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AquaculturalEngineering6 (1987) 277-288

Food Distribution Equipment for Individually-housed Juvenile Lobsters (Homarus spp.)

J. F. Wickins, E. Jones, T. W. Beard and D. B. Edwards
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Directorate of Fisheries Research, Fisheries Laboratory, Conwy, Gwynedd 1~l.q2 8UB, UK

ABSTRACT The construction and operation of two simple mechanical feeders, one for use with dry pellets, the other with a suspension of mysid shrimps in seawater, are described. Both feeders were designed to facilitate the feeding of large numbers of individually-housed crustaceans held in laboratory and nurse~ water table systems. The dry feeder delivered between 2 and 6 pellets to 91% of the individual comportments with less than 2% receiving no food. The wet feeder delivered between 3 and 9 mysids to 73% of the compartments with 2"1% receiving no food. The distribution of empty compartments was random so that it was unlikely that the same animals would go without food after two successive feeds.

INTRODUCTION The culture of juvenile lobsters ( H o m a r u s spp.) either for stock enhancement trials (Wickins, 1983) or to produce market sized animals (T.V.A., 1978; Beard et aL, 1985) usually involves individual confinement to prevent fighting and cannibalism. Several containment methods have been proposed for the culture of aggressive or territorial crustaceans (Van Olst et al., 1977; Mickelsen et al., 1978; Richards and Wickins, 1979; Conklin et aL, 1981) but when large numbers of lobsters are cultured, feeding takes a considerable amount of staff time or necessitates the development of sophisticated and expensive feeding equipment (Chapman, 1983). Dry pelleted feeds are more amenable to distribution through mechanical feeders than are moist or fresh feeds but pelleted rations claimed to be capable of supporting good growth and survival have only recently been formulated (Conklin et al., 1983).
277 Crown Copyright, 1987


J. F. Wickins, E. Jones, T. W. Beard and D. B. Edwards

During the production of juvenile lobsters for stock enhancement trials we required rapid methods for the even distribution of (a) pellets and (b) freshly-thawed mysid shrimps Neomysis integer, (5-12 mm total length) to batches of up to 10 000 juveniles. The devices had to ensure delivery of about 4-6 pieces of food to each rearing compartment without the need to remove the compartment from the rearing troughs. This paper describes the construction and operation of two simple mechanical feeders, one for use with dry pellets, the other for a suspension of mysid shrimps in seawater. Both are suitable for application to laboratory 'water table' (Conklin et al., 1981; Malecha et al., 1984) or 'shallow trough' (Richards and Wickins, 1979) containment systems and are especially useful when large numbers of animals are being reared.

PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN AND OPERATION Both feeders operate on the same general principle. An elongated hopper containing the food spans the width of the rearing table. A shaft along the bottom of the hopper bears a series of diametrically-opposed notches (dry feeder) or slots (wet feeder). The shaft rotates as the hopper is pushed from one end of the rearing table to the other and at each revolution food is transferred from within the hopper to successive rows of rearing chambers below. To achieve uniform rotation the shaft bears a toothed wheel at each end which locate into tracks fastened to the edges of each rearing table (Figs 1 and 2).




)~,...,,,,~~'~ (c)"


Fig. 1. The general arrangement of the dry (pellet) feeder; (a) hopper walls; (b) centre support; (c) shaft; (d) toothed drive wheel; (e) retaining plate; (f) end wall of hopper.

Food distribution equipment for juvenile lobsters


Fig. 2. The general arrangement of the wet (mysid)feeder: (a) hopper tube; (b) baffles; (c) slots in hopper; (d) shaft housing tube; (e) water distribution manifold; (f) water inlet pipe: (g) water feed to shaft housing (one of three); (h) water jet manifold; (i) feed to water jet manifold: (j) overflow from hopper; (k) retaining ring for screen; (1) screen; (m) spindle; (n) toothed drive wheel. In the case of the wet (mysid) feeder, the freshly-thawed mysids are kept in suspension by a series of small water jets aimed into the hopper from an external supply. A series of baffles within the hopper reduces splashing and assists in maintaining a uniform suspension and distribution of food organisms. Both feeders were made to the same overall dimensions in order to fit our rearing tables which measured 2.94 x 0.51 0.15 m deep. The individual containers on the rearing table measured 5 x 5 cm which meant that food deposition had to occur every 5 cm along the table. Different sized containers would, of course, require different diameter shafts.

