told that story many times. I still see the juice dripping down his chin.

Memorial Day Marks Official Summer Kick-Off!

cajuncrawfish & memorial dayBy Patrick  Bonin

Branch, LA. – The temperature is rising, the humidity is increasing and the school year is almost done… That means Memorial Day is fast approaching, and summer is right around the corner here in south Louisiana!

Memorial Day will be celebrated this year on Monday, May 28th, and is traditionally seen as the official start of the summer vacation season. The days leading up to that weekend are also a busy time here at Frugé Aquafarms in Branch, La., as crawfish are in high demand when families and friends gather to kick off the summer holidays.

“Crawfish play a big part in people’s holiday plans,” said Mike Frugé, co-owner of Frugé Aquafarms. “Getting the opportunity to sit down and visit at a crawfish boil on Good Friday or Memorial Day is a tradition for many families in south Louisiana.”

Here’s some “Memorial Day Trivia” that you can use to dazzle and amaze your friends while you wait for the crawfish to finish boiling in a few weeks!

  • Memorial Day is a day of remembering all of the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
  • It was formerly known as “Decoration Day,” and originated after the Civil War to commemorate fallen Union soldiers. “Memorial Day” was eventually declared the holiday’s official name by Federal law, but not until 1967!
  • The first known observance of a Memorial Day-type ceremony was held in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865 in honor of Union soldiers who died there as prisoners of war.
  • Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed annually in the U.S. on the last Monday of May. It kicks off summer, while Labor Day marks its end.
  • The Indianapolis 500 has been held on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend since 1911. The Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup Series race has been held later that same day since 1961, and in golf, the Memorial Tournament has been held Memorial Day weekend since 1976.
  • The holiday was originally celebrated on May 30th, but Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill in 1968, which moved four holidays (including Memorial Day) to a specified Monday to create three-day weekends. That change officially moved the holiday to the last Monday in May each year.
  • The National Memorial Day Concert, which is broadcast on PBS and NPR, takes place on the west lawn of the United States Capitol.

Whatever your plans this Memorial Day, everyone here at cajuncrawfish.com hopes you have a safe, fun day relaxing with your family and friends. And in the joy and excitement of summer finally getting here, please take time to remember all of the men and women who have given their lives so that we can be free!

Crawfish and Rice: A Perfect (Agricultural) Match!

crawfish etouffee

By Patrick D. Bonin

Long before crawfish and rice come together in a tasty etouffee on your dining room table, they’re a perfect match in the fields of countless farming operations throughout South Louisiana.

“They work really well together because rice is an aquatic plant, and the seasons are exactly opposite each other,” said Mark Frugé, with Frugé Aquafarms in Branch. “So you can grow rice and seed the crawfish into it during the slower part of the crawfish season. And the crawfish have no detrimental effect on the rice crop, so they go hand-in-hand perfectly.”

At Frugé Aquafarms, we typically farm about 1,200 acres of crawfish and 1,200 acres of rice each year.

In March, when the crawfish harvest is ramping up in our crawfish ponds, rice seed is planted in the fields designated for that year’s rice crop. When the rice gets to be about 6-inches tall, water is pumped in and the fields are kept in permanent flood until mid-summer, when preparations begin for the rice harvest in August.

As the rice continues to grow through the spring, it provides cooling shade to the water in the ponds. And in May, live mudbugs are seeded into those rice-cooled fields to create next year’s crawfish crop.

“The crawfish mate in the open waters of the rice field, then begin to burrow down beneath the rice to ride out the summer heat in the safety of their burrows,” Mark said. “That way they’re safe when the combines come through to harvest the rice in August.”

The rice crop continues to grow through the heat of summer, eventually topping out around waist-high. In mid-July, water in the rice fields is drained so the fields have time to dry out before harvest begins.

rice stalkCombines harvest the upper one-third to one-half of the rice stalk, and then separate the grain from the stalk. The straw is blown back into the fields, while the grain is collected in a large hopper behind the combine.

Eventually the grain is transported to giant storage bins, where it’s dried with heated air.  When the moisture content reaches about 12%, it is ready to be transported to a local mill for processing.

When the rice harvest is complete, crawfish again take center stage here on the farm. Preparations are made to begin the process of re-flooding the rice fields so the crawfish burrowed beneath them will come out with their babies and begin feeding on the recently cut rice stubble.  Levees damaged during the rice harvest are repaired, and the old crawfish ponds are re-leveled to remove boat ruts in anticipation of the following year’s rice crop.

So that’s how a typical year is spent out here on Frugé Aquafarms. Things kick off with crawfish harvest from about January through June. Rice is planted in March, and harvested in August. In September, the rice fields are re-flooded and the crawfish come out of their burrows to feed on the rice stubble. Depending on weather conditions and temperatures, the crawfish harvest could begin late in the fall, and the whole process starts over.

There are lots of uncontrollable factors in the farming business, but under optimum conditions with Mother Nature’s help, we can produce up to 9,000,000 pounds of rice and 1,000,000 pounds of crawfish in a typical year out here on the farm.

Just think about how much etouffee that could make!

The Circle of Life: Crawfish Style!

May 2, 2012
By Patrick Bonin

Crawfish, like people, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some have big pincers. Others have small claws. Some crawfish are so big they look like little lobsters. Others never reach “monster” size and stay on the smaller side their entire lives.

