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Koi Carp Need Quality Food to Thrive

Andrew Hodges Koi Carp Foods

Variety of Koi Food

If you have been massively overwhelmed by the sheer variety of Koi Carp foods available for your fish, let us provide some clarity and advice. Which food should you buy? Welcome to Koi Carp Foods.

As you have probably seen, not all foods are made equal, nor do they cost the same. There are many factors to consider, cost, digestion efficiency, effects on water quality and much more.

If you would like to learn which foods we use and recommend – read on and discover our top tips to happy, healthy Koi.

Nishikigoi – Japanese for Koi Carp, the literal translation is “brocaded carp” fabric woven with an elaborate design, having a raised overall pattern

The natural diet of Carp

Most people have spent a lot of money on their new Nishikigoi and therefore are not typically in the market for cheap food. That said, there is no point spending money unnecessarily, by that I mean on gimmicky brands.

In nature, carp enjoy a seasonal but naturally replenishing diet, which ranges from aquatic insects, crustaceans, plant matter and even young fish. They will spend much of their time grubbing around in the silt on the bottom searching for sustenance.

Unlike in a pond environment, water quality is rarely an issue, and the supply of food will dictate the speed of growth. As a pond keeper, you have taken on responsibility for both the water quality and food requirements.

If you do not have time to read the full article, jump into the blog posts above on specific aspects of koi carp foods.

Wild carp are constant browsers

Today, there are more varieties of koi carp foods available than you would have thought possible or even considered we needed. If you are struggling to decide which variety to feed your Koi, let us try and help by setting out some clear distinctions and necessary requirements.

Koi do not have stomachs, only a large gut where digestion takes place, so the amount of food offered at any one time affects the efficiency or ability of the fish to assimilate the nutrients.

Never knowing to have refused food, there is only so much that they can digest. Too much food, especially at lower temperatures, can lead to lots of waste and partially digested food being excreted, which will not help you maintain fantastic water quality.

Some cheaper foods may add to this problem by providing less nutrient rich foods and binding agents.

Our koi have to fit in with our busy lives and do not get the chance to browse all day long. Generally, they are fed two or three times a day. This gorge and starve routine is not the best way to reduce stress and promote best health and growth rates.

An automatic fish feeder is an excellent way to address this issue and can also give peace of mind ( more on this later).

Koi Carp Foods Natural Diet
Nishikigoi – there are more varieties of food now than fish!KoiCarpFoods.com

You are keeping water – not carp

If you are new to the hobby, you may not have much experience of filtration principles; however, most enthusiasts are acutely aware of the reasons for and the science behind keeping the highest levels of purity in their water.

There is a very careful balance to be struck between feeding, filtration and water changes to provide the optimum environment for your fish.

Many food adverts today state amazing facts and statistics relating to the way in which your fish will absorb and digest their brand of food. Use of bio-cultures or enzymes increase efficiency and reduce waste; there is another science here.

Koi-Carp-Foods-JBL-Water-Test-Lab

Never the less it is still essential that we undertake regular, methodical water quality tests.

Without keeping a careful eye on the levels of nitrate, nitrite, ammonia, etc. you risk harming your fish. JBL’s test lab is a very comprehensive kit and well worth the investment. Will shall write our review on this kit soon.

Frequent water tests are essentialKoiCarpFoods.com
Koi-Carp-Foods-Water-Lilly

The five top tips to healthy koi

We all love to see a pond full to the brim with beautiful Nishikigoi. But you can fall into the trap of overstocking your new pond with, let’s say not quite so attractive, fish just to have the quantity.

In order to be able to enjoy your hobby and maintain the health and vitality, it is wise to be very picky in the beginning and chose a few fantastic looking koi, rather than lots of “kippers” as they are sometimes called.

Providing a reasonable current in the water allows the fish to exercise, this benefits the in many ways, it improves body shape, burns off calories and increases metabolism so that food is more efficiently processed.

