The definition of heliciculture, known also as snail farming or snail rearing, is raising snails for human use. It is recognized as a sub-category of agriculture. Snail farming is also known as a very profitable and low-risk form of farming. The snails that are being farmed can be used in gastronomy, cosmetics or as food for reptiles. Escargot shells can be sold for decoration purposes. Snail eggs are being produced to enjoy as a type of caviar.
The term heliculture, basically means the same as heliciculture – both terms refer to snail farming.
You might think that eating snails is part of a new and latest fad or trend. However, eating snails dates all the way back to prehistoric times. In Roman times eating snails was perceived as a privilege reserved for the elite.
Moreover, statistics show that snail farming is on the rise in the last few years. The number of snails farms in Europe and in the US is increasing in rapid speed.
It is highly recommended you will get yourself familiar with snails anatomy in order to better care for the snails. You might also want to check the snail life cycle page. There you can read about the baby snails, adult snails and how they lay eggs.
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Laws and Regulations for Snail Farming
It is very important for you to thoroughly review your country or state laws and regulation before you make any financial commitment. Some snail species are illegal in some states and countries. The last thing you would want if make investment towards your business and face problems with the authorities. In this link, you can find your State’s Agriculture Department and more information.
The website for the US Department of Agriculture offers more information for farmers in general and some other information about snails farming.
Which Snail Species Are Good For Snail Farming
The most popular edible snail species are Helix pomatia and Helix aspersa. The term Escargot usually refers to these two species and is also most commonly used in gastronomy. Sometimes these species are also called garden snail, but this term could also refer to many other snail species.
Related article: Nutritional value of snails
Also known as Roman snail, Apple snail, Escargot de Bourgogne/Burgundy snail or Gros blanc. It can be found across Europe and USA. They live in vineyards, gardens, valleys and forested mountains up to 2000 meters (6600 feet). These snails can grow up to 45 mm across the shell. Together with their rich flavor the Helix pomatia species is very popular with foodies all over the world.
Also known as Cornu aspersum, Gros, gris, Petit gris, Small grey snail or The Escargot chagrine. This is another species which is very popular with foodies. They live across Europe, USA, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and some parts of South America (Mexico, Argentina). Helix aspersa has a life span of 2 to 5 years. They are considered mature when the shell measures 30 to 45 mm across. What is very special for Helix aspersa is they can adapt to almost any condition and climate. This is one of the reasons why Helix aspersa is so commonly considered as profitable snail farms. Helix aspersa can be found in sand dunes, forests, fields and gardens. The ability increases Helix aspersa’s range and makes farming them less risky.
There are two types of Helix aspersa snails:
- Helix aspersa maxima (Gros gris)
- Helix aspersa muller (Petit gris)
Related article: What do snails eat?
How to Set Up a Snail Farm
Like any business, snail farming requires an investment. However, this investment can be easily managed and reduced with the right preparation. As you can expect, the small size of snails also play a rule in the costs. Meaning, the cost of setting up a farm for 100 snails is significantly less than a farm of 100 cows. You will need less space, less food, etc. In addition, snails farm is much better for the environment than other types of farms.
First, you will need a building for reproduction and something called a breeding park – for fattening the snail. The size of those buildings will depend to your ambition and need as the breeder. You can start breeding edible snails in several ways:
- Purchasing breeding snails or mother snails (the reproduction snails)
- Purchasing snail eggs
- Purchasing baby snails
Snails need to be able to graze and move around on very different substrates. They must produce a lot of snail mucus or snail slime to do this. To help them produce enough snail mucus their environment needs to have a high percentage of humidity. That’s why you need to constantly water the breeding areas. Furthermore, the temperature and composition of the soil play a very important role.
Much like humidity, snails like warmth. The optimal temperature for them is between 16-22 ° C. The soil should have a higher lime content. Then the substrate will contain heat for longer which will in turn promote the growth of snails. Liming is the application of calcium- and magnesium-rich materials in various forms to soil. These materials are marl, chalk, limestone, burnt lime or hydrated lime. In acid soils, these materials react as a base and neutralize soil acidity.
