How to feed discus and many other tropical fish as well

Discussion in 'Feeding and Nutrition' started by Dirk, May 9, 2009.

  1. Dirk

    Dirk Dwarf Catfish

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    Hi all the discus fans and those of you wanting to learn a little more about how to feed your fishes.

    A number of years ago, I wrote an article in the magazine "SA Fishkeeping" which sadly is now longer being published. As I get many enquiries about what discus should be fed and what fish in general should be fed, I have updated this article as shown below.

    So what should a discus diet include? Discus must be kept at a high temperature (29-30 degrees C) and as a result have a very high metabolic rate. They therefore need a high quality diet and when they are young need to be fed up to ten times per day to supply their daily requirement of nutrients. A balanced discus diet should be high in proteins, contain a certain amount of fats and a smaller amount of carbohydrates. Also, minerals and vitamins in balanced amounts and a certain amount of roughage are required.

    To achieve this I recommend that one should divide the diet into three parts consisting of one third dried foods, one third beef heart mixtures and one third frozen or live mosquito larvae and adult brine shrimps. The choice of dried food should be made very carefully. The amino acids components of the proteins in dried foods are damaged by the oxygen in the air. Many dried foods sold in South Africa are transported here by ship and are kept in storage for a long time and as a result have a reduced nutritive value due to oxidation damage. Fresh flakes and granulate type (bits type) foods should be fed daily. Furthermore, normal flakes and additionally flakes supplemented with spirulina algae powder should be fed as spirulina algae contains protein components that are not present in other foods. The relative amounts of these dried foods that should be fed are about one quarter granulate type foods, one quarter spirulina algae flakes and the rest should be made up by a high quality normal flake food. An important aspect of feeding granulates is to check on the food composition of granulates. In most commercially available granulates, the protein percentage is relatively high but the fat percentage is low because fats can get rancid, and for this reason the granulates are purposely prepared with a low fat percentage. However, in recent years it has been discovered that an increased fat percentage in granulates can have massive benefits for the fish. Not only can the protein percentages be pushed up even higher, but the fat in the granulates give the food a higher energy value which is very important when keeping discus which at high temperatures have a high metabolic rate. Granulates are now being produced in Germany that contain 11% fat and 60% protein and these granulates give much better growth rates and are excellent for conditioning breeders and raising youngsters.

    A lot has been written about beefheart mixtures that should comprise the second third of the diet. Every discus book or internet page manages to produce its own secrete formula and tells you that it is eagerly taken by the fish and that as a result you must assume that it must be good for your discus. If one asks children what they would prefer to eat they would normally say that they would like to eat sweets all day. We know of course that this is not a complete diet so it is my opinion that if fish take a certain food it does not necessarily mean that that food is highly nutritious. It is for this reason that I no longer prepare my own beefheart mixtures any more. I feed scientifically formulated beefheart mixtures with balanced amounts of vitamins, minerals and spirulina algae powder that have been formulated by nutritionists and veterinary surgeons who have specialized in discus. Another problem is that I have it on authority that the use of anabolic steroids in South African beef is not what it should be. Beef cattle that have been fed with anabolic steroids also deposit these steroids in the heart muscle with the result that discus that are fed with our local beefheart are also exposed to steroids. This normally does not influence growth, but certainly does influence the fertility of male discus. Very often discus eat their eggs repeatedly and the reason for this is in actual fact that the males are sterile due to steroid additives in the beefheart that they have been fed. Once again this is not only my opinion as Dr Schmidt-Focke, the world-renowned discus specialist, has also referred to this is his book on discus. In Europe, the controls over the use of anabolic steroids in cattle feeding have tightened up considerably in recent years and it is for this reason that I only feed European beef heart mixtures.

    Finally, the last third of the diet should be made up of frozen or fresh mosquito larvae and frozen brine shrimps. If you can obtain them, fresh mosquito larvae are excellent but beware of parasites that can be introduced in this way. Also, the source of mosquito larvae is critical and the local sewage works, where live food is often collected, will only cause problems in discus feeding and should be avoided at all costs. The mosquito larvae I refer to here include black and white mosquito larvae and also red mosquito larvae which are normally called bloodworm in South Africa. All of these are available in frozen form. Parasites are all killed in the process of freezing these larvae, but the source of bloodworm is still critical. Many of the frozen bloodworms sold locally come from the East where they have been fed on pig manure. These bloodworms contain masses of bacteria that are not killed by the freezing process often causing internal problems to discus. Black and white mosquito larvae and bloodworm originating from Europe are carefully selected to come from sources that have not been contaminated and are the most suitable for discus feeding. It is also important to note that bloodworm, which is often fed in large amounts, in actual fact contains a limited amount of nutrients. It can, however, be an important source of roughage as the carapace of the bloodworm and other mosquito larvae is not digested and passes through the alimentary canal. Dr Schmidt-Focke recommended that bloodworm should not be fed more than twice per week, which I also agree with. Black and white mosquito larvae are more nutritious, but also more expensive, so I also feed them only twice per week. A critical factor in discus feeding is the use of frozen brine shrimps. These have excellent protein quality and many of the components present in brine shrimps are present in no other foods. I feed my discus with frozen brine shrimps at least three times a week. Frozen foods with similar protein quality are krill and mysis which I also feed tp adults at least once a week.

