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Cold weather is upon us, and with it comes changes to the way we care for our ponds. Everything is slowing down, and it can be tempting to simply ignore the pond until spring, but beneath the surface of the water there is still plenty going on.
Is it Necessary to Feed During the Winter?
Whether or not you will need to feed your fish is totally dependent on your pond. The size, number of fish, amount of plant growth and species of fish all play a part in that determination.
Although fish metabolisms slow significantly during the winter, they still need to eat. One of the first things to consider is whether or not it was necessary to feed in the warmer months. If feeding was purely supplemental as an effort to increase growth, then it is likely that your pond will be able to support the fish throughout the winter on its own.
Pay attention to the pond size. Larger ponds and lakes tend to be able to support fish throughout the winter, since they offer a larger area for the fish to spread out and often a more significant amount of plant growth, which provides the base of the food chain. However, if a significant portion of the plant material has been removed, or if a pond has been overstocked, the amount of naturally occurring sustenance will not be adequate. Small ponds tend to have issues with their food supply as well, so in those cases it is best to supplement with feed.
Knowing what species of fish and approximately how many are in your pond will also help make the determination. If you have a lot of predatory fish (such as Largemouth Bass for example), but very little prey (such as Fathead Minnows) in your pond, it will be important to provide an additional source of food to keep the predatory fish from starving and the prey species from being wiped out completely.
How Much Should be Fed?
If you have made the decision to continue feeding throughout the winter, keep in mind that the amount your fish eat will significantly decrease. It can also vary from day to day, depending on the temperature. As long as you have an aeration system in place or a good water replacement rate, it is much less likely that you will overfeed them than it is in the summer. Aeration and water replacement keeps oxygen levels steady. Without them, it is possible for your fish to deplete oxygen to dangerously low levels as they metabolize their food, but this is much more common in the hot days of summer.
Generally, a good rule of thumb is to feed your fish as much as they can consume in a fifteen minute period, without excess waste. Once again, the physical amount will vary drastically based on how cold it is, so don’t worry if they barely eat some days. If you don’t feed on a daily basis, try and pick the warmest days to feed, since that will be when your fish are the most active.
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