Slow farming with snails, or Heliculture

snailhelixaspersa

Per the QLD MUSEUM WEBSITE: The European Garden Snail now classified as Cornu aspersum has previously been known as Cantareus aspersus and Helix aspersa.

From the Code of Practice (not yet altered to reflect the name change):

The recommended species for free-range snail farming is Cantareus aspersus formerly Helix aspersa —
first described in Italy by Müller in 1774. It is a terrestrial snail and is herbivorous. It is known in Australia as the common brown garden snail. Note: The anatomy or DNA of this group was examined and revised with the
conclusion that the aspersa species does not belong to members of the Helix genus. Hence the systematic transfer and reclassification in the genus Cantareus.
Darryl Potter (MEnvSc,DipBiolSc), Biodiversity Collection Manager,

Marine Zoology (Crustacea & Mollusca)Queensland Museum)

SNAIL FARMING CODE OF PRACTICE

SNAIL FARMING IN AUSTRALIA

RURAL INDUSTRIES RESEARCH DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

My own experience:

I thought I’d better start recording the progress of the snail farm. At first I thought it would all go very slowly, being snails and all, but it’s progressing much quicker than I thought it would.

It all started when Valerie organised a terrific visit to the Glasshouse Gourmet Snail farm on 1st February this year. See HERE for the report and pics and details of the correct snails to use and cooking methods.

I’ve long wanted to grow some kind of protein in my backyard.

Chooks will come down the track when the killer dogs are gone and the aviary is empty. Quails were contemplated after visiting Joanne’s home with her wonderful set up, but much the same problem as keeping the chooks.

Aquaculture grabbed my interest for a bit….until I attended some workshops and found out how expensive and time consuming it all is, let alone the manpower needed to create it.

So I’ve ended up with snails. Really quite good eating if prepared correctly.

Can I throw my delicate little friends into boiling water when the time comes? Some doubt it, including myself. It’s been suggested that I’m going to end up with hundreds of new pets that I can’t bring myself to eat. Time will tell!

SNAIL INSIDES

Some interesting facts about edible snails:

From GLASSHOUSE GOURMET SNAILS:

There are over 80,000 different species of snails world wide Helix Aspersa Muller (common brown garden snail) is Australia’s only edible snail and must be prepared correctly before consumption.

Do not collect them from the garden to eat. (Having said this on their website, Cliff also told us he collected his original stock from his choko vine – I’d say he means don’t just eat them from the garden without first purging/preparing).

The common brown snail was introduced into Australia by the early European settlers nearly 200 years ago.
They soon discovered a more readily available source of protein was available in our bush land, the practice of Heliculture (Snail farming) was soon abandoned.

Our snails are fed a high protein, high calcium grain diet supplemented with fresh vegetables. They can eat an amount equal to 40% of their own body weight in about 24 hours.
They reproduce by laying eggs in the soil, eggs are round and pearly in colour, which can number 50 to 100. Snail eggs do not hatch, after about 3 weeks they form into perfect replicas of the adults, only very small, they take 9 months to mature and the cycle begins again.

Helix Aspersa is an excellent source of nutritious food. The meat contains very little cholesterol or fat and its composition also includes many of the vitamins and minerals required for a healthy and well balanced diet.

Article: HELICULTURE – Farming Snails for the table

Snails take 9 to 12mths from hatching before they are ready to eat and need to be 3cm in length and weigh 8gms in size. Snails are hermaphrodites ie each snail contains both male and female parts (see internal diagram) and must mate with another snail to produce eggs which they lay in the soil.

From Encyclopaedia for Life:

This snail is mainly nocturnal but will emerge after rain during the day. It moves by means of a muscular foot; the mucus secreted by the foot aids with movement and leaves a tell-tale track behind. They feed on a range of plant matter, and can be serious pests of gardens

This snail has a strong homing instinct, and spends the day, often in large groups, beneath stones and other structures. They hibernate through the winter in similar locations

Garden snails are hermaphrodites, meaning that one individual possesses both male and female reproductive organs; although they are able to self-fertilise, most snails mate with another snail. Reproduction takes place in early summer, and begins with pairing and courtship. After a period in which the members of the pair caress each other with their tentacles, each snail pierces the skin of its partner with a calcareous ‘love dart’, a spiny projection which is covered in mucus.

The function of this love dart is unclear, but it is thought that the mucus may act to improve the survival of sperm. Mating then takes place; each snail inserts its penis into its partner at the same time. The snails separate, and the sperm is stored internally until the eggs are ripe. After the eggs have been fertilised, the snails dig pits in the soil in which to lay the eggs. Hatch-lings have translucent, delicate shells. 

The garden snail is edible, and snail farming is currently a booming cottage industry in Britain. This species has also been used for centuries in traditional medicine, for example, broth made from the mucus was used to treat sore throats.

From AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM:

Generally, snails found in your garden will be introduced species, which have two pairs of tentacles, rather than one pair as in native snails and slugs. – See more at: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Garden-Snail#sthash.a23N6E5a.dpu

The Garden Snail was introduced to Australia from Europe. It is always associated with human populations and rarely encountered away from cities. This edible snail is commercially raised in Australia and exported to countries such as France where it is eaten as ‘escargot’. Cantareus (Helix) aspersus is slightly smaller than the French species (Helix pomatia), which does not occur in Australia but apparently has a similar taste. – See more at: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Garden-Snail#sthash.a23N6E5a.dpuf

SNAIL FARMING IN AUSTRALIA website.

