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The Australian Yabby Farmer

The Australian Yabby Farmer

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The Australian Yabby Farmer

3/5 (1 valutazione)
378 pagine
3 ore
Jan 1, 1998


This edition includes a chapter on water quality plus the latest findings in yabby farming. It provides a grounding in the basic principles of aquaculture and reflects the considerable advances in aquaculture technology over the last few years.

Here is the basic information on the yabby, its habitat, its health and nutrition requirements. The book covers pond management, production systems, equipment, harvesting, post-harvest handling, and marketing of the end product. It includes sections on the farming of those other freshwater crayfish, the redclaw and the marron, and contains a number of useful appendices.

Author John Mosig shares his experience of nearly 20 years, giving budding yabby farmers an insight into how they can run a yabby venture while developing their own aquaculture skills and gaining experience in fish husbandry. Practising crayfish farmers might find out how they too can do some things better.

Jan 1, 1998

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The Australian Yabby Farmer - John J. Mosig



Yabby Myths and Realities

One of the biggest problems with yabby farming is that everybody is an expert. We can all remember long childhood summers spent around the edge of a farm dam or suburban park lake enticing the not so wily yabby to grab at a chop tail tied to a length of cotton; then stealthily drawing it to the surface where it could be netted in one of Mum’s discarded stockings and swung ashore. I’d love a dollar for every time someone has given memories of those long ago summers as the motivation for going yabby farming. Unfortunately, it isn’t a very good reason to start a business; and that’s really what people have in mind when they look at yabby farming.

Those pleasant days around the yabby grounds seem to have spawned a few myths which have been accepted at face value. I’ve decided to tackle the myths in the first chapter because whenever I talk to groups of prospective yabby growers that is what they ask me about first.



Are yabbies cannibals? Yabbies eat the flesh of other yabbies, when do they eat it and under what conditions?

Like all of us, I’ve seen one yabby cause the death of another one, but it is usually in the ‘hugger-mugger’ of the car fridge or wheat sack in which they are being transported. They will certainly scavenge the flesh of their own kind, but then, so do pigs.

Only once have I observed one yabby attacking another with the intention of killing it. That was in a brightly lit display tank of crystal clear water and no-one had fed the yabbies since they had been in there. What would you do under similar circumstances?

The concept of yabbies being rabid cannibals also flies in the face of logic. If they did eat each other to live then only one yabby would have been left standing long ago and we wouldn’t be debating this point. In the following chapters I’ll elaborate on ways of farming yabbies so that the stress is removed from their environment to benefit both yabbies and the farmer.


Do yabbies migrate? They certainly do. Everybody has seen, or knows someone who has seen, yabbies migrating en masse across a road or paddock. If you cast your mind back though, you will find that it coincided with a wet period and the yabbies were moving in the flow of water created by the heavy rains. In other words, they migrate for pretty much the same reason any species migrates — in search of a better life. The solution in an aquacultural environment: give them the best life they can possibly hope for in your own ponds. More on this later.


Do yabbies hibernate in winter? No, not technically. They don’t lower their metabolism to the point of becoming comatose as do say the grizzly bears of North America, but being cold-blooded animals they cannot regulate their body temperature to the level preferred for maximum metabolism as we humans can. This leaves them sluggish, uninterested and hard to catch, but you can catch them at most times of the year unless the water temperature has fallen below the point at which they can cope; say 5°C. I’ve caught yabbies in water temperatures as low as 8°C. I suspect that the origin of the myth lies with the fathers of eager young yabby catchers immune to the chills of a winter westerly.


Are yabbies territorial? No, they are gregarious. We once glued some pingpong balls attached to a length of cotton to some yabbies and watched as they walked all over a half-hectare pond. They particularly favoured the oxygen-saturated water near the paddle wheel aerator.

Their warren-like burrows also point to them being possessed of a high social density and, if you leave a length of pipe in a tank housing yabbies, you’ll be able to pour them out like beans after an hour or so. But having a high social density doesn’t mean that they function within socially structured communities like ants and bees. Yabbies’ social structure is believed to be hierarchical, based on size, and in most circumstances non-aggressive. However, under stressed conditions it will be every yabby for itself.

Yabbies are scavengers

If I want to grow good yabbies, do I throw a dead sheep in the dam? By all means, if you want to turn your dam into a stinking rotten cesspool. Yabbies will scavenge, but only as the opportunity arises. They are detritivores and in a natural situation they graze on the microbes breaking down the organic matter in the pond and the phytoplankton (algae) that develops in the pond. They also catch aquatic animals and zooplankton and forage about in the rotting vegetable material (detritus) in the substrata for insect larvae and worms. More on this later because understanding what an animal eats naturally helps to understand how to make it grow when farmed.