C O N S T R U C T I O N O F D R Y (PELI.ET) F E E D E R The walls of the hopper were cut from 12.7 m m uPVC sheet and held together with eight O B A brass bolts. A centre support was added to give rigidity. The shaft was machined to a diameter of 33 m m from a solid uPVC rod 600 m m in length. At each end the diameter was reduced to


J. F. Wickins, E. Jones, T. W. Beard and D. B. Edwards

20 m m for a distance of 20 m m to accommodate a toothed drive wheel. Eight diametrically-opposing pairs of indentations (5 m m diameter, 2-3 m m deep) were drilled 55 m m apart to coincide with the separation of the rearing chambers. This dimension allowed for the thickness of the container walls. The shaft was supported at both ends by Tufnol bushes (45 mm o.d. x 127 m m wide) set into the ends of the hopper in such a way that the side walls of the hopper abutted the shaft almost tangentially (Fig. 3). A groove (3 m m wide x 3 m m deep) was machined 30 m m from one end of the shaft; this accommodated a retaining plate which was attached to one end wall of the hopper.



Fig. 3.

End viewof the dry (pellet)feeder showingposition of hopper walls relative to the shaft. Key as in caption to Fig. 1 but with (d) omitted; (g) Tufnol bush.

T h e toothed wheels were made from a 45 m m diameter uPVC blank, 14 m m wide, and machined to the dimensions in Fig. 4.

C O N S T R U C T I O N OF W E T (MYSID) F E E D E R The main body of the feeder was made from two Perspex tubes (4 m m wall thickness) glued together (Fig. 2). A large (70 m m o.d.) tube sealed with two end caps formed the hopper, and a smaller open-ended (30 m m o.d.) tube housed the rotating shaft. Before assembly, fiats were machined on each tube to facilitate gluing. The top of the hopper tube

Food distribution equipment for ]uvenile lobsters





1.5 m m R a d i u s on 37ram PCD





Fig. 4.

Details of the toothed driving wheel from the dry (pellet) feeder.

was opened by cutting an elongated slot (30 x 420 mm) diametrically opposite the machined flat and the tubes were glued together. Eight semi-circular baffles (5 mm thick) were glued at approximately 45 mm intervals within the hopper to correspond with the dimensions of the lobster rearing chambers. Eight slots (20 x 12"7 mm) were machined through the bottom of the hopper and into the abutting shaft housing, one in the cemre of each compartment formed by the baffles. A further eight slots (10 x 15 mm) were cut diametrically opposite in the shaft housing. On one side of the hopper was attached a 23 mm i.d. water distribution manifold held in position by uPVC bars attached to the hopper end caps (Fig. 5). This manifold was blanked off at each end and received


Fig. 5. Details of the water flow system of the wet (mysid) feeder. Key as in caption to Fig. 2 but with (1), (m) and (n) omitted; (o) bored out centre of shaft; (p) counterbored slot: (q) hole to shaft centre (one of three); (u) levelling plate.


J.F. Wickins, E. Jones, T. W. Beard and D. B. Edwards

water through a hole (8 mm diameter) cut in the top. Water left the manifold through three flexible pipes which joined onto rigid pipes glued onto one side of the shaft housing. Perspex blocks were glued in place to support the attachment of these pipes. Two additional pipes left the manifold to provide eight jets of water into each compartment within the hopper to keep the food in suspension. The shaft was made from two lengths of 25.4 mm diameter solid uPVC bar. Each bar was bored out along its entire length using a 9.5 diameter long-series drill. A spigot-socket joint was machined for centralising the two halves which were then glued together. The complete shaft was then machined to fit within the shaft housing. The overall length of the shaft was 530 mm but 9.5-mm diameter spindles were inserted into each end to accommodate the toothed drive wheels. The spindles increased the overall length to 665 mm. Eight slots (12 x 2 mm) were cut through the diameter of the shaft at intervals to coincide with the slots in the hopper and shaft housing. One side of each slot was counterbored (13 x 2 x 2 mm deep) (Fig. 6). To reduce friction between the rotating shaft and the shaft housing, six recesses were machined in the shaft between all but the middle pair of slots. Three holes (4 mm diameter) were drilled through one side of the shaft orthogonally to the plane of the slots to link with the central bore. These three holes coincided once every revolution with the three water inlet pipes glued to the shaft housing. A location groove (5 2 mm deep) was machined around one end of the shaft. Aluminium-toothed wheels (22 mm diameter) were mounted on each end spindle. One wheel was allowed to float on its spindle by virtue of flats machined on the spindle and wheel to compensate for irregularities


,r,~.~. . 4 i




Fig. 6. Details of the shaft of the wet (mysid) feeder. Key as in captions to Figs 2 and 5; (r) flat machined on shaft spindle; (s) retaining bolt; (t) machined recess (one of six).

