MSU ag economist: Using antibiotic can be more profitable than restricting feed when controlling ESC in catfish

Providing fingerling catfish with antibiotic-medicated feed to control outbreaks of enteric septicemia (ESC) can help increase profits from your catfish farming enterprise, according to a Mississippi State University agricultural economist.

Terrill R. Hanson, PhD., with MSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics, concludes in a recent analysis using an enterprise model that during ESC outbreaks, providing feed medicated with Aquaflor® (florfenicol), a product of Schering-Plough Animal Health Corporation, can provide greater receipts and net returns compared to the use of non-medicated feed or not feeding at all.

In his analysis, Hanson used a comparative enterprise budget approach to look at the benefits and costs of growing 5- or 6-inch fingerlings by the end of the summer or early fall season under each ESC management regimen. Base parameters used in the analysis included final fingerling size, feed conversion ratio, fry stocking rate, survival rate, medicated feed information and fry cost.

“Treating with Aquaflor resulted in more than double the revenue per acre compared to two other traditional treatments and represented only 14 percent of total fingerling feed costs,” says Hanson.

“In the major catfish-producing regions of the United States, the incidence of ESC outbreaks is highest when water temperatures are in the 70°F to 85°F range, which is usually during July through September and May through June,” says Hanson.

These time frames coincide with the fingerling growth stage of channel catfish, so to minimize losses, it is important for catfish farmers to try to control ESC, he explains.

30 percent mortality
Although catfish of all sizes are susceptible to ESC, fry and fingerlings are impacted more severely. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others estimate that ESC accounts for 30 percent of the mortality of catfish fry and fingerlings.

In addition to reducing feed consumption, fingerlings suffer from acute infections that spread quickly through the population. Prompt treatment and maintaining good water quality are critical to successful ESC control, according to catfish health experts.

While some catfish producers use medicated feed as a method of managing ESC, two other traditional methods used include:

1) Continued feeding of unmedicated feed throughout an outbreak – This method results in high losses, according to Hanson. “Producers who feed throughout an ESC outbreak generally stock a greater number of fry initially, accept high losses and are able to produce 6-inch fingerlings by fall. Losses are part of the business plan, but wide swings in survival from year to year can occur, leading to inefficiency and uncertainty of output.”

2) Restricted feeding during the outbreak – Restricting feed is used by many fingerling catfish producers. “Cessation of feed during an ESC outbreak is an approach used by producers because it is thought that the disease is spread among fish during feeding time,” explains Hanson. “The consequence of this approach is that fish have nothing to eat and do not grow.

“The non-feeding days during an ESC disease outbreak are ‘lost’ and cannot be recovered during the remainder of the peak growing season,” he continues. “Therefore, 5-inch fingerlings are the largest size producers can hope to grow in a typical year. This strategy is the most common one used to manage ESC outbreaks because no additional expenses are incurred.”

This method, explains Hanson, “can dramatically reduce losses but does not prevent outbreaks and results in poor growth.”

Using medicated feed
Controlling ESC by providing antibiotic-medicated feed can give producers an economic advantage, according to Hanson.

The big economic advantage for producers from the use of antibiotic-medicated feed to control outbreaks of ESC comes from their ability to more efficiently produce 6-inch fingerlings as opposed to 5-inch fingerlings, according to Hanson. The 6-inch fingerlings not only have a weight advantage, compared with 5-inch fingerlings, but they also command a premium price.

“Producers should determine if the additional income will be more than the increased cost of medicated feed,” he says. “If the benefits outweigh the costs, then the producer will have an overall larger return with medicated feed versus traditional non-medicated approaches to ESC control.”

There is high demand for 6-inch fingerlings, says Hanson. “Fingerlings that are 5 inches can be produced using non-aggressive management methods and are readily available, while 6-inch fingerling production requires a more finely tuned management style, so not as many 6-inch fingerlings are produced in the industry,” he explains.  “Food-fish producers would buy larger fingerlings if they were available because they have a head start in growth, a lower mortality and less time until harvest compared to 5-inch or smaller fingerlings.”

Economic analysis
Hanson bases his conclusions regarding the benefits of using medicated feeds to control ESC on an economic analysis he did of the three common ESC management practices used by the catfish producing industry today.

This analysis compared: 1) Medicated feed (Aquaflor); 2) no medicated feed but feeding through ESC outbreaks and 3) no medicated feed and no feed during ESC outbreaks.

“Each regimen's parameters are based upon industry expert opinions, as well as surveys and research findings,” Hanson says. “ESC vaccination is not included in this analysis, but could be effectively used in conjunction with medicated Aquaflor feed or non-medicated feed regimens.

Bottom line results
Using feed medicated with Aquaflor yielded much higher receipts from fingerling sales compared to the two non-medicated feed treatments, Hanson’s analysis concludes.

“Treating with Aquaflor resulted in increased survival and more efficient production through a lower feed conversion ratio,” he says. Further, the ability to produce 6-inch fingerlings netted a higher price per fish, according to the economic analysis.

“Total fingerling receipts were $6,300 per acre for the group treated with Aquaflor, compared to $3,600 for the non-medicated fish that were fed and $3,000 for the fish that were not medicated or fed during an ESC outbreak. More fish survived from the Aquaflor feeding regime than from the other two methods. Hanson’s analysis shows that the survival rate was 70 percent in the Aquaflor group, 40 percent in the group that was fed non-medicated feed during ESC, and 60 percent in the group that was not fed during ESC.

Hanson acknowledges that the cost of feed with Aquaflor is greater than the two non-medicated feed alternatives. “The overall feed cost is also increased due to a higher survival rate and larger size of the treated fingerlings,” he says. At the same time, he emphasizes, treated fish have a more efficient feed conversion and the additional feed costs are offset by the higher sales receipts of more than $6,000 per acre.

“Feed medicated with Aquaflor may cost the fingerling producer more money up front to produce 6-inch fingerlings, but the producer is rewarded with higher survival, higher production and higher sales revenue, compared to non-medicated feed during ESC treatment and the treatment that stopped feeding during ESC outbreaks,,” says Hanson.

 “In addition to these obvious economic advantages, medicated feeds for ESC outbreaks can be directed only to affected fish ponds, allowing cash to be spent when and where it is most needed,” concludes Hanson.

Aquaflor® is the property of Intervet International B.V. or affiliated companies or licensors and is protected by copyrights, trademark and other intellectual property laws.


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