Yabbies like to live in dirty water

Do yabbies prefer dirty water? They do survive in water of a quality that would not support some of the other main aquatic species. This attribute enables them to ‘hang in there’ until the very last in hard conditions. It is a survival tool rather than a choice and in fact the best yabby yields in the natural environment are from the freshest water.

The myth may have grown out of the belief that turbid water is dirty water. In most cases turbidity is caused by super-fine particles of clay so light that they hang suspended in the water. These colloidal clays reduce visibility and provide a camouflage from predators which enables the yabby population to increase, and gives rise to the myth that yabbies like ‘dirty’ water.

Even though the water may be regarded as ‘dirty’ to someone contemplating washing the family linen in it, from an aquacultural point of view it is most often extremely healthy. Yabbies may even derive some benefit from ingesting the clay while feeding, but don’t quote me on that. I don’t want to start another myth.


Will yabbies burrow through my dam wall? Think about it. If this were so, there would hardly be a dam left in Australia. I wonder what earthmoving contractors blame in country where there aren’t any yabbies?


Biology of the yabby

Now for the facts. So many books have been written on the biology of the yabby that I shan’t dwell on the subject, but no self-respecting book on yabby farming would be complete without at least touching on it.


The yabby (Cherax destructor) is a freshwater crustacean that inhabits a wide range of environments: the slack waters of the main drainage rivers of the Murray–Darling basin and their tributaries and anabranches; the irregularly flooded lakes and channels of the arid inland; the lakes, swamps and dams of the Great Dividing Range; and the semi-permanent billabongs and swamps of the riverine plains. They have learnt to live under arduous circumstances with great success.

Even though they are called freshwater crayfish, their ferocious looking claws make them look more like a Northern Hemisphere marine lobster. They can weigh as much as 350 grams but most people will have not seen one over 150 grams. The meat for which they are grown is in the claws as well as the tail. The claw meat has a different, sweeter flavour than the richer, more succulent tail meat.

There is much talk in yabby circles of a separate or sub species of the yabby called albidus ( Cherax albidus or Cherax destructor albidus). The albidus comes from a small pocket of country straddling the lower South Australian–Victorian border. Yabbies from this region have been moved all over Australia including the West. The name albidus comes from the pale colour of its shell. I can’t get a consistent answer from the scientific community as to the status of albidus so I don’t intend to become embroiled in the debate other than to pass on some comments made by those claiming that there is a separate species.

Outwardly the ‘albidus’ appears similar to the common yabby but its champions claim that it has more tail meat and is more docile to handle. At a scientific level, I’ve been told that the ‘albidus’ produces a lot fewer eggs and this could be why it is found in the more dependable southern border districts where a reliable season would ensure that a lower egg count would still maintain the population. I’ve found improved farming techniques to be a more reliable method of putting more meat on the tail and that a well-fed yabby is a happy yabby; and a happy yabby is a docile yabby.

Life history

The yabby’s life cycle is commonly believed to be triggered by increasing day length after the winter solstice; and the hatchery technique of increasing daylight artificially is based on this thinking. The day length required to cue mating behaviour in the wild is not known exactly but berried females have been found during August (a berried female, sometimes called a hen, is the term given to a female yabby carrying fertilised eggs under her tail). The fact that berried females have been found in the wild and in aquaculture ponds after the summer solstice right up to June indicates that yabbies can breed whenever conditions are right. As an animal that has evolved under the perpetual threat of an El Niño event, it stands to reason that the yabby would adopt this pattern, characteristic of much of Australia’s flora and fauna.

The distribution of Australia’s yabbies, the redclaw and the marron

Tom McRae of Deakin University Warrnambool has linked yabby body condition to breeding capability and his work indicates that nutrient level — rather than temperature or day length — is the primary trigger for breeding, although increased day length and temperature, coupled with good body conditioning, are still used effectively in hatcheries.

A freshening of the water ‘wakens’ the aquatic environment in much the same way that rain triggers terrestrial animals to take advantage of improved grazing conditions for breeding. In waterways and wetlands a plankton bloom will be created which yabbies instinctively sense as ensuring maximum survival of their young. Yabbies are opportunistic breeders, which is just as well since nearly every creature which lives in, lands on, or lives nearby, regards the yabby as good eating. Perhaps there is a chemical in the plankton that cues breeding. If there is, and it is capable of being identified and isolated, it would revolutionise hatchery techniques.