Food distribution equipment for juvenile lobsters


in the guide rails and tracks. A nylon bolt was threaded into the end of the spindle to prevent wheel loss. A levelling plate (80 80 mm uPVC) was attached to one end of the hopper and rode on top of the track to prevent tilting. The plate was attached by means of nylon bolts and spacing washers to an attachment plate (180 x 50 mm Perspex) glued onto the hopper end cap. The height of the levelling plate was adjustable by means of slotted holes through which the fixing bolts passed. A cutaway in the levelling plate allowed clearance for the protruding shaft spindle.

TRACKING The tracking served both types of feeder and was mounted along each side of the rearing troughs (Fig. 7). Each length of track was made by routing a channel (5 mm wide by 5 mm deep) along one edge of a piece of timber (300 x 50 x 25 mm). A 300-mm long strip of square mesh plastic netting (5 x 5 ram) was cut and stapled to the timber so that a continuous row of square meshes was aligned over the channel. Two lengths of 90 angle plastic strip were then stapled to the sides of the timber to cover up the cut edges of the mesh.


Fig. 7. The tracking attached to a rearing trough: (a) rearing trough; (b) routed channel in timber frame: ~c) cut strip of plastic mesh; (d) plastic edging strip.


J. F, Wickins, E. Jones, T. W. Beard and D. B. Edwards

OPERATION OF DRY (PELLET) FEEDER The hopper was filled almost to capacity with graded pellets, 1.5-2.0 mm nominal size. The shaft was rotated manually until the alignment of the indentations was such that the first delivery of pellets would occur in the first row of rearing compartments. The feeder was then placed at one end of the track and pushed steadily forward to the other end.

OPERATION OF WET (MYSID) F E E D E R Before filling the hopper the shaft was rotated manually until the slots in the base of the hopper were occluded (shaft slots horizontal) so that the next quarter revolution would align the counterbored ends of the shaft slots with those in the hopper base in order to receive the first charge of mysids. Approximately equal quantities of newly-thawed, washed mysid shrimp were then placed in each of the eight chambers formed by the baffles, thus filling the hopper to the half-way level. The machine was placed squarely at one end of the tracking and a low-pressure seawater hose (5 mm i.d.) connected to the water inlet manifold from a tap supplying the water table. As the water level in the hopper began to rise, jets into each chamber kept the mysids swirling in suspension. A screen prevented the loss of mysids through the overflow pipe(s). As soon as the hopper was almost full of water the machine was pushed steadily forward over the rearing compartments to the far end of the tracking and the water flow was turned off. At each revolution of the shaft mysids and water flowed into the counterbored ends of the shaft slots by gravity; as the shaft continued to rotate, the exit from the hopper was occluded preventing further ingress of mysids. Just before the slots became aligned with those at the bottom of the shaft housing, the three holes to the bore of the shaft lined up with the three water inlets attached to the shaft housing. This momentarily applied slight positive pressure into the bore of the shaft which assisted the deposition of mysids into the rearing compartments as soon as the slots coincided with those at the bottom of the shaft housing. At the same time the slight positive pressure in the bore also prevented entry of mysids into the opposite ends of the slots in the shaft, i.e. those which were not counterbored. As the rotation continued, the next charge of mysids entered the counterbored ends of the slots when they reached the bottom of the hopper and the cycle was repeated.

Food distribution equipment for juvenile lobsters


RESULTS To quantify the reliability of food delivery the feeders were operated over nine trays of 80 c o m p a r t m e n t s each and the n u m b e r of pellets or mysids in each c o m p a r t m e n t were counted. Fragments of food retained on the 1.5 m m mesh floor of the c o m p a r t m e n t s were counted as available food. T h e results from each tray receiving pellets were superi m p o s e d (Table 1) as were the results from those fed mysids (Table 2). T h e m e a n n u m b e r s of food particles for each c o m p a r t m e n t position in the trays were d e t e r m i n e d as were the distributions and n u m b e r s of compartments containing either no food or particles n u m b e r i n g m o r e or less than 1 S.D. from the overall mean.

