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HOW WE GROW CRAWFISH

HOW WE GROW CRAWFISH

THE SHORT VERSION:

Grow a rice crop in water from March to July.

Seed crawfish in the rice field in June.

Drain water and harvest the rice in late July/August.

Re-flood the old rice field and it becomes a crawfish pond in September/October.

Harvest the crawfish from November to July.

Drain, plow, and level the field to repeat the process in July to March.

THE LONG VERSION

First thing we do is to grow a rice crop. This crop is grown for commercial harvest and is planted in early March through April. By June the fields have really filled out, and the crop looks like fields of green grass. Rice is grown in about two inches of water. When the rice is tall enough and thick enough to form a canopy over the water and keep it cool, we begin to add “seed” crawfish.

As water temperatures continue to rise, built-in survival instincts of the crawfish take over. They begin to dig and build burrows underground. Despite the popular myth about “mudbugs,” crawfish do not wallow around in the mud. They are more like rabbits that dig a burrow underground.

By late July,

the rice fields have been drained completely and the crop is maturing to a golden blanket of grain. We harvest the rice crop with a combine. Meanwhile, the crawfish are safe underground in their burrow. Rainfall at this period is critical to the burrow survival rate.

Droughts can severely impact crawfish production. We can pump as much water as we want and flood the ponds, BUT crawfish may not “activate” and reproduce. Experience has taught us that crawfish are activated to reproduce from barometric pressure changes that occur during periods of weather events usually accompanied by natural rain. So no weather events… no crawfish.

After the crop is harvested, the ponds are refilled with water. The stalks are left and the crawfish eat the stalks. That is why they have a sweet taste to them. Crawfish and rice are the perfect alternate crops. As the temperatures start to cool off the crawfish start coming up and out of their burrows. The females who will each hatch 400 to 900 can be seen with a huge mass of eggs about the size of ants on their tails (not a pretty site to humans, but probably beautiful to a male crawfish). It takes about 90 days for crawfish to reach maturation. Females can reproduce multiple times in a season.

Crawfish, like crabs and lobsters,

have to “molt” to grow. They come out of their old hard shell in a new soft shell and can nearly double in size each time they molt. Soft-shell crabs and crawfish are a delicacy to some markets.

Harvest begins as early as November in a warm year and as late as February with colder weather. Unlike other farm-raised products crawfish are trapped with bait; therefore, harvest is dictated by the catch. Bait consists of pieces of fish in colder months and manufactured pellets with warmer temperatures. Crawfish are harvested in a specially designed crawfish boat. This process is very labor intensive and continues rain or shine.

Harvest continues through late June until water temperatures force the crawfish into burrows. We generally shut down harvest around the 4th of July. By then, everybody is ready for a break, including the crawfish. Their ponds have become like a boiling pot so they bury themselves down to escape the heat. This signifies the true end of the season.