Lots of factors, including water quality, available food supply, population, genetics and even the weather, can determine how big an individual eventually gets.

But regardless of their final size, all crawfish go through a specific life cycle as they grow and mature here at Frugé Aquafarms in Branch, LA.

As both the air and water temperature begin to steadily rise with the approach of summer here in south Louisiana, that process is about to start up again as the crawfish prepare to mate.

But we do our best to stay one step ahead of the mudbugs: that’s why we’ve already begun seeding next year’s ponds with the crawfish that will create the 2013 crop. (To read more about pond stocking which is happening right now on the farm, click here.)

LSU Ag Center picture of a crawfish burrow.

In the coming weeks, crawfish will begin mating in the open waters of our rice fields. (The growing rice crop helps to shade the water and keep it cool, which is more to the crawfish’s liking.) After mating has occurred, both males and females will eventually begin to dig their individual burrows beneath the rice fields to escape the intense summer heat. As the female prepares her burrow and digs in, the eggs in her ovary are released, fertilized and attached to the swimmerets on the underside of her tail.

Once sealed in, crawfish are confined to the burrow until the hard plug that seals the entrance is softened by moisture from pond flooding or rainfall.

rice field

Flooded rice field

While all this is happening below ground, we are making preparations on the surface for our rice crop. The water that was in the rice fields is typically drained around the middle of July to prepare for the coming rice harvest. (Don’t worry: while the rice is harvested with large combines, the crawfish are safe in their burrows beneath the pond.)

It’s during this “dry period” in the pond in July and August that rainfall is critical for crawfish production. A drought can severely impact the survival rate of crawfish deep in their burrows.

LSU Ag Center picture of a femaie crawfish with eggs

After the rice crop is harvested in August, we wait until the cooler temperatures of late September to re-flood the fields. If everything went according to plan, we will begin seeing the females emerging from their burrows with baby crawfish the size of ants attached under their tails. (Each female can produce from 400 to 900 hatchlings, and can reproduce multiple times in a season.)

The young crawfish emerge each fall in a field of fresh water and rice stubble, a perfect environment for them to grow and mature quickly. In about 90 to 120 days, after molting several times, they will reach market size. That brings us to the November/December timeframe, and depending on the weather, the crawfish harvest will begin all over again and continue all the way into the following summer.

Under optimal conditions, crawfish typically live only about one to two years in the wild. But with any luck out here on the farm, they’ll make it to a pot near you one day during crawfish season here in south Louisiana!

Stocking Up:

Pond Prep Begins for 2013 Crawfish Harvest!

crawfish for stock

By Patrick Bonin

Heading into May, crawfish season is going strong, but preparations are already underway to make sure next year’s mudbug crop will keep folks busy pinching tails in 2013.

At Frugé Aquafarms in Branch, La., the process of stocking mature crawfish into next year’s ponds is just about to begin. The farm operates on 2,400 acres, with half producing rice and half producing crawfish in a typical year.

That means 1,200 acres of freshly planted rice fields are just about ready to accept the breeding stock of crawfish which will mature into next year’s mudbug crop. (Rice typically grows in flooded fields, which work out well for simultaneous crawfish production.)

“We planted rice in March, and it’s about 12 to 18 inches tall now, which is high enough to keep the water in those ponds cool,” said Mark Frugé, co-owner of Frugé Aquafarms. “Crawfish can’t survive if the water temperature gets too hot. At this time of year, they’re genetically programmed to start breeding and burrowing. It works out well because the crawfish are just about ready to go into the ground, and the rice is ready to accept them.”

On average, the ponds are seeded with about 50 pounds of mature red swamp crawfish per acre. At Frugé Aquafarms, that translates into about 60,000 pounds of crawfish necessary to stock all of the ponds for next year’s crop!

“Typically we use smaller mature crawfish to stock,” he said. “The smaller crawfish are not only harder to market, but you get more animals per pound, so that gives us a better percentage of stocking success.”

At the farm’s wholesale dock each afternoon, smaller crawfish that were harvested in the morning are sacked and then released along the levees of next year’s ponds that same afternoon. Over the next several weeks, all of the ponds will gradually receive the crawfish they need to create the 2013 crop. And even though they might be small, the crawfish are mature and can reproduce.

“At this time of year, all of the crawfish we catch are mature, whereas a month ago, it was a smaller percentage,” Mark said. “They’re converting to a reproductive mode right now. When they’re introduced into the new ponds, they’ll move around a bit and then start burrowing.”

After they breed, burrowing allows the crawfish to escape the heat of summer and also stay out of harm’s way during harvesting of the rice crop.

“When the rice matures around mid-July, we will release the water from the fields and dry them out,” Mark said. “The rice harvest typically starts in the first week of August. “

After the rice harvest is completed, any necessary levee repairs are completed before re-flooding the rice stubble in late September.

“That water draws them up out of their burrows, and provides the baby crawfish with an excellent food source and ideal growing conditions in the cooler fall months,” he said. “They’ll be ready for harvest when crawfish season starts back up next January. Then we’ll start the whole process all over again.”

So enjoy the rest of this year’s season – there’s still plenty of great crawfish to be had in the coming weeks. But rest assured we’re already hard at work to make 2013 a banner year for crawfish lovers everywhere!