I have family members who successfully run home-based farms where they rear grasscutters, fish, and snails. Some grow oyster mushrooms too.
A home-based type of snail farming must have been in practice for many centuries, but no one can tell when eating snails came about. Some sources claim that snail farming has been practised as far back as the days of the Roman empire, but there is no substantiated evidence to back this up except archaeological findings of heaps of snail shells dated many centuries ago. But the connection with the Romans may explain why snail rearing is called heliculture, as it is obviously a Roman name.
Nevertheless, snails are highly nutritious foods that are rich in protein, calcium, and iron, contain zero fat, and are low in cholesterol. Their meat contains vitamins, minerals, and two essential amino acids: lysine and arginine. Though lysine is beneficial to the body, we are not able to naturally produce it—so we need to obtain it through dietary sources. Snail meat is one of the best sources of this amino acid.
Arginine is another nutritional source that helps the body build proteins. It is in most protein-rich foods, like red meat, fish, poultry, soybeans, grains, and dairy products. Snails are a good source of L-arginine.
Snail meat is considered a delicacy by most people that love to eat it. Although some avoid eating snails for cultural or religious reasons, it is safe to say that this meat is loved by most people that taste it.
In this article, we will learn how to set up your own snailery at home for personal consumption, commercial distribution, or both.
The Growing Industry of Snail Farming
Snail rearing has become a huge money earner and highly lucrative venture, particularly since you can start with considerably low capital. It provides one of the finest opportunities to make money on a small scale, within a short time. And when you compare it to other types of livestock farming like piggery, poultry, and cattle rearing, its technical, labour, and financial inputs are relatively low. Today, you will find many countries, especially in Europe and Africa, that rear snails for both consumption and exportation to other countries around the world—and the market is growing exponentially.
The good thing about snail farming is that you can rear them on a small scale, from your home. The farming technique is straightforward and easy to implement and the space required for rearing can range from having a few old tires stacked on each other—using large baskets or big clay pots—to building a small outdoor shed that’s no more than 25 square feet (2.4 square metres). The space you have available will always determine the size of your snail farm, however, and whether it is for home consumption or commercial purposes.
9 Benefits of Rearing Snails at Home
- Apart from crop cultivation, a snailery is noiseless. There is no other animal you can keep on a farm that is as quiet as snails.
- Snail droppings are odourless. This is nothing like what you get in a piggery or poultry. You can rear snails close to or within living spaces.
- The meat is not only delicious, but it is also rich in protein, phosphorus, calcium, and iron.
- Because it contains low amounts of cholesterol, fat, and sodium, it is great for people with heart problems and is a better replacement for red meat.
- The business of rearing snails has high market potential.
- They are also used to produce cosmetics and other skin products.
- The possible health benefits of lysine (found in snails) include reduction and elimination of cold sores and the prevention of the symptoms of lysine deficiency.
- Arginine is also found in snail meat and helps maintain healthy immune and hormone function, dilates and relaxes the arteries, promotes a healthy renal system, and facilitates wound healing.
Techniques of Homestead Snail Rearing
When you finally decide to start a home-based snail farm, you will find that your costs can be remarkably low, depending on which type of housing you have space for.
If you have a garden, you can set up a snail house in a corner of it. If you don’t have that much space, it is best to go for the tire-stacking option. And if you live off the ground floor, perhaps in an apartment on the seventh floor, you can choose either the clay pot or basket housing options.
After you have determined the rearing structure that will work best for you, start with the steps listed below.
How to Set Up an Outdoor Snailery
Soil is the most important part of a snail's habitat. To sustain their growth and development, the soil must be moist and have a high amount of organic matter, the kind that supports the cultivating of leafy greens, tomatoes, and carrots.
- You must first clear the ground of weeds, shrubbery, and twigs, and its texture must be loose enough to allow mature snails to dig easily into the soil to lay their eggs and hibernate during the dry season.
- Hand-till (plough) the soil to loosen its grains and make its texture snail friendly.
- Create a paddock for vegetables and leguminous plants.
- Build a fine-mesh or netting enclosure all around the paddock. Remember that snails can crawl away unnoticed.
- Grow leafy greens, legumes, cocoyams, bananas, and dwarf pawpaw plants in the paddock and wait for them to grow.
- Introduce your breeders into the enclosure and ensure you water the paddock regularly. It will provide both shelter and food for the snails.
