Peter Monaghan is a breeder of 20 suckler cows and the proud owner of Inis Escargot, a snail farm based near Maghera, Co. Cavan.
The suckling system is all about producing premium E and U grade weaned snails and the snail farm is a fully integrated system where Peter rears, rears, fattens, finishes and exports all of his own snails from his farm.
Agriland visited the farm this week to learn more about how Peter has mastered the art of snail production and how snail farming fits into a small suckler farm.
Peter has been farming snails for five years and has ambitious plans to expand his snail farm as well as encourage more people to enter the industry.
“Snail farm breeding is starting earlier and earlier each year on the farm as there are an increasing number of customers looking for baby snails,” Peter said.
Breeding normally begins the first week of January and continues until the end of March.
About 300 kg of snails are taken from the hibernation unit and placed on tables in the rearing unit of the farm.
Once emerging from hibernation, the snails usually start breeding after 2-3 weeks and spawning pots are then introduced.
A fence is placed around the edge of each breeding table. Adult snails are fenced off with salt while younger, more sensitive snails are fenced off with lime or soap.
The laying pots remain in the rearing unit for the duration of the rearing cycle, which extends from the end of January to March.
The snails spawn in the spawning stations and the eggs are extracted every two days. The eggs are placed in poly containers with 20 clusters in each, or between 2,000 and 3,000 eggs/container.
“We top them off with mist to keep the eggs moist,” Peter explained.
“Our snails are laying very well here in the rearing unit, we are seeing our clusters have up to 150 eggs/cluster while the average on other farms would be 100-120.”
Snail eggs do not hatch, they slowly turn into a small snail. This process takes place over 14 days when the snails are then ready to move on to the next stage of the fattening process.
The polytunnel stage
After the morphing stage is complete, the young snails are moved to curtains placed on tables in a polytunnel, where the young snails receive the first of their Brassica forage rapeseed. They are then introduced to foods rich in calcium and energy for young snails.
Peter noted: “At first they tend not to eat a lot of this food at first, maybe half a kilo between them.
“By the time they left the polytunnel, they were eating 15 kg/day of food between them.”
After the baby snails are sold, approximately 1.2 million snails are moved to the polytunnel.
“Our goal is to get them out of the polytunnel before the second week of June,” Peter said.
The field step
The last stage of fattening is when the snails come out on the ground. The land is less than 1 acre, surrounded by galvanized sheets and covered with netting to keep birds out.
A larger crop of Brassica is available here for snails to eat and they also have access to snail food.
Of the 1.2 million snails brought to the finishing stage, 10,000 kg of snails will be sold as finished snails while around 900 kg of the best snails will be kept as replacement breeding snails, which will be picked earlier in September. .
A total of 700 feeder boards are spread over field 1ac, which act as troughs and provide shelter from the sun.
The concentrates given to the snails are increased to peak at 120 kg/day from the beginning of August.
Peter explained that his system is currently a “seasonal production system”.
“We’re at the point here that because it’s such a big snail farm, we really only get November,” he said.
“We will probably have finished our harvest by the end of October this year, close shop then for four weeks holiday then in December the lights will come on in the breeding unit and you are good to go.
“In the future, we hope to have two harvests per year and perhaps cover more fields in polytunnel.”
Peter noted that currently there is no market in Ireland for snails, and said the biggest markets are currently in Greece, where the processing plants are located, and France as well as Spain. .
The native Irish snail is the Helix Aspersa Muller and it is one of the most popular snails in Europe.
“Other countries are taking advantage of the native Irish snail and making handsome profits,” said Peter.
“When I started farming snails, I knew the price I was getting before I bought them. It’s not like cattle. You know in advance what price you’re going to get with snails .
“We have the perfect climate here. I think we can fatten these snails faster than any other country. ”
The perfect finished snail is 10-12 g. Snails larger than this are kept for breeding.
“The biggest snails with the best shell turn out to be the best breeders,” added Peter.
“Snails are hermaphrodites so they can all breed, it’s not like sucklers where you keep a purebred bull that doesn’t produce a calf itself. Once they reproduce, both snails will lay eggs.
More snail breeders
Peter organizes training courses and hopes to develop a network of successful snail farmers in Ireland. He hopes that grants and financial incentives will also be offered to encourage more people to consider snail farming in the future.
Peter also plans to branch out into selling snail slime and snail caviar as well as selling shellfish, baby snails and breeding snails.
“No other agriculture has such a market for such an amount of product on such a small piece of land,” he said.
“I really want to have more snail farmers on the ground. If we had 50 good, solid snail farmers on the ground here, you would never know where it might go from here.
Commenting on his goals, Peter explained: “If my finished snails weigh on average 10g and I sell 100,000 snails, that’s 1t.
“I’m here hoping that at the end of this year when I get my breeders out my snails have the potential to reach over 10t of finished snails and this year you’re probably talking about €4.50/kg for the snails with the way it all went.”
“For me, it’s a good margin. I have my expenses at a minimum. If you take 4.50 €/kg on 10 t, it is not to frown. Not many beef farms make that much money.
Peter plans to double the size of his rearing unit and install another polytunnel for the young snails. He also plans to expand his finishing unit.
“There’s a huge expansion going on here, especially in the breeding unit,” he said.
The nursing herd
Commenting on the suckler business, Peter explained: “We raise 20 suckler cows.
He added that the farm had used a stock bull which was the offspring of Joker Du Pont D’Herbais, the well-known Belgian blue bull.
He said the farm now uses artificial insemination (AI) but plans to revert to using a stockbull in the future.
Peter noted: “The reason we use Belgian blue is that with such a small herd I feel I have to get closer to €5/kg liveweight for most of my calves before they go bad. reach 300 kg. Weaned foals should average €5/kg for such a small herd.
The type of cow on the farm is usually a Belgian blue cross. Peter admitted he has a preference for blue cross cows and said he keeps cross cows ‘to make sure they’re not too muscular and have enough milk’.
Weanlings are sold at market in September and last year one of Peter’s most expensive weanlings was a Brooklands daughter Marco, out of a Belgian blue colored cow weighing 280kg and selling for €1,375 or €4.91/kg at Ballyjamesduff Mart.
“She’s a profitable cow in my opinion,” said Peter.
“I need to have as little difficulty as possible with the suckler cows, because this snail unit works very intensively when I calve the cows. »