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  • 8/2/2019 Crawfish Production Manual LOWRES



  • 8/2/2019 Crawfish Production Manual LOWRES


    NOTE: Mention or display of trade names or businesses in thispublication does not constitute endorsement on the part of the LSUAgCenter, nor does it imply that other similar products or servicesare inferior or superior.

    Chapter 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

    Additional Sources of Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3Chapter 2. Crawfish Biology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

    Life Cycles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5Burrow Ecology. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

    Population Dynamics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8Molting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8Nutrition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

    Chapter 3. Crawfish Production Systems . . . . . . . .10Monocropping Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10Crop Rotational Systems. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

    Chapter 4. Pond Location, Design and Construction 13Location . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

    Design and Construction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13Best Management Practicesfor Crawfish Pond Construction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

    Chapter 5. Forages and Forage Management . . . . .16Monocropping Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18Rotational Cropping Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20Post-Flood Management of the Forage Crop . . . . . . 21

    Chapter 6. Stocking. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22Species and Size. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22Dates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

    Habitat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22Handling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23Rates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23Sex Ratio and Condition of Broodstock . . . . . . . . . . . 24Post-stocking Recommendations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

    Chapter 7. Water Quality and Management. . . . . .26Water Supply and Quantity Required. . . . . . . . . . . . . 26Water Quality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27Management Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29Best Management Practices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

    Chapter 8. Harvest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33Factors Influencing Catch and Harvest Size . . . . . . . . 33Traps. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33Baits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34Baiting Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34Trapping Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35Harvesting Machinery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

    Chapter 9. Other Management Considerations . . .38Pond Flood-up . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38Population Management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38Supplemental Feeding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39Managing for Larger Crawfish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40Diseases . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43Predators . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44Nuisance Wildlife . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45Control Methods. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46DevelopingYour Business . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

    Chapter 10. Markets and Marketing. . . . . . . . . . . . .48Product Forms. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48Marketing Influences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49

    Pricing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50Production Strategies for Identified Markets . . . . . . . 51Regulations and Permits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51Transport and Storage. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51Purging and Cleaning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52Grading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53

    Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .54Authors, Contributors,Acknowledgments . . . . . . .57

    Table of Contents

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    Whether from managedponds or wild habitats, Loui-sianas crawfish harvests arecomposed of two species thered swamp crawfish (scientificname: Procambarus clarkii)and to a lesser extent the white

    river crawfish (scientific name:Procambarus zonangulus) (Fig-ure 1.1). Although scientists inother parts of the world use theterm crayfish for these and allrelated species, in this manualwe refer to these two speciesas crawfish to reflect not justtheir common names, but alsothe widespread use of the wordby producers, marketers andconsumers in Louisiana and else-where in the United States.

    Louisianas crawfish farming industry has grown to includemore than 1,200 farms occupying more than 120,000 acres.Production from wild habitats, mainly the Atchafalaya Riverbasin, varies from year to year. Total production for the 2004-2005 season was more than 82 million pounds, with almost 74million pounds from farms and more than 8 million pounds har-vested from natural habitats by approximately 1,100 fishermen.The farm-gate and dockside value of the 2004-2005 harvestexceeded $45 million.

    Crawfish ponds have no standard size, but most arebetween 10 and 40 acres, and most producers manage 150or fewer acres (Figure 1.2). Occasionally, a single pond mayinclude more than 1,000 acres, especially in bottomland areaswhere water levels are manipulated in natural habitats for craw-

    fish production (Figure 1.3).Formulated feeds are not used to produce crawfish. Instead,

    rice, sorghum-sudangrass or natural vegetation is grown inthe summer (when ponds are drained) to serve as the base of anatural food chain for crawfish. Crawfish ponds are not stocked

    with hatchery-reared young as in other forms of aquaculture.Farmers rely on reproduction by unharvested crawfish from theprevious year or on mature crawfish that are stocked to produceyoung naturally.

    Educational and technical assistance in all aspects ofcrawfish production and marketing is provided by the LSUAgCenter through the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Servicein every parish. Help is available through individual consulta-tion, on-farm visits, production meetings and publications(Figure 1.4). Anyone considering going into crawfish farmingshould review current financial budgets available from the LSUAgCenter and discuss the feasibility of their projects or busi-ness plans with an extension professional who can identify thebest available data for making decisions as to how to proceed.

    Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service agents and specialistsare the best source of information on the feasibility of farmingcrawfish in your area.


    Crawfish havebeen consumed forcenturies by Ameri-can Indians and inmany parts of Europe.Commercial sales ofcrawfish in Louisianabegan in the late 1800s.At that time, crawfishwere harvested fromnatural waters through-out the southern regionof the state. The firstrecord of a commercialcrawfish harvest inthe United States wasin 1880. That year,a harvest of 23,400pounds was recorded,with a value of $2,140.By 1908, a U.S. Census

    Figure 1.1. Although theyare outwardly similar atfirst glance, a number ofcharacteristics distinguish thered swamp (left) and whiteriver crawfish (right).

    Figure 1.3. In some parts of Louisiana, semi-natural habitats areimpounded to allow for crawfish production through control ofnatural hydrological cycles.

    Figure 1.2. Although there is no standard crawfish pond, a successfulpond must be built on flat land that will hold water and support aforage crop for the crawfish.

    Profitability Varies

    The profitability of crawfishfarming changes from year toyear because of the variablesupply of wild and farm-raised crawfish, and resultingfluctuations in wholesale andretail prices. As a result of theunpredictable yields from pondto pond and year to year, fewpeople make their living onlyfrom farming crawfish. Overallproduction on a crawfish farmdepends greatly on whether thecrawfish are grown in rotationwith rice or in permanentcrawfish ponds and on the sizeand management level of thoseponds. Breakeven prices varygreatly from farm to farm and indifferent regions of the state.

    Chapter 1. Introduction

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    report listed Louisianas crawfish production at 88,000 pounds,with a value of $3,600.

    In the years following the Great Depression, crawfishsold for as little as 4 cents per pound. During this period, with

    the development of improved transportation and cold storage,crawfish markets within Louisiana shifted from local consump-tion in rural areasto higher-volumemarkets in citiessuch as BatonRouge and NewOrleans. Duringthis same period,the introduction ofwire mesh craw-fish traps providedfishermen a muchmore efficient

    method of harvest(Figure 1.5).

    In 1950, theLouisiana Leg-islature fundedthe Wildlife andFisheries Com-mission to studythe life history ofcrawfish in smallponds. By thistime, the practiceof re-flooding

    rice fields aftergrain harvest wasoccasionally prac-ticed to producecrawfish for fam-ily consumption.This practice ofcrawfish farming eventually spread to closed-in woodlandsand marshland as well.

    Up until this time, most of the crawfish available for peopleto consume had come from wild harvests in natural habitats.Although crawfish were abundant some years because of highwater levels in the Atchafalaya Basin and other natural wetland

    Figure 1.5. Even though the first crawfish

    traps were fairly simple designs, they enabledthe industry to increase supply rapidly. Overthe past two decades the construction andefficiency of commercial traps has improvedtremendously.

    Figure 1.4. Field faculty and state specialists with the LSU AgCenterare available to visit producers throughout the state.

    areas, in other years crawfish were scarce and difficult to comeby. This variation in supply made it difficult for markets togrow, but once crawfish farming began, more consistent sup-plies were possible.

    By the mid-1960s, the amount of land devoted to crawfishfarming had increased to approximately 10,000 acres of man-aged ponds. At this point, an industry based on peeling crawfishbecame established, and the new markets for crawfish meat al-lowed both crawfish farming and wild harvests to increase evenmore (Figure 1.6). Acreage continued to increase in Louisiana,

    from approximately 44,000 acres in the mid-1970s to currentlevels of roughly 120,000 acres.

    Small harvests of farmed crawfish for human consump-tion occur in other states, such as Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi,Alabama and the Carolinas, but Louisiana is by far the largestproducer of crawfish in the United States. Official estimatesare not available, but industry experts estimate that Louisianausually accounts for 90 percent to 95 percent of the total U.S.production from year to year. The vast majority of crawfishaquaculture in the United States is focused on production forhuman consumption, but some pond-cultured crawfish are soldfor fish bait or marketed as aquarium or scientific specimens.

    How are Crawfish Classified?