To mate, the male and female yabbies lie face to face and the male releases his sperm onto the belly of the female. The female then fertilises her eggs by working them through the sperm and onto her swimmerets (pleopods) where they appear as green berries. They remain there, changing colour through dark green to black to brown as the incubation period progresses.

The time taken to incubate the eggs depends on water temperature. Incubation periods of 60 days or more have been monitored at temperatures of less than 16°C. In a hatchery, under controlled conditions of less than 20°C, this time has been more than halved.

The reproductive openings on the bellies of male and female yabbies

Yabbies reach sexual maturity as early as three months and females as small as 25 grams have been found in berry in a good season in the wild. Under farmed conditions it is more common to use larger females which produce more eggs. The number of eggs will vary depending on the level of nutrition prior to spawning but range from 100 to 1200. The usual count in aquaculture stock is 300 to 600 depending on size.

The time till hatching can vary from three weeks to 12 weeks depending on ambient temperatures. This indicates that the incubation cycle is delayed until water temperatures are less severe on the hatchling yabbies. I’m not aware of any work that has been done to determine how long eggs will remain viable at low temperatures before hatching, but I have heard of one female that carried her eggs for three months before hatching.

After hatching the juveniles remain under the mother’s tail for about seven days. They hatch as embryos and change into their adult form at their first moult. After the ‘nursery’ period and a couple of moults they leave the protection of their mother’s tail to face the world.

The world is pretty frightening for the yabby; there is hardly an aquatic, aerial or terrestrial predator along the river system that doesn’t consider it to be fair game. To escape them, the yabby burrows into the banks of waterways. These burrows vary from solo tunnels to complex warrens and are used as safe harbours during times of drought, moulting and incubation.

Evidence suggests that yabbies can live underground for many years after a lake has dried up, to emerge with the return of flood waters and continue their life cycle. It is also likely that yabbies enter a lake with flood water. The jury’s out on this one and the discussion is probably more suited to a yarn around a campfire on the Darling than to a book on yabby farming, other than to indicate that the yabby is pretty tough.

Prejuvenile stages of development: A — the egg attached to the pleopod; B — the first stage; C — the second stage; D — the hooked tip of the third and fourth walking legs of the first, second and third stages.

The yabby’s high fecundity and hardiness is nature’s way of compensating for the attrition from drought and predation to which they are regularly subjected.

Yabbies colonise bodies of water by migrating along conduits provided by flood water or overflows from dams; they usually move into the flow toward the source of the water. In this way they have been able maintain their distribution over an entire watershed even when the area has been devastated by drought.

The yabby has an external skeleton (exoskeleton) which it must shed, or moult — just as a snake sloughs its skin. As the yabby grows and the shell becomes tight, the yabby draws the calcium from the shell until it as thin as a cigarette paper. It stores the calcium in small mushroom-like caps called gastroliths and works its way out of the old shell. It’s a weird feeling to pick up a once fearsome 200 gram yabby that is as limp as a jelly fish.

The yabby’s external parts

Once the yabby has finished its moult the calcium from the gastrolith is resorbed and the exoskeleton hardens. The yabby will quite often eat the moult shell for extra calcium but they can just as often be found washed up around the edge of the pond. This is especially common with young yabbies and at first glance they can be mistaken for dead stock — a knee weakening experience for the tyro. When yabbies are in moult they are at their most vulnerable and it is at this stage that the birds love them. Many yabby farmers have had their worst fears realised by the sight of a little pile of gastroliths among the bird droppings around their ponds.

Yabbies’ growth in the wild is hard to measure but is thought to vary with the seasons and the variety of yabby. In areas where the climate is favourable they seem to have slower growth rates and lower fecundity than in less reliable climates where the struggle to survive depends on making the most of limited opportunities. The data collected so far is too inconclusive to warrant discussing it here except to say that under farmed conditions, the growth rates achieved far exceed those recorded in surveys of wild stock.

The major disease threat faced by wild yabbies is Thelohania; a microsporidian which grows inside the yabby. It starts in the body and in the advanced stage extends to the tail, where it is noticed because it turns the usually opaque tail meat white; hence the names ‘white-tail’ or ‘cotton-tail’. Other health problems of yabbies in the wild are associated with a declining environment and are not residual.

