Hand feeding Koi Carp pond fish
Why hand feed? Hand feeding your koi or goldfish is not only great fun but can be very useful for getting close enough to the fish to allow you to inspect them for signs of injury or disease and monitor their health.
If you currently feed your fish by throwing handfuls of food across the entire surface of the pond, stop this method and follow the top tips below.
It is best to start the training from the first time you feed the new fish because it will be easier but the technique can also be applied to existing fish.
“Nishikigoi will be naturally afraid of you in the beginning. Instincts tell them to be afraid of you, which is what keeps them alive in the wild.”
Best time to hand feed
The warmer the water the more interested in food your Koi become, you can attempt to feed your fish by hand at any time, but the warmer summer months usually give the best results.
It is assumed that everything is good with your pond, all other factors are in check, i.e. water quality, fish health, filtration, aeration etc. so there are no underlying reasons why your Koi should refuse to eat. If you are unsure, check out our other articles on these topics.
The fish are not really interested in learning to eat out of your hands, they are just greedy and hungry and your hand just happens to be in the pond. The fish will learn to trust you and that it is safe to approach and eat from your hand. They realise that your hand means no harm to them.
Do not rush the process as you may undo some of your hard work.
Spot the leader
Identify the most brave and curious fish and focus on them, the others will follow their lead.
Try new or unusual foods
Introduce shrimp, mussels or silkworm pupae for variety of smells and flavours.
Act calmly and deliberately.
Allow the fish to gain trust, no splashing or sudden movements.
Stick to a routine
Feed at specific times and at the same spot on the pond.
If a fish brushes against your hand or sucks at your finger – don’t panic, they don’t bite!
I know, I said that already, but it’s the most important point.
Let’s get to the method
As mentioned earlier, you don’t want to throw food into the pond randomly, we need to get the fish to come to a specific point for food. One of the best ways of achieving this is by using a feeding ring.
This can be tied in place and ensures that the fish always come to the same spot.
If your fish are very timid, keep your distance, start by standing a few steps back from the edge of the pond, throw a small amount of food into the ring and wait…………
Once the fish are happily feeding with the distance you are standing from the pond, take 1 step closer to the pond when you feed them. Again, repeat this for a few days and so on until you are standing or kneeling right at the edge of the pond.
To get them to this stage obviously takes a lot of time and patience.
- feed and sit motionless,
- get up and leave once all food has gone.
- sit feed and move, get up and leave once all food has gone.
- sit feed offer more feed, get up and leave once all food has gone.
- only feed at this location.
- introduce your hand with some food
- continue until fish become accustomed to your hand
Some koi varieties will learn faster than others. Often the friendliest varieties are Chagoi, Kigoi and Ochiba Shigure. Usually they will take to hand feeding quickly and encourage others in the pond to follow.
Provide somewhere for shy fish to approach you and peak out for example use a bank of water hyacinths.
Only place clean hands into the pond, you want to avoid adding contaminants into your pond water. This is especially important if you have been gardening or friends want to try feeding.
Pavlov’s Koi Carp
One trick you may wish to add to help train your Koi is to employ the Pavlovian response or classical conditioning.
Take a small stone and lightly tap it on one the side of your pond or a rock at the edge of the pond. Then immediately feed the fish, it acts as a “dinner bell” and is a signal to the fish that it is feeding time.
Even when the fish have become good at hand feeding you can still use this to alert the slower fish to the fact that food is on its way, get up there.
Getting close to your Koi
A good way to get fish to eat right out of your hand is to place a small quantity of quality koi carp food in the palm of your hand and cup your fingers around it.
Place your hand into the water and allow a few pieces of food to escape. The most adventurous of your fish will eat the food, this is when you should release some more food.
The fish will eventually work out where the food is coming from and start to nudge your hand to try and get more food to appear.
Once they have the idea, you can submerge you hand a bit deeper, which should encourage some of the less brave fish to come over to you.
It is essential that not to make any sudden movements during this process. If the fish do not approach your hand to feed, then do not feed them that day, they will be a little bit more likely to eat form your hand the next time you offer them food.
“As the first Koi nudges your hand, an outstretched finger or nicks a pellet, be sure that the game is almost won”KoiCarpFoods.com
Eating out of your fingers
Once your koi carp will comfortably eat form your palm, try teaching them to take the food directly from your finger tips. Hold some pieces of food in the tips of your fingers and submerge your hand, your boldest fish will approach and when they eat the others are sure to follow.
“Hunger is a great motivator”
Hand feeding Nishikigoi – the Basics
Be patient, especially with fish in a new pond. It may only take a few days for fish to adjust to a new pond, but it can take several weeks for fish to settle and feel comfortable in a new environment.
Making slow, deliberate actions and gestures will allow the fish to become used to your presence and gradually begin to trust you.
Use a quality, tasty food that your fish really enjoy.
It only takes one ‘brave’ fish to act as the leader – the rest will soon follow.