    Over the centuries, biologists have devised classificationsystems to represent groupings of animals and to betterdefine where individual species fit within those groupings.With time, these systems have become more and morecomplicated, but this in turn provides more informationabout the relationships between species and groupsof species. According to the most commonly accepted

    classification system, the red swamp crawfish and whiteriver crawfish can be described as follows:

    Kingdom: Animalia (animals)Phylum: Arthropoda (crustaceans, insects, spiders,scorpions, etc.)Subphylum: Crustacea (crustaceans)Class: Malacostraca (crabs, pill bugs rollie-pollies, krill,and related species and groups)Order: Decapoda (meaning ten legs: lobsters, shrimp,crabs, crayfishes also called crawfishes, and relatives)Sub-Order: PleocyemataSuperfamily: Astacoidea (all crayfishes)Family: Cambaridae (cambarid crayfishes one of three

    major groups of crayfish)Subfamily: Cambarinae (a group of North Americancrayfish species, with more than 300 members)Genus: ProcambarusSubgenus: Scapulicambarus (for red swamp crawfish),Ortmanicus (for white river crawfish)Species: clarkii (for red swamp crawfish),zonangulus (forwhite river crawfish, which was previously called acutusacutus for many years)

    Scientists often refer to animals and plants by their genusand species classifications. Thus, the red swamp crawfishis referred to as Procambarus clarkii and the white rivercrawfish is Procambarus zonangulus.

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    Figure 1.7. Crawfish research has been conducted for many years bythe LSU AgCenter in a number of administrative units, including theAquaculture Research Station and the Rice Research Station.

    Figure 1.6. The earliest efforts at commercializing markets forcrawfish tail meat involved simple methods, but allowed for marketingof fresh product to a wide consumer base.

    As the crawfish farming industry began to expand dur-ing the 1950s and early 1960s, a number of people felt that for

    economic growth and benefits to take place, harvests wouldhave to become even more predictable from year to year. Pre-dictability, however, would require research to develop recom-mended production practices. In 1964, researchers in LouisianaState Universitys School of Forestry and Wildlife Managementbegan conducting research on crawfish biology and improvedmethods for pond production.

    Initial research focused on how best to manage crawfishponds to provide a productive habitat, including what type ofvegetation to plant, when to plant it, when to flood the ponds,how many crawfish to stock, how to discourage natural preda-tors such as insects and wild fish and other basic topics (Fig-ure 1.7). As time went on and the industry continued to grow,research focused on solving more problems, such as improving

    trap designs, developing formulated baits that would not haveto be refrigerated or frozen, managing the amount and qualityof water used in producing crawfish, evaluating the possibilityfor genetic improvement of crawfish, looking at new ways toprocess crawfish, developing new products made with crawfishmeat and many other topics.

    A large portion of Louisianas crawfish aquaculture, inexcess of 50 percent, is practiced in conjunction with riceproduction. Crawfish farming fits well into many existing farmoperations by using marginal agricultural lands, crop rotations,and permanent farm labor and equipment during off-peak farm-ing periods. Crawfish can be produced either in permanent rota-tion with a rice crop year after year in the same location or in a

    field rotation with rice and occasionally some other crop, withrestocking of crawfish each rotational cycle. As the econom-ics of rice production in Louisiana have weakened over recentdecades, many rice producers have turned to crawfish as anaccessory crop that can be integrated into their existing farmingoperations.

    Additional Sources of Information

    Additional information on crawfish aquaculture and thecrawfish industry, including news articles, crawfish statistics,fact sheets and newsletters that do not appear in this productionmanual can be found on the LSU AgCenters Web site. Severalfact sheets on crawfish farming and other very informative

    fact sheets on aquaculture in the southern United States can befound on the Southern Regional Aquaculture Centers Web site.To locate this Web site, type in Southern Regional AquacultureCenter Fact Sheets in the search command of your favoriteInternet search engine. Personnel in your local LSU AgCenterextension office can assist you in obtaining the most currentinformation available on crawfish farming or other aspects ofagricultural production associated with crawfish farming.

    Natural Fishery

    Historically, significant harvests of wild crawfish haveoccurred in Louisiana. This production moves through thesame market channels as farmed crawfish, affecting pricesreceived by farmers. In recent years, however, many of thetraditional areas of wild harvest have failed to producelarge volumes of crawfish. To what extent this reductionin wild harvest might reflect long-term trends in watermanagement, climate and habitat alteration remainsuncertain. Since 2000, less than 20 percent of Louisianasharvests on average have come from the wild fishery.

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    Procambarus clarkii (red swamp crawfish) and P. zonan-gulus (white river crawfish), the two species of commercialimportance found in Louisiana crawfish ponds, have similarecological requirements. As a result, it is not uncommon tofind both species in the same pond. Both species are associatedwith natural cycles of flooding and drying common to much ofLouisiana, and both construct burrows, in which they survive

    and reproduce during temporary dry periods. There are somedifferences between the two species, but care must be takenwhen reviewing information about the white river crawfish(see How Are Crawfish Classified? in chapter 1) becauseearly references may refer to this species as P. acutus acutus,or P. zonangulus.

    The red swamp crawfish produces more, but smaller, eggsthan the white river crawfish, and it is capable of spawningyear-round in the South. It appears to do better in more nutrientrich-waters than those of the white river crawfish. White rivercrawfish are seasonal spawners, usually spawning only in theautumn in the southern United States. Feeding rates have beenfound to be greater for the red swamp crawfish at temperaturesin excess of 86 F, indicating a possible competitive advantageat higher temperatures. In contrast, the white river crawfish maygrow faster at lower temperatures, and it typically reaches aslightly greater maximum size. Usually the red swamp crawfishare found in greater abundance in waters with lower dissolvedoxygen (DO) content.

    In general, both species are adapted to the conditions foundin commercial crawfish ponds, and both respond well to the lowinput systems of production used in Louisiana. The abundance

    Chapter 2. Crawfish Biology

    Red Swamp Crawfish

    Procambarus clarkii70% 80 % of annual catch in LouisianaTwo halves of the carapace (head) meet to form a thinlineAlmost always have a blue-gray pigmented line on theunderside of the tailLess elongated and more flattened claws than white rivercrawfish when matureDarker walking legs than white river crawfishRed pigment on adult bodies (except for rare colorvariations) not always so with juvenilesLay eggs any time but mostly during fall and winter

    monthsProduce up to twice as many eggs as white river crawfishThrive in systems flooded early in the fallHatchlings smaller than white river crawfishPrefer swampy habitatsMost young appear from September through Decemberbut can be found in all monthsUsually mature from April through JuneNative range is northeastern Mexico and the southcentral United StatesCommercially valued in LouisianaIntroduced to many countries

    of one species or the other may vary among and within cul-ture ponds over time, but the red swamp crawfish most oftendominates and is the most desired species in the marketplace.White river crawfish are most often found in greatest numbersin ponds that are used to culture crawfish year after year.

    How these two species interact in crawfish ponds is notfully understood, but one hypothesis is that the red swampcrawfish tends to dominate in more ponds because of greaterreproductive potential and a more prolonged reproductiveseason. No major difference in growth rate and survival be-tween the two species has been observed under typical cultureconditions. Some researchers suggest that later pond floodingdates (late October to November) may favor the white rivercrawfish because of its tendency to spawn later and its slightlylarger hatchlings. These factors would provide an advantageover red swamp crawfish young that hatched at the same time.Recent research suggests that whichever species successfullyproduces large numbers of babies first during autumn monthswill predominate in the pond for the rest of the season. Muchinformation is lacking, however, regarding interactions of thesetwo species.

    These two species are often similar in appearance, espe-cially at a young age. They can be easily identified, however,by experienced persons. Despite efforts to exclude white rivercrawfish from many farms, both species will thrive underroutine culture practices, and they often coexist in productionponds. No evidence exists of natural hybrids between these twospecies. Several books provide an excellent overview of theanatomy and biology of these and other crawfish species.

    White River Crawfish

    Procambarus zonangulus20%-30% of annual catch in LouisianaSpace called an areola separates each half of thecarapace (head)No pigmented line on the underside of the tail as adultor juvenileMore elongated and cylindrical claws than red swampcrawfish when matureLighter walking legs than red swamp crawfishNever has red pigment on its body sometimes adultscan look pinkLay eggs only during mid- to late fall in Louisiana

    Produce fewer and larger eggs than red swamp crawfishThrive in systems flooded in late fallHatchlings larger than red swamp crawfishPrefer flooded wetlands with flowing, well-oxygenatedwaterUsually mature from April through JuneAll young appear from September through December inLouisianaCommercially valued in LouisianaNative range is Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and TexasEndemic only to the United States

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    Life Cycles

    Based on their distribution in North America, the redswamp and white river crawfish are classified as temperatespecies; that is, they will tolerate cold winter conditions. Both

    species, however, possess a number of traits that are usuallyassociated with animals that live in warm waters. These speciesare short-lived (2 years or less), have high juvenile survival andcan alternate between reproductively active and inactive forms.Moreover, P. clarkii is capable of spawning year-round in thesouthern United States, and some females can reproduce morethan once per year.

    These crawfishes have life cycles that are well-adapted tofarm production strategies (Figure 2.1). Mature animals mate inopen water where sperm is stored in a special receptacle, afterwhich the female retreats to a burrow to eventually spawn. Bur-rowing activity can occur at any time but is most prevalent inlate spring/early summer in Louisiana. Although spawning cantake place in open water, the burrow provides protection while

    the fertilized eggs or young are attached to the underside oftheir mothers tail (Figure 2.2). Females carrying eggs or hatch-lings are highly susceptible to predators, because they cannotuse their normal tail-flipping escape response.