- The greatest threat to snails are pests such as crawling insects and other predators, especially in the tropical regions that typically rear snails. To prevent them from getting into the enclosure, build a gutter around the housing and fill it with water and some pesticide.
Different Methods of Creating an Indoor Snailery
As mentioned earlier, to rear snails in an indoor environment like a patio or veranda requires items like old tires, drums, hutch boxes, clay pots, and baskets. They must contain humus soil or compost that is soft enough for the breeders to burrow in and lay and bury their eggs.
After the eggs have been laid, you can harvest and place them in smaller containers filled with moist, loamy soil. These incubation boxes will help the hatchlings grow without hindrance.
- Stacked tires system: You can use discarded tires as comparatively cheap snail pens. Place four old tires in a stack, and put chicken wire mesh between the top and the second one. Fill the bottom two tires with loamy or humus soil, and add no more than five breeder snails within the pen.
- Empty drums snailery: Before setting up oil drum pens, create drainage holes in the bottom before filling with the appropriate soil to a depth of about 10 inches (25 centimetres). Install a framed and removable wire mesh lid to cover the drum. Add about five or six breeder snails in each container. The soil must remain moist at all times.
- Single, double, or triple hutch boxes: These are boxes on stilts with drain holes in the bottom, filled with 20–25 centimetres of soil, and placed waist-high for easy handling and movement of eggs or hatchlings from one pen to the other. The legs must have aprons made from plastic (or old cans) to stop insects and other pests from crawling up the crate legs to attack the snails in the hutch. The lids, a wooden frame hinged to the crate, should be fitted with nylon mesh and wire netting.
- Clay pots and baskets: This is the cheapest and easiest way to create a snailery. If you plan to utilize this method, then you probably intend to rear snails strictly for your home consumption. The only downside to this method is that you must clean out the contaminated soil regularly to avoid unpleasant smells and infected snails. Just as in the other systems, add sieved black soil—no more than 25 centimetres (10 inches)—into the container, and cover with a removable framed wire mesh lid. Ensure you add no more than three breeders.
What to Feed Your Snails
Your stock requires protein for growth and development, carbohydrates for energy, and calcium for healthy shells, as well as other minerals and vitamins. So, whatever you feed them must supply them with these essentials. The good thing is that snails are herbivorous and can, therefore, eat most types of plant foods—except plants that produce toxic chemicals and waxy or hairy leaf vegetation.
Feed the young with tender leaves and shoots, and feed the older, mature snails with leaf litter and rotting fruits.
Recommended foods and nutritional supplements include:
- Leaves from cocoyam, papaya, okra, eggplant, loofa, cabbage, lettuce, and cassava plants.
- Fruits like papayas, bananas, strawberries, pears, mangos, oil palm, figs, eggplants, watermelons, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
- Tubers like sweet potatoes, cocoyams, yams, carrots, and other kinds of potatoes.
- Household peels from bananas, pawpaws, yams, plantains, carrots, and pineapples.
- Salt-free food leftovers like cooked rice, beans, and peas.
- Powdered calcium (for good shell development) from eggshells, wood ash, ground limestone, crushed oyster shells, or bone meal should also be added to the snail feed.
- Supplementary vitamins and minerals that contain small amounts of vitamins D, E, and K. Sources include sunflower, copra cake, wheat germ, lettuce, cabbage, and spinach. Mineral sources can be provided by placing licking stones containing the essential minerals into the pen.
Feeding must be done twice daily, generally in the morning between the hours of 7–9 am and in the evening between 5–7 pm.
What You Need to Know About Snail Breeding
Overpopulation adversely affects the growth and development of snails in captivity. They will grow slowly, be underweight, lay fewer eggs, and sometimes may not breed at all.
If you are a beginner snail farmer, it is best to start small, with just a few breeders. As you become more familiar with your home-based heliculture, you will learn their habits and become better at managing snail rearing. Then, you can increase their numbers as needed. The recommended density is 1–1.5 kilograms per square metre or about 15–25 snails per square metre.
When you get or purchase breeders, they are probably all filled with fertile eggs. The gestation period between fertilisation and the laying of eggs is between one to two weeks. In the breeding pen, they burrow into the soil and lay eggs in clusters: an average of eight eggs in each cluster. Any eggs found on top of the loam must be buried in the soil immediately.
