When you visit Japan in search of Nishikgoi koi and visit koi breeders and their farms a highlight of your trip is to witness a mud pond harvest, but to actually help in a harvest and help with the harvested koi is such a bonus and becomes a super special day for a koi hobbyist!!
Our special day was to help Mike Snaden of Yume Koi Japan harvest a large mud pond set in a very picturesque landscape, which housed the mud pond challenge koi an event setup earlier in the spring where participants purchased from a draw a special Tosai koi from a selection of breeders. All koi 106 of them were then placed into the mud pond to grow over the summer until harvested…and here we are helping to harvest this pond!
In brief, for our non koi friends a mud pond is used to grow koi throughout the warm summer months in a natural environment. In spring they are released into the warming water and before the colder weather returns in the autumn the koi are harvested collected and returned to the farm for selection. It’s a great natural way to raise koi throughout the summer months as the water is very warm and with correct feeding regime the koi grow very fast. Of course, growing koi this way comes with many hazards such as predators, but the results are normally worth it,
With a date set the timing has to be critical regarding the draining of the water this is achieved by pulling a series of standpipes from the top, down to the base to allow the water to drain to a certain level in a controlled manner. This particular pond takes approximately a week to drop to a level low enough at one end to harvest the koi safely, but enough water left for the koi to swim and feel safe so predators cannot gain access to the koi during that final night before the mornings harvest.
Another reason why the timing of draining the water is critical is a crane has been hired for the morning of the harvest, ‘yes a crane’ as mud ponds often have steep banks. The koi are placed in baskets and hoisted from the water up to the water tank on the back of the Kei truck! Take a look at the pictures.
The evening before the mornings harvest, we paid a visit to the mud pond for Mike to check to see if the water levels were correct a few adjustments were made as the water was a little higher than wanted and away we went back to our hotel to freshen up then out for an evening meal. Tonight’s evening meal was a trip to an Indian curry house (yes they are in Japan), we also had planned to meet another friend Steve Gibbons (Gibbo) who was traveling down from Niigata to cover the harvest for the Japanese koi magazine Rinko.
The day of the harvest…it was an early start and as normal we gathered at the 7Eleven for breakfast and coffee before we all made our way to Takigawa Koi farm where we would be joined with Hassei Takigawa and other farm workers who were busy organising all the equipment to complete the harvest. In total there were three Kei Trucks with equipment with two holding tanks and nets, etc. The holding tanks with fresh water have a certain amount of oxygen going into them and as I found out this amount of oxygen is critical, not enough well we know what will happen, too much and the koi get too lively!
We set off in a convoy for the mud pond which is approximately a 40-minute drive from Takigawa koi farm. I have to say we were all fairly buzzing with anticipation and from a personal point of view as Anthony and I had a koi residing in this mud pond so the anticipation of seeing it was high. Many of our koi friends hopefully reading this blog also had koi in this mud pond which I know will be eagerly wating back home for updates and pictures of their koi.
We finally arrived and as the mud pond was of a higher elevation to the surrounding area it was very foggy which eventually dispersed to a lovely sunny morning. As we drove up the small road, which is a steep incline, the mud pond came into view. The crane was already waiting in position, Mike San and Hassei and helpers soon got to work setting everything up. It was not long before the net was being sent around the perimeter of the remaining water which then encloses around the koi bringing them together. The operation was performed meticulously with the final part being the encircling net tightened and drawn to the edge leaving only a small surface area which held the koi to be harvested. A couple of koi jumped over the encircling net, so the process had to be performed again once all the first koi had been collected. This process saw all the koi hand picked out of the water by Hassei San and placed into the waiting baskets connected to the crane. The pictures explain this much better!
It was amazing to see the basket hoisted up in the air knowing what was inside, but the process was seamless especially watching the crane driver lowering the basket onto the back of the Kei truck ready for Mike San to lift the koi from the basket into the transport vat.
I think there was about 12 or so baskets of koi hoisted out of the mud up to the waiting Mike San. So, in total just over 100 koi in the two transport vats. There was also a basket of turtles and frogs collected which stunk! Not sure if they were going to be released or eaten!!
We all had a well-deserved drink and snack then off we went to get the koi back to Takigawa farm for processing which involved checking over all the koi, IDing and measuring the koi then placing into a concrete pond to settle.
We were all issued jobs to get the production line going with Hassei San on bagging the koi out of the transport vat, my role was carrying the bags with a koi and placing the koi into the measuring bowl, Anthony’s role was measuring the koi and placing them into the concrete pond, Mike San was identifying and documenting the size of the koi. Chip and Gibbo were filming and taking pics.
The whole process had taken about 2 hours very tiring but enjoyable. It was good to see how well the koi had performed and the good condition they were in, of course there were one or two mud pond bits and bobs on them but nothing out the norm. It was also good to see how well the actual mud pond had performed, which I know Mike San was very pleased with
All in all it had been a fantastic day and a privilege to help, of course the next thing after freshening up was to go out and have a couple of beers to celebrate!!
Stephen and Anthony
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