    Figure 2.1. A diagram of the crawfish life cycle.

    Crawfish of all ages and sizes, whether mature or immatureand male or female, will dig or retreat to burrows to surviveperiods of dewatering. Crawfish ponds are usually drainedduring the summer months to allow for planting and growth of

    vegetation. Prior to draining, some mature crawfish burrow nearthe waterline (Figure 2.3). As the water level drops, additionalcrawfish burrows appear lower on the levee and are sometimesfound on the pond bottom; however, the burrows on the pondfloor often contain a high percentage of non-reproductive craw-fish, such as males and immature juveniles.

    Ovarian (egg) development in mature females is tem-perature dependent, usually beginning prior to burrowing andreaching completion within the burrow. Developing eggs withinthe ovary become rounded, increase in size, and change from alight color to dark as they mature (Figure 2.4). At maturity, thelarge black eggs are shed from between the walking legs, arefertilized externally and are then attached to the swimmerets

    on the underside of the tail with an adhesive substance calledglair. Although crawfish can survive in high humidity within theburrow, some standing water is necessary for successful repro-duction. The number of eggs laid varies with female size andcondition, but large red swamp or white river crawfish femalescan have more than 500 eggs.

    The hatching period depends on temperature and usu-ally takes about 3 weeks. Hatched crawfish are attached to thefemales swimmerets through two molting phases, after whichthey resemble an adult crawfish and begin to feed. Hatchlingsinstinctively remain with the female for several weeks aftertheir second molt although they are no longer attached. It iscritical that the female and her young leave the burrow withina reasonable time because little food is available in burrows.

    When conditions force the crawfish to remain in the burrow,increased mortality can occur.

    Pond flooding or heavy rainfall is usually necessary toencourage female crawfish to emerge from their burrows.Females emerge with their young (or sometimes with eggs)attached to their tails (Figure 2.5), and advanced hatchlings arequickly separated from their mother as she moves about in theopen water. Because reproduction is somewhat synchronizedin pond-reared crawfish, ponds are routinely flooded in autumnto coincide with the main period of reproduction. White rivercrawfish are autumn and winter spawners, but red swamp craw-fish reproduction may occur at any time. Peak reproduction of

    Figure 2.2. Crawfish eggs are typically laid and fertilized in the burrowwhere they become attached to the swimmerets on the underside ofthe females tail.

    Figure 2.3. Crawfish burrows appear near the waterline in pondswhen mature crawfish begin burrowing for reproduction. Burrows maor may not have the typical chimney associated with the entrance.

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    Black eggs

    Yellow eggs

    Figure 2.4. Eggs in various stages.

    White eggs Tan eggs

    Brown eggs

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    red swamp crawfish, however, usually occurs in autumn, withminor pulses (or waves) of hatchlings entering the populationlater. Extended reproduction and differential growth typicallyresult in a population of mixed sizes in most ponds.

    As with all crustaceans, a crawfish must molt or shed itshard exoskeleton to increase in size. Frequent molting and rapidgrowth occur in production ponds when conditions are suitable.Growth rate is affected by a number of variables, including wa-ter temperature, population density, oxygen levels, food qualityand quantity, and to a lesser extent by genetic influences.Harvest size is typically reached 3 to 5 months after hatchingfor fall recruits, but it can be attained in as little as 7 to 9 weeksunder optimum conditions.

    When males and females molt to a reproductively ac-tive stage, growth ceases. Sexually mature individuals exhibitdistinct characteristics, including darker coloration, enlargedclaws, and hardened sexual structures. Mature males alsodevelop prominent hooks at the base of the third and fourthpair of walking legs. The appearance of mature crawfish inthe population usually increases as temperatures rise during latespring. Females will mate (often several times) after molting toa mature form and then begin the process of constructing bur-rows at the waters edge on levees.

    Burrow Ecology

    Several studies have provided more detail of crawfish bur-rows, but, in brief, crawfish cultured in Louisiana dig simple

    (unbranched), nearly vertical burrows, usually 40 inches or lessin depth (Figure 2.6). Burrows serve as refuges from preda-tors and provide moist or humid environments necessary forcrawfish to survive through dry periods. Louisiana crawfishhave evolved over millions of years to reproduce within theprotection of their burrows. Most burrows are built at nightand may require several days to complete. Crawfish burrowsare usually dug by a single individual, and the burrow diameteris determined by the size of the crawfish. The burrow extendsdownward into a chamber slightly larger than the diameter ofthe tunnel.

    Water levels in burrows vary with the moisture conditionsin the soil. Free water at the bottom of the burrow is more often

    associated with trappedwater than the actual watertable of the soil. Walls of theburrow and terminal cham-bers are extensively workedby the crawfish, possiblyto ensure good seals. Theterminal chamber normallycontains wet slush whenwater is not present, which

    serves as a humidifier. Theentrance of the completedburrow is eventually closedwith a mud plug (Figure2.7), sometimes having achimney or stack of the soilremoved during excavation.Burrow entrances at thewaters edge are often as-sociated with natural cover,such as vegetation or woodydebris. Over the course ofthe summer, weathering andcovering by vegetation may

    make the burrow entranceundetectable.

    Burrows usually containa single female, or some-times a male and femaletogether, but occasionallythey may contain addi-tional crawfish. Successfulsurvival and reproductionwithin the burrow dependson many factors, such asthe severity and length ofthe dry period, character-istics of the burrow (suchas depth, soil type and moisture) and health of the animal.Immature crawfish and crawfish forced to burrow by rapidlydropping water levels may construct shallow burrows that willnot have sufficient moisture for survival during lengthy dryperiods or drought. Soil types with limited clay content or soilwith very high clay content that cracks when dry also may limitcrawfish survival while in burrows.

    Figure 2.6. An exposed crawfishburrow showing depth andconstruction.

    Figure 2.7. Active crawfish burrows will eventually become sealedwith a mud plug or cap. With time and weather, and covering ofvegetation, the burrow entrance may become inconspicuous.

    Figure 2.5. Female with hatchlings attached to swimmerets beneaththe abdomen.

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    previous season often result in several size or age groups ofcrawfish being present in a pond at any given time. These vari-ous size/age groups are what make up the population structure.

    Although natural recruitment in crawfish farming hasmany advantages, a significant disadvantage is that crawfishproducers have little means of accurately controlling or even

    determining population density and subsequent yield. Avail-able sampling methods are crude and currently include dipnet sweeps and use of test traps. These methods are highlyvariable and subject to many sources of bias or error. Producersgenerally do not have a good assessment of their populationsuntil harvesting is well underway in late spring, after pondtemperatures have increased substantially.


    As with all crustaceans, a crawfish must molt or shed itshard external shell (exoskeleton) to increase in size (Figure2.8); hence, the growth process involves periodic molting in-terspersed with inter-molt periods. Approximately 11 molts arenecessary for young crawfish to reach maturity. A molt cycle

    is recognized as having five major stages, but it should be un-derstood that the process is actually continuous. The inter-moltphase is the period in which the exoskeleton is fully formedand hardened. During this phase, crawfish feed actively and in-crease their tissue and energy reserves. Preparation for moltingtakes place in the pre-molt stage. This includes the formation ofthe new, underlying (soft) exoskeleton while a re-absorption ofthe calcium from the old shell occurs. During the late pre-moltperiod, crawfish cease feeding and seek shelter or cover.

    Molting is usually accomplished in minutes. The brittleexoskeleton splits between the carapace (head) and abdomen(tail) on the back side, and the crawfish usually withdrawsby tail flipping. During the soft phase that follows, the soft

    exoskeleton expands to its new, larger dimensions. Harden-ing (calcification) of the new exoskeleton takes place duringthe post-molt period, which can be divided into two phases.Initial hardening occurs when calcium stores within the bodyare transported to the new exoskeleton. Calcium is stored inthe body both in soft tissue and for a short period in two hardstomach stones or gastroliths (Figure 2.9) located in the headon each side of the stomach. These stones disappear duringthe initial hardening period after molting. The second phase ofhardening is by absorption of calcium from the water. As craw-fish resume feeding, further hardening of the new shell occurs.

    Molting is hormonally controlled, occurring more frequently in younger, actively growing animals than in older ones. The

    Once sealed in, crawfish are confined to the burrow untilthe hard plug that seals the entrance is sufficiently softenedby external moisture from flooding or rainfall. Pond flooding,especially when associated with heavy rainfall, facilitates andencourages the emergence of crawfish from burrows.

    Crawfish Population Structure

    The appearance of new hatchlings in a pond isreferred to as recruitment, and these crawfish usually

    constitute the bulk of the annual harvest, even whensignificant numbers of holdover juvenile crawfish arepresent after flooding. Pond crawfish populations usuallyinclude (1) holdover adults from the preceding productionseason or stocking, (2) holdover juveniles from thepreceding season and (3) the current young-of-the-year(YOY) recruits.