By feeding high quality food, little and often, you are closer to the natural grazing way of feeding.


  • Fish stocking level

    Try not to get carried away, limit yourself to fewer, but more beautiful fish.

  • Water quality

    Undertake regular water chemistry tests and water changes.

  • Adequate filtration

    Fit a larger filter than manufacturers recommend – especially if growing young koi carp on.

  • Feed high-quality food

    Use the best quality food you can afford and provide meals little but often.

  • Provide exercise

    Ensure that your pond design includes a water current which will give the fish exercise, they will need to swim just to remain in the same place.

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Superior food additives

Many of the high end fish pellets contain some expensive ingredients, which may include:

  • Probiotics

    To help avoid digestion problems by nutritional means – (some keepers soak their food in probiotics such as Yakult)

  • Immune system stimulants

  • Ash

  • Colour enhancers

  • Crushed crab shells

  • Crushed lobster shells

  • Propolis (bee glue)

  • Powdered Montmorillonite clay

How much food a day?

The recommended amount of food to give the fish is around one to two percent of their body weight per day. Few people, however, could or indeed would ever go to the lengths of measuring this out.

Nishikigoi below the age of two grow very fast and will require higher protein content in their staple diet. If your pond contains fish of various ages, a mix of food should ensure that you cater for all appetites.

Also, consider the size of the pellets used as there are several standard sizes available.

Great body shape is the most important feature which breeders and judges look for in Nishikigoi. It should also be the priority of any fish keeper.

Providing a well-balanced diet which builds muscle but not fat and enhances colour is essential to the full enjoyment of Koi carp keeping.

Fish meal – provides desirable unsaturated lipids (oils)

A hungry Nishikigoi is a happy NishikigoiJapan

Is it possible to overfeed Koi

Koi will not eat more food than is good for them, they will eat more when water temperatures are warmer and less as it gets cooler, this is natural.

You can, however, overfeed your pond/filter system. Overfeeding will lead to an increase in fish waste, resulting in pollution of the pond water.

Uneaten food which will decay will add to the problem leading to higher ammonia and nitrate levels.

So, in answer, yes you can overfeed, and there is a simple rule of thumb here; feed “little and often” no more than can be consumed within five minutes of putting into the pond.

How can I increase my fishes interest in food?

One of the tricks many koi carp dealers use to display their koi is to keep numbers of fish very high.

This evokes the fishes natural shoaling trait. When you visit dealers, the fish will be fighting to get close to you; this is in part due to the fish feeling more confident. Safety in numbers and also their competitiveness, to ensure that they get the most food they can.

So, by having a well-stocked pond, you encourage this natural behaviour in the fish which will lead them to appear more interested at feeding times.

This conflicts slightly with the earlier advice on overstocking, but there we were talking more about quality over quantity for beginners.

But always consider your filtration systems ability to cope with the amount of fish and waste which they will inevitably produce.

Great body shape is the most important feature which breeders and judges look for in Nishikigoi.KoiCarpFoods.com

Can I treat my Nishikigoi from time to time?

There are many foods which can be used to add variety and interest to your fishes’ diet, some of which are very cheap to obtain from your local supermarket, you will not feed all of these every day for example:

  • Cheerios – Honey coated (once a day)
  • Pearl barley, add a half a cup to a pint of hot water and leave overnight to absorb to water. Feed half in the morning and the rest of the afternoon, they will love this, and it is very cheap.

Some of the more popular treats for your fish are listed below:

  • Citrus fruits

    Cut oranges, lemons or limes in half and float on the pond surface. This will replace some of the vitamin C which is lost from your Koi food as it ages.

  • Freshwater shrimp

    Freeze-dried and fed once a week, for example Red Gammarus Pulex’ freshwater shrimp

  • Black soldier fly

    Dried food, can be fed once a day.

  • Mealworm

    Dried food, not much substance, but can be used daily

  • Daphnia

    Better for smaller koi, daily treat in the warmer months.