    A word of warning must be given about blister packed frozen foods. In order to package frozen food in blister packs it must be thawed and loses a considerable amount of its nutritive value. I would only recommend that full 100 g bars of frozen foods be obtained. All frozen foods can be fed by adding the frozen chunks directly in the aquarium and need not be thawed before hand, as a matter of fact, a lot of the nutritive value of frozen foods can leach out into the surrounding water if the food is first thawed. It is often reputed that the cold food can be dangerous to the fish, but it heats up so rapidly in the tank that this is not a problem. In addition, chopped earthworms can also be fed instead of mosquito larvae, but beware, if they come from compost heaps that contain large amounts of vegetable waste (often loaded with pesticides) or manure these can also introduce harmful bacteria. Finally, tubifex worms should be avoided at all costs as tubifex will only grow in sewage or heavy waste drainage systems thereby invariably introducing harmful parasites and bacteria.

    The above gives an idea of the variety and the composition of the diet as a whole but not about the daily feeding regimen. We all busy lives today so my approach is to feed my adult discus with a generous portion of dried food in the morning before going to work and giving them one or more feedings of frozen foods in the evening. Smaller discus should be fed every 1-2 hours and it is literally a case of the more they are fed and the better the quality, the larger they will eventually grow out. Also, never feed discus with just one food even if initially after purchasing them, they only want to eat one food. Force them to get used to other foods by feeding them with something new in the morning when they are hungry and only give them their favorites later. The rule in discus feeding is, the greater the variety, the better and this applies just about to any other tropical fish as well.

    Kind regards,

    Dirk
     
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  3. rogerrabbit

    rogerrabbit

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    Hi Prof

    Thanx a lot, I was actually going through your original article last week.

    I will post some questions in about 2 weeks time
    Regards
    Christo
     
  4. veegal

    veegal

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    Thanks Dirk for the extremely informative article....
     
  5. Wingman001

    Wingman001 any one say fish?

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    good article!
     
  6. Zafgak

    Zafgak Old fart

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    Thanks Dirk - most informative
     
  7. Philfarm

    Philfarm

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    Yeah thanks Prof,

    Just a quick question, you mentioned that tubifex can be harmfull, would this also apply to the freeze dried blocks?

    Also whats your opinion on "white worms"? Abraham told me you also just got some, how often would you recommend feeding them to the fish, the reason i ask is because i already feed a very high protein diet (omegaone shrimp pellets/super color flakes, frozen bloodworms, the freeze tubifex and some other live foods)
    I have read that some fish can develope health problems from over feeding so i try keep the diet as varied and as constant as i can, but do you have any advice on adding this new food source for the fish?

    Thanks,
    phil...
     
  8. OP
    Dirk

    Dirk Dwarf Catfish

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    Hi Everyone,

    Your thanks are appreciated.

    Phil, re the tubifex: They live in mud or sludge which formed when water with a heavy biological load, in other words, high in particularly nitrates (such as treated sewerage water) will cause bacteria to multiply in large numbers. Tubifex worms then eat this slush in order to get at any nutritious particles including the bacteria. When they are harvested, their guts are therefore full of this muck/mud and they are first kept in buckets where they are extensively flushed with fresh water. The worms actually empty their guts and in this way at least the mud and main muck is removed. However, this does not remove the bacteria and traces of them remain on the worms. Even although the freeze drying does kills off many bacteria, some of the bacteria can survive. For tougher fish this may be OK, but not for discus, the consensus of opinion is to stay away from tubifex completely for feeding discus, even if they are freeze dried. So for tougher fishes they may be OK, but for more sensitive fishes I would be careful (including dwarf cichlids for example).

    The diet you mention sounds very good and varied, but you should always consider feeding some frozen brine shrimps as these contain essential amino acids that no other foods contain. Even if the brine shrimps are dried or included in brine pellets, these amino acids suffer oxidation damage and are no longer there. Also, remember that bloodworms in actual fact are not so high in protein, but rather in roughage.