    The number of age classes and numbers within ageclasses comprise the overall crawfish density. Crawfishdensity and population structure have a great impact onoverall pond yields and size of crawfish at harvest. Thehighest densities and most complex population structuresusually occur where crawfish have been grown in the samelocation for several consecutive seasons. In new ponds andponds held out of production for a year or longer, crawfishdensity is often lower and the number of age classes isfewer. In these situations, crawfish are often larger andmore uniform in size; however, overall yields may beconsiderably lower.

    Population Dynamics

    Unlike most aquaculture ventures, where known numbersand sizes of juveniles are stocked, crawfish aquaculture in Loui-siana relies on natural recruitment (reproduction) from mature

    animals (either stocked or already present) to populate thepond. Population density depends largely on broodstock sur-vival, successful reproduction and survival of offspring. Densityis mainly influenced by environmental conditions over whichproducers may have little or no control. Additionally, impropermanagement after autumn flood-up, including low oxygen lev-els, abundance of predators or pesticide exposure can negativelyimpact crawfish populations and subsequent production evenwhen broodstock survival and reproduction are high.

    Because of this lack of influence and control over popula-tion levels, population density and structure is probably themost elusive aspect of crawfish production. Extended repro-duction periods and the presence of carryover crawfish from

    Figure 2.8. Soft, freshly molted crawfish (top) and its cast exoskeleton(bottom).

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    increase in crawfish size during molting, and the length of timebetween molts, can vary greatly and are affected by factors suchas water temperature, water quality, food quality and quantity,population density, oxygen levels and to a lesser extent bygenetic influences. Under optimum conditions, crawfish canincrease up to 15 percent in length and 40 percent in weight

    in a single molt.In culture ponds, frequent molting and rapid growth occur

    during spring because of warming waters and adequate foodsources. The appearance of mature crawfish increases as theseason progresses. Rapid increases in temperature (above 80F) may stimulate onset of maturity at smaller sizes, especiallyunder conditions of overcrowding and food shortages. Stunt-ing, the condition whereby crawfish mature at an undesirablysmall size, is a problem in many ponds.


    Crawfish have been classified as herbivores (vegetationeaters), detritivores (consumers of decomposing organic mat-ter), omnivores (consumers of both plant and animal matter)

    and, more recently, obligate carnivores, which means that theyrequire some animal matter in the diet for optimal growth andhealth.

    Crawfish have been known to ingest living and decompos-ing plant matter, seeds, algae, epiphytic organisms, microorgan-isms and an assortment of larger invertebrates such as insectsand snails. They also will feed on small fish when possible.These food sources vary considerably in the quantity and qual-ity in which they are found in the aquatic habitat. Living plants,often the most abundant food resource in crawfish ponds andnatural habitats, are thought to contribute little to the directnourishment of crawfish. Starchy seeds are sometimes con-sumed and may provide needed energy, but intact fibrous plant

    matter is mostly consumed when other food sources are in shortsupply. Aside from furnishing a few essential nutrients, livingplant matter provides limited energy and nutrition to growingcrawfish.

    Decomposing plant material, with its associated microor-ganisms (collectively referred to as detritus) is consumed to amuch greater degree and has a higher food value. The abilityof crawfish to use detritus as a mainstay food item, however,appears to be very limited. Fortunately, in a typical crawfishpond environment numerous animals besides crawfish rely onthe microbe-rich detritus as their main food source. Mollusks,insects, worms, small crustaceans and some small vertebratesdepend on detritus (Figure 2.10) and, when consumed by

    crawfish, these animals furnish high-quality nutrition. Scientistshave realized that for crawfish to grow at their maximum rate,they must feed to a greater extent on these high-protein, energy-

    rich food sources.Sufficient evidence has been established to indicate that

    although crawfish must consume high-protein, high-energysources to achieve optimum growth, they can sustain them-selves for some time by eating intact and decomposing plantsources and even bottom sediments containing organic debris.

    Supplemental feeds are not routinely provided to crawfishaquaculture ponds. Commercial culture of crawfish relies on aself-sustaining system for providing nourishment to crawfish,as occurs in natural habitats where crawfish are abundant. Anestablished (or at least encouraged) vegetative forage cropprovides the basis of a complex food web (Figure 2.11) thatultimately fuels production of crawfish with harvests that typi-

    cally average 400-600 pounds per acre and can often exceed1,000 pounds per acre.

    Plant fragments from the decomposing vegetation providethe fuel that drives a detrital-based production system, withcrawfish at the top of the food web. As a result, the main meansof providing nutrition to crawfish in aquaculture is through es-tablishing and managing a forage crop. Ideally, once ponds areflooded in the fall, a constant and continuous supply of plantfragments fuels the food web from which crawfish derive theirnutrition. (Also see chapter 5.)

    Figure 2.9. Gastroliths are found in the head portion of moltingcrawfish and are associated with temporary calcium stores.

    Figure 2.10. A myriad of invertebrates in crawfish ponds, fed bydecomposing plant fragments (top), furnish crawfish with the highquality nourishment needed to sustain maximum growth.

    Figure 2.11. A simplified diagram of the nutrient pathways of the foodchain in crawfish ponds, with the forage crop serving as the principalfuel and crawfish at the top of the food chain.

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    Commercial culture of Louisiana crawfish relies on earthenponds, with production methods that are much less intensivethan those found in other forms of aquaculture. The methodsused for crawfish aquaculture is little more than limited controlof the environmental conditions under which these animalsevolved.

    Red swamp and white river crawfish are naturally adaptedto habitats with seasonal flooding and drying, where the dryperiod usually occurs from summer into autumn. The life cycleof crawfish is well suited to fluctuating periods of flooding anddewatering. In their natural, river or swamp habitats, sustainedperiods of river overflow permit crawfish to feed, grow and ma-ture. Temporary dewatering, in both natural habitats and craw-fish ponds, promotes aeration of bottom sediments, reducesabundance of aquatic predators and allows for establishmentof vegetation that serves as cover for crawfish and the source ofimportant food resources when water returns. Crawfish survivethe dry intervals by digging or retreating to burrows where theycan avoid predators, acquire moisture necessary for survival andreproduce in safety.

    Current farming practices are based on the annual watercycles and conditions to which these crawfish have becomeadapted over millions of years. Flooding and draining ofcrawfish ponds mimic the natural flooding and drying cycle inLouisianas Atchafalaya River basin. The control achieved un-der farming conditions provides optimal timing of these eventsand allows crawfish producers to positively influence waterquality, food resources and other factors within their ponds. Aswith natural ecosystems, crawfish aquaculture relies on naturalreproduction. No hatcheries or nurseries are required. Crawfishin forage-based culture ponds, as in the wild, depend on a natu-rally available food web for nourishment. Supplemental feedingis not a common practice; it has not yet been shown to predict-ably increase yields or size of crawfish at harvest.

    Crawfish are grown in shallow earthen ponds 8 to 24inches deep. Relatively flat, easily drained land, with suitablelevees, is required for production, harvesting and managementof vegetation (Figure 3.1). Crawfish are cultured in areas wherethe soil has sufficient clay to hold water and accommodate bur-

    row construction. Water requirements for crawfish production

    are similar to those for other freshwater aquaculture ventures,with the possible exception of water quantity. Ponds are floodedin the fall and drained in the spring, and because of the oxygendemand from decaying vegetation, additional water exchangesare sometimes necessary.

    Equipment requirements for culturing crawfish includeirrigation systems, harvesting equipment (boats, traps, sackingtables, etc.) and agricultural implements to establish the foragecrop and maintain levees (Figure 3.2). Access to sufficient laborand alternative marketing outlets are essential for successfulcommercial operations.

    Although crawfish aquaculture ponds are sometimes cat-egorized by pond type or dominant vegetation, a better strategy

    is perhaps to categorize ponds by two basic production strate-gies. (See summary of production strategies in Table 3.1) Onestrategy is monocropping, or monoculture, in which crawfishare the sole crop harvested, and production typically occurs inthe same physical location for several production cycles or evenlonger.

    A second strategy is the crop rotation system, in whichrice, and sometimes soybeans or other crops, are raised inrotation with the crawfish. In these systems, crawfish are eitherrotated with rice in the same physical location year after year,or crawfish are cultured in different locations each year to con-form to normal field rotations of the other crops.

    Although these two major management strategies havemany similarities, different production goals dictate differentmanagement concerns.