  • Mussels

    Frozen, from supermarket, chopped (once a week) Mussels are an excellent food to use if you are aiming to hand feed your koi, they will come to you very willingly to nibble on these.

  • Silkworm Pupa

    One of the very highest protein foods available but also high in fat. Use within a month of opening as they can go off quickly (notably they smell musty).

The effects of water temperature on your feeding regime

Koi are extremely hardy fish, able to survive in temperatures ranging from 2 to 30 degrees Celsius (36 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit). Winters in Japan are cold but relatively short.

Water temperature has a huge impact on the health and behaviour of Nishikigoi as they are ectothermic. Their body temperature fluctuates with that of the environment i.e. the water.

Feeding in unheated outdoor ponds will usually begin in the Spring time when water temperature reaches 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

Small amounts of sinking wheatgerm food would be the preferred option as cereal foods can be digested quickly and do not stay in the gut too long.

As the temperature increases, food with high protein content can start to replace the wheat germ pellets. With the rise in temperature, the fish are more easily able to digest protein needed for growth and the repair of damaged tissue and injuries.

Koi feeding for size

Genetic traits for growing big

Most people who keep Nishikigoi will have been fascinated by the grace and calming nature of a giant fish. The cost of purchasing such a fish is usually prohibitive to the average keeper.

So if you can’t buy them could you grow on some beautiful smaller fish in your pond. Well if you follow the principles below, the answer could be yes.

If you look at any family there will be variation in the height and size of its members; one brother might be five foot six and another six foot. This variety can occur amongst the family members of Koi.

Not all fish will have the predetermined genetics to enable them to grow huge. To pick fish which have the best chance of becoming large, we need to look at a few of the character traits which mother nature can supply.

They are to do with the speed and competitive ability when it comes to the simple matter of getting the most food.

You do not want to pick fish with small triangle shaped heads, a little body and thin tail joint. Instead look out for:

  • Large mouth

  • Big head

  • Tall body

  • Strong tail joint

Growth rates will depend on the age of your fish

For the first two years of their lives, koi will grow the most, up to ten inches in a single year.

In years three and four this will slow down to four to six inches per year. After the age of about four years old, the growth rate will slow down to an inch or maybe two a year.

Feeding a minimum of three percent of body weight per day is the usual regime for Japanese breeders. So it is essential to maintain water quality to the very highest standards.

 

If you have 100 one pound fish, then that’s three pounds of food daily!KoiCarpFoods.com

Should I use a fish feeder

As mentioned previously, you should try to get your feeding regime as close to the natural habits of the fish as possible. Using a fish feeder to automate the feeding process, delivering smaller quantities of fish pellets more frequently, would be a credible solution.

One thing to mention here, many keepers prefer to use sinking pellets in their feeders; this is because koi can splash and thrash around trying to get their fair share of floating food. This excitement can sometimes lead to fish being shoved or flung out of the pond.

Sinking food gives the fish more time and space to find food and creates less noise bringing attention to the pond while you are not present.

How often should I feed my Nishikigoi

As mentioned, koi carp feed as grazers in the wild, so delivering three percent of their body weight in one sitting is not natural or safe. The food uneaten would just sink, rot and contaminate the water.

Another issue of note is that koi which over eat will develop a dropped belly, in Japan breeders will not grow on big fish in a mud pond as they tend to get this dropping of the belly.

We all lead busy lives and are unlikely to be around to feed regular small meals. So the use of an automated feeder is a must.

Dividing the food up into hourly feeds is a common approach, the feeder can be set to accurately measure out just the right amount of food at the right time.

You can leave a couple of feeds to be manually fed by you when you know that you’ll be around. Feeding by hand can be a shear delight.

Be careful, though; you are much more likely to feed more than the set amount when the koi look at you hungrily 😉

Pond water conditions

To achieve anything like the results mentioned above the correct conditions are essential, here’s how.