    White worms are an excellent source of protein, but they are low on roughage and they are high in fats. If you feed too many of them, then the fishes can get constipation because they digest and absorb just about the whole worm and under these conditions, fishes can easily develop dropsy and internal bacterial problems. If they are fed in combination with other foods they are however an excellent food for conditioning and are often used in discus feeding as well. So, yes, they are an excellent food, but do not feed these only and also do not overfeed during a single feeding.

    Kind regards,

    Dirk
     
    zaid.moosajee likes this.
  9. sailing_derrick

    sailing_derrick

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    Wow awesome write up prof....
     
  10. Philfarm

    Philfarm

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    Thanks prof,

    Do you have any frozen brine shrimp left? also what is the best regime for feeding the fish, what I usually do is feed pellets and flake in the morning and then something interesting at night followed by some high quality frozen blood worms just before the lights go off,
    would it be best to feed the fish a little of everything everyday or to feed one type of food per day in a constant cycle?

    Also I forgot to mention I also occasionally feed those spirulina tablets from tetra is it worth continuing with this? The cost doesnt seem to justify it or does it?

    thanks again for the advice...
     
  11. mermama

    mermama

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    Hi Professor, I am a newbie on this site. I have just one question: Why can one not substitute beef heart with minced fresh fish or prawns? Since fish are cold-blooded and tolerate fats with a low melting point better, is this not a better choice?
     
  12. Psy

    Psy

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    Professor, reading some literature and listening to Marc Weiss, he's stating rather use liver in place of ox heart, as well as molluscs (clams) and sea fish (tuna,mackerel) in his food mixture.

    Beef heart he says can cause deformities in fry's growth!

    What is your opinion on his statements and his food recipes for the Discus.


    Exclusive interview with Discus fish legend Marc Weiss - YouTube
     
  13. Marco

    Marco Retired Moderator

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    Hi @Psy

    Prof Dirk does not take part in discussions here on Tasa anymore.

    As far as the beefheart I can say the following-
    Prof Dirk and I had a discussion abt feeding beefheart a while back after he came back from a visit to Germany. On this visit he met with Dieter Untergasser who told him that he had done research on beefheart feeding and discovered that it can cause problems with stomach and intestinal flora in Discus.
    In Germany they have already found a solution to this by adding Beta glucan to the foods to aid in stabilising this bacterial issue.
    The foods that Dirk import from Germany has been enriched accordingly.

    As far as deformities in fry go? Andrew Soh also talks of "deformities" from constant overfeeding of beefheart. Its not really a deformity that he speaks of though but rather obesity, a double chin look which makes the fish look slightly egg shaped.

    Its strange however that its a "deformity" as the recent Grand Champion at Aquarama has that exact look....so much for deformity

    I enjoy reading Marc Weiss's publications on his "Discus study group". He has great knowledge especially about the history of Discus etc. He has his detractors though and some of his comments are not based on science, but opinion. Im always careful to read too much into opinions unless it has substantial evidence.

    I highly doubt that feeding beefheart will result in deformities beyound the possible obesity. I do however agree that there are better foods to feed than beefheart. I now prefer fish based foods as you mention but I do still feed Eland heart whenever Im lucky enough to get one.

    Rgds

    Marco
     
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  14. Psy

    Psy

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    Marco
    Thanks for the speedy reply.
    I too thought of going the wild game route. Definitely worth pursuing.

    Yes, Marc is probably quite opinionated, however it is good to take the good with the bad and make some deductions.

    I also gather that the Prof has his own food formulae from Germany, as well as fertilisers etc.

    What is the procedure to obtain such like?
     
  15. Reedfish

    Reedfish Moderator

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    @Marco,
    Interesting you mention that beefheart causes problems with stomach and intestinal flora.

    I used to feed beefheart twice a day and freeze dried blackworm once a day.
    Stendkers beefheart mix was available in the UK. But for some reason, they stopped sending it to my supplier. He then switched to a locally made product, which I then obviously had to use.
    This was at the same time when I had the filter disaster and ended up giving up my Discus as some of my fish more or less constantly had flagellate issues.
    I always blamed it on the fact that I had to fill my tank in a hurry, and used cold (treated) tap water.
    But I guess the possibility does exist that it was due to the change in food.
    I mentioned this to my supplier (who works closely with Stendker) and he doesn't think so.

    But could it be?
     
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  16. Marco

    Marco Retired Moderator

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    Hi @Psy
    I see you hail from the lovely Wilderness area. Beautiful place! I think you should probably get in touch with Dirk as he will need to send the foods to you directly. I will pm you about that.
    @Reedfish - I would be merely speculating, but knowing well what you went through with the fish Id guess its a combination if things, with the food and the cold water attributing to the same issue. BUT - I still maintain that most if not all of these issues can be resolved by the breeder-as long as he wants to solve the issues properly. I am NOT a fan of Stendker Discus - I am of the opinion that they are overrated and quite problematic. But it is just my opinion.

