Surf and Turf Dundy County Style • Shrimp Farm Started in Northwest Dundy County
In the middle of beef country, inside of what used to be a grain storage quonset, a Dundy County livestock producer and farmer is raising seafood.
Grant Jones, a 2010 Dundy County High School graduate, says he loves a good steak, but the shrimp he is raising will be a great additional protein to any meal.
Jones, who also holds an Animal Science Degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is part of his family’s farm and ranch operation, Chundy Land and Cattle. The operation is located near the Dundy County and Chase County line about 36 miles northwest of Benkelman. The operation now includes a shrimp farm.
Grant started Chundy Aquaculture three-years ago. He said after graduating college and returning to Benkelman and the family farm and ranch he wanted to diversify the operation. “I wanted to have something that I could do with a few hours of my day. To do something different, to diversify, to make it worthwhile.” Grant explained that he first looked into raising chickens but decided that wasn’t for him. He did some research on possible other areas and says he came across aquaculture and shrimp farming.
“A lot of people were converting old hog facilities into shrimp farms,” he said. “I didn’t have that, but I had a grain storage building that I converted.”
Grant found a farm in Fowler, Indiana called RDM Aquaculture that does consulting and helps people get started in shrimp farming.
Over the last three years Grant has worked to get his shrimp farm started. There was a considerable amount of work that had to be done to convert the grain storage quonset building into a space suitable for aquaculture. There was a lot of electrical work and water line piping that had to be done. The inside of the quonset was insulated with spray foam and some concrete work also had to be done. He is using eight Wal Mart swimming pools that have various water lines and aeration systems connected to them.
Grant said that the shrimp farm is a “zero exchange system” which means that he doesn’t dump any of the water. “It is salt water, so it is just like the ocean,” said Grant. “I just have to maintain my water, so I will never have to dump it.” Once the tanks are full, Grant said, the shrimp farm will use less water than a regular household.
Grant has two of the eight tanks running to start out. RDM Aquaculture brought out his first shrimp to put into those two tanks two weeks ago. They delivered 3,000 shrimp for each tank. He plans hopes to have the next two tanks running by the end of the month. This time he will make the 16-hour, one way drive, to Indiana to get the shrimp for those tanks. He will then follow that same process to get the last four tanks filled. Grant says once he gets the shrimp it takes 14-weeks before they are ready to harvest and sell. He should be able to turn each take over, from start to harvest, about four times a year.
Grant is at the shrimp farm every morning and again at night. He spends up to three hours a day there. Grant starts everyday by taking water samples from the tanks and testing the water to make sure it is a healthy environment for the shrimp to live in. He runs tests for temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity, PH, ammonia nitrites, carbon dioxide and alkalinity. He also feeds them. “Everyday, at the same time everyday, it is just kind of like feeding cattle,” said Grant. “We read the bunks at the same time everyday so we can call the feed and the amount of feed. We are doing the same thing here. We want to read the tanks at the same time everyday so we can get the correct results about how much feed we need, where the water is at and get a consistent reading.” He said it is not a lot different than cattle. “It is kind of weird to think that way, but they are still livestock, an animal that needs to be taken care of.”
In about five to six months Grant hopes to get a nursery tank set up so he can start to raise his own shrimp from just after birth. He won’t have to make a trip to Indiana everytime he harvests a tank. He said shrimp that are under ten days old can be shipped on a plane direct from a hatchery, but any older than that they die if shipped by air.
Grant said after three-years, he was excited to get to this point of having shrimp in the tanks. “For the last two months, I just couldn’t wait for the date,” he said. “Hopefully everything keeps going good and at the end of the month I can go get another batch to fill two more tanks.”
Once the shrimp are ready for harvest they will be available to purchase locally straight from Chundy Aquaculture. They already have a Facebook page and will soon have a website. Grant says he has not worked out the details of how much he will charge for the shrimp. He said people will likely be able to get one or two pounds of shrimp with a limit on how much one person can buy. “My only deal is, I will probably have more demand than I will have shrimp,” he said. “Everyplace has been that way. I was kind of worried about that, but every place that has sold them, everyone has wanted to try them.”
He plans on selling them straight to the consumer. “ Basically, you will say I want a pound of shrimp. You will come get them,” he explained. “I will sell them live. Put them on ice, which will kill them. I will hand them to you and then you will need to cook the right away or you can freeze them, but there is a little processing you will have to do. To cook them with their heads on is the best way, it helps get more flavor.” In time, once he is able to produce a large enough supply, he hopes to sale to restaurants and more wholesale opportunities.
The first harvest of shrimp will be ready around July 4. Grant said he hopes to be able to give school tours and/or public tours of the shrimp farm. He will also be glad to answer questions about it.