How to Reduce the Cost of Feeding Tilapia

Updated on March 19, 2018
Blond Logic profile image

Mary is a tilapia farmer in Brazil. Through her articles, she shares insights and tips to make your farm more profitable.

This a picture of one of our lakes full of fish. In this photo, you will see several cages. The 2m X 2m can hold up to 600 adult fish, and the 3m x 2m can take up to 900 fish. These are fed by rowboat.
This a picture of one of our lakes full of fish. In this photo, you will see several cages. The 2m X 2m can hold up to 600 adult fish, and the 3m x 2m can take up to 900 fish. These are fed by rowboat.

Buying and Raising Tilapia

It is easy to look at the rearing of tilapia and think that it's easy money. If you buy young fish, they are very inexpensive. In fact, here in Brazil, they are sometimes given for free to encourage farmers to raise their own food. If you buy them slightly larger, they cost more. We buy two-month-old fish, which are about 50 grams. This ensures they will be unable to swim out of the cages that we use. These cost more but have decreased the growing time by two months.

The chart below will show you just how much food is necessary to feed 1,000 fish.

Tilapia Feeding Chart

Size of feed pellets
Weight of fish (grams)
Age of tilapia (weeks)
Number of feeds per day
Daily amount per 1000 fish
Powder
0.5-2
1
12
225g
Powder
2-3.5
2
10
440g
Powder
3.5-5
3
10
680g
1.7mm
5-7
4
9
600g
1.7mm
7-12
5
8
760g
1.7mm
12-20
6
7
1.1kgs
2-4 mm
20-30
7
5
1.5kgs
2-4 mm
30-50
8
5
2.0kgs
2-4 mm
50-75
9
5
3.1kgs
2-4 mm
75-100
10
5
4.4kgs
4-6mm
100-115
11
4
4.8kgs
4-6mm
115-140
12
4
5.7kgs
4-6mm
140-170
13
4
6.2kgs
4-6mm
170-200
14
4
7.4 kgs
6-8mm
200-240
15
3
8.8 kgs
6-8mm
240-280
16
3
9.1kgs
6-8mm
280-325
17
3
10.6kgs
6-8mm
325-370
18
3
12.2kgs
6-8mm
370-420
19
3
11.9kgs
6-8mm
420-475
20
3
13.4kgs
6-8mm
475-535
21
3
12.6kgs
6-8mm
535-595
22
3
11.3kgs
6-8mm
595-660
23
3
12.6kgs
6-8mm
660-725
24
3
13.9kgs
6-8mm
725-795
25
3
11.4kgs
6-8mm
795-870
26
3
12.5kgs
6-8mm
870-945
27
3
13.6kgs
6-8mm
945-1025
28
3
14.8kgs
6-8mm
1025-1110
29
3
16kgs
6-8mm
1110-1200
30
3
11.6kgs
 
 
 
 
 

At What Size Can You Sell Tilapia?

You can see that the amount of food to feed the fish steadily increases as their weight of the fish increases. It's necessary to ensure enough money is put aside to cover the cost of feeding them for at least 5 months to see a good profit. Anything less than that will possibly not be worth the hassle of raising them.

Once they hit 500 grams (just over a pound) they are small but a size that will sell. If you decide to grow them larger, the restaurants will be interested in purchasing them. These should also command a higher price per kilo.

Commercial Fish Pellets

We have heard of people who get tilapia and feed them on bread and anything else they happen to have as scraps from the kitchen. This isn't going to bring your fish to their correct weight as fast and it could damage the quality of the water. Commercial fish food is a better choice for rapid, healthy fish growth. The higher the protein content the better. Commercial fish feed has a balanced blend of the correct nutrients for the size of the fish.

We buy ours in 25-kilogram sacks and luckily the factory is only a short drive up the road. The advantage of this is we never have a rodent problem. I know of one fish farm locally where they keep a lot of food on their premises and they have a big problem with rats.

Saving Money on Feed Costs

As I have already said, feeding tilapia is expensive and it is many months before you will see a return on your investment. That said, there are things you can do to save money on your feed bill. If you have plants or algae in your lake, the young fish can survive on this.

Delayed feeding is being used when there is an available source of algae in the water. This delay will save you a few weeks of food when the fish are small.

The other option we are trying here on our farm is, every other day feeding. This will be our first harvest of fish using this method. The first impressions are positive, we have had a test weight and were pleased with the results. According to other articles I have read, using this method can result in a 10 percent reduction in weight over the same time period.This is where the duckweedcomes into its own. The high protein on the 'non-feed' days, keeps the protein levels up. They tend to graze at the duckweed, whereas with the pellets, they attack them with a vengeance.