Indoor farming vs. outdoor farming
Before setting up your farm, you will need to decide between and indoor and an outdoor facilities. Each one of them has its own advantages and disadvantages. In an indoor growing and breeding facility you obviously have more control on the environmental conditions. Variables like temperature, humidity, light levels, and shelter can be controlled through artificial means. The use of timers and mechanical controllers, such as hose and light timers to create ideal humidity through irrigation or misting and consistent light/dark ratios. You can even hooked into web-based, wi-fi systems that can be controlled through your phone.
However, if you are growing outdoors in pens, whether mesh or other types of contained spaces, it is more difficult to control these factors in open-air facilities. The sun will shine and the rain will rain when they want to! You can supplement these factors with irrigation or misting systems, use shade cloth to protect from the sun (and aerial predators like birds), and ensure that snails have adequate shelter so they can self-select to have shade. Obviously if you are growing outdoors, your breeding and growing season will be dictated by the season; colder climates will result in snails going into hibernation which curtails breeding and growing.
Some heliciculturists have created a hybrid system whereby they have outdoor pens for fattening of snails during the warmer months and an indoor, climate-controlled area where snails can continue to breed. Such a facility will add to your overall costs as well as create more work through cleaning and feeding regimens, but may be worth it if you want year-round production regardless of weather.
No matter if indoor or outdoor, your snails will need to be contained in some way to ensure they stay in place and not create a nuisance to your neighbors (in the U.S., you may be legally and financially liable for letting invasive species loose!). As a farmer, you also want to keep your investment in place—loose snails are like money out the door. Obviously if you have an indoor facility, chances of escape into the environment is more limited, though snails are notorious escape artists, clinging to all kinds of objects so carefully checking items that you take into and out of the facility is key.
Even outdoors, containment is needed. It not only keeps the snails where you want them, it also helps to keep out predators including rodents, birds, reptiles and amphibians—almost everything wants to eat a snail. Containment in outdoor set ups is limited only by your imagination and budget. What they all have in common are some type of walled in area, whether wood, concrete, agricultural mesh or other fence-like structure, and, as mentioned above, many will also cover this area with sun-blocking agricultural cloth which allows air flow and sunlight but helps cut down on direct sun, which can kill snails, and block birds from getting into your growing area.
Whether you choose to set your farm up indoors, outdoors, or a combination, it is a significant investment that you must factor into your business plan, not only for creation but for maintenance as well. A well thought out and constructed growing area is vital for a successful snail farm.
The breeding parks are used for fattening the snails – this is the period needed to achieve the correct weight, shape and hardness of the shell therefore suitable for trade. You can also put a plastic tunnel in the field, to which you then begin to transfer babies in mid-April. However, we only recommend it where it is absolutely necessary due to harsh climatic conditions. Normally, we advise against this idea due to additional costs, labor costs and possible snail losses when moving snails from the tunnel to the park.
Depending on the number of the breeding snails, you need to have a suitable room to host them. For a breeding group of 5,000 snails you need to have a reproduction area of 30-40 m2. You need to provide perfect conditions such as temperature, humidity, light and nutrition, for snails to have optimal environment to reproduce.
The most ideal temperature for Helix aspersa Maxima snails is 21 °C. The temperature should not go above 30 °C because this will make snails go into aestivation state – state of inactivity and a lowered metabolic rate.
The most optimal humidity required for snails is 80% (±5%). If the humidity is too high it can cause their shell to peel off.
Another important element in the life of a snail is also light. Appropriate lighting will increase the intensity of reproduction.
To regulate all these factors you can install a sensor and connect it to your mobile phone so you can monitor the conditions on your snail farm at any time and from any location.
The building for snail reproduction should be equipped with:
- Heating system – to keep the right temperature
- Ventilation holes – to enable air circulation
- Water source – to maintain the right level of humidity
- Source of light – ideally to provide 16-hour days for snails
- Reproduction tables / shelves – for reproduction to take place within them
- Mugs with soil – for snails to lay eggs
Related article: How do snails reproduce?
How to Prepare a Fence?
In the breeding park you must put up a fence which prevents snails escaping to the wild. To do this you can put up a special small fence which consists of agrofabric, stakes, salt bar and a board forming a roof. The agrofabric is buried in the ground at about 30 cm and stretched on the structure, and this will prevent snails from getting underground and on the ground. You can then put salt tablets in front of the fence, and this will effectively discourage snails from escaping the enclosure. In the field you can plant vegetation to serve as additional food and shelter for snails.
What Kind of Hydration System Should You Use?
