The act or science of raising snails for food is called Heliculture (Snail farming). Snails belong to the second largest group in the animal kingdom Phylum molusca, among the invertebrates i.e. animal without backbone. Snails are hermaphroditic (capable of self-fertilization) in nature; this means that each snail has both the male and female reproductive organs. Snails reproduce rapidly; they are capable of producing more than 300 eggs, which hatch into snails. It is now possible to produce 1,000,000 snails twice a year. This is made possible because of the availability of the highly prolific ACHATINA MARGINATA species of snails, which lay 200-400 in one batch 2-3 times a year.
Snail is a very healthy source of meat, also high in protein, phosphorus, calcium and iron, and low in fats, sodium and cholesterol. There are many species of edible snails; they vary in shape, size and colour. Examples are the Africa giant land Snail, Fresh water Snail, Small size Snails, Periwinkle. Snails cut across vital areas as food, the pharmaceutical industry, manufacturing and fishing industries.
The prolific nature (of reproduction) and the market value (high demand) of snail bridge the gap and compensate farmers for its long gestation period of 2years. Snail farming in Nigeria requires small capital and the running cost is low, the farm size is determined by the capital and the location of the farm. For commercial farming, it is necessary to acquire a permanent land. The giant West Africa snail (Achatina Marginata) is the best specie for snail farming due to its prolificacy.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
1. Environment – Snails are easily dehydrated, and wind increases the rate of moisture loss in snail which in turn, leads to dryness for the animal. To prevent snails from losing water so quickly the snail house must be located in an environment that is protected from wind. A little damp and humid environment is suitable for farming.
2. Soil Type – The snail’s major habitat is the soil, and soil contains some of the components and chemical substances that it needs to survive. The soil type should be rich and contain a high level of organic matter. Clayey and compact soil should be avoided totally because of the level of acidity. Porous soil is also not good for snail farming. Hence, the suitable soil for snail farming is sandy-loamy soil with low water holding capacity. Soil must be balanced, not waterlogged, because the snail also lays its eggs and drinks water out of the soil. The shell of the snail is mainly calcium and it derives most of it from the soil.
3. Source – Snail source is an important aspect in this type of farming, it is sensible to get snails directly from the forest or buy from a reliable dealer in the market. The forest techniques could be really tricky. Snails can be gotten from the forest with a basic technique; clear a small portion of land during rainy season and drop fruits like pineapple, pawpaw, plantain, banana by 4/ 5pm in the evening. Come back at about 7pm or 8pm, you will pick up snails suitable for farming. Repeat this process until you get a reasonable amount.
4. Housing – Housing varies, snail can be reared in boxes made of suitable substances like wire gauze (net), wood, straw etc .One thing to put into consideration when building a snail house is the direction and speed of wind. Wind is a means of dehydration and is therefore bad for snail farming. Damp and humid environment are suitable for snails so it’s required of you to plant tree crops like cocoa, plantain or banana around the house as a wind breaker and to promote the humidity. Cocoyam, sweet potato, waterleaf may be planted inside the pens to supplement the diet and to serve as shade. If snail pen is large enough it should be divided into paddocks of not more than 4x4meters to prevent overcrowding and to maintain a regular stocking density. Wire net is ideal for this purpose.
5. Food/Feeding – Snails mainly feeds on green leaves and fruits (vegetables, leaves, fruits and decaying organic matter) though they can utilize other ranges of foods. Aside food to grow tissues, snails need calcium to grow shells. Feeding of snail should be regular. Food waste like maize bran, wheat bran is also good to feed snail.
6. Harvesting– Maturity takes 2 years. Only matured snails should be harvested. Check the brim of the shell. For matured snails, the brim is thicker and harder than other parts of the shell. Do not harvest all the matured ones for the market. Keep a few for breeding and to serve as base stock.
7. Pests and Diseases: Termites, lizards, snakes, ants, chickens, geese and turkeys are the common enemies of snails and should be prevented by all means. There are not many diseases identified in snail but fungus and bacterial diseases which are spread by contact have been noticed in overcrowded pens.
In the dry season, it will be ideal to irrigate the snail farm regularly or else the snails will hibernate. If there is drought, snails can hibernate for up to 2 years as is the case for desert snails.