Escargot are snails cooked in butter and garlic, often served in their original shell. Prized as a gastronomic delight, escargot fetch high prices in restaurants and gourmet shops. Thanks to the demand for high-quality snail meat, the practice of raising snails for food, known as heliculture, holds great appeal as a commercial enterprise. One advantage to heliculture is that the product---live snails---may be initially acquired at little to no expense. However, successful heliculture requires a significant amount of time and energy.
Set up a fattening pen. Purchase or build a long, narrow trough, made from wood, concrete or metal, with sides at least 2 feet high and a screened roof to prevent snails from escaping. Fill it with at least 2 inches of fresh, non-acidic soil, kept slightly damp and loosely packed. Place the pen in a location protected from direct sunlight, wind and rain. The pen may be kept indoors or outdoors, provided the temperature remains mild and the humidity level is maintained at around 80 to 90 per cent. Plan for roughly six to eight adult snails per square foot of pen space.
Collect breeding stock. Gather live snails from gardens, lawns or any area with abundant vegetation. Ask local farmers and orchardists for permission to harvest snails from their fields and trees; they may be grateful for the opportunity to rid themselves of this menace to their crops. Live snails may also be purchased from breeders.
Keep the snails in the fattening pen and monitor their behaviour. Snails, which reproduce asexually, lay eggs in the soil. Remove the eggs carefully and place them in fresh, damp soil in a separate pen or wooden box and wait for them to hatch. Baby snails are fragile, so feed them a diet of lettuce and keep them separate from the adult snails until they are large enough to be returned to the fattening pen.
Feed adult snails a diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and grasses. Snails consume a wide variety of foods, so experiment to find out what combination of food works best. As the quality of the snail meat depends upon the quality of the food supply, keep a constant source of fresh vegetation available at all times and remove spoiled food from the pen promptly.
Sell only healthy, active snails. Store snails in containers with screened air holes and ship them in crates packed with ice to keep them cool and alive during transportation. Do not provide food for the snails during shipping. Alternately, sell pre-cooked and canned escargot.
Place live earthworms in the fattening pen. Earthworms help maintain clean soil by devouring waste materials and food scraps.
Snails collected in the wild are never safe to consume immediately as they may have ingested toxins from their environment. Feed newly-gathered snails an exclusive diet of lettuce and grains for a week, then deprive them of all food for another week before consuming to make sure all toxic remnants are purged from their digestive systems. A overcrowded snail pen increases the chances of diseases or bacteria developing. Make certain the snails have plenty of room to move around. As snails are considered an agricultural pest, some areas have strict restrictions against raising snails commercially. Contact your state's Agricultural Department for the regulations governing raising and shipping live snails in your area.