Fish Farm Activities

By | September 23, 2022

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Fish Farm Activities

A typical fish farm in a rural area (such as ours in Binmaley, Pangasinan in northern Philippines) operates like a small business. It involves operations and maintenance work to run it. In addition, a family lives in the farm house, so housework cannot be ignored and is part of total work load.

In my view, activities in our farm are of four types.

Types of Farm Activities

a. Operati

ons related – those performed during the normal cropping cycle for the bangus, tilapia, white prawns (around May before rainy season to early April). Includes:

· pond preparation
· water management (access canal work, water gate work, entry of brackish water to ponds)
· purchases of fry, feeds, fertilizers, chemicals, supplies
· pond monitoring
· feeding

Daily feeding of fish at our “Middle” Pond

Dispensing trigo (wheat) feeds at our “East” Pond; see our bamboo farm hut (background)

· cull or partial harvesting (through seine net, gill net, various traps)
· selling
· pond draining and final harvesting

b. Maintenance and support related – continuing activities performed to keep the farm property in good shape. Includes

· dike maintenance (cutting of weeds and shrubs – on top, along sides; minor repair of dike to restore eroded parts)

Minor repair of dike to restore eroded portion; see layers of jute sacks filled with dug-up pond soil


· cutting, removal of rooted pond weeds,
· farm equipment repair and maintenance (water pumps, grass cutter, small chain saw, etc)
· repair of farm structures (farm house, pond hut, storage house, plumbing, farm lighting, etc.)
· termite/coconut/mango tree pest control
· fish pond gear repair (resewing of sorting net, scoop net, gill net, prawn trap net)
· purchase of parts and supplies
· vehicle maintenance
· administrative work, such as record-keeping, cash disbursements, filing, simple bookkeeping, cash and inventory controls
· storage house (bodega) cleaning, storekeeping

c. Farmhouse chores – routine activities such as:

· housekeeping (cooking, washing of clothes, dish washing, house cleaning)
· baby-sitting, feeding of infant
· firewood gathering and piling/cutting/stacking of cut firewood
· plant/trees maintenance (watering, trimming, repotting, propagation, planting)
· yard maintenance (sweeping, garbage disposal)
· care and feeding of dogs, walking of Labrador pet 3 times a day
· shopping for foodstuff items/supplies at store, town mall, wet market; picking fruits, veggies or rootcrops, around farm


· driving of tricycle to buy food items, parts, supplies for the farm


Note: Activities in italic bold letters are done at least once a day. House chores are all must-do activities day in, day out.

Operations-related activities in (a) above are discussed in previous blog posts of Fish Pond Buddy.

(d) Livestock care and maintenance this refers to the feeding and care of native chickens, pasturing of goats, and feeding and care of pigs and cleaning of pig house. These are discussed in more detail in other blog posts.

Farm House Staff

As background, workforce in our 2.2 hectare fish farm consists of a 46year old farm overseer with her adult son (a college senior), a 10 year old daughter, plus a 61year old assistant caretaker and his adult daughter with an infant. The assistant caretaker works everyday in the farm during daytime and goes home to his family in the next village. All others stay in the farm house.

Work Assignment

All farm activities are supervised and monitored by the farm overseer, which I consider a key position of trust. Most of the work is done by my trusty, hardworking overseer herself.

For operations – related work, the overseer supervises all activities of the hired workers, with her son and the assistant caretaker helping out. The hired workers have a team leader from among themselves.

We hire additional workers only during harvesting, pond draining, selling of harvested stock, etc. where more manpower is normally needed.

However, during harvesting, all other household members get on board to do support tasks (such as cooking, serving food, running errands, acting as watchers, cleaning, etc.)

For maintenance-related work, almost all are handled exclusively by the overseer and assistant caretaker. The overseer takes care of clearing the top of dikes of weeds, shrubs and trees like ipil-ipil.