After the eggs have been laid, mature snails must be removed from this pen and transferred to another, leaving the eggs to gestate. The incubation period varies and depends on environmental factors, but it usually takes between 25–35 days.
When the eggs hatch, they crawl out of the soil. At this time, remove them from the ‘birthing’ pen and transfer them to a nursery pen. For indoor snail rearing, this can be a smaller clay pot, basket, or two stacked old tires.
Because baby snails are susceptible to dryness, the habitat must be kept moist and clean at all times.
When Should You Harvest Your Snails?
For a small-scale, home-based business like snail farming, the age and size at which snails should be ready for harvesting depends on the main objective of the farm: whether it is for rearing food for personal consumption or for selling.
If you are breeding snails for your personal use, you can choose when to harvest. The timing will depend on how you like your snails: small and tender or large and meaty.
With snail breeding for sale, buyers’ preferences dictate the age and size of harvesting. These preferences vary from one region of the world to another. The average time it takes for snails to reach a proper size and weight that is suitable for eating, however, is about 12 months. You can harvest snails when they are between the ages of 12–18 months because, after that time, the growth rate will decline.
Harvesting is best carried out at night, because this is the time they crawl out from the nooks and crannies of the pen. Nighttime is their activity period and is the best time to find and pick them.
The Lifecycles of Snails
In home-based snail farming for consumption, you can do with just two snail pens. If you intend to commercialise, you will need at least three snail housings—but this only works better for outdoor snail houses. Semi-intensive farmers keep and care for hatchlings, growers, and breeding snails in separate crates or pens.
With that said, let's take a look at the four main stages of a snail's lifecycle and how you should best care for them.
- Eggs: One great thing about domesticated snails is that, under the right conditions, they may continue laying eggs even during the dry seasons. They also lay eggs in clusters (about eight per cluster) and bury them in the soil. Any eggs found on top of the loam must be buried immediately. The incubation period varies but usually takes between 25–35 days.
- Hatchlings: These require more humid conditions than adult snails. The soil in their pens should be kept moist by providing enough water at regular intervals. Snail hatchlings and juveniles are stocked at a density of around 100 snails per square metre.
- Growers: When they are about three months old, growers should be transferred to separate pens at a stocking density of 30–40 snails per square metre of soil surface.
- Breeders: They start to lay eggs when they are sexually mature at the age of 10–12 months. Breeders must be transferred to boxes or pens with a maximum of 15 snails per square metre. When they are no longer required for breeding, they can be kept in fattening pens until they are ready for consumption or sale. Breeder snails are grown out until the age of 18 months.
Medium-size snails (used for European-style cooking) are purged, cleaned, packaged, and sold in a refrigerated hibernating state. In West Africa, snails are mostly sold live in open markets. West Africans tend to believe frozen or refrigerated snails lose their natural taste when cooked. It is really a matter of opinion.
On average, snails to be used for home consumption take six months to grow out, while those sold at markets take about eight months to reach a marketable age.
10 General Tips for Home-Based, Snail-Rearing Farms
- Ensure that the snail housing has an effective draining system if you are farming on a balcony indoors, or create a simple drainage system if you are rearing the snails outdoors.
- Protect the snail housing from the sun, rain, and severe winds.
- Avoid at all costs clay and sandy soil in the housing, because it negatively affects the incubating eggs. The best type of soil to use is loamy soil or humus. A lack of access to healthy soil will result in snails with fragile shells and retarded growth.
- When the pen's soil becomes contaminated with mucus and droppings, changes to the soil composition will occur. To avoid this, change and replace the soil quarterly.
- Snail farming should preferably begin at the onset of a rainy season, because that is the period that snails start to breed.
- Choose only medium-sized snails for breeding. Large-sized snails are too old for breeding.
- The stock of breeders you select must be sexually mature snails with healthy shells. They should weigh at least 100–125 grams (0.2–0.27 pounds).
- Do not overcrowd the pen or containers. Overstocking affects their growth and development and also breeds cannibalism. Allow for no more than five snails per square foot (or 50 snails per square metre) of the soil's surface.
- Snails require a mix of foods, because they tend to choose what to eat based on preference—a combination of fruit peels, leafy greens, and tubers should provide a good selection for them.
- If you are creative or into craft works, you can paint and use the snail shells for tabletop ornaments, planters for small decorative plants (like cacti), or as an inlay for lamp bases, ceramic pots, or to decorate bottles and containers.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.