How to feed your discus (or other fishes as well)

Discussion in 'Discus' started by Dirk B, Mar 18, 2009.

  1. Dirk B
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    Dirk B Aquascaper

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    Hi all you avid discus fans!

    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 and contain a smaller amount of carbohydrates and fats. 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. Most 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.

    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 recommends 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 are however rarely available in SA.

    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 favourites later. The rule in discus feeding is, the greater the variety, the better.

    Happy discus feeding!

    Dirk
     
  2. Neville
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    Neville Green fingers

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    Hi Dirk

    Wow...! Thanks for that. Lots of info there! A few questions I have...

    1. Seems like the average 9-5 working person then can never own discus unless he/she buys adult fish?
    2. Until when does one feed "smaller" discus every 1-2 hours? When are they no longer "smaller" and can do with twice daily feeding like yours?
    3. So feeding even adult fish once a day is too little? I used to feed twice daily but reduced feeding a while ago (2 yrs maybe) when battling with high nitrates. Don't really want to go back to that situation again.
    4. Raising young discus in a community tank then might not be so practical as even if I was able to feed every 1-2 hours, the other fish would also be competing for the food? And they all would poop more and there will be more wasted food and I'm having high nitrate flashbacks again....
    5. What about dried live foods? I bought a small packet ages ago of dried (freeze dried perhaps?) shrimps. Yellow-orange in colour. Thought that at the time it would be a good protein add for my big clown loaches but they didn't eat it. Nothing else really ate it either. Will the discus eat it?
    6. Are bloodworms really mosquito larvae? It just looks like little red tubes to me. Where are the big round heads and tails one can usually see on mosquito larvae?
    7. Never seen bloodworms sold in bars in any of the CPT LFS? Only seen the blister packs here..?

    Sorry for all the questions, but you did say there would be a steep learning curve... :)

    Thanks in advance
     
  3. Dirk B
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    Dirk B Aquascaper

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    Hi Neville,

    Will reply briefly or else I will be doing nothing else than forums today:

    1. You need to have a second person to feed your fish or use an automatic feeder if you have really small fishes.
    2. You can feed your fish less frequently when they get larger, but the longer the intervals the less they eat.....
    3. Adult discus need to be fed at least three times per day, absolute minimum or else they go into reverse. Nitrates do accumulate no doubt and then you must do more water changes or use anaerobic filtration to reduce nitrates.
    4. Raising young discus in a community tank with other fishes is not practical in my opinion. Waste is the biggest problem in discuskeeping and it is for this reason that I have stopped keeping them is planted tank or in tank in which you have gravel. I use bare bottomed tanks which allows me to syphon off the literally masses of waste they produce on a daily basis.
    5. Dried live foods have reduced feeding value because oxidation damages the sensitive amino acid components of the food.
    6. Bloodworms are chironimid larvae which are not true mosquito larvae but in terms of nutritive value, see my comments.
    7. I sell BW in bars.

    For reasons 3 and 4 I do not even try to keep discus in a planted or community tank any longer. The constant water changes required place other strains on plants etc and it becomes such a management problem, that I gave up a long time ago. If you keep discus on a bare bottomed tank you can "overfeed" to some extent in that you can feed so much that some food remains on the bottom of the tank, but the fish will eat it within a few hours and then effectively this means they are feeding over a longer period of time. I do this every morning before going to work and then I feed my discus at least two more times in the evenings.

    Kind regards,

    Dirk
     
  4. Neville
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    Neville Green fingers

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    Thanks a lot Dirk. Much appreciated.

    I've got some thinking and decision making to go and do...

    Cheers
    Neville
     
  5. manteroo
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    manteroo Algae harvester

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    Neville

    I bought some excellent quality blood worm as well as white mosquito larvae in chocolate block form from the Prof.

    I don't know where you are located but I recall also having purchased block style blood worms from Panorama Pets near Parow in Cape Town.

    Good luck !
     
  6. Neville
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    Neville Green fingers

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    Thanks!

