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Livestock with gills, fins

By Staff | Apr 8, 2011

Looking at a young tilapia are, from left, Samantha Condon, Kady Calmer and Nicole Licht. The girls are active in their FFA chapter's aquaculture program.

By KRISS NELSON

Farm News staff writer

MANSON – Like most vocational agriculture students and FFA members, a group of vocational agriculture students at Manson Northwest Webster’s high school are learning about raising and caring for livestock.

The only difference is these students are raising animals with fins rather than hooves.

For six years now, the Manson Northwest Webster’s vocational agriculture program has included a curriculum on aquaculture.

Kady Calmer tries to net a fish while Nicole Licht looks on.

Doug Gaul, the program’s instructor, said the aquaculture course had been a part of the school’s program in the past, and after a short hiatus has been back on the curriculum for the past six years.

Gaul said about every other fall they order 150 tilapia and care for them for a year and a half before they are ready for market.

When the fish arrive at the school, they weigh a mere half-gram a piece and are placed in mini-tanks throughout the lab. The mini-tanks, he said, make it easier for the students to control the environment and do testing on the fish.

Once they have grown a little bigger, after two or three months, the fish are transferred into a large, 700-gallon tank where they will be raised until it is time to go to market.

Market in other words, means the students will filet and sell them.

Testing the water from the 700-gallon tank that holds the tilapia is Caleb Smothers.

Although the fish are sold, Gaul said, the school’s aquaculture program is more of a learning opportunity rather than a fundraiser.

“It’s not a money making deal,” said Gaul. “It’s more of a learning experience. Our FFA chapter is the main supporter of the program.”

There is usually a class of around five to 10 students, from an environmental science class that will be mainly in charge of caring for the fish. When cschool is not in session, Gaul said he is the main caretaker.

The fish are on auto feed, but the class is responsible for cleaning tanks, feeders and maintaining water quality.

Some days the fish will be weighed and they also will run different labs and studies relating to tank size, feed, proteins and filtration systems.

“It’s not a money-making deal ... more of a learning experience.” —Doug Gaul MNW ag instructor

Gaul said the learning aspect of the aquaculture program reaches far beyond the fish tank in the vocational agriculture’s classroom.

“They learn about math, biography and problem-solving,” he said. “It connects concepts they learn in other parts of school.”

Samantha Condon said it was the hands-on experience she gained that she enjoyed the most about the aquaculture program.

“I liked going back every day, feeding them and seeing how they’re doing each day,” said Condon.

Classmate Avery Birchard agreed.

“It was hands-on and you get to see what your work is producing,” Birchard said.

This year, the school’s aquaculture program supplied about 100 fish for the catch and release activity during the Fort Dodge Messenger’s Outdoor Expo.

“We were really happy to work with the Messenger,” Gaul said. “And we got most of the fish back to be able to filet and sell them.”

Contact Kriss Nelson at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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