If snails are kept in an indoor enclosure, you need to remember to hydrate their living area twice a day – in the morning and evening. This can change depending on the weather. If you want to simplify this you can install hanging sprinklers in order to have a better effect than standing ones. Irrigation companies often carry out projects as part of your purchasing their equipment so you can use them to install the hydration system for you.
Make sure there are no dry spots on the field where water might not reach snails, for example when the wind blows harder. For your water source one idea is to dig a deep well, but you have to choose the right pump power so that it is not too weak for the number of sprinklers.
You have created the breeding park, put up a fence, planted plants as food and you have put a watering system in place. Now in order to achieve good results in breeding snails, it is very important to maintain the breeding park daily and create the best possible conditions for snails. After all, your snails have to feel happy and healthy in order for them to reproduce, grow and mature to the right size.
Daily activities of a snail farmer:
- Ensuring the snails have not escaped outside (preferably in the morning)
- Checking the condition of the fence (rodents can perforate the grid)
- Ensuring that the plants don’t grow higher than the fence (this facilitates escaping the snails)
- Hydrating the living area to maintain adequate humidity
- Washing pastures with running water – especially before feeding (this prevents wind blowing)
- Feeding snails by spreading the feed on the pallets evenly
Related article: Snail farmer success story
What size snails are ready for food consumption?
Edible snails range in size from one millimeter to 312 mm in length, which is the biggest snail species called Giant African Snail (Achatina fulica). Snail production of the largest snails means that they are usually sliced and canned to be ready for food consumption. On the other hand, farming other species usually means that they are sold live, blanched or frozen.
Snail farming is a good choice for anyone who wishes to start small scale farming, because it is easy to set up, does not require huge investments and is not highly risky.
With the right snail farming business plan and quality snail farming equipment this could be a very rewarding hobby. There is a lot to learn, so you need to be ready to read, learn from mistakes, and most importantly, adapt to your snails.
Before you embark on setting up your own business of escargot farming, you need to ask yourself some questions. Starting any business is not a walk in the park and snail farming business is no different. You need to be ready to put in the effort and time. You also need to accept that at the end, it still might not work out the way you wanted.
Should You Start a Snail Farming Business?
Here are some questions you can ask yourself before starting your own business. The answers will help you understand if this is a good career move for you.
Are you a self-starter?
You will need to have a very well–structured business plan and a very long list of tasks that need to be completed. You need to know what to do, how to do it and when to do it. When you are on your own, there is no one looking out for you and helping you do things. You need to be self-driven and take the initiative.
Do you enjoy challenges?
There will be constant challenges running your own business. Are you prepared to take them and act on them? Challenges will bring changes, so you need to be resilient, agile and very adaptable.
Are you a creative problem solver?
Do you often find yourself thriving when faced with a problem and there is little time to solve it? Or you simply enjoy the unknown and like to think about everything from a different perspective than what the ordinary expectation is? Then you have a very good chance of succeeding running your own business, as you will often be required to solve difficult problems in very little time. Using an “out of the boy” approach is very successful in these situations.
Are you willing to accept failure?
Having your own business, failure is inevitable and it might be big or small. Whatever it is, you need to embrace it and accept it. Learn from it and more importantly, move on. Don’t let it soak in and torture you. Worrying has never resulted in anything good.
Is this really something I am passionate about and will excite me?
Let’s face it – having you own business mean lots of work, hours, spending your family-time doing errands and necessary phone calls. If your business is not something you feel strongly passionate about then just don’t do it. Bottom line is if you don’t have the passion, you will not be engaged and motivated enough. And your business will not be successful.
Do you have the humility and willingness to do it all?
When you are on your own you will have to also do the mundane tasks and the dirty jobs, that usually get taken care of when you are employed and have a very specific and narrow range of tasks. You will need to be very hands-on and simply do it.
Will you miss the corporate environment and having people around?
If you have been in a corporate environment where you can casually interact with others all the time, share a lunch or meet in a conference room, you may find yourself feeling isolated at home. Feeling lonely might become a daily thing and you will need to learn how to accept this or find other ways to meet with people. Going for business networking events might be good for both your loneliness and also your business, so you will need to be open and approachable.
This may seem like a lot to take in. There are many other details you need to be aware of before starting a snail farm. If you found this article interesting, you can read more on how to start Snail Farming in the Guide to Snail Farming.