Early Summer Update

I usually blog once, sometimes twice a week in the main season and yet I look back and it was April since I last posted! I guess the first thing to say is that we’re still here and it’s been an incredibly busy season so far. I do keep my Facebook site a little more up to date, but we’re long overdue a proper update and this blog is an update from that last position in April, and covers the main events since then.

Early this year we were all faced with the C19 situation, and we have not been immune to the economic effects. We’ve been on a 3 year plan leading up to spring 2020 where I would be able to stop being a ‘weekend koi farmer’ and go full time – along side Amanda who’s been full time on the farm for several years now. With the uncertainty around C19 and how that would affect us all, and with my last freelance project ending in March this year, I had the prospect of no work and potentially no business – and a family and large mortgage to service! Byer Koi Farm is now of a size where it really needs me full time, but with my commitments and a degree of uncertainty due to C19, I have taken a part time job to provide some security for the family and also gives me much more time on the koi farming that I’ve had in the past. It’s been a big step in the right direction and the extra time I have for the farm is already making a big difference.

In April alone we had to cancel our open weekend (which we’d build a new car park to help host!) and 4 club visits. In May, there’s been the cancellation of the All England Young Koi Show and then following that, the BKKS National – both important events for us with a trade stand.

As it turned out, April and May were extremely busy on the customer front, with many new and returning customers. The sales pages on our website has been well used, and thankfully APC have maintained a slim delivery service throughout the difficult lock down months which enabled us to sell and ship out stock. Some customer collected, in a ‘click and collect’ style. And more recently, we’ve been able to host customers on an appointment basis.

Our new car park, and turning area has made it much easier for visitors.

The year on year organic growth means we are now really busy! It’s definitely a good type of busy, and there are now customers with solely Adam Byer Koi in their ponds which is brilliant. We have made a small change without taking away from our focus on Kohaku, to make sure we bring a new variety in each year or so to supplement our main lines of Kohaku (and Showa are rapidly becoming a landmark variety for us too)… so that there is something new for customers who want something other than Kohaku in their pond.

New varieties take time to bring through our process, and we listened to customer feedback over the last few years , some saying that they loved our Kohaku but could we put something else forward too. It’s taken us a few years to develop on that because it can take a few go’s to get the parent sets optimised and each ‘go’ is basically 1 year. We’re getting there now, and this spring we presented showa, shiro utsuri, hi utsuri along side our kohaku’s and the guilty pleasure ogons and other single coloured non metallic like Chagoi and Karashigoi – and this has been much appreciated by our customers.

Just to put this the time aspect into perspective, the Showa’s have taken 3 years before I found a parent set pairing that delivered enough good quality output to make them worthwhile.

Last year I hatched the plan (please excuse the pun) to bring in some patterned metallics and started test spawnings with Kujaku and Benikikokuryu last year and this year we have already harvested Kujaku and have 2 ponds of Benikikokuryu almost ready for harvest. The plan is that we’ll have these as our new varieties this year to sit along side our regular Kohaku offering.

Most of our spawnings are now done artificially. Which means lots of late nights

Moon shadow .. over Byer Koi Farm. On a spawning night.

Kujaku spawning!

This year, spawnings have gone really well on the whole. But, every year we have some challenges, and it’s always something new. This year is no different with two aspects standing out. First, our fry ponds have been behaving very differently to the last few years and this has been a huge problem for in year production. We rear hatchlings in our fry ponds which are lined natural ponds. Rearing in natural ponds is the Japanese way and leads to a better quality of koi. When they work well, it’s a great way of rearing large numbers of fry. But when something goes wrong – the large amount of space and resources that are taken up by the ponds delivers very little and becomes a wasteful use of resources. The problem we’ve experienced this year is that our ponds have not cycled properly with several of them failing all together during May. The cycling starts with the algae growing in the ponds, and too many times this year we’ve had the wrong type of algae.

The wrong type of algae can take different appearances. This one looked blood red , and was a form of blue green algae which we've had once or twice before over the years but this year have experienced it several times across several ponds in just a month.

Spawnings have been going well.

The impact is that our first harvest at the end of June from 3 ponds was just 10% of the volume we harvested from our first 3 ponds last year! This has been , frankly, extremely frustrating as we’ve not been able to supply customers with fry in the early season and we need the very high numbers to generate the quality at tosai and nisai stages. Particularly annoying was that none of the 3 ponds worked well; 1 failed completely, and the other 2 delivered very low harvests. The root causes for those 2 ponds are difficult to pin point, but a mix of predators, low rotifer population and the wrong type of algae are likely suspects. In one of the ponds, we harvested more dragon fly larvae than fry… which goes a long way to explain what happened to the fry in that pond! Dragonfly larvae are prolific predators. On the upside – in that pond we’ve trialled a new Kohaku female and even in just a few thousand fry that we harvested, I can see there is some quality there so the results are pleasing at least in that way , even if not in terms of numbers.