Consider that if you are going to feed large quantities often, your filter will likely need to be four times the size detailed by the filter manufacturer. Filter designs are often calculated to accommodate a volume of water and not the amount of hungry koi fish living in it.

Oxygen levels should be as high as possible, especially during warmer weeks. Fish can metabolise more efficiently where oxygen levels are higher and more favourable.

Fish excrete pheromones into the water, and where these levels become too high, they will feel hemmed in or overcrowded, leading to a slowdown in their growth. To counter this water changes can be used to dilute the pheromones.

A note on water changes, if you wish to make a ten percent change to your pond water, do not just dump ten percent and refill with the garden hose. The new tap water shocks the fish; the temperature will change, the chlorine can burn the fishes gills, etc.

A continual drip of water into the pond is a better approach. Wastewater from cleaning filters or vacuuming the bottom will remove the excess as and when required.

Types of Koi Pond Filter - Filter Capacity

Filter designs are often calculated to accommodate a volume of water and not the amount of hungry koi fish living in it.

Click here to read our Pond Filter Reviews

We take the mystery out of the Koi Carp Pond filtration systems out there and give insightful advice on the best system for your requirements, dispelling many myths.

Click Me!

Pond design – exercising fish

To ensure great shape the water in the pond should have a current., this ensures that the fish do not just sit and eat, they exercise.

Having a continuous flow means that the fish have to swim just to stay still. The design can be such that there are relatively dead areas where fish can rest.

The more energy the fish use up, the more food they require, the increased metabolism will help ensure that food is digested and not just excreted as undigested food.

This exercise will ensure long strong and tight growth of the fish, rather than podgy.

Should I buy male or female fish

Male koi are smaller and prettier than the females. Females, however, have better shape conformity.

The males tend to have long skinny bodies, which is in part due to the way in which they feed.

Boys will come up to the surface, snatch a few pellets of food, then go down to the bottom and swim around for a while before returning for more food.

The girls, on the other hand, tend to stay on the surface, constantly eating, similar to a PAC-man. Hence they get more food and grow bigger.

If you want to raise consistent fish, all males could be a good option as you would be able to ensure that they all get their fair share of the food. You will not always find dealers willing or able to provide all fish of one sex.

Pond water conditions

To achieve anything like the results mentioned above the correct conditions are essential, here’s how.

Consider that if you are going to feed large quantities often, your filter will likely need to be four times the size detailed by the filter manufacturer. Filter designs are often calculated to accommodate a volume of water and not the amount of hungry koi fish living in it.

Oxygen levels should be as high as possible, especially during warmer weeks. Fish can metabolise more efficiently where oxygen levels are higher and more favourable.

Fish excrete pheromones into the water, and where these levels become too high, they will feel hemmed in or overcrowded, leading to a slowdown in their growth. To counter this water changes can be used to dilute the pheromones.

A note on water changes, if you wish to make a ten percent change to your pond water, do not just dump ten percent and refill with the garden hose.

The new tap water shocks the fish; the temperature will change, the chlorine can burn the fishes gills, etc. So a continual drip of water into the pond is a better approach.

Wastewater from cleaning filters or vacuuming the bottom will remove the excess as and when required.

Feeding to enhance the colour of your koi carp

There are many foods which can be fed to strengthen the colour of your Nishikigoi; however, there needs to be a strategy to ensure the best results.

Many of the food designed to bring out the natural colours can be hard for the fish to digest, for example, spirulina. So changing over to Rich colour enhancing koi carp food on day one could lead to trouble.

It is recommended that you taper your feeding regime, changing thirty percent of the usual food for colour enhancing on day one and increasing amounts until on 100 percent colour food.

Fish should not remain on colour food for more than seven weeks or so as this can have detrimental effects. If over done, the whites of the fish can turn brown and may stay that way for the rest of the season, obviously no use if you were preparing for a show.

Look for an 80 percent enhancement in their colour and stop at that to be on the safe side.
The food should also be slowly tapered back out, and the fish returned to their usual diet.