The Mean Number and Standard Error of Food Particles Distributed by the Dry (Pellet) Feeder into Nine Trays of 80 Compartments 4.11 (0.20) 3.78 i0.43) 3.78 (0.55) 3-78 ~0.32) 3.44 (0.44) 3.44 (0.34~ 3.56 (0.29) 3.11 (0-31) 3-22 (0.40) 4.67 (0.50) 3.56 (0.77) 3.67 (0.60) 2-56 (0.41) 3.33 (0.47) 3.78 (0.32) 3.56 (041) 4.00 (0.44) 3-89 (0.65) 3.22 (0.55) 3.56 (0.38) 3.56 (0.38) 2.67 (0.50) 3.22 (0.49) 3.44 (0'50) 3-67 (0.60) 3-22 (0.62) 3.44 (0.63) 3.56 (0.77) 3.44 (0.56) 3"56 (0'58) 3.00 (0.41) 3.89 (0-54) 3.44 (0"38) 4.89 (1.10) 3.33 (0.76) 3.11 (0.26) 3.67 (0'58) 3.67 (0.62) 3.78 (0.40) 4.00 (0"62) 3.89 (0.42) 3.56 (0-34) 3.78 (0.40) 3.33 (0.60) 3.44 (0"60) 3.22 (0.49) 3'56 (0-44) 3.22 (0"64) 3-22 (0.60) 4.00 (0.29) 3.78 (0.55) 4.00 (0.41) 3"00 (0.17) 3.44 (0"56) 3.67 (0.41) 4.00 (0-41) 3,11 (0.54) 3"56 (0.69) 3.56 (0.69) 3-22 (0.64) 2.67 (0.44) 3.11 (0.35) 3.67 (0.29) 3"89 (0"11) 3-33 (0.65) 3"87 (0-43) 3.78 (0.40) 3.78 (0.46) 3-67 (0-53) 3.44 (0"29) 4.33 (0.82) 3.67 (0"41) 4.00 (0.60) 3.44 (0.47) 3"56 (0-34) 4.00 (0-67) 3.44 (0.56) 2.89 (0"39) 3.33 (0.44) 3.33 (0"29)

Pellet feeder

T h e m e a n n u m b e r of food particles retained on the mesh floor of the c o m p a r t m e n t s was 3.55 (S.E. = 0.06) and 91% of the c o m p a r t m e n t s contained between 2 and 6 particles. Only 17 c o m p a r t m e n t s contained m o r e than 6 particles (2.4%) and only 14 received no food at all (1.9%). T h e feeding rate achieved in o u r nursery unit was just u n d e r 6 min per 1000 lobsters. This time included all necessary peripheral operations such as loading the h o p p e r and moving it from one rearing table to the next.


J. [:. Wickins, E. Jones, T. W. Beard and D. B. Edwards

TABLE 2 The Mean Number and Standard Error of Mysids Distributed by the Wet (Mysid) Feeder into Nine Trays of 80 Compartments

7"78 (1"22) 6"67 (1'34) 5'22 (0"68) 4"56 (0"67) 7"11 (0"87) 4-00 (1.15) 6.22 (1.08) 6.33 (0.73)

5"78 (1"14) 8"33 (1"18) 7-33 (1"18) 5"89 (1"34) 5"33 (0"69) 5"11 (1.47) 6-44 (0.84) 5-33 (1.14)

7"11 (0"96) 7-89 (1"44) 5-89 (0"87) 5"78 (0-66) 4"33 (0"67) 5"22 (1.08) 6.11 (0.61) 4.44 (0.93)

7"56 (0"91) 6-56 (1"07) 6-89 (1"35) 4"33 (1"11) 7"33 (0"88) 5-67 (0.91) 6.44 (1.02) 4.67 (0.97)

6"89 (0"73) 6"11 (1"16) 6'44 (1'13) 6"44 (1"42) 5"67 (0"94) 5"44 (1.26) 5"89 (1.12) 4.89 (0.98)

5-00 (1"04) 7"11 (0"73) 6-67 (1"03) 6"44 (1"39) 6'11 (0"87) 5"33 (0.69) 6-44 (0-94) 4.78 (1.34)

5"67 (0"55) 7"22 (!"16) 7"22 (1"08) 5-56 (0"69) 6-22 (1"34) 4"89 (0.90) 6.78 (0.94) 4.56 (0.96)

7"67 (0"71) 6"67 (0'69) 6"78' (0"89) 4"78 (0'52) 7"00 (0"83) 5"89 (1.06) 5.67 (0.69) 4.67 (0.85)