Duckweed ponds
Duckweed ponds

Using Duckweed as a Tilapia Food

Here on our farm, we are using duckweed. This is something to watch as a potential tilapia feed, as many people and animals are eating it in Asia. Its high protein content makes it a powerhouse of a plant. It doesn't offer a complete range of nutrients needed to provide the tilapia with a balanced diet but as a supplemental feed, it's ideal.

We feed our tilapia every other day with duckweed. This is sustaining them without pellet food for a day, giving them extra protein, and cutting our food bill by half. When you have several thousand fish, the savings can mean the difference between a profitable business and one which struggles.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • How many tilapia can you stock per square meter in an earthen pond?

    According to the Fisheries and Aquaculture of the United Nations, 4-8 fingerlings per square meter.

  • The local fish farm here in Iowa will eventually have 3 million fish. How realistic would it be to have duckweed ponds to feed a farm that size every other day the way you do?

    Great question. I'm not sure I can answer it fully as our farm has fewer fish. However, there are a few things I can think of to take into consideration.

    Firstly how fast will duckweed reproduce in Iowa? One of the key reasons duckweed is a 'tilapia superfood' is because it grows so quickly. If you can get it doubling its volume in a few days, then it may be worth pursuing.

    Another consideration is the harvesting of it. We used a swimming pool net and a plastic box. We then carried this to a rowboat and a kayak where we distributed it in the cages. This was the reason our ponds were long and narrow, so we had access from both sides. For 3 million fish you will need mechanized help. Off the top of my head, I would say a large fine net that can be dragged through your pond with a tractor. The key is to remember that labor is expensive, so use the most cost-effective way possible. Although duckweed is light, when you are lifting water, especially if it is a distance away such as at the end of a handle as ours was, it becomes heavy as the water is draining out of the net.

    Also the tilapia will grow slower if they are only getting their commercial feed every other day, even with the duckweed as a supplement. Here again, you have to weigh the savings against the costs of electricity if you're running pumps, wages, and a fluctuating market price.

  • What is the name of young tilapia's feed called?

    It is a powder, so you should ask for tilapia fry powder. The next stage will be a crumbled mixture, and then you'll be on to pellets. Even at the pellet stage, there are many different sized pellets for the tilapia as they grow. Using the correct feed for the weight and age will get your fish to market in the shortest time.

© 2012 Mary Wickison

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    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      7 weeks ago from Brazil

      Hi Willy,

      I'm impressed by the items you've tried. Something else we briefly considered were algae and also seaweed. Both free, depending on where you live.

      We also live in an area with sugar cane, but we never thought of trying that. Here much of it is made into bio-fuel as a good portion of the cars run on it.

      I had to laugh at your lobster sandwiches. I can't imagine trading for a ham and cheese! Oh how times have changed.

      I too think we may one day see "exotic lemna" on the menu.

      I hope 2019 will be a year filled with good health and happy times for you and your family.

    • profile image

      Willy Hese 

      7 weeks ago

      Cheers Mary,

      I have the great feeling I touched a new milestone by finding your web page and off cause your reply. Thank you for that.

      As you said the taste of Tilapia fed with duckweed improves as well I'll make a test by adding it to our recipe asap and in a few month I'll post a result.

      here a little insight of our "test-kitchen" on our path to find the "ultimate, sustainable and free fish food"

      We tested so far sugar cane which is available all around Thailand mixed eggs into the shredded paste (careful as too much eggs makes the pellets sinking!) and boosted the appetite of our Tilapia with garlic.

      Just a few garlic cloves making them going ballistic on the food pellets without changing the taste to the negative.

      Duckweed tastes not bad (wolffia globosa is sold as delicatessen in Thailand) and as dried meal I reckon it supports the floating capability of the pellets.

      Adding carrots seem to have also influence on the coloration, appetite and especially taste.

      But carrots are expensive and sinking so it might be in a commercial sight a step back for large scale farming.

      Regarding Weeds and Pests:

      As a Grandson of a Fisherman I grew up with lobster sandwiches in my lunch box at school back in the end 60's. I always was trying to swap them against Ham and Cheese Sandwiches with minor success. Nobody wanted the food of the poor people.

      I guess there will be coming one day the Duckweed will leave green spots on the white table cloth of the posh restaurants around the world.

      ...and so might be Tilapia, it all depends on trends and promotions..

      Best regards and a successful new year 2019/2562

      Willy

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      7 weeks ago from Brazil

      Hi Willy,

      Yes, it is the Lemna minor. You're correct in thinking that it is considered a weed. Like most things in nature, we are still learning of the beneficial properties of many plants and until we find a value, we class them as a weed.

