I had to sit and think about this for quite a while and I realised that I’ve not actually been given much advice directly from Japanese koi breeders. What I have picked up from them over the years are a lot of hands-on practical tips which go a much further than any advice they would generally give out.
When I've thought about what I’ve learnt and the things that I’ve picked up and witnessed from working in Japan there is simply one word at the top of the list.
Observation, that’s the word.
Observation is the best advice I can give from the learning experiences I’ve had in Japan. When I look at everything, in my opinion the success of Japanese koi breeders boils down to that one thing.
But what do I mean by observing? Observing health conditions. Observing feeding behaviours. Observing body shape when you’re feeding to make sure you get the right results and that that your fish are on track. Observing the selection process. Observing the success of parent sets. Virtually every single topic can come back to this one word.
The best experience I've had was probably back in 2006 when I was working out in Japan on a number of different koi farms. I’d not long finished school and went straight out there, it was a great experience!
Looking back on the trip the eye opener for me was the sheer level of observation and attention to detail that the Japanese breeders pay to everything: the quality of their surroundings, observing the condition of the water in the mud ponds, observing the feeding behaviour, observing the health conditions when you could see the fish, separating the fish into different sizes when doing selections and identifying the quality.
It all boils back to observation and when I think about my own successes as a koi keeper observation is sat right at the heart of it for me as well. You can avoid a lot of issues such as bacterial problems or parasites and when your observation is good you will notice a change in behaviour pretty quickly. From that you’ll be able to identify an issue when it arises and deal with it, making sure that problems are avoided.
When you don’t observe your fish well you will miss those problems and that’s when the issues then arrive because the parasite problem is left and it does a lot of damage. Or perhaps bacteria sets in or your water quality gets out of hand, you don’t realise that your KH is dropping and all of a sudden you have a PH crash and you loose fish. If the observation had been there in the first place none of this would have happened.
It’s probably not the answer that most people would be expecting, but observation really is the true key to successful koi keeping.
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