Raising snails for escargot is an activity that has gone on for thousands of years with little change to the process. Breeding stock is kept to produce generations of snails that are grown out in special enclosures. The practice can range from a simple backyard set-up to a commercial farm producing hundreds of thousands of snails each year. The sensitive nature of snails requires that special care be given to them to ensure that they reach a harvestable size.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Wood, galvanised steel or plastic enclosure material
- Mesh screening
- Top soil
- Irrigation equipment
- Drain pipes
- Water trough
- Lettuce, cabbage or other green leafy foods
Choose a species of snail to use as your breeding stock. Helix aspersa, also known as the petit gris or little grey snail, and Helix pomatia, commonly known as the Roman or apple snail, are common choices for escargot snails. Obtain your breeding stock from a reputable vendor or collect them yourself, if you know how to identify wild species that are appropriate for raising for escargot. Use only snails that are healthy, mature and well-fed.
Construct an enclosure to hold the snails while they are being raised to marketable size. The enclosure should be a long and relatively narrow box that allows for easy access from the sides for cleaning, feeding and collecting the snails. Use wood, concrete or galvanised steel to form the enclosure, with sides no less than 24 inches in height. Cover the top of the enclosure with screening of 5mm or less to protect the snails from predators and to keep the snails from escaping.
Provide additional shelter within the enclosure in the form of drainage pipes cut in half lengthwise and stacked in opposite directions. This increases the available surface area within the enclosure, allowing a larger number of snails to be raised. Install a water trough for snails to drink from. Shallow rectangular flower containers work well.
Install a watering system that sprays clean water into the enclosure. A simple garden hose connected to a water source and attached to an impact tripod sprinkler from a home improvement or garden centre set up at one end of the enclosure works well. Water the snails periodically at night to ensure that the humidity of the enclosure remains at 80 to 90 per cent to keep the snails well hydrated, but not wet. Maintain the temperature between 15.5 to 21.1 degrees C, if possible.
Fill the enclosure with at least 2 inches of clean topsoil. This will provide sufficient soil for the snails to lay eggs. Collect the eggs and place them in a separate enclosure to hatch; grow the baby snails to full size. This will prevent mature snails from cannibalising juvenile snails.
Feed the juvenile snails plant matter, such as lettuce, cabbage or other green leafy matter for the next six to eight months, until they reach marketable size. Add chicken laying mash to the feed to provide calcium for proper shell development. When a lip forms on the edge of the shell, a snail is marketable.
Collect the snails and place them in a clean enclosure with no soil. Feed the snails pure cornmeal for one week to purge their intestinal tracts of any faeces. After this time, remove any food and stop feeding the snails for 2 to 3 days. Clean the enclosure regularly to remove any remaining faeces. The snails are now ready to be sold, canned or cooked.
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