      There are many people who are plagued by what they consider a nuisance weed, when in fact it has a value to someone. Such is the case with duckweed.

      Good luck with your farm.

    • profile image

      Willy Hese 

      8 weeks ago

      Hello Mary,

      thanks for all the insight as its very informative and helpful also for our plans to build up an Aquaponics Farm in Thailand.

      Many things you wrote we can confirm as we have made a test system about 6 years ago.

      We still are a bit thin of knowledge when it comes to duckweed.

      I was looking for the variety Wolffia globosa (common in Thailand) and Wollfia arhiza.

      Unfortunately both varieties gave us huge struggle to grow commercially.

      At first glance I would say you have in your ponds the variety Lemna Minor which we thought its not suitable for Fish Food but learned now it is. And that grows also in our test systems as a weed.

      Can you confirm that you have a Lemna and not Wolffia variety in your ponds?

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      2 months ago from Brazil

      Because we were using cages, we started feeding ours duckweed when we first got them. We bought our fish at 50 grams. If you were rearing in a lake, as we did the first year, we bought smaller ones at 30 grams.

      The answer really depends on your set up. If you have algae in your lake, your young will eat that. In my article I mention delayed feeding as another way to save money on tilapia feed.

      If you had very small fish, I would personally opt for the commercial feed as it wouldn't be worth the time involved to process it. The joy of duckweed is it's free and easy to grow and harvest. If you begin to process it by chopping, freezing, or drying, the value of it lessens because your time has a high value.

      Regarding the second part of your question, I'm not sure what additives you mean. Because we were feeding commercial feed on one day and duckweed the next, we felt confident that our fish were receiving the nourishment they needed.

      Since ours were in cages, there was less chance of them eating naturally occurring food, this is why we continued to feed the pellet food.

    • profile image

      Mahmoud Hussein 

      2 months ago

      What is the suitable size of fish to eat duckweed and is there any additives to put for duckweed

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      3 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Lance,

      The ponds produced it continually and there was never a shortage. We have the perfect growing environment for them as our weather is a constant. We are 3° degrees south of the equator so year round our weather is 87-90°F around 30°C. The amount of sunlight is about the same year round as well.

      The duckweed reproduces so quickly that even if we took out half a pond of duckweed, in two days, it was completely covered again.

    • profile image

      Lance Keller 

      3 months ago

      I am a business teacher and my class is doing research for a local Tilapia fish farm. In regards to the ponds you have pictured in this article. How often do these pounds produce duckweed? What is the turnover rate? Thank you.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      5 months ago from Brazil

      Hi James,

      First and foremost keep your water quality as good as possible.

      If cash flow is a problem, harvest early and/or frequently to reduce the numbers and get some cash coming in. Too many fish will result in stunted growth and unplanned breeding.

      Duckweed is a free option to supplement your feeding regime.

    • profile image

      James Agbenorku 

      5 months ago

      I have a fish farm in Ghana and I need more knowledge as to cut down cost but boast production.

      Thanks

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      14 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Josephine,

      The feeding chart I've listed is the recommended feeding for either pond or cages. However, these are just guidelines. If your fish don't eat it quickly, cut back on the quantities. Every pellet not eaten is money down the drain! The fish will be affected by many things such as quality of the water, breeding, weather and even if it is a full moon.

      The number of feeds per day we based it on how old our fish were. We bought our fish when they were 50 grams. That means they were 8 or 9 weeks old. Then we followed the chart. It isn't possible to do it only on weight, especially if you have them in a pond. As some will grow more rapidly than others. If your pond isn't drained and all fish removed, you could have too many fish all competing for the food. This will lead to stunted growth in your fish. They will get slightly bigger and weightier if separated.

      If you have your fish in a pond, frequent netting should be done to get rid of small ones. Depending on the size in the cull, we give them to our cat or the chickens. Even burying them is beneficial to your vegetables (fish meal). I know it seems counterproductive but you want to have large fish.

      I don't know how much one tilapia would eat but if you total up the right hand column until the weight you would hope to sell the fish at, and then divide it by 1,000 that should give you a rough idea.

      Thanks for your questions and let me know how you get on.

    • profile image

      Josephine 

      14 months ago

      how many grams or kgs of feed does one tilapia take in the 8months?

      Regarding the feeding chat above, is the "No. feeds per day" column the feeding rate per body weight in percentage or its the number of times a fish is fed per day?

      Thanks for the sharing spirit.

