Snail farming or heliciculture at home: how to do it?

While professional heliciculture requires solid training, a house breeding turns out to be less complicated than it seems. For gourmet consumption or in an educational setting intended for children, here are the bases that every amateur heliculturist should know.

What species can you breed at home?

Among the many snails that can be found in France, three main species are bred for the purpose of marketing:

  • The little gray (Helix aspersa aspersa) has a light brown shell with longitudinal dark bands. It measures between 28 and 35 mm and weighs 7 to 15 g;
  • The big gray (Helix aspersa maxima) is distinguished by the black color of its neck. Its globular shell presents variegated spiral bands very typical of the species. It measures 40 to 45 mm and weighs 20 to 30 g;
  • The Burgundy snail (Helix pomatia) is the largest species of terrestrial pulmonary gastropod living in France (its shell can reach 5 cm). Requiring calcareous soil to develop, its less profitable breeding is increasingly neglected in favor of the other two species.

Hot and humid environment for snails

Snails are susceptible tohygrometry (air humidity), brightness and at the temperature, three essential conditions for their development. Below are some sample settings.

  • Reproduction (February to May) and nursery (March to June): temperature 20 ° c; hygrometry from 75% to 95%; brightness of 18 hours per day;
  • Growth (May to September): temperature under natural conditions and regular watering;
  • Hibernation (October to January): temperature 5 ° c; hygrometry from 75% to 95% and luminosity of 6 hours per day.

To speed up the growth of snails, you can mist the enclosure at nightfall with temperate water (no watering). This fine artificial rain will energize the gastropods which will feed at night and grow. If a humid and warm environment favors the development of snails, a ventilation effective must be implemented to limit the appearance of fungi.

To know : In winter, when temperatures are low, snails hibernate and do not grow. Conversely, when it is too hot or dry in summer, the gastropods aestivate: folded up in their shell, they protect themselves from desiccation (loss of water) by a veil of mucus and wait for a downpour.

What habitat for farmed snails?

The size of the snail house depends on the number of individuals you want to accommodate. In general, it takes about 1m2 per 100 newborns and the same area for 7-10 adults. Examples of habitats:

  • If you have few snails, place them in a box plastic food or a wooden box Composed of agglomerate and resistant to termites. You will need to drill a few ventilation holes;
  • You can get a terrarium in pet stores, preferably glass because it is more robust, durable and easy to clean than plastic. The minimum recommended dimensions are 25X30X30cm, or about 22 liters for 8 snails;
  • Another solution is to use a small tight or a cage for animals that you will find in shops;
  • A enclosure hard-sided is easy to make yourself with sturdy wire mesh and stakes. Provide a 5 m breeding enclosure2 and another for breeding about 10 m2 for 60 breeders. See to bury the fence at least 20 cm below the ground to prevent the snails from digging and escaping;
  • A mixed park is possible for more intensive breeding. To be installed in a fairly humid area and a little at altitude. From October to March, breeding can take place indoors, partly above ground, and outdoors from April to September.

What substrate for the snail bed?

For the substrate, you can spread potting soil (non-acidic) on gravel so as to create a layer of at least 5 cm in which the snails can burrow. To avoid : very sandy soils (which do not retain water), heavy soils too rich in clay as well as very acidic substrates. Sprinkle the habitat with stones, grasses and branches. You can add dead leaves to slow down evaporation. The gastropod likes to take refuge in a shelter: an overturned plastic container, a semi-buried flowerpot or wooden planks (untreated) will fill it.

Heliciculture: precautions to take

To offer optimal conditions for the development of the snail, it will be necessary to ensure:

  • Install the breeding in a place sheltered because the wind can cause the snails to dry out;
  • Place animals out of direct sunlight. Sun to maintain adequate humidity;
  • Use a system of closing solid because the gastropod has great muscle strength;
  • Choose a wire mesh very thin (mosquito net type) for the breeding enclosure because the babies measure a few millimeters and can escape; This will also prevent access to predators : birds (magpie, crow, owl…), small rodents (rat, mouse, field mouse, rabbit) but also lizard, snake, frog or stone marten…;
  • Do not use Earth taken from the garden because it may contain harmful organisms;
  • Remove daily food not consumed, excrement and any empty shells.

How to feed farmed snails?

The calcium is essential to help the snail to maintain a solid shell, otherwise it will become too thin and break. Professionals use dry flour (corn, wheat, barley, soya…) available in stores specializing in animal feed. It is possible to complete the menu with all kinds of vegetables and of fruits like salad, carrots, dandelion leaves, radishes, apples, endives, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini … Eggshells or dry bones will promote calcium intake. It is estimated that about 2 kg of food is needed for 1 kg of snails. Inside the snail house, place water cups shallow to avoid drowning.

Snails: from reproduction to hibernation

If the snails are hermaphrodites (i.e. they possess both male and female characteristics), however, they must mate to exchange sperm. A few days after mating, each individual digs a hole in loose soil to lay eggs. After three weeks of incubation, tiny snails with transparent shells hatch and then emerge from the earth. Born in spring, they reach their size adult three months later, at the end of summer. When winter arrives, the snails will hibernate. It will then be a question of picking them up and placing them in large wooden crates. Wait a few days so that they evacuate their excrement (to be cleaned) and store the crates in a ventilated place and protected from the light. Make sure you install them in a place where there is no risk of jelly for at least six months. Let the snails sleep until the end February, when they will wake up and begin their reproductive cycle.

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