It is recommended to use sexually mature snails, weighing at least 100-125g, as initial snail breeding stock in snail rearing. Farming should preferably start at the onset of the wet season, because that is the time snails normally start to breed.
Until snail farms become self-sustaining, farmers may have to collect snails from the wild or buy them cheaply in the peak season and fatten them in captivity in the off season. In relatively undisturbed forest areas, snails can be collected on days following rains.
Snails are active at night and on cloudy or foggy mornings. During the day they tend to keep well hidden, so it is best to collect them at night or early in the morning, when the sun is low and the humidity high.
Farmers purchasing breeding stock from snail gatherers or from the market should expect a fairly high level of mortality as a result of poor handling and the adjustment to different foods.
The most reliable way of obtaining parental stock is from known breeders, or from agricultural institutes. Such parent snails might be more expensive than snails from other sources, but they are better and safer because they have been properly fed and managed from hatching, and have not been damaged during collection and subsequent handling.
Once the snail farm is established, farmers should select breeding stock from their own snails. Breeding stock must be selected in the wet season preceding aestivation, based on the following attributes:
- Fecundity (expected number of eggs, based on numbers laid in previous seasons)
- Hatchability (percentage of eggs likely to hatch out of the total
- Establishment rate (percentage of snails likely to survive after hatching)
- Growth rate
- Shell strength
Simple records kept by snail farmers can provide the necessary information. As a general rule, the fastest growers with the strongest shells should be selected as breeding stock. The stronger its shell, the better the snail is protected against predators.
Snails selected as breeding stock are placed in hutch boxes or trench pens, which must contain feed and water troughs.
Some farmers let snails lay eggs in the grower pens, and then transfer the eggs to the nursery boxes or pens, but this is not recommended. It may be difficult to locate the eggs, and the eggs may be physically damaged during the transfer.
A breeding snail may lay one to three egg masses (clutches) per season. The number of breeding snails placed in a hutch box depends on the fertility of the group and on the number of young snails required.
The latter depends on the pen space available. After egg laying, the parent snails should be returned to their grower pens.
In A. achatina, large differences have been observed in egg production within and between populations. The average size of egg mass produced by the various ecotypes studied in Ghana, for example, ranged from 38 to 563 eggs. Generally, snails lay between 100 and 400 eggs.
The eggs are broadly oval and measure about 5 mm long. They are usually laid in round-shaped holes dug 2-5 cm deep in the soil (figure 20). Occasionally they are laid on the soil surface or at the base of plants. Snail eggs require a certain amount of warmth.
In A. achatina for instance, the baby snails have light-brown shells with black stripes. They should be kept in the boxes and fed on vegetable or fruit leaves (like cocoyam and paw paw leaves), fruits (preferably paw paw), powdered oyster shells and water until they are big enough to move to grower pens. Young snails do best if they are kept with snails of the same size.
The eggs of Achatina fulica are small (4 mm) and are laid in clutches of 10 to 400; usually a parent snail lays several clutches in a year.
Hatchlings remain 5-15 days underground before emerging.
The eggs of Archachatina marginata are quite large (17 × 12 mm) and egg clutches are small (4-18 eggs). A parent snail may produce several clutches a year. The incubation period is around 4 weeks. Hatchlings remain underground for 2-5 days after hatching.
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