    Often after a flagellate issue an intestinal bacterial imbalance continue to upset the discus. The symptoms are similar to flagellates and mostly we treat it again with Metronidazole, doing further damage.
    The issue gets out of hand and most often the fish ends up being chronically ill. Most often they melt away and end up dead.
    I have tried using probiflora on the fish as soon as it starts eating- with mixed results.

    I have however not had any issues with flagellates in more than a year so I havent tried other remedies.
    I have however noticed that once a fish is problematic, it stays that way forever. Its very seldom that you get them back to 100% health.
    This to me points at something going wrong either in the specific specimen, its genetic make-up or possibly his entire batch of siblings also. If its only the 1 its merely a weaker fish (runt), but if genetic then breeding from.his parents should be stopped. If batches are raised poorly with incorrect hudbandry then you end up with a fish basically damaged by the breeder and for that you wont find a solution, it will probably give you problems as long as its alive. Sad but I find it better to just cull those fish and save yourself the trouble

    Rgds

    Marco
     
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  17. Reedfish

    Reedfish Moderator

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    @Marco,

    Stendker feed their fish exclusively on their beef heart mix, and from what I understand, their fish do well on it.
    Mine were more or less ok (aside from a few hiccups) on the mix that they had grown up with.
    So the only 2 possibilities for my problems is the sudden drop in water temp - must have been 6 hours until the water temp was back up to the 30*C that I kept them at.
    Or a change in the food.

    A bit off topic.
    But my main gripe with Stendker is the fact that they stick to the same boring, old fashioned colour forms.
    The Asian breeders are churning out new and exciting colours all the time.
    But Stendker breed hundreds of thousands of fish a year which they sell in Europe and the USA. So they must be doing something right?
     
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  18. Jwh

    Jwh

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    Just as a matter of interest, the feed recommendation for most carnivorous fish is to avoid red meat, as fish would typically not eat red meat, hence their digestive systems do not cope with this. In almost all cases, white fish (tilapia), crustaceans (shrimp) or molluscs are recommended, why would discus be different?
     
  19. Reedfish

    Reedfish Moderator

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    That's why there is controversy

    Some people say it is fine to feed Discus beefheart.
    It does give a fantastic growth rate.

    But. Most fish are not designed to eat mammal meat.
    Apparently their metabolism does not digest it properly.
    So if one does feed b h to Discus, what damage is being caused to the internal organs etc?

    The debate rages on.
     
  20. Jwh

    Jwh

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    it will possibly cause issues such as fat buildup in liver, around heart, probably kidney damage etc. other than gaining rapid growth in the short term, it will possibly shorten the lifespan, don't keep discus, not an expert, but interesting conversation
     
  21. Marco

    Marco Retired Moderator

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    Hi @Reedfish-
    The drop in temperature might very well have been the last straw. However - 3 weeks back I went without electricity for 27hrs. I do have a backup generator but simply couldnt run it on all the tanks for the full 27hrs. By the time the electricity problem was solved the temperature in my tanks had dropped drastically. The main Discus tank was at 22°C. Its been 3 weeks and I dont have any issues.
    This leads me to believe that there was an underlying issue with your fish just waiting for a slight weakness so it could take hold.

    Baby discus dont eat Freshly hatched brine shrimp in the wild. Fish also dont eat Flakes. Nor will any discus ever eat Tilapia in the wild. They will also not eat adult brine shrimp. Yet we accept it to be ok to feed it cause it makes more sense.
    I accept beefheart can cause floral imbalance and obesity, but in nature a fish would just about eat whatever it gets.
    Whatever dies in the water becomes fish food.
    Wither it be dead fish, a dead Anaconda, monkeys, jaguar or whatever happens to fall into the amazon river, no fish is gonna go...."oooh that is mammal protein....we shouldnt eat it." I tend to think we complicate matters a bit.
    We can feed much more natural by feeding fruit, veg, chopped fish etc-but I highly doubt any Discus has succumbed to beefheart poisoning.

    I think one must rather avoid feeding too much cheap beefheart mixes.
    But if its a proper blend and its part of a balanced diet, why not?

    Ironically Stendker claim to only feed their heart mix, Danziger Discus only fed Tetra Prima, and according to A. Soh he relied heavily on spirulina raised brine shrimp.
    3 very varied diets and all 3 these breeders were pretty succesful....

    Rgds

    Marco
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 2, 2016

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