5"89 (0"81) 7-78 (1-05) 7"78 (0"78) 5"67 (1'03) 5'33 (0'88) 5"22 (1-53) 7.78 (1.18) 5.11 (1-17)

6"89 (0'39) 8'00 (1"03) 6"89 (0"72) 5"78 (1'04) 6"56 (0'78) 6"00 (1.29) 6.44 (1.43) 3.56 (1.00)

Mysid feeder

The mean number of mysids delivered was slightly greater than that for pellets and was 6"09 (S.E. -- 0.11) per compartment. Seventy-three per cent contained between 3 and 9 mysids and only 15 compartments were empty (2.1%) while 102 compartments contained more than nine pieces of food (14,2%). T h e feeding rate was just under 17 min per 1000 lobsters. This time included all operations except thawing and washing the mysids. Both feeders showed similar variability in the numbers of food particles which they distributed to each compartment. The coefficients of variation were 0.40 for the pellet feeder and 0.49 for the mysid feeder. Application of the one-sample runs test (see Siegel, 1956) indicated that the distribution of empty compartments in each trial was random ( P ~<0.62). CONCLUSIONS The two feeding machines fulfilled their primary function well in permitting substantial savings in the time spent by staff feeding large numbers of individually-housed juvenile lobsters. Feeding took a little longer

Food distribution equipmentfor juvenile lobsters


with the wet (mysid) feeder because the hopper capacity was small and refilling was necessary after every 320 lobsters (the number of individuals in one rearing trough). A larger capacity hopper would have required stronger tracking and greater headroom between the stacks of troughs in our system. The evenness of the distribution of food particles among the rearing compartments by both machines was good although the mysid feeder was slightly more variable than the pellet feeder. Only a small number of compartments did not receive food and the apparently random distribution of the empty compartments meant that it was unlikely that the same lobsters would go without food twice in succession. The distance between the four trays in each of our water troughs was variable and there was therefore a chance that alignment of the slots centrally within the rows of rearing compartments would not always occur in the second, third or fourth trays. In practice, as the results indicated, it was rare for any row to be missed completely.

REFERENCES Beard, T. W., Richards, E R. & Wickins, J. E (1985). The techniques and practicability of year-round production of lobsters, Homarus gammarus (L), in laboratory recirculation systems. Fish Res. Tech. Rep., MAFF Direct. Fish. Res., Lowestoft, (79), 1-22. Chapman, E (1983). Correspondence concerning Saunders Associates Inc. Aquaculture Digest, 8 (8), 12-13. Conklin, D. E., Bordner, C. E., Garrett, R. E. & Coffelt, R. J. (1981 ). Improved facilities for experimental culture of lobsters. J. Wld Maricult. Soc., 12 (1), 59-63. Conklin, D. E., D'Abramo, L. R. & Norman-Bondreau, K. (1983). Lobster nutrition. In: Handbook of Mariculture, 1. Crustacean Aquaculture, ed. J. E McVey, CRC Press Inc., Boca Raton, Florida, pp. 413-23. Malecha, S. R., Masono, S. & Onizaka, D. (1984). The feasibility of measuring the heritability of growth pattern variation in juvenile freshwater prawns, Macrobrachium rosenbergii (de Man). Aquaculture, 38, 347-63. Mickelsen, R. W., Infranger, R. C. & Heckmann, R. A. (1978). Culturing the American lobster (Homarus americanus) using a vertically stacked cage system. Proc. 9th Ann. Meet. Wld Maricult. Soc., Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 3-6 January, pp. 723-30. Richards, E R. & Wickins, J. E (1979). Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Lobster Culture Research. Lab. Leafl., MAFF Direct. Fish. Res., Lowestoft, (47), 1-33. Siegel, S. (1956). Nonparametric Statistics for the Behavioural Sciences, McGraw-Hill, Kogakusha Ltd., Tokyo, 312 pp.


J.F. Wickins, E. Jones, T. W. Beard and D. B. Edwards

T.V.A. (1978). Wasteheat utilization for agriculture and aquaculture, Tennessee Valley Authority and Electric Power Research Institute, Tech. Rep., B-12, 1-405. Van Olst, J. C., Carlberg, J. M. & Ford, R. E (1977). A description of intensive culture systems for the American lobster (Homarus americanus) and other cannibalistic crustaceans. Proc. 8th Ann. Wkshop Wld Maricult. Soc., San Jos6, Costa Rica, 9-13 January, pp. 271-92. Wickins, J. K (1983). On the track of profits from lobsters. Fish Farmer, 6 (1), 20-1.