How to Breed Aquarium Fish at Home

The following advice is coming from someone who had an aquaculture facility in a warehouse setting for a few years. Here is my story:

The advice that I am going to give in this article is based on my experience above. Let’s jump into it!

Selecting a Species

Here are the factors to consider when choosing the right species to breed:

  • Ease of breeding
  • Demand/Oversupply considerations
  • Quality of current stock available
  • Space required for a full operation
  • Space for a packing station and a proper storage area for supplies like an oxygen tank

I think this goes without saying, but you want to choose a species that you can sell and be profitable. Meaning that your time, the supplies, your space, etc. is paid for and you have some extra revenue so that you can save and expand if needed. A good starting point is a popular species that has either poor in quality or high in rarity. Meaning you can improve the quality of a captive bred species and/or you can be a consistent supply for the aquarium industry if there is currently not one for the species that you are considering. Having a general passion for the species is also a must in my opinion – because you will have a lot of them at any given time. So make sure that you fully research what you will need and that you are comfortable with the waiting period which we will get into later in this article.

Setting Up Your Brood Stock Systems and Cycling Them

Once you have selected the species that you would like to breed, you will need to set up several brood stock systems. The set up will be determined based on the best possible habitat that will make the breeding pairs feel the most secure. This will vary from specie to specie but what won’t vary is the nitrogen cycle. Completing the initial nitrogen cycle in order to establish good bacteria in your brood stock system is essential. You don’t want to cycle a system with your brood stock. It will stress them out, it could be fatal and if they survive it, it will delay any spawning activities.

The best method is to do a fishless cycle. Here is an excellent explanation on how this works:

In the aquaculture facility each of the brood stock or breeding pairs were in their own separate system. This way if one system had an issue – like one of the parents becoming sick or the entire system contracting a disease for example – it would not effect any of the other breeding pairs. This will allow you to perform medical treatments separately if needed, etc. without all of your breeding pairs having to have down time at the same time.

Setting Up Fry Your Systems and Letting Them Cycle

Once you have your brood stock systems set up and they are in the process of cycling, a good way to kill time in between is getting your fry systems up and running. You will need two different types of fry systems set up:

1.) Fry Rearing Systems

2.) Juvenile Grow Out Systems

These rearing systems will depend on the type of species that you are breeding so be sure to do a ton of research and create a system that will give your fry a good chance at survival. For the grow out systems, these will be aquariums where you can house, feed and monitor lots and lots of juveniles of the species so that they will develop properly and thrive. Here is a drawing that includes the basics for what you will need for a fry rearing and/or grow out system:

Depending on the species that you are breeding will determine the shape, size and flow rate of the system that you will need to build and have set up for your fry. Just like I recommended for the brood stock systems, you will want to have several fry systems as well in order to avoid having any issues effect your entire stock. Start the nitrogen cycle on your fry systems before you order your brood stock or breeding pairs. This will give them ample time to complete their nitrogen cycle.

Selecting Your Brood Stock/Breeding Pairs

Once your brood stock systems have completed their nitrogen cycle, you can go ahead and add in your breeding pairs into each system. I purchased several pairs from different breeders initially. Once we had some juveniles from each initial breeding pair, we introduced them to the other and when they paired off, we used the new pairs as our brood stock.

As time went on we would grow out the new breeding pairs, allow them to breed and then add new genes to the gene pool as often as we felt that we needed to. You will want to do this in order to keep your bloodlines clean of any inbreeding as this can cause major problems for the babies. With that said, I recommend getting some from a breeder and some from your local fish store.

Feeding Regiment

Depending on the species that you select to breed, there will be different recommendations on what to feed them and how often to feed them. For our seahorses, for example, we fed them 3 times per day and soaked their food in vitamins. This kept them happy and healthy – which is basically what you need (among the right habitat) in order to make them feel secure so that they will breed. There also might be a certain type of food that the species that you are breeding will prefer in order to have them properly produce eggs, sperm, etc. So be sure to thoroughly do your research.

Logs/Protocols

In our facility we kept food logs, spawn logs, fry logs micro algae logs, zooplankton logs – and even a log on how often we had changed out the ro system’s filter media. These logs gave full transparency to everyone who worked in the facility and it helped us to trouble shoot if a problem arose. I HIGHLY recommend keeping a binder or some type of electronic waterproof device that will allow you to take notes on your brood stock’s food intake, behavior, their breeding cycle, their hatch rate, their fry or baby fish’s growth rates, etc. This will help you to ensure that your brood stock and your fry are thriving.

For protocols, even though you will be doing a lot of redundant things, creating and following a protocol will help to ensure that you do not miss any of the steps for any process. We are all human and we all make mistakes. A protocol helps to eliminate that factor from the aquaculture process as a whole and ensures that everything that needs to be done on a daily basis is getting done the right way, at the right time and correctly.

Micro Algae, Live Food Culture Vessels and Hatcheries

The fry or baby fish will require micro algae and zooplankton to some degree – depending on the species once they hatch or are born. You will need to have these systems ready to go once your breeding pairs become pregnant. I offer an entire online course on how to grow your own live food using the same methods that I used in my aquaculture facility which you can sign up for here: How to Grow Live Food at Home This course covers phytoplankton, rotifers and copepods.

For Brine Shrimp, here is an excellent tutorial by a Goldfish breeder:

The Waiting Period

While you are cycling your fry tank, setting up your live food systems/culture vessels/hatcheries and tending to your brood stock or breeding pairs, you will need to be really patient, keep taking notes and perfecting your protocols while nature takes it’s course. During this time period continue to do your research and pay very close attention to your brood stock’s behavior. Watch for queues and make sure that at the first sign of pregnancy that you are getting your live food ready for the fry.

Fry Hatching and Grow Out

Once your fry hatch or are live birthed and they are transferred into your fry rearing system, you will need to keep a good supply of live food in their rearing tanks for several weeks to ensure that they make it past the first critical stage of growth. Monitor the babies very closely and ensuring that they are being well fed is essential during this time period. Once they get large enough and strong enough, you can then transfer them into their grow out aquariums. The time period for each of these phases will depend on the specific species that you wish to keep.

When transferring the fry and juveniles from system to system, ensure that they are being kept submerged in the water and that they are not being exposed to the air. This will help to reduce stress and other issues that can arise from not doing so.

Other Tips

  • Be sure that you are disposing of any by products or waste into a properly plumbed drain that leads to a water treatment plant. Do not dump anything anywhere else as this can cause an environmental issue.
  • Before you start any of the processes above, check with your local state agriculture legislature to find out if you need any type of license in order to do aquaculture from your home. A lot of the stores will not buy from you without a proper aquaculture/agriculture license as they are not allowed to unless you have your license.
  • Always go into aquaculture with the intention of putting the animal’s needs over anything else.

And that in a nutshell is how you breed aquarium fish at home.

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