The wrong type of algae has been a real hassle across all our fry ponds. We have 6 fry ponds, and as well as affecting 1 of the initial 3 ponds, it’s also affected 2 of the other 3 ponds which I’ve had to empty, dry and refill. Each time I’m doing that I waste weeks of our limited summer and also significant amounts of water.

The next 3 ponds are going ok, with 2 filled with Benikikokuryu and the other a mix of a test spawning of Shusui and also a new Marudo based Karashigoi line. It’s really difficult to tell the numbers in the ponds, and we’re fairly certain the Benikokuryu ponds are not ‘full’, and we’ll know in around 10 days time when we harvest the ponds exactly where we’re at numbers wise. Growth in both of the ponds has been very good, with both ponds having fry that are at the 1 inch harvest size after just 3 weeks! This would usually be a good sign for the end harvest – ie, there’s been enough food in the pond to support that level of growth. But there’s a big disparity in the size of the largest and smallest fry in both of those ponds which tells me the food supply hasn’t been sufficient. That brings with it another problem of the larger ones eroding total stock volume by eating the smaller ones. So getting the timing right of when to harvest is important.

The other big blow is that we lost our Kujaku female. We’ve only had her around a year and a half and she was a stunner and a shaping up as a great spawner! The harvest in June this year was the first full harvest we’ve had from her and the results are promising. It’s one of those rare things with koi, that sometimes a koi can be fine one day and then lost the next day. And this is the way it went with her. Possibly some internal damage from the spawning 6 weeks earlier took it’s toll. Difficult to say, but a a piece of bad luck for sure, and one which is also very costly. On the upside, the two Kujaku males I’ve collected over the last few years are really good… and very prolific in the spawning vat. So we will need to replace the female but a new female Kujaku is not an insignificant purchase and, any new female might not be a quick fix either; they take a year or two to bed into our process… It’s something we will think about and decide on in a few months.

So, a strange year with so much going right and a couple of challenges which are holding us back but with still enough time to fix.

As I right this update – we’ve harvested some Kujaku and also a small harvest of Kohaku from the new female that we’re really interested in. And, with the numbers very low, we’re growing them all onto second selection size before making our selections.

We also have fry out in 4 ponds currently.

There’s the two ponds of benikikokuryu, one mixed pond shushui/karashi and also a small sample from a new showa pairing I wanted to try out. And, another pond with Kohaku and Ogons. The Sharkey spawning wasn’t large enough to warrant a whole pond on their own; and because the Sharkey line has been so strong for us in the show scene, we’ve part filled the pond with those hatchlings and topped up with Ogon hatchlings which I was holding spare just in case we found a space for them. These are now in fry pond 2 which is already the second use of that pond. The additional working days I now have at the farm helping us to get on with things quicker than in previous years.

We’ve started filling fry pond 1 for it’s second use and the plan is to use this for Showa.

And fry ponds 4 and 6 which have the benikikokuryu in currently – these will be harvested in the next 10 days or so and we should have enough summer to use those 2 ponds for a second time too. So, expect more Kohaku and possible a second showa pond. And theres fry pond 3 that has vexed me so much this year – we’re on the 3rd fill of this pond and so far it looks like we’re getting the right type of algae this time. If that pond finally delivers for us as it should… this will be another Kohaku pond.

The other news is that we’ve got on with a project I’ve been looking forward to for 2 years, and that is building a new females tank and egg rearing facility in what was the spare area of our middle polytunnel. This is the space we used for our events previously, and is now filled with tanks. We’re almost ready to fill the new females tank with water, and once it’s been running for a week or two – we’ll move the females across and the old females tank will become a second nisai rearing tank. This has been a long waited for development and will make a big boost in the number of nisai we are able to grow on and also provide a better home for our jumbo females.

Koi farming is like a marathon… a never ending marathon I think! There is much still to do this summer, and although we are off to a better start on production than in our poorest years…. It’s been quite a few years since those times, and we will need the second half of the summer to be at least reasonably successful on the production front.

Looking on the upside, we’re on for some fascinating varieties this winter to supplement our mainstay Kohaku offering. And, the new females tank and nisai growing on space will be a big asset for us straight away.

I will try to get the next blog update in a little quicker next time! I tend to use our Facebook page for little updates here and there, so please feel free to look us up on Facebook too.