PREPARING YOUR SNAILS FOR EATING:

Once they reach the correct size they need to be purged for up to a week to remove all gritty residue of food from their digestive tract. During this time they can just be kept in a plastic box with holes in it, deprived of food and washed out twice daily as GGS suggest, or they can be fed a diet of bran or milk.

After purging they are ready for eating. Preparation involves dropping the snail into boiling water for 2.5mins only! Overcooking will result in a chewy snail. The meat is then winkled out of the shell and used in whatever manner desired.

MY SET UP:

Valerie’s husband Rhys and their boys made me a beautiful snail farm box, as per the ones at the commercial snail farm. Chook food containing molasses (as per the commercial farm) was obtained and ground up. And I started collecting the edible snails from my garden one by one (NOTE: These turned out to be the Tramp Snail – looks similar to the Garden Snail but have a small hole in the centre of the spiral and a flatter, paler shell.They bred! and I’m still removing offspring from the box.)

SNAIL FARM 21.03.13INSIDE SNAIL FARMINSIDE SNAIL FARM 2

There are different methods of snail farming including “free range” where the snails live in a large enclosure with fresh greens growing and there is this more intensive method I’m using in my small backyard.

There will potentially be 100’s of snails in my box eventually. Snails like to avoid each others slime trails  Over-slimed ground and excess faeces can modify snail behaviour by putting out chemical signals like pheromones — detrimental to reproduction and growth rates in terrestrial snails. (NOTE: This bit about snails trails is hooha according to Cliff from GGS).

With this in mind, the box needs to be hosed out once or twice a day to remove trails and faeces (worms in the soil will eat this bounty of poo) and fresh food placed in the box.

16.05.14

I’ve visited Cliff and Mary once more at Glasshouse Gourmet Snails and brought home 24 mature snails ($20) to start the farm off right. Cliff recommends covering the cage in bird wire to stop any rats gnawing through the shade cloth cover.

GLASSHOUSE GOURMET SNAILS 17.05.14

Everything was checked out before heading for cover and more sleep. Oddly they seemed to want to travel in pairs or packs. Only a couple ventured off on their own. Food includes carrot, which they love, greens and finely ground chook grains.

EATING 17.05.14

11.08.14

It’s proven difficult to keep track of all 24 snails, they’re very good at hiding even in an enclosed area like this. I know at least two have died as I have found their empty shells. Last count I could only find 17 adults but they have been BUSY! I now have 100’s of baby snails hatching out and they are so delicate and gorgeous (can’t wait for them to grow up so I can eat them!).

Below, some of the adults. They like to hide in dark, cool places and this pot sits in the corner of the pen.

FAVOURITE PLACES TO HIDE 09.08.14Baby’s in the rim of the pot…..

NEW BABIES 09.08.14

03.09.14

Spring, and the weather is starting to warm. Baby snails are hatching aplenty and taking part in the day to day activities of the farm exactly the same as the adults. They hang from the top and sides. Occasionally I miss seeing that one has crawled into the line of fire when I’m closing the lid, but I try hard to avoid that happening.

I’ve found escapees in the general garden! I have left the lid open at least three times by mistake now during the day and night and did wonder if any found their way out into the world. Proof was found in the brocolli bed yesterday and the Betel Leaf area when I cut it back this morning. Unfortunately I trod on one of them, breaking it’s shell without killing the poor thing outright. It’s doomed as they can’t reconstruct their shells.

FOUND IN THE GARDEN 02.09.14

I have a ring-in snail in the garden. It looks a lot like Cornu aspersum but it has a little hole in the underside, where the whirls come together and the shell is more flatish and paler than the Garden snail. Not edible (?) per Cliff from Glasshouse Gourmet Snails who pointed one out to me when I bought my breeding stock from him.

As far as I can tell it’s Bradybaena similaris or Asian Trampsnail.

07.10.14

Oddly, the Trampsnail numbers in the garden are increasing. I find them sitting on the outside of my snail farm and some time on the inside! plus elsewhere in the garden. I know I put one in there by mistake early on – perhaps it has laid eggs. Sometimes I find my Garden snails on the outside also. There’s a hole in the netting which I thought I had plugged but they must be getting out. I have found some of my mature snails in the very far raised bed and surrounds also. They seem to like the Betel leaf which has now been cut back.

Baby’s galore are growing at a fast rate. Will be a few more weeks at the most and I should be able to prepare some snails for eating. But not too many, I need to build up the numbers.

They are eating vast quantities of food. I can actually hear them all eating when I check on them at night. By dawn they are creeping into their dark crevices to sleep for the day.

It was difficult taking a photo in focus in the pitch black but this is the best one showing some of the activity inside the box at night time.

BABIES GROWING AND EATING 04.10.14

12.10.14

This morning I found a large quantity of the Trampsnail in one of my sweet potato grow bags. One of two handfuls in a slightly blurry pic below. All fed to the chooks next door.

2 thoughts on “Slow farming with snails, or Heliculture”

  1. Good to see all your detailed snail notes in one place. As far as pet homicide goes, could you maybe trade them for something with whom you don’t have any relationship? I recall that the 4H people would sometimes swap hand raised cattle, so their kids weren’t eating their own, but someone else’s hand reared, named beast 😄

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    1. Thanks Peggy.
      Eating someone elses pet would be just as bad in my book. I should be able to throw my snails into the boiling water when the time comes. You do it when they are dormant in their shells….not that that makes a lot of difference.

      Like

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