    Monocropping Systems

    Crawfish monoculture or single-crop systems is theproduction method of choice for many small farms or wheremarginal lands are available and unsuited for other crops. Per-manent ponds, or sites devoted to at least several consecutiveproduction cycles, are typically used for this strategy. Pond sizeand production input for this approach range from large (greaterthan 300 acres) impounded wetlands with little managementto small (less than 15 acres) intensively managed systems. Themain advantage of a monocropping strategy is that producers

    Chapter 3. Crawfish Production Systems

    Figure 3.1. Successful crawfish production requires flat soils withsufficient clay content. Lands suitable for rice or sugarcane productionare often also well-suited for crawfish.

    Figure 3.2. Specialized equipment and supplies are essential forcommercial success.

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    can manage for maximum crawfish production without thevarious concerns associated with other crops, such as pesticideexposure, seasonal limitations and other constraints associatedwith crop rotation.

    Crawfish yields in monocropping systems typically rangefrom less than 200 lb/ac in large, low input ponds to more than1,200 lb/ac with intensive management. Some ponds haveyielded in excess of 2,500 lb/ac. In many permanent crawfishponds, yields tend to increase annually up to three or four yearsof consecutive production.

    Additionally, smaller ponds usually have higher yields than

    larger ponds, especially when marketing smaller, lower-valuecrawfish is not a problem. Earlier and more intense harvestingis often justified in older, permanent ponds because of the densepopulations and increased numbers of holdover crawfish. Thispractice is economically important because earlier harvests arealmost always associated with higher prices.

    Although the monoculture approach offers several advan-tages, it also has disadvantages. These often include: (1) theneed to construct dedicated ponds, whereas with rice/crawfishrotational cropping, the established rice field serves the pur-pose; (2) land, overhead and operating costs must be amortizedover one crop only; and (3) crawfish overcrowding frequentlyoccurs after several annual cycles, particularly in smaller pondstherefore, yields become composed of small (stunted), low-priced crawfish that are difficult to market (Figure 3.3).

    Production schedules vary within and between geographi-cal regions, but permanent monocropping ponds generally fol-

    low the schedule presented in Table 3.1. Since crawfish popula-tions are self-sustaining, stocking is usually needed only in newponds, when a pond has been idle for a year or more or afterextensive levee renovation. Subsequent crawfish crops rely onholdover broodstock from a previous cycle. Ponds are stockedfrom 40 lb/ac to 80 lb/ac of adult red swamp crawfish sometimebetween early April and early July (Figure 3.4). Stocking datesand rates are usually dictated by the availability and cost ofmature crawfish.

    Ponds are thoroughly drained, ideally beginning no soonerthan two to three weeks after stocking. Cultivated or volunteervegetation is established in pond bottoms during the summerwhen ponds are dewatered. The vegetative crop serves as themain nutritional input for the following crawfish season. Rice

    is the standard cultivated crop, and emphasis is on forage (stemand leaf) production. Grain, if present, is not harvested incrawfish monocropping systems. After reflooding in autumn,producers monitor the crawfish population with baited traps andinitiate harvesting when catch and marketing conditions justifythe labor and expense. Harvesting continues (often in intermit-tent intervals) until ponds are drained the following summer,and the cycle is repeated.

    Crop Rotational SystemsMonths Crawfish Monoculture Rice-Crawfish-Rice Rice-Crawfish-Fallow

    or (Rice-Crawfish-Soybean)

    Jul - Aug Forage crop planted or natural vegetation Rice crop harvested in August and stubble Rice crop harvested and stubble managedallowed to grow managed for regrowth for regrowth

    Sep - Oct Pond flooded and water quality Pond flooded in October and water Pond flooded in October and water qualitymonitored and managed quality monitored and managed monitored and managed

    Nov - Dec Harvest when catch can be economically Harvest when catch can be economically Water quality monitored and managedjustified justified

    Jan - Feb Crawfish harvested 2-4 days per week Crawfish harvested 2-4 days per week Crawfish harvested 2-4 days per weekaccording to catch and markets according to catch and markets according to catch and markets

    Mar - Apr Crawfish harvested 3-5 days per week Crawfish harvested 3-5 days per week Crawfish harvested 3-5 days per weekaccording to catch and markets until late April, then pond drained according to catch and markets

    and readied for planting

    May - Jun Crawfish harvested until catch is no Rice planted in May and rice crop Pond drained and soybeans planted orlonger justified; then pond drained managed for grain production harvest proceeds as long as catch is feasible;

    pond then drained and left fallow

    July - . . . Repeat cycle Repeat cycle Harvest soybeans in October, plant rice inMarch/April, stock crawfish in May, repeatcycle

    Table 3.1. Summary of Major Crawfish Production Strategies With Common Practices by Month.

    Figure 3.3. When crawfish densities become too great, growth slowsor ceases even in the presence of abundant forage and good waterquality.

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    Crop Rotational Systems

    Crawfish may be cultured in two basic crop rotationsystems. One is rice-crawfish-rice, and the other is rice-craw-

    fish-fallow/soybean. In both strategies, crawfish culture followsthe rice harvest, and the forage crop used for growing crawfishis the crop residue and re-growth of the rice stubble after grainharvest. Advantages of these rotational strategies include ef-ficient use of land, labor and farm equipment. Moreover, somefixed costs and the cost of rice establishment can be amortizedover two crops instead of just one.

    Rice-crawfish-riceThis approach takes advantage of the seasonality of each

    crop to obtain two crops in one year. Rice is grown and harvest-ed during the summer, and crawfish are grown during autumn,winter and early spring in the same field each year. (See Table3.1). As with monocropping systems, crawfish are only stocked

    initially. They are introduced directly into the rice crop about 4to 7 weeks post-planting. Following grain harvest, the residualrice crop is usually fertilized with a nitrogen-based fertilizerand irrigated, if necessary, to achieve a ratoon crop (regrowth)of forage (Figure 3.5). Subsequent to the fall flood-up, man-agement practices are similar to those of a monocropping sys-tem with the exception of a shortened growing and harvestingseason to accommodate the establishment of the next rice crop.

    A major disadvantage with this rotational strategy is thatusually neither crop can be managed to yield maximum pro-duction. Rice yields in the South are maximized when rice isplanted in early spring. Draining the crawfish pond prematurelyto accommodate rice establishment decreases total crawfish

    yield. Pesticide use is another major management consider-ation, and it is a particular constraint with this production strat-egy. Crawfish and rice yields vary and depend on managementemphasis. Those systems managed mainly for crawfish canexpect crawfish yields similar to well-managed monocroppingsystems but at the expense of rice yield and vice versa.

    Rice-crawfish-fallow (or rice-crawfish-soybean)The second major rotational strategy employs crawfish in

    a rotational system of rice and sometimes soybeans. The majordifference in this rotation strategy is that rice is not typically

    cultivated in the same field during consecutive years, to aid inthe control of rice diseases and weeds for maximum rice yield.As with a rice-crawfish-rice rotation, however, crawfish culturefollows rice cultivation; therefore, crawfish production does notoccur in the same physical location from one year to the next.(See Table 3.1). Under this method, if soybeans or another cropis incorporated, three crops per field can be realized in twoyears. Depending on a variety of factors, some producers mayelect to plant a different crop (hay, pasture or grain sorghum) orsimply leave the field fallow instead of planting soybeans afterthe crawfish season ends.

    The field rotational approach requires sufficient landresources to allow staggered crops in different fields within a

    farm, and it is the preferred cropping system for larger com-mercial rice farmers. This cropping strategy comprises muchof the acreage used to grow crawfish in Louisiana. It has severaadvantages over rotation within the same field. Each crop canbe better managed, and the crawfish production season can beextended. For example, in lieu of draining crawfish ponds inearly spring to plant rice, crawfish harvest can continue untillate spring or early summer when the pond is drained to plantsoybeans (or other crops), or longer if plans are to leave thefield fallow. Furthermore, by rotating physical locations eachyear, overpopulation of crawfish is rarely a problem, and craw-fish size often is larger because of lower population densities.

    Crawfish yields under this management approach are notcommonly as high as with monocropping systems, but with

    proper management, yields can routinely exceed 900 lb/ac.Some disadvantages of this rotational strategy relative to craw-fish production in permanent or semi-permanent ponds are: (1)the need to restock every year, (2) routine low-population densities and (3) frequently, a late-season harvest when prices arein decline and marketing is more difficult because of abundantsupplies.

    Figure 3.4. Stocking a rice field pond with crawfish broodstock.

    Figure 3.5. In many situations, crawfish can be produced on the sameland as a rice crop, although usually with somewhat lower yields.

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    Pond location, design and construction are the most impor-tant physical factors for successful crawfish production. Properdesign and construction give the crawfish farmer better controlover flooding, drainage, forage management, water circulationand harvesting. Although management practices can be easilychanged from year to year, trying to change ponds that werepoorly designed and improperly constructed can be expensive.

    Seek advice from your local LSU AgCenter extension agent andarea United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) NaturalResources Conservation Service engineer prior to beginningconstruction.