    • profile image

      Josephine 

      14 months ago

      Hello Mary, I enjoy growing together with you in the tilapia farming production. My question would be, is the feed chart of tilapia ponds the same as for tilapia cages?

      Thanks

    • profile image

      Pablo Garcia 

      2 years ago

      Thanks for your response. Very Helpful!

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      2 years ago from Brazil

      Hi Pablo,

      Feeding duckweed has many benefits. Not only are you reducing your feeding costs by half, but I feel it is also beneficial to the taste of the fish and the water in your lake.

      I think any time a natural product, such as duckweed can be used, the flavor will be better. If you use chickens as an example, free range chickens who have a variety of natural foods taste better than one raised on just factory produced pellet food. The same is true for fish.

      I also believe a natural diet is better for the quality of the water, as the fecal matter will also be more vegetable waste. If you are farming in a river the difference might not be noticed as the water is carried away. If however, you are raising yours in lakes, ponds, or tanks a build up of fecal matter can lead to poor water conditions. Algae can begin to grow and although tilapia will eat the algae, it starves the water of oxygen at night. Let me tell you, there is nothing worse than seeing your fish which you have fed for months, on the surface gasping for air.

      If you feed every other day, you can expect a 10% reduction in weight, however when you offset this against the cost of food it works out better.

      As always though there is a downside to this waiting time. As you probably know, the tilapia can start breeding at 4-5 months of age and this is why many people sell them before this time otherwise you can have too many fish.

      Here on Hubpages I have an article about our duckweed ponds.

      Thanks for reading and good luck with your fish.

    • profile image

      Pablo Garcia 

      2 years ago

      Hello! Awesome article. I have a tilapia farm in Florida and I want to cut cost on food. Also, I want to use the duckweed that grows in a pond separated from my fish tanks. I would like to know how was the output of feeding the tilapias every other day? (one day with commercial food and one day without food). And also, the result with the method of feeding one day with commercial and one day with duckweed. Thanks for the information!

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      2 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Treeman,

      It sounds like your project is a success story. Do you have a website related to your school's project?

      Regarding birds taking the fish, we use cages with a plastic mesh on top. The fish which are swimming freely in the lake are a strain on the lake and we are thankful that herons, egrets and kingfishers take them.

      We also have predators in the lake, peacock bass and a fish call a triara, to minimize the numbers.

    • profile image

      treeman 

      2 years ago

      The school's tilapia project keeps growing in scope. The students sold enough of the estimated 100,000 tilapia they raised last year to cover the costs and make a profit. Some of the brood stock are over five pounds. They put string with flagging tied to it to discourage raptors. Thanks for all the information.

    • profile image

      Treeman 

      4 years ago

      Yes it does. We spawned them inside in tanks and moved them into the ponds in May. We will need to harvest them before the ponds cool down. That is where your chart helped a great deal. It allowed us to estimate finish size at a certain date. This summer has been very cool and we lost some growing time. Next year we will start with larger fish and attempt to sex them before stocking in the pond. We also sold many fish to control pond growth. All the ponds are better except one. I later found out it is forty years old and is over the tipping point as it is changing into a wetland. It also is being fertilized by a large flock of geese. We also sold fish for people involved in aquaponics. It has been a wonderful experience for the students and we still have the harvest and marketing ahead of us. The school has committed to expanding the project. We are planning on moving into a 28x50 foot building. The students will be planning and building the hatchery. They are also using heavy equipment and survey equipment to build two more ponds. They operate dozers, track hoe, backhoe, skid loaders, tractor and material handler. We added a second teacher this year because we had more students wanting to enroll than we had room. Both program are at full enrollment already for this school year and unfortunately we are turning away students again. Many of the students go on for further education in wildlife, fisheries, forestry, enviromental science and engineering. Our school also is located inside a booming shale gas drilling area. Many students go to work in the oil and gas industry as gps techs, equipment operators, reclaimation and resource conservation.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Hi Treeman,

      We only buy in the fish at 30-50g. The buyers use hormones though.

      May I ask, how are you keeping your fish alive over winter, doesn't it get cold in Ohio?

    • profile image

      Treeman 

      4 years ago

      Do you use hormones or hybridization to create your all male population

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      This is based on an all male (or as near as possible) population. Female tilapia are a problem to have in the pond for a few reasons.

      They can start to breed at 4 months (depending on the species). Because they are mouth brooders, where they hold the eggs and the small fry in their mouth, they don't eat and because of this they don't gain weight.

      Plus, having them also causes the males to eat less. This was something we only noticed when we had them in shallow tanks where we could see them. The female was in a corner with one male, almost guarding her. All the others were trying to attract her and weren't eating as a result.

