The distinction between extensive, semi-intensive and intensive snail farming systems applies not only to housing but also to feeding.
In an extensive system snail feed only on vegetation planted in their pens specifically for that purpose, as in mini-paddock and free-range pens.
In a semi-intensive snail farm, external feed is provided to hatchlings, juveniles and possibly to breeding snails housed in hutch boxes or trench pens.
In an intensively managed snail farm, all snails, at whatever growing stage, are always provided with external feed. Snails are kept in hutch boxes or trench pens.
In very intensive farms the snails are fed a formulated snail feed mix containing all the proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins required for optimal growth. Snails are housed in boxes or trench pens.
Unless your snail farm is of the very extensive type, you will have to provide your snails with some or all the food they need for good development. This will require efforts on your part in growing or collecting snail food, or cash for buying it. Therefore, you must know what snails eat and what they need.
Types of snail food
What snails eat:
Snails are vegetarian and will accept many types of food. All snails will avoid plants that have hairy leaves or produce toxic chemicals,like physic nut (Jathropa curcas). Young snails prefer tender leaves and shoots; they consume about twice as much feed as mature snails.
As they get older, mature snails increasingly feed on detritus: fallen leaves, rotten fruit and humus. Older snails should be fed the same items as immature snails. If a change in the diet has to be made, the new food items should be introduced gradually.
What snails need:
Snails need carbohydrates for energy, and protein for growth. In addition they require calcium (Ca) for their shells, as well as other minerals and vitamins. Snail meat is low in crude fibre and fat; for that reason, these components are of minor importance in snail feed.
Recommended food items:
Some of the recommended feed items for your snails include the following:
Leaves like: cocoyam, kola, paw paw, cassava, okra, eggplant, loofa, centrosema, cabbage and lettuce. Paw paw leaves (as well as its fruit and fruit peels) stand out in many trials as good snail food.
Fruits like: paw paw, mango, banana, eggplant, pear, oil palm, fig, tomato and cucumber. Fruits are usually rich in minerals and vitamins, but low in protein.
Tubers like: cocoyam, cassava, yam, sweet potato and plantain. Tubers are a good source of carbohydrates, though low in protein. (Cassava should be the low-cyanide type).
Flowers like: oprono (Mansonia altissima), odwuma (Musanga cecropoides) and paw paw.
Household waste: peels of fruit and tuber, like banana, plantain, pineapple, yam.