Circulatory system

The yabby’s blood is clear and so it is not noticed by the casual observer. A heart pumps the blood around the body and over the gills where it is reoxygenated. The gill chambers can be clamped shut to trap moisture and enable the yabby to live out of the water for some time. Yabby farmers use this trait to their advantage when purging and transporting yabbies over vast distances.

Digestive system

The yabby’s digestive system is simple and highly efficient. It consists of two stomach chambers: one for grinding and one for filtering; a set of digestive glands (the yellow mustard found under the carapace) and a set of excretory glands (the green bitter glands). The relatively large digestive system enables the yabby to eat a lot; and you know what they say — the more you eat, the more you grow.

Gastroliths are small mushroom-like caps containing stored calcium.

Feeding habits

Yabbies are omnivorous, opportunistic feeders and can tackle just about anything. They derive quite a deal of their protein from the bacteria breaking down detritus in and on the edge of the pond but are readily drawn to animal protein whenever it is available. They also derive nutrition from phyto and zooplankton and will catch small fish and aquatic insects. In short, they are true survivors.

During their juvenile stage they ‘swim’ in the water column, feeding on the plankton supply, but they need a substrate to rest on. After they finish the almost constant moulting of this phase of their life cycle they spend most of their time on the bottom. Once they have lost the natural buoyancy of youth they concentrate their nutrition gathering on foraging the sub-strata.

In the next chapter we’ll look at what all this means to the farmer but let’s just say here that this creature appears as if it were made to be farmed: it certainly provides a source of food to a wide range of wildlife and its life history shows that it has many advantages to the aquaculturalist. It is hardy, gregarious, omnivorous, quick growing and relatively disease free. It will migrate when poor water quality prompts it to do so and it will migrate instinctively into an incoming ground level water flow. It has many enemies but you can combat them all with good farming practices.


What Makes the Yabby

an Aquaculture Prospect?

For any species to be an aquaculture prospect it has to fit certain criteria. Is there a ready availability of seed stock? Can it be grown under controlled conditions? Is its nutrition profile known? Is there a market for the finished product? Using what we know about the biology of the yabby we’ll answer these important questions as well as some others relating to the yabby’s capacity to become part of the growing Australian aquaculture scene.

The attractions


Fecundity is determined on the basis of the number of eggs produced. The first criteria in any aquaculture venture is the ready availability of seed stock. Overlooking this critical issue crippled the infant Australian prawn industry for many years. The yabby’s natural tendency to breed when conditions are favourable gets it over this first hurdle. Their breeding can be manipulated in ponds or they can be bred in enclosed hatcheries at any time of the year.

Fast growth

Stock should be brought to market size as soon as possible. In the wild, due to their lowly place in the food chain, yabbies not only have to be prolific breeders to compensate for the predation that is their lot, but they must grow to maturity very quickly in order to take advantage of seasonal conditions. This fits them admirably for commercial production.


The animal is hardy. It can tolerate extremes of temperature ranging from 1°C to 35°C but performs best in water temperatures ranging from 18°C to 28°C with an optimum range of 20°C to 26°C.

Yabbies are also good travellers. They can be transported live as far away as North America and Europe, which opens the marketing options tremendously as live fish bring the highest prices. Yabbies I have packed off have seen more of the world than I have!

Freedom from disease

Although not much research has been carried out into the diseases of yabbies under commercial conditions, the experience of growers suggests that they are relatively free of endemic diseases and that good pond management will prevent major problems such as Epistylus and parasites. Veterinary opinion supports this.

Cheap to feed

Yabbies can be grown by stimulating the growth of natural food in their ponds. They will also take a wide range of supplementary feeds including formulated rations and so growers have a choice of feeding programs.

Internal view of a yabby.

Good Feed conversion

As they are cold blooded, yabbies do not use energy to maintain body temperature; and being ‘weightless’ in the water they don’t use a lot of energy moving about. This means that they convert the bulk of their feed intake into body weight.

High social density

What in fish is called schooling doesn’t sound quite right when applied to yabbies. Possibly rafting or shoaling has a more yabby ring to it — a crawl of yabbies maybe? They don’t actually school in the sense of a body of yabbies moving as one except during migration, but they do share their habitat (even though they may create independent burrows). This natural preference permits the farmer to carry high stocking rates which in turn allows a more efficient utilisation of infrastructure.

Ready market acceptance

Yabbies are acclaimed wherever they are eaten. The yabby has three flavours: the succulent tail meat; the ever-so-sweet claw meat and the

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