      Another problem is, when they begin to reproduce there is too much competition for food and you may get stunted growth as a result. If you have enough space, keep thinning out the population. Although the fish may be smaller, they can still gain weight and that is what they are normally sold on.

      This is one reason people like to use cages for their fish, the eggs fall through, and aren't fertilized. However, rearing in cages also has its disadvantages.

    • profile image

      Treeman 

      4 years ago

      I was wondering if the chart is based on an all male population of fish or a 50/50 mix? Thanks The growers of tilapia in Ohio find the chart very helpful for projecting costs and finish weights.

    • profile image

      Treeman 

      4 years ago

      300 lbs was not enough to let the duckweed take off even though we kept the 1400 fish in that pond well fed with high protein pellets. They ate their cover. In a different pond that has a history of total duckweed cover, the fish are eating it to the shore. If the duckweed starts to take off growing out of control we skip a feeding and the duckweed goes away. The fish in that pond are growing faster than any of the other four. It is working but duckweed can be terrible for a pond. It is like playing with fire, easy to get burned if you lose control.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      I understand your thinking regarding the duckweed however it could very quickly cover your pond completely. This will cause a problem for your pond and your fish. It will use too much oxygen and without aeration in your ponds your fish will suffer.

      I have seen nets suspended above ponds to keep the great egrets, herons etc. away. I have also seen CD's strung on line across the ponds to scare them off.

      Fish cages are also another option although the more fish you have in a cage, the higher the risk of disease. In the photo above we had two sizes of cages. 3meter x 3m and also 3m x 2m. The 3x3 had a capacity of 900 fish and the smaller a capacity of 600.

      If you have to get rid of your duckweed, this too could be a money maker for your school. There are people who sell it through Ebay. Also people who have aquariums buy it. It is a great food not just for the tilapia but also for chickens, as it is said to produce more white meat .I also imagine pig farmers would be interested in it.

      I have read it is consumed by people in some countries in the far east as well.

      Let me know how you get on.

    • profile image

      Treeman 

      4 years ago

      The fish are eating and growing. The eagles and ospreys have found our ponds. We put 300lbs of duckweed in the hardest hit pond to make it harder for the birds to see the fish.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Treeman,

      What a wonderful school project. You can incorporate so many interesting learning avenues from this.

      So pleased you found and enjoyed the page. Keep us informed of the progress. If you are writing about it, let me know and I will drop a link to it on this page.

      Thanks again.

    • profile image

      treeman 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for the great info and chart. We are currently raising 4000 in ponds at our school in Ohio. Your chart perfectly matches the data from our ponds and tanks. Best info we found on the net.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      6 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Peggy,

      Thank you for the tweet and vote.

      When they reach the correct size, we either sell them locally or we call in a buyer who pays less but buys all of them. He brings a team of 4 people who will put them into ice water in a 500 liter water tank, which kills them and then they begin gutting, scaling, and weighing. There is caçhaca being drank, lunch of BBQ tilapia and rice and at the end of the day, money changes hands.

      If we sell locally, a neighbor puts them on the back of his motorcycle in bags and takes them to local shops. He has managed 40 kilos on the back. He always looks a bit unsteady going down the sandy drive but he is accustom to driving in it.

      I haven't written a hub about that but I should. Thanks for the idea.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I found this hub very interesting. We like eating tilapia fish and learning about how you are raising them for sale drew my attention. Sounds like you are leading an interesting life! Once the fish are ready for market, what happens next? Have you written another hub about it? Up votes and tweeted.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      6 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Naeemebrahimjee,

      Thank you, I am pleased you found it interesting. Thank you for stopping by.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      6 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Teaches 12345,

      Well you never know, I am sure in Florida the temperature is perfect!

      Thanks for the vote up.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      6 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Pao D Panlilio,

      How interesting. My husband used to sell them as aquarium fish many years ago. I personally had never heard of them before arriving in Brazil. You are right about the high protein content, it is important for growth.

      Thank you for your input.

    • naeemebrahimjee profile image

      naeemebrahimjee 

      6 years ago from London

      This is a very interesting hub. As a person with a keen interest on fish this really caught me eye.

      Excellent job.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      This is quite an interesting read on the raising of tilapia. I do love to eat this fish, but not sure raising them would be up my alley. Voted up.

    • Pao D Panlilio profile image

      Pao D Panlilio 

      6 years ago from Caloocan

      great hub im not in the tilapia business but i raise them as feeders for my aquarium fish, but i feed them the cheapest dog food with high protein content

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