Photo: Greenhouses without their covers immediately after Hurricane Harvey. Note the trees in the background stripped of their leaves by the hurricane force winds.
So, what do tea, fish, and chickens have in common? This blog will tie them together.
Our farm and hatchery have had two reproductive failures since August 2017. That month Hurricane Harvey struck us hard. The first reproductive failure was with fish and the second with chickens.
So, why “tea” in the title of this blog? Because I suspect that teas formed after Harvey deposited leaves and stems into our fish vats, gutters, and sumps caused reproductive failures in some of our fish. After Hurricane Harvey some of our fish quit reproducing for several months. As to the chickens, leaves falling in their water from a November frost probably caused our chickens to quit laying. Why do I suspect teas of causing these reproductive failures? Read and find out.
First, I’ll deal with fish reproductive problems. Hurricane Harvey struck our farm late August 2017. During Harvey, I posted on Facebook as I could about the storm and our problems. Here’s a compilation of those posts in a blog:
To save our greenhouse structures we removed their plastic film covers. We had learned this was necessary in 2003 during Hurricane Claudette. For that storm, we didn’t remove the plastic and ended up with a mangled and destroyed greenhouse (we only had one at the time). Removing the plastic coverings allowed Harvey to blow through the greenhouses without damaging the metal and wood structures. While the structures sustained only minor damage, the winds deposited into our 75,000 gallons of system water literally hundreds of pounds of leaves and twigs from the surrounding trees. We were unable to remove the leaf and twig debris because we had only two to three months to replace the plastic film covers on the greenhouses before winter. That project, repairing our damaged house, and other storm recovery meant we didn’t get back to working fish, cleaning debris from vats, and rebuilding breeding colonies until early 2018. It wasn’t until summer of 2018 that we noticed that some of our fish were not reproducing.
Not all our fish quit reproducing. Plecostomus (Hypostomus plecostomus) had an orgy of spawning. Cichlids, both new and old world, seemed unaffected. A barb we raise, (Puntius arulius or maybe Dawkinsia tambraparniei; see blogs: https://goliadfarms.com/puntius-arulius/ and https://goliadfarms.com/arulius-barb/) reproduced as normal. On the other hand, most of our livebearers failed to breed. We set up breeding colonies that yielded few if any fry of mollies, swordtails, platies, Gambusia, Goodeids, etc. Some Xiphophorus varieties, notably the variatus-type and one Gambusia species, G. punctata, did reproduce, but at smaller than usual numbers. Ancistrus cirrhosus, unlike their larger relative plecostomus, shut down and didn’t breed. Mollies, both wild-type Poecilia species and commercial mollies, didn’t reproduce for most of 2018. Other Poecilia species, guppies and Endler’s, barely produced fry.
It is my theory the reproductive problems were caused by some compound(s) in the leaves and/or twigs from one or more of the trees around the greenhouses. We have a large stand of black willows (Salix nigra). There are also many mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) and huisache (Acacia farnesiana) in our pastures and close to the greenhouses. There are some hackberries (Celtis occidentalis) and tallow (Sapium sebiferum) close by. Hundreds of pounds of leaves and twigs from these trees ended up in our 700+ vats, the floor gutters, and sumps. As tannins and other compounds leached from the stems and leaves, our system water took on an amber tea color. While we’ve cleared much of the leaves and twigs from our system, that work continues yet today. We also had lots of leaves and twigs from the plants we use in plant filtration (see this blog: https://goliadfarms.com/plant-filtration/), but we’ve never had problems caused by these plants after using them for years. After most of the debris was removed, reproduction has gradually improved but is still not what it used to be. I suspect it will be the next generation of breeders before reproduction completely recovers.
Now for the chickens. During November 2018 we had a light frost. As a result, our Arizona ash trees (Fraxinus velutina) started dropping their leaves. Our chicken water trough was under one of these trees and several inches of leaves accumulated in the trough. I thought nothing about this until about two weeks later our hens all ceased laying. Our hens went from laying a couple of dozen eggs a day to none. We hadn’t changed food. Nor had we changed the hens’ routines. We still allowed them our of their yard each afternoon to forage free range. Thinking of the fish and my suspicion the leaves, I moved the trough and thoroughly cleaned it. In about a week we started getting eggs. In another two weeks our hens were back up to full production.
I don’t care (nor do I have the time and energy) to do the controlled experiments to verify my suspicions, but I think someone should. In a way, it’s too bad cichlids weren’t impacted. A major problem in tilapia (a good cichlid) production, especially in third world countries, is over-population of this fish in pond production. The females begin breeding at small sizes (they are maternal mouthbrooders) and quickly over-populate the pond stunting the fish. In aquaculture in the US and other advanced countries all-male stocks are produced to prevent reproduction leading to larger and more uniform fish. This isn’t feasible for cost reasons in developing areas, so a tea preventing reproduction could be a boon, making this fish more useful for providing protein to malnourished human populations.