Feed cost represents about 50% of variable operation cost in catfish farming. Reducing feed cost while maintaining optimum fish performance will improve farm profits. The main goal of the catfish nutrition and feeding research at the NWAC/DREC is to develop low-cost feeds and proper feeding strategies that can be used by catfish producers for optimum production efficiency. Since protein is the most expensive component of catfish feeds, much of our research effort has been devoted to optimizing dietary protein levels for catfish. Research has shown that dietary protein levels can be reduced from 32% to 28% without adverse effect on fish growth and production and animal protein levels especially fish meal levels can be reduced or eliminated in catfish feeds for food fish grow out.
Practical vitamin requirement studies have demonstrated that certain vitamins may be reduced or eliminated in the diets for pond-raised catfish. We have also demonstrated that phosphorus supplementation can be reduced in catfish diets and microbial phytase can be used to replace inorganic phosphorus supplements. Research on nutrient enhancement of catfish has shown that long chain omega-3 fatty acids (health beneficial fatty acids) can be substantially increased by supplementation of refined marine fish oil in catfish diets while maintaining mild flavor of catfish fillets.
Although catfish have been farmed for many years, feeding is still far from an exact science. It is a highly subjective process that differs greatly among catfish producers. Developing optimum feeding strategies to suit different management and culture practices may offer potentials to improve feed efficiency and farm profits. Several studies have been conducted at the NWAC to examine various feeding regimes including satiation vs. restricted feeding, feeding once or twice daily, feeding at different times daily, feeding based on water temperatures, and feeding on alternate days. Results have shown that moderate feed restriction improves feed efficiency.