    Crawfish ponds should be located in flat, open areas, andthe soils should have sufficient amounts of clay. Adequate watersources should be available. Clay loams, sandy clay loam andsilty clay loams are satisfactory soil types. A clay soil is neces-sary to hold water and to maintain the integrity of crawfish bur-rows. Generally, soils that can be rolled into a ball have enoughclay for crawfish culture. Elevations must be sufficiently high toallow the pond bottom to remain above water levels in the sur-rounding drainage ditches and canals (Figure 4.1).

    also be important from a pesticide perspective. Positioning ofcrawfish ponds between producing agronomic fields, or down-wind from a field where aerial application of an insecticide isplanned is not prudent.

    Design and Construction

    A number of considerations should be taken into accountwhen constructing permanent crawfish ponds. Many of thesealso apply to rice fields that are intended for crawfish produc-tion. Perimeter levees should have a core trench cleared ofdebris to prevent water seepage. The minimum perimeter leveebase should be 9 feet wide to prevent leakage from the bur-rowing activities of the crawfish. A levee system 3 feet highis adequate to contain the minimum 8 to 12 inches of waternecessary to cultivate crawfish. The land should have no morethan a 6-inch fall between perimeter levees. Otherwise, the areashould be leveled or divided into two or more ponds. Pondswith steep elevations and resulting depth variations hinder for-age establishment, restrict water management techniques andreduce harvesting efficiency.

    Wide and deep interior ditches inside crawfish ponds,which are usually adjacent to large perimeter or large bafflelevees, should be avoided where possible. These deep areasprovide a pathway of least resistance for water flow that can re-duce circulation in other areas of the pond, potentially causingpoor quality and reduced catch in areas away from the ditches.Additionally, interior ditches are difficult to drain, and theymay serve as a refuge for predatory fish after ponds are drainedInterior or baffle levees are constructed to guide water throughthe pond for proper aeration and to help maintain proper waterquality (Figure 4.2).

    Chapter 4. Pond Location, Design and Construction

    Figure 4.1. Sufficient elevation to allow for good drainage is requiredfor crawfish pond management.

    For rice-field ponds, sites are usually limited to existingrice fields. Even so, consideration of which fields will be placedin crawfish production is important. Because of the labor inten-sive operations of crawfish farming, many rice farmers typicallycommit only 10 percent to 50 percent of their total rice acreageto crawfish. Often the best producing rice fields are not selected

    for rotation with crawfish. It is important to select rice fieldswith adequate all-weather access because crawfish harvestingand pond management are daily activities and often occur dur-ing wet weather. Fields selected for crawfish production shouldhave accessible and economical water supplies because thewater requirements for crawfish farming are higher than for riceproduction.

    Field size and layout may be an important considerationwhen producing crawfish on rice acreage. Trapping lanes aremore efficient when long and straight, and levee crossingsshould be kept to a minimum. Limited access for vandals andthieves may be an important consideration. Consideration ofthe positioning of fields destined for crawfish production may

    Figure 4.2. Baffle levees are often comparable to typical rice fieldcontour levees. The key is to direct the flow of water through thepond to avoid dead areas with little or no oxygen.

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    Baffle levees are built about6 feet wide at the base. Theyshould extend a minimum of 6inches above the expected waterlevel for the pond. If the part ofthe baffle levees above the waterline is not substantial enough,settling and erosion will causethe levees to breach in one ortwo years. Baffle levees should

    be spaced 150 to 300 feet apartto facilitate water circulation.Core trenches in the baffle leveesare not necessary. A recircula-tion canal outside the perimeterlevee and a re-lift pump will aidin water circulation and minimizewater discharge (Figures 4.3 and4.4). Ponds designed to recircu-late water are important in areaswhere the quality of the surfacewater supply fluctuates or wherewell water must be pumped fromgreat depths at great cost. (See

    chapter 6, Water Quality.)Drains should be matched

    with the pond size, pumpingcapacity and projected rainfall (Figure 4.5). Two 10-inch drainsare sufficient to drain a 20-acre pond. Ponds must allow vehicleaccess in wet and dry conditions and allow efficient use ofharvesting equipment.

    Most often, crawfish ponds in a rice-crawfish rotationalsystem use established rice fields where the field lay out and ir-rigation systems are fixed. Some modifications of the field maybe necessary, however, for best results with crawfish. Smalllevees that are adequate for rice production in shallow waters(less than 5 to 6 inches deep) are

    not adequate for crawfish produc-tion where water levels are usu-ally maintained at 8 to 16 inches.Larger levees are especially criti-cal for the perimeter, which holdin water. Whereas rice productionrequires a water holding periodof 8 to 10 weeks, crawfish pondsare usually flooded for 7 to 10months. Settling, erosion, burrow-ing rodents and crawfish burrow-ing can take their toll on smalllevees. Therefore, rice fieldsdestined for crawfish production

    usually require much taller andwider levees. It should be notedthough that levee construction/re-construction should occur beforeintroduction of crawfish brood-stock because levee renovationafter crawfish have burrowed canreduce broodstock survival andreproduction.

    Levees can also act to keepflood waters out of a crawfish

    pond at times. Breached levees from flood waters can dispersecrawfish out of the pond and introduce unwanted fish intothe pond. With electronic laser leveling, some rice fields havebecome very large with few or no interior levees. If too large,these fields may possess a ratio of linear levee to total pondarea that is too large for optimal reproduction, because crawfishuse the levees as burrowing sites. Conversely, the presence oftoo many interior levees potentially provides excess reproduc-

    Figure 4.3. Many crawfish ponds can be adapted to allow for circulation using one or more re-lift pumps.

    Figure 4.4. When ponds are extremely level, recirculation can be accomplished using commercially availableor shop-built paddlewheel aerators.

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    Figure 4.5. Drains must have sufficient capacity to lower ponds over ashort period of time.

    tive burrowing area and can lead to overpopulation and stuntedcrawfish. The optimal levee-to-pond area ratio has not beendetermined and varies with geographic location and otherconditions.

    Rice-field water irrigation is usually designed to achieveefficient water output with little concern for maximizingoxygen content of the water. Therefore, it is recommendedthat water discharge outlets on irrigation wells be modified toinclude aeration screens to maximize oxygen input to providefor the highest quality of water in fields where crawfish are to

    be grown.

    Best Management Practicesfor Crawfish Pond Construction

    A set of best management practices (BMPs) for crawfishproduction has been developed in cooperation with the USDANatural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). (See sum-mary in Table 4.1) These practices seek to minimize erosion,reduce the amount of contaminants (nutrients and pesticides)in effluent discharges and maximize the benefit to wildlife.

    Conservation Practice NRCS CommentsCode

    Access road 560 Necessary for daily transportation to crawfish ponds for water management, forage management,harvesting and marketing crawfish. May impede natural runoff. May contribute to siltation if not properlyvegetated. May reduce wetland habitat.

    Brush management 314 May be required to plant forage and to develop harvesting lanes. Physical removal may cause temporaryturbidity problems. Labeled use of herbicides would not have a significant environmental impact.

    Channel vegetation 322 Turbidity caused by unvegetated channels may contribute to sedimentation problems. Vegetated channelshelp turbidity problems and improve water quality pumped into ponds.

    Crop residue use 344 Natural vegetation may be allowed to grow before preparing for forage production to reduce erosionduring interim of draining and planting forage. Provides habitat for wildlife. Cover improves soil moistureand should improve conditions for crawfish in burrows.

    Filter strips 393 Provide a means of reducing sediment in inflow and discharge water where practical.May reduce soil erosion.

    Fish pond management 399 Crawfish ponds used to produce crawfish commercially. Depth and forage production differ from typicalfish ponds. Provides positive impact on the environment. Provides habitat for many forms of wildlife, suchas wading birds, waterfowl and many furbearers.

    Irrigated f ield ditch 388 Another effective irrigation tool that promotes good water management and conservation.Provides pathway for water from source to ponds.

    Irrigation water management 449 Planned irrigation, flooding and draining to manage forage and crawfish.

    Wells 643 Well water recommended over surface water.

    Wetland development 657 Flooded crawfish ponds greatly benefit and improve the quality of the water entering and exiting the fieldin most cases. Crawfish ponds and production have a positive impact on the environment.

    Wildlife wetland 644 Crawfish ponds provide more than 120,000 acres of manmade wildlife wetland habitat that greatlybenefits waterfowl, wading birds, gallinules, shorebirds, furbearers, reptiles, amphibians and numerousinvertebrate animals that benefit other species of wildlife.

    Table 4.1. Summary of United States Department of Agriculture National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) BestManagement Practices for Crawfish Pond Design and Construction.

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    Crawfish farming practices are based on annual hydrologi-cal cycles and conditions, to which the crawfish have becomeadapted namely, seasonal flooding and drying, with the dryperiod usually occurring during the summer. Pond inunda-tion, or flooding, begins the chain of events that establishes theenvironment from which crawfish obtain most of their nutri-ents. As indicated in Chapter 2 under nutrition, crawfish are not

    routinely fed pelleted rations. Rather, the production strategiesin Louisiana and other southern states rely on a forage-basedsystem for providing nourishment to growing crawfish. (Alsosee supplemental feeding in Chapter 9.)

