Just came back from the American Cichlid Association Show here in Chicago. Jack Wattley spoke this morning for about 1 1/2 hours, and I thought you might be interested in what he had to say. It was a good crowd, my guess about 400 in the room.
(As I rewind my tape recorder), Jack started with the three key elements, Water, Food, Health, comenting that you could have two week links, water and food, but that health had to be at a premium.
Water Temperature: Jack says he knows a Discus breeder in Kali (?), Columbia who lives in the higher elevations, and uses water from the mountains that he drips in to his tanks, at a temperature that never goes higher than 76 degrees F.. At this temperature the Discus are spawning and raising fry. Go figure. On the other side of the coin, a breeder in Sumatra keeps his at 95 degrees F.. He then stated that European breeders will concern themselves with a temperature that isn't exactly 82.5 degrees, which he feels is totally rediculous. He said his dog broke his good thermometer and he only has a couple floating kind in his tanks that he can't read any more because they're covered with algae (don't ya just love this?). Jack said his temperatures can be between 78 in winter to 90 in summer.
Jack is very high on adding garlic to the food. He recommends the type from the supermarket that comes in cloves, and squeeze the oil into the food (don't use the oil that comes in the bottle). If fed consistently, it will rid capillaria, which he feels is 99% of the intestinal parasites in Discus. Just garlic, no other medication. As far as bacterial proplems, drop the PH. He stated this is very hard with hard water due to the buffering capacity. Starting at say 6.5 PH, drop immediatly to 6.0, if they look OK 10 to 12 hours later, then 5.5, another 10 to 12, down to 5, 12 more hours, again watching for stress, down to 4.5, then 24 hours, again no stress, down to 4. No lower than 4. Hold for ten days. Then bring it back up to 6.5. This can be done a little faster than dropping it as you don't have to worry about fin and gill burn.
He stated that he had brought in some Discus from Bangkok to his Miami facility, and all his Discus started getting sick, not the ones that came in. He was hit by the plague. Discus that have had the plague and survived can carry it for up to 3 months (young fish, scarry), even though they look perfect. He suggested if you receive new fish, keep in a seperate room and use one of yours as a test. He stated you can almost set a watch to it, 72 hours later your fish will get sick. Use the above procedure, droping the PH to 4.0. Increase aeration, continue water changes (at the lower PH), continue feeding, and as often as possible, remove all lose slime and feces. Lowering the PH is all that is done, no medication is added, filtration is continued. The plaque will probably knock them off there spawning cycle for 4 to 5 weeks. He new one breeder who used medication to cure the plague, and the Discus stopped spawning for a whole year.
Jacks Water: Jack mixes 75% RO water with 25% City tap water, resulting in a microsiemans of about 125 for the adults. Young fish are kept at 350 (yup). He wanted to use well water for the young. He said he lives close to the beach and they won't drill down for the water. He has a friend who lives inland (Florida), and the friend drilled down about 65 feet and taped into a good well that supplies water of about 750 microsiemans (500 tds), 7.6 PH. Jack said he brought this fellow Discus in exchange for orchids. After a certain period of time (didn't state exact time), the friends Discus would be about 3" (in the hard water), and Jacks would be about 2 1/2". Jack started bringing water back in 5 gallon car boys, and got great growth with the water. He stated the Europeans raise young in soft water and just don't get good growth because the young are not getting calcium, magnesium, and iron from the water for bone and tissue growth. At his Miami operation, they did drill a well, and use this water straight for the young (600 microsiemans). The PH he feels is a little high however (7.8). He said they grow a 1,000 times better than the RO + City water back in Fort Lauderdale. His one worry is if he got hit by a bacterial infection, it would be very hard to drop the PH in the hard water.
Water Changes: Jack said he use to do 50% to 60% water changes everyday. After being invited to do some seminars and judging overseas, he was able to visit hatcheries. He said they did monstrous water changes, 80% to 90% everyday, sometimes twice a day. When he got back, he discussed it with his son. At that time they had two 500 gallon holding tanks, and a commercial RO unit that could produce 3,000 gallons a day. He added another 500 gallon tank, and he know does 95% water changes TWICE a day (fish laying on sides), for the young. Its cheap as he is using only the well water. For the pairs he does about 80% to 90% water changes ONCE per day, unless of course they have eggs. In that case he will drain the water to the eggs. He said you could do 40% twice per day. He stated if you asked 12 people which way to go, 6 would say 80% once a day, and the other 6 40% twice per day. He did say if your going to do this type of water change, you better do it every day, or at least every other day. If you wait a week and then change 80%, you could be in trouble, as the water going in is not the same as the water that went out. He said his breeders are all in twenty gallon tanks, and grow out tanks are 70 and 150 gallons. The only filters he uses are the huge (Lustar?) sponge filters. One in the breeder tanks, and two or three in the grow outs. With a commercial operation, cost, in and out of the tanks, would be to much for wet-dry etc..