My overseer cutting weeds from top of dike using short sickle knife (“karet“) (held by left hand) and a longer scythe (“tabas“)(wielded by the right hand)

The assistant caretaker goes down the pond and clear the weeds at the lower part of the dike and rooted plants in the ponds. They pile up weeds on top of dike, dry them, later burn them or make them into compost.

My assistant caretaker cutting grass at lower side of dike (see sickle knife, left hand; and a scythe at right hand)

Assistant caretaker is usually the one who goes down the pond or even wades in the water to do weeding work

A well maintained dike, after weeds, etc. are removed

Administrative tasks, record-keeping, and funds custody are handled by the overseer. The assistant caretaker does most repair works, with the overseer helping out.

For house chores, the overseer takes care of distributing the work among herself and other household members. Job assignments are as follows:

· Cooking – adult daughter and sometimes by the overseer

· Baby sitting – mostly the adult daughter assisted by the overseer and young daughter

· Washing of clothes – by overseer, other house members do their own washing too.

· House cleaning, including my office and room – overseer; other house members clean their own rooms

· Sweeping of yard, garbage disposal – overseer; sometimes, adult daughter 

· Feeding of dogs – overseer, adult daughter; young daughter feeds the Labrador guard dog

· Walking, bathing, and caring of Labrador guard dog – adult son

Bathing Labrador guard dog

Spraying Labrador dog with flea repellent


· Bathing of other dogs –  overseer

· Gathering of firewood materials – overseer and assistant caretaker

· Cutting and stacking of firewood – mainly overseer, aided by assistant caretaker

· Watering of plants – overseer and her son, and everyone else who can help. It takes at least two persons to do this – one to operate the hand pump, another to water the plants using plastic utility pail and dipper.

· Plant care, repotting, trimming, propagation – overseer

· Shopping for foodstuffs at wet market, grocery store – overseer (every Monday). Adult son drives the tricycle for errands. 




· Buying supplies, parts, dog rice as needed – assistant caretaker


· Buying rice, feeds – overseer


For livestock, my farm overseer takes care of native chickens by herself (she owns all of them). My assistant caretaker and a sister of my overseer take care of pasturing the goats. While my farm overseer and older daughter take turns doing pig feeding and cleaning. By the way, all those who help out in caring for livestock receive a share of the profits for their additional income.
  
As farm owner-manager, I do planning, set policies and procedures, monitor all operations and maintenance work, and take care of funding. I let my overseer supervise everything. I make sure I’m in the farm when we do key activities like harvesting, pond draining, etc. I join the team when selling produce at the fish center. 

When in the farm, I like to help out in farm maintenance (yard work, plant watering, plant care, firewood chopping, repair work, garbage disposal, purchasing, etc). Not because I have to, but because I like to keep busy and need to be physically active for my age.

Procedures

My topic for this blog post is mainly farm house chores (see activities c above). It’s interesting to see first hand how my workers, who are rural farm folks, do routine house chores in their crudely built house, without modern tools and amenities. 

A. Cooking

The older daughter acts as full-time farm cook. She does cooking using 2 clay stoves in an outdoor cooking shed. Firewood is used as fuel. No time-saving or modern equipment such as fridge, microwave oven, oven-toaster, pressure cooker, electric kitchen gadgets; not even gas burner or LPG tank.
 
It’s slow-paced but cooking still gets done. They say food cooked in clay stoves using firewood tastes better.

Daily, the farm cook uses the clay stove to do the following:

1. heat water for coffee – 2 times (morning and evening)

Pouring hot water from kettle to thermos

2. warm left-over dinner, if any (morning)

3. boil rice – 2 times (morning for breakfast and lunch, evening for dinner)

4. cook simple breakfast dish, if no left-over dinner (morning)

5. cook finely ground rice with water to be used as infant formula extender (“tapong”) (morning)

6. cook dog rice (for 4 mongrel dogs) (once only – good for 2 meals)

7. cook lunch

grilled native chicken for lunch


8. cook dinner (sometimes dinner is left-over lunch)

Firing up the Clay Stove

1. Before using the stove, remove the ashes inside the hearth of both stoves (a typical cooking area has 2 stoves). Note: burning new firewood over old ashes during cooking will emit thick smoke. 