    A forage-based production system benefits crawfishindirectly by supporting a complex ecological community ofinvertebrates, which the crawfish then consume as high qualityfood sources. The invertebrate community that is so importantto crawfish relies on a continual influx of plant fragments thatare in turn consumed by bacteria and other microorganisms. Putsimply, the forage crop serves as the fuel for a food web, withcrawfish at the top of the food web.

    A continual supply

    of vegetative matter fordecomposition is neces-sary throughout the pro-duction season to feedthe invertebrate popula-tion. This requires aforage crop that yieldssmall portions of itsmaterial on a consistentbasis over the durationof the season. Too muchvegetative input into thesystem at one time iswasted because it can-

    not be stockpiled; thus,a large portion dete-riorates without beingconsumed. Also, excesscontribution at onetime leads to premature

    depletion of the food resource and can cause low oxygen condi-tions. Too little vegetative detritus can result in actual foodshortages for the organisms that crawfish rely on as high qualityfood items and, therefore, food shortages for crawfish.

    Crawfish farming, as practiced in Louisiana, requires aforage crop that provides plant matter to the underwater foodweb consistently throughout the growing season. In general,voluntary stands of vegetation perform this task poorly. Terres-trial grasses make for a poor crop because much of the stand iskilled upon flooding, negatively affecting water quality and pro-viding short-lived detrital resources (Figure 5.1). Because of theadaptations of rooted aquatic and semi-aquatic plants such asalligatorweed (Alternathera philoxeroides) (Figure 5.2), smart-weed (Polygonium spp.) and others, fragmentation is usuallyinconsistent and often seasonal. Much of the vegetative biomassof hardy aquatic plants normally remains alive and above waterand is unavailable to the food web except for seasonal eventssuch as killing frosts, which often make it available in excessquantities and at times (winter) when it can be least utilized.

    Despite the inadequacies of individual plant species in avolunteer stand, the right mixtures of native plants can have acomplementary effect and do occasionally produce acceptablecrawfish yields. With voluntary stands of vegetation, however,the appropriate mixture of species is very difficult to obtain ona consistent basis. Furthermore, some native plants tend to be-come so thick they impede harvesting efforts and/or efficiency.Pond warming during spring, and often water circulation, canbe slowed by thick stands of plants. Moreover, many voluntaryspecies are considered noxious weeds and are undesirable infields where agronomic crops will be grown during subsequentyears.

    Planted agronomic crops routinely have been the most ef-fective forage resources for crawfish ponds. They are effectivepartly because these plants exhibit the desired characteristicsunder the long-term flooded condition of a crawfish pond andpartly because adequate stands of vegetation are achievableand predictable when recommended management practicesare followed.

    Chapter 5. Forages and Forage Management

    Careful Managementof Forages

    Because commercial crawfishproduction requires highcrawfish densities, and becauseflooding duration is long (7-10months), the forage-based foodchain becomes highly used andrequires careful managementfor maximum crawfishharvests. High crawfish yieldswithout supplemental feed

    require ample quantities ofaquatic invertebrates in thepond, fueled by a constantsupply of plant fragments.

    Figure 5.2. Naturally occurring aquatic plants such as alligatorweedcan provide for some crawfish production, but they generally cannotgenerate the yields realized with rice or sorghum sudangrass.

    Figure 5.1. Terrestrial vegetation that is killed upon flooding breaksdown quickly, causes water quality problems and provides little fuelfor the natural food web that supports crawfish harvests.

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    Figure 5.3. The growth and decay characteristics of rice make itsuitable for use as a forage in crawfish ponds.










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    Rice (Oryzasativa) has becomethe standard foragecrop for the industry(Figure 5.3). Becauseof its semi-aquaticnature, rice tends topersist well in floodedcrawfish ponds, yet itfurnishes plant frag-

    ments to the detritalpool in a consistentmanner. Sorghum-sudangrass hybrid(Sorghum bicolorx S. sudanense) isalso used success-fully (Figure 5.4).Millets (browntop,Japanese, proso andpearl cultivars), grainsorghum and soybeanstubble also have beenexamined as possible

    forage crops, but allthese plants demonstrate limited potential for crawfish produc-tion when compared to rice or sorghum-sudangrass.

    Agronomic plant type and management considerations formaximum yield in crawfish ponds depend on the type of culturesystem used for growing crawfish. Although basic culturalrequirements and practices for producing crawfish are similarregardless of management approach, different production goalsdictate different management concerns. This considerationparticularly applies to the forage crop and its management.Information regarding recommended practices for planting andmanagement of forage crops can be found in publications suchas the Louisiana Rice Production Handbook (Pub. 2321) or bycontacting your local LSU AgCenter extension agent.

    Monocropping Systems

    In crawfish monocropping systems, choice of plant species/variety and time of planting are the most important consider-ations regarding forage management. (Also see ManagementConsiderations in Chapter 7.) Aside from relying on voluntary

    vegetation, choices for maximum benefit are limited mainlyto rice or sorghum-sudangrass hybrid, and the choice usuallydepends on personal preference and logistical considerations.Rice is the most widely used of the two, and variety selectionis primarily based on forage characteristics rather than graintraits. Unless waterfowl hunting is part of the overall manage-ment goal, grain production in the crawfish forage crop is notdesirable.

    Until 2004, rice variety selection for use in crawfish pondshad been limited to those varieties developed for grain produc-

    tion. Rice breeders have consistently developed rice varietiesfor grain production that have high grain-to-forage ratios, areshorter in plant height and are earlier maturing characteristicsthat, although desirable for high-yielding grain crops, are lessdesirable in a crawfish forage crop. Desirable traits for rice usedin crawfish ponds include high forage biomass production, low-temperature tolerance, longer maturity cycle, high resistance tolodging, slow senescence (breakdown) rate, disease resistanceand propensity for plant re-growth in spring.

    In 2004, the LSU AgCenter released the first rice culti-var developed specifically for use in crawfish monocroppingsystems. Ecrevisse was the culmination of years of screeningand evaluation of rice genotypes originating around the world,

    and selection of one line that was further improved (purified)under Louisianas growing conditions. This new variety exhib-its much greater forage biomass production, better persistenceunder the extended flood conditions of a crawfish pond and hasa greater propensity for post-winter regrowth than the com-monly used domestic varieties (Figure 5.5). Because of theselection criteria used and the methods employed for furtherdevelopment of this variety, there was an inherent selectivityfor disease resistance and adaptability to South Louisianas soiland environmental conditions. Therefore, until a better varietyis found, this new variety should be the hands-down choice forestablishing a rice forage crop in crawfish monoculture pondsin Louisiana. Ecrevisse is almost certainly limited to crawfishmonocropping systems, however, because it is a short grain rice

    and exhibits poor milling traits, making it less desirable for usein grain markets.

    Selection of rice varieties other than Ecrevisse for estab-lishment in crawfish monocropping ponds is currently limited

    Other Benefitsfrom the Forage Crop

    Apart from supporting naturalfood production, native andcultivated plants can benefitcrawfish ponds in other ways.(1) Forages provide refuge andhiding places for crawfish to

    escape predators and help tominimize cannibalism.(2) Standing plants providevertical substrate that allowscrawfish to escape the bottom,utilize the water column andreach the pond surface duringperiods of low oxygen.(3) Forages also providesubstrate, or attachmentsurfaces, for epiphytic organismsand invertebrates that comprisepart of the crawfishs diet.

    Figure 5.4. Sorghum-sudangrass, when managed properly, can be asuitable alternative to rice as a forage crop in crawfish ponds.

    Figure 5.5. Ecrevisse, the first rice variety specifically developed forcrawfish production, as it appeared in late spring in a commercialcrawfish pond when planted the previous summer.

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    to commercially available high grain-yielding varieties. Recom-mendations from commercially available varieties are scantbecause few comparative studies have been made regardingtheir suitability in crawfish ponds. New varieties are releasedand adapted so often that it is impractical to investigate thor-oughly each one within the different regions where crawfish aregrown. In general, those varieties that are well-adapted to localconditions, are taller, have a longer maturity cycle, tiller well,produce abundant forage biomass and senesce slowly are likelyto be the best choices for planting in crawfish ponds. In theory,

    supported only by preliminary research, it may be beneficial tomix several varieties when planting in crawfish ponds. Differ-ences in post-flood characteristics of different varieties, suchas fragmentation rate, crop persistence and re-growth potentialmay provide detrital material to the pond on a more consistentand extended basis than a forage crop composed of only asingle variety.

