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Snail Cultivation (Heliciculture)

Even today, snail cultivation has got a very real economic significance. In France alone, 40,000 tonnes of snails are eaten per year. A large part of those are, even today, snails picked in nature and imported from Eastern Europe and Turkey.

French snail cultivation methods usually aim at fattening the snails by keeping large numbers of them in small spaces, greenhouses and pens, and feeding them with artificial food mixes. In France, usually the Escargot Petit Gris (Cornu aspersum) is cultivated, because it appears to be practically impossible to cultivate Helix pomatia, according to French sources.

As so often is the case, the statement, an economically feasible cultivation of Helix pomatia was not possible, is not entirely accurate. Helix pomatia cultivation exceeding simple fattening of snails mainly in Southern Germany has got a old history going back into the Middle Ages.

France still remains the main producer of snails. But even the French have to import snails to meet the demands of their market.

Snail Cultivation Close to Nature

The tale of successful snail marketing has spread also into other countries. Snail raising being a French national discipline, the art of snail cultivation or héliciculture is a young one in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Basically there are several possibilities to keep snails at a larger scale. But the Snail Cultivation Close to Nature method aims at quality rather than merely quantity, keeping snails in an environment close to nature.

Application of herbicides and artificial fertilisers is generally done without, instead legumes are used for a natural nitrogen fertilising, green manuring instead of artificial fertilisers, green food finally is fed instead of artificial food mixes.

Cultivation in Fenced Pens

The snails are basically kept in pens bordered by fences, in which green food plants are grown before putting in the snails. A metal wall dug deeply into the soil around the farm keeps other snail predators, such as mice, shrews and other four-footed snail hunters, out. Besides, a specially manufactured network fence keeps the snails in. There are, though, many other steps of works to be done, before one snail can be settled into the new enclosure.

A special limiting factor is self-inflicted regulation among snails preventing overpopulation. Only maximally 20 snails can be kept on one square metre. A snail's slime contains a chemical agent limiting fertility. So the number of snails able to be kept in one enclosure, in the long run, is limited, which means that from the beginning there must be several enclosures to raise the young snails.

The natural prerequisite for keeping snails in enclosures is an alkaline type of soil with a sufficient content of calcium carbonate. A snail farm can be assumed feasible with certainty where snails occur naturally.

A sufficient amount of vegetation in the enclosure not only provides food, but also hiding places for the snails. Food plants, such as clover, chicory, turnip rape, spinach beet and wild cabbage can be used. Only fresh green food is not sufficient. In regular periods the snails must also additionally be provided with limp plant food.

Processing Snails

While a part of the snails is moved into a new enclosure to prevent overpopulation, another part is selected to be processed now.

Usually snails are sold conserved in different ways: In tins in a sauce, or frozen. Transporting live snails is a bit complicated, as the route of transport must remain short, and special transport containers are necessary, otherwise the snails will escape, in which they are specialists.

Mainly two types of Roman snails are marketed: On one hand the crawling snails collected in early summer after laying their eggs, and the fat lid snails, that are collected after the start of hibernation, when they have the largest weight and are richest in content.

Château Snail Farm near Murten

Fenced Pen with Cross Way

Roman Snails in Fenced Pens

Roman Snails conserved in a Tin


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