    I do pop in at Panorama from time to time and will see what they have next time I'm there.
     
  7. Fanie Jordaan
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    Fanie Jordaan Noob

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    Prof Dirk,

    The above information on the nutritional needs of discus is of exceptional value and reflective of your many years of experience in the care and breeding of tropical aquarium fish which information you so generously share to the benefit of all.
    I would however like to petition that you consider a similar article on the nutritional needs of discus fry through their various stages of development to juveniles and eventually adult specimens.
    While I have had a number of successful spawns which developed into juveniles, our recent correspondence LED me to suspect that dry food were possibly introduced to late in the development of the fry which could have resulted in sub-optimal development.

    Your favourable consideration of my request would therefore be appreciated exceedingly.
     
  8. Sashimi
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    Sashimi Noob

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    Hi Prof,

    How can a regular 7 to 6'r set a realistic feeding regime during a 12 hour light cycle for 9-10cm sized Discus when the timers are set to only switch on at 10am to allow for some enjoyment until 10pm when returning from office at 6pm? This only allows for 3 feedings in the evening at 6, 7:30 and 9.

    Would you suggest feeding in a dark tank at 6:15am before leaving for office if I'd like to fit in a 4th feeding or would you split the light period into two ie. 6am - 12am and again from 4pm - 10pm which would allow for 4 feedings with the lights on? I'm however concerned that the latter option could have a negative impact on the Discus and more so on a planted aquarium's photosynthesis requirements.

    Your advice will be appreciated.

    Regards
    Peet
     
  9. Dirk B
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    Dirk B Aquascaper

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    Hi Peet,

    I do not understand what you are writing here? What is a "regular 7 to 6'r set"? And what is this about allowing only three feedings?

    Feeding discus in the dark is a disaster, they don't eat in the dark.

    I don't quite understand all this, I must say.

    Kind regards,

    Dirk
     
  10. Sashimi
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    Sashimi Noob

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    Hi Prof,

    Long gone are the days that people worked from 9 - 5, hence the 7 - 6'r.

    My lights come on 10am but I only come home at 6pm leaving my enough time to only feed 3 times 1.5 hours apart before the lights go off. I'd like to feed 4 times though. You mentioned somewhere that you feed very early in the morning. How can I do the same without streching the light period beyond the general 12 hour rule and if possible without adverse effect on fish and plant?

    I hope this makes more sense.
     
  11. Dirk B
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    Dirk B Aquascaper

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    Hi Peet,

    Please start your question in a separate thread, what you are asking here is a separate issue as this thread is about discus feeding and not trying to combine it with a planted tank.

    Kind regards,

    Dirk
     
  12. Mastermamo
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    Mastermamo Algae harvester

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    Thanks for the really educational info. This was much appreciated

    I have 6 semi-adult discus in a 350L gravel tank with a few small catfish species and clown pouches, cardinals etc.
    This is my feeding regimen

    I create a mixture of turkey heart, bloodworm, Tetra color enhancing flakes, discus pellets and a touch of garlic guard which I then freeze into cubes for later feeding. I feed them twice a day with these and it took these shy fish just a week to start eating from my hand. While they are feeding I also sprinkle a handful of pellets into the tank and the discus, being obsessed with devouring the cubes on the surface ignore these. However, discus love bottom feeding and after a bit they will go looking for the pellets which, with the current created by the under-gravel filtration, spreads the pellets around and keeps the fish very active. I have never had any excess food left over due to the catfish's amazing cleanup habits and the tank needs a weekly 20-30% WC only.
    I do a 50% once a month using water that has aged and has been treated for a week prior.
    All this was a tough leaning curve as my first experience with these beautiful fish was tragic due to buying fish from an unscrupulous dealer who had an entire stock of Hex infected fish. I lost a few gorgeous blue diamonds and white butterflies in the process.

    Once again thank you for your wonderful feeding advice and I am glad I could share mine

    M
     
  13. Francois Marais
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    Francois Marais Noob

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    Some valuable information here.
    Thanks for the writeup sir.
     

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