    It has also been demonstrated that sorghum-sudangrass,commonly used by cattlemen for grazing and hay, is a well suit-ed alternative forage crop for crawfish monocropping systems.It grows rapidly, can produce nearly twice the amount of foragebiomass as rice, is very hardy and drought resistant and mayprove more reliable in some cases than rice when a stand mustbe established in late summer. This crop, if managed properly,

    also exhibits good persistence in crawfish ponds with consis-tent fragmentation of material well into the season. One of themain benefits of sorghum-sudangrass over rice is that it doesnot require as much moisture for optimum growth. An adequaterice crop can rarely be achieved without some irrigation duringthe summer growing phase in Louisiana. Conversely, sorghum-sudangrass may need little or no irrigation and, in fact, cannottolerate saturated soils for an extended period while in its earlygrowth stages. Another potential benefit of sorghum-sudan-grass over rice is that it has a later recommended planting date.Because of its rapid growth potential, when the optimal windowfor rice establishment has passed, forage stands can often stillbe established (or salvaged) by planting sorghum-sudangrass.

    Regardless of which agronomic crop is chosen for use incrawfish monocropping systems, time of planting is extremelyimportant. For best results, when waterfowl hunting is not aconsideration, it is essential to plant early enough in the sum-mer to achieve maximum vegetative growth, but not so earlythat the plant reaches full physiological maturity. A forage cropthat matures or fills grain prior to the onset of winter tendsto senesce more rapidly (Figure 5.6), often resulting in earlydepletion of the forage resource and subsequent stunting beforethe crawfish seasons end. In South Louisiana, the most ap-propriate planting time for rice for crawfish forage is during thefirst two weeks of August. For sorghum-sudangrass, optimumplanting time is generally in the last two weeks of August.


    planting datestend to be earlierin more north-erly areas. If acrawfish produceranticipates flood-ing early (priorto mid-October)or grazing or bal-ing of the crop,earlier plantingof sorghum-su-dangrass should

    be considered. When waterfowl management is an importantcomponent of the farming practice and seed formation in thecrawfish forage crop is desired, species selection and/or plant-ing dates may need to be altered. In most situations, however,it is difficult to manage for maximum benefits in the crawfishforage crop while managing for waterfowl hunting.

    Adequate stand establishment is another important aspectof forage management. Even under the best of situations, earlydepletion of the forage resource can occur, especially with highpopulations of crawfish (Figure 5.7). Nevertheless, to ensure

    maximum benefit from the forage crop, starting with an amplestand of forage is essential. Regardless of plant type chosen,when dry-seeding forage for crawfish, good stands are easier toachieve in well-tilled seedbeds. Water seeding is also a commonmethod for the commercial planting of rice; however, achievingproper stands can be difficult with this method during the sum-

    Recommended CrawfishForage Planting Timesin Monocropping Systems

    Rice - Optimum planting time forcrawfish forage in southern Louisianais the first two weeks of August

    Sorghum-sudangrass - Optimumplanting time in southern Louisiana isthe last two weeks of August

    Figure 5.6. Rice planted too early in crawfish monocropping systems,whereby the plant reaches maturity (fills grain), tends to becomedepleted prematurely as noted in this LSU AgCenter experiment (Juneplanted rice on right, August planted rice on left).

    August Planting June Planting

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    lyzed by the LSU AgCenters Soil Testing and Plant AnalysisLaboratory for a nominal fee. Contact your local LSU AgCenteextension office for instructions on submitting soil and watersamples for analysis.

    Pesticide management in the forage crop should be dictatedby needs on a pond-by-pond basis. In crawfish monocroppingsystems where grain production is not the desired outcome,chemical weed control should only be undertaken when weedtype and density threatens the health of the forage crop. Thepresence of some weeds in the forage crop is not detrimental

    and may even be desirable if the weeds act in a complimentarynature to the forage crop. For example, limited amounts ofalligatorweed, well dispersed in a pond, are often beneficial.As the rice crop diminishes during the later part of the season,alligatorweed usually thrives in the warming water, providingshelter, substrate and some food value to the pond.

    Insects,especially fallarmy worms,and diseases alsocan affect for-age crops. Veryfew pesticides,

    however, can beused in crawfishponds. Pondflooding can bean effective alter-native treatmentfor armywormsin rice but thisstrategy is usu-ally not a suitableoption in sor-ghum-sudangrassAside from thechemical label

    restrictions linkedto pesticide use,concerns also

    are associated with the exposure of crawfish to many chemi-cal compounds. Although the crawfish are likely protectedwithin the burrow from most legal pesticide applications on dryground, extreme caution and knowledge should be exercisedwhen making any pesticide application. The LSU AgCenterextension service or other knowledgeable professionals shouldbe consulted when questions about pest problems arise.

    Rotational Cropping Systems

    Multicropping of rice and crawfish requires differentforage management strategies than monocropping systems.

    Different crop types are not an option, because crawfish alwaysfollows a rice (for grain) crop. (Also see Management Consid-erations in Chapter 7). Rice variety selection is limited underthis production strategy because of the grain production re-quirements. Rice varieties are generally chosen for their grain-yielding and milling characteristics rather than forage charac-teristics, which tend to be inconsistent with those traits neededfor high density crawfish production. Under moderate densitiesof crawfish, however, many high grain-yielding rice varietiesare sufficient. For maximum benefit under high population den-sities, rice variety selection in a multi-cropping strategy shouldalso take into consideration the ratooning characteristics of thevariety. Residual straw and stalks in harvested rice provide little

    mer heat. High water temperatures can impede germination orstifle survival of young seedlings.

    Water (or moisture) management is an important consid-eration for both water- and dry-seeded fields. Rainfall afterplanting is the preferred means of obtaining and maintainingmoisture, but in the absence of timely rains, irrigation may

    be needed. As with water seeding, standing puddles of waterafter planting cancontribute to poorstands of foragein dry-seededfields. Perma-nent, but shallow,floods usuallycan be estab-lished in rice for-age crops whenthe rice plants aretall enough (2-4weeks after plant-

    ing) to withstandstanding water. Ifthe pond containsminimal amountsof terrestrialweeds that wouldnot contributeto water qualityproblems whenflooded, a shal-low flood is de-

    sirable. Water levels can be slowly increased as the rice growsuntil full flood depth is reached in the fall. Establishment ofthe permanent flood in crawfish ponds planted with sorghum-

    sudangrass, however, should be delayed until the forage crophas stopped growing or the optimal flood-up date (typicallyOctober 15) is reached.

    With any agronomic forage crop and with most soil types,some fertilization will likely be needed for optimum forageproduction. Normally, on lighter soils at least 40-60 units ofnitrogen (N) and a lesser amount of phosphorus (P) and potas-sium (K) are usually required, but a soil test is recommendedfor determining exact needs. Other soil amendments, such asagricultural lime, are sometimes needed but depend on severalfactors, including forage crop, soil type and chemistry andwater characteristics. They should be determined by soil (andsometimes water) testing. Soil and water samples can be ana-

    Dry-seeding Recommendations

    For dry seeding of rice, 75 lb/ac to 90lb/ac of seed are recommended fordrill planting, and 90 lb/ac to 120 lb/acof seed are recommended for drybroadcasting. Sorghum-sudangrasscan be planted at 20 lb/ac to 25 lb/acif drilled or 25 lb/ac to 30 lb/ac ifdry broadcast in well-tilled seedbeds.Dry broadcast-seed of both riceand sorghum-sudangrass should be

    lightly covered (0.25 to 0.5 inch) withharrow or other similar equipmentfor best results. Depth of drill-plantedseed depends largely on soil type andmoisture content, and LSU AgCenterextension service recommendationsshould be followed for properseeding depth.

    Water-seeding Problems

    If water seeding is attempted, seedingrate should be in the 90 to 120 lb/acrange, and efforts must be made todischarge the water within 1 or 2

    days of planting and to avoid standingpuddles of water within the fieldthat can reach high temperatures.Another problem with water seedingcomes when a producer seeds intowater left standing from the previouscrawfish season. Often, remainingcrawfish can seriously hamperstand establishment by consumingthe rice seed. Successful waterseeding, especially during the heat ofmidsummer, can be difficult even forthe most experienced producer withprecision leveled fields.

    Figure 5.7. A forage-depleted pond. This situation is often commonby late winter and early spring.

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    long-term benefits in terms of food resources. The bulk of therequired forage base is derived mainly from ratoon or re-growthof the rice stubble after grain harvest.

    Within the confines of best yielding (and milling) rice vari-eties, consideration should also be given to those varieties witha high propensity for ratoon forage production (Figure 5.8).Commercial rice varieties are constantly changing as new andimproved lines are released; therefore, variety selection shouldbe based on the best available information, which is usually ob-tained from LSU AgCenter extension personnel or publications

    such as Rice Varieties and Management Tips (Pub.2270),published annually by the LSU AgCenter Louisiana Coopera-tive Extension Service.

    Management of the forage crop for crawfish under arotational strategy is principally related to ensuring properre-growth from the ratoon crop and minimizing the negative ef-fects on wa