Well, I guess Ill have to do a part III. Sorry part II took so long, but I was out of town all week on business in Minneapolis. I home this week, so figure a day or two.
PH Adjustment: Jack uses liquid Phosphoric Acid to reduce PH. He buys it from a chemical supply house. It comes in two grades, hospital and food grade. You should get the food grade as it costs about half that of the hospital grade. How much to add to the water is going to depend on the hardness of your water. You will have to experiment with perhaps a gallon of water, add a drop, measure, add a drop, etc.. He use to use peat moss. He says it works well with soft water, but not hard. You can get it at a garden center (he reccomended Home Depot). The brand he recommends is called "Lambert", and it is from Canada. He stated there was also a peat from Michigan, but did not give the name. He said place it in a stocking, get it wet so it does not float, and don't squeeze it. Next place it in a power filter. He pointed out that the peat will not last forever, so check the PH once in a while. It should drop the PH to about 6.5.. When he was in Penang at a Discus hatchery he saw a tank with dark water, and others were clear. He then found out they were using bunches of oak leaves to drop the PH. He stated that peat was fine if you have just a few tanks, but with larger operations, acid is less work.
Food: Do you remember the gentleman that was getting good growth with the hard water? He was also feeding his Discus with nothing but cat food. He would go to his house and see all these cans of cat food, but never any cat. Three cans for a dollar. The Ocean Nutrition people make Jack's food. He said if you can't find it, check with shops that sell food for marine fish, they will probably carry it. You will have better luck in the larger cities. Besides the garlic, he also recommends a little banana. He ran some tests on fry for thirty days (minimum period of time he said you should run an experiment with food), and fed them nothing but banana. For the first two weeks the fry kept up with the others, and then started to fall behind. The fact that they grew well was obvious that the banana was good for them, lots of minerals. For your own formula he reccomends four parts beef heart - one part liver (par boiled or it will pollute the tank) - one or two or three parts of some kind of marine shrimp, clam, muscle, lobster, or what ever you can find. It does not have to be the same every time - one part of some type of algae, he recommended the stuff from the Japanese health food store, although he said it was expensive, if you do not want to use algae, you can use frozen spinach, he said lettuce was not a good choice. He also does not recommend spirulina or corrilla, as it comes in powder form and is hard to control in the tank - if you are going to use vitamins, put some on the food right before you feed it - Wheat germ is ok, but no egg as it will cloud the water - Jack said run it through a grinder. If you are going to be feeding smaller Discus, you will have to get it smaller (I use a food proccesor). This formula he said should be sufficient as a single food source.
Jack said two years ago he was visiting hatcheries in Southeast Asia, where they raise Discus on the sides of the parents, with the exception of one place. He saw tanks filled with two week old fry away from the parents. In the bottom of these tanks were balls of red tubifex worms about half the size of a golf ball, and the fry would pick and pick at them all day long (like they do on the parents), and this was how they were fed. Jack said over there, this is what they feed all the Discus (tubifex), although they will tell you that they do not. Jack does not reccomend them as they carry parasites. At a hatchery in Madan in Sumatra, they raise all the fry artificialy following Jacks system (from Jacks book). Jack said it had over one thousand pairs of Discus! They sold Snakeskin Discus there, and Jack noticed the prices where higher than the others and asked why. They replied they only had twenty eight pairs of them! He said the hatchery consisted of four rooms, and in the main room the temperature was 95 degrees. The most beautiful Pigeon Bloods he had ever seen, Blue Diamonds, everything. Jack asked to see the hatching room, and he said it contained over one hundred and fifty two pans with fry in them! Each pan had anywhere from seventy five to one hundred and fifty fry. He said what a nightmare it was just to run eight himself. When asked if he did anything different than Jack, he said he had five workers that started at 7AM, and went home at 4PM (this was only the workers that cared for the pans). They were paid $ 1.95 per day! Jack said he worked the pans from 7:30 AM to 10:30 PM, but after seeing this along with the good growth they had at this hatchery, they stop a little earlier now. He just could not believe the size of this hachery.
Jack said raising Discus was not a scientific endeavor. He said it's come a long way, but not far enough.
© July, 1997