Farm cook removing ash buildup inside the hearth of both stoves

  
2. Using soft broom (“walis tambo“) and broomstick (“walis tingting”), brush off/sweep away dirt, dust, ashes from top of stoves, shelves and floor of the cooking area.

Soft broom used to clean stove

Sweeping cooking area using broomstick


3. Get firewood from shelf above stove. If not enough, pick up cut firewood from various stacks outside the house. Put pieces of firewood on the stove hearth. Use lighter to burn paper under pile of firewood. Add more paper if needed. 

Getting firewood from overhead shelf

Hauling firewood from stacking area to replenish firewood in stove

Pieces of firewood on stove hearth

Light paper then insert under firewood


Cooking rice

Rice is staple food for Filipinos and most Asian countries. A basic meal consists of boiled rice and a dish or viand (veggie, fish, root crop, or meat). Rural folks consume proportionately more rice during a meal. It’s calorie-ridden, provides energy and is quite affordable.

A dish can take any form. Preference are those which can be picked, caught, or dug up from around the farm and cooked. 

Malunggay (moringa) fruits picked from our farm

Picking young kangkong (swamp cabbage or water spinach) leaves for breakfast (for steaming or boiling)

If not, fruits or veggies in season which are cheap are placed in the buy list. Meat items (port, chicken, beef) cost more. When meat needs to be bought, the cheapest ones are chosen – “buto-buto” (rib bones with some meat), or chicken wings, feet, or neck.

Here’s how rice is cooked in the farm.

1. Remove left-over rice from pot, put in a clean plate or bowl.

2. Wash the rice pot.

Rice pot being washed


3. Put rice grains in pot. Add water, mix, then pour rice washings in a separate container (for making probiotics later). Do two times. 

Scoop of rice into rice pot


4. Remove pot being heated from stove, if any, and put rice pot instead. 

Rice pot over stove, with firewood burning


5. Make sure there is enough firewood burning in stove. 


6. Wait until the rice being cooked boils over. Important note: The liquid that comes out on top of the pot and spills over is called “sitsit” in Pangasinense or “am” in Tagalog. This liquid is gathered in a container, mixed with some water and a bit of sugar, and fed to an infant 3 to 6 months old.

Rice water bubbling up, this is called “sitsit” used as poor man’s substitute for infant formula

“Sitsit” being scooped out of the rice pot and transferred to a cup


7. When rice is cooked after boiling, remove rice pot and transfer to kitchen counter.

Cooking Breakfast

When there is no left-over dish, a typical breakfast dish among rural folks is any of the following:

· fried salted fish with fresh tomatoes mixed with shrimp paste (sauted in onion and garlic)

· Scrambled egg with lots of tomatoes and onions

· boiled veggies (okra, eggplant, kangkong leaves, sweet potato leaves (to be dipped in “bagoong alamang(shrimp paste) or “bagoong na isda” (fermented fish) with vinegar)

· sun-dried tilapia

· “buro” (fermented tilapia in rice)

· instant noodle, cup noodles

· canned sardines

All the above are eaten with boiled rice or fried left-over rice.

During hard times or natural disasters, or when the family is hard up or cash-strapped, I was told rural folks make do with the following survival meals just to tide them over (luckily I haven’t personally seen my workers do this):

· Rice sprinkled with powdered milk and sugar

· Rice sprinkled with salt or sugar or soy sauce with cooking oil

· Rice with shrimp paste

· Rice sprinkled with Milo choco powder (comes in sachets)

· Rice with fresh banana

· Rice with “silag” (palm sugar)

· Rice with coffee

· Rice with corn chips or garlic corn

Cooking “Tapong” Infant Formula Rice Soup 



In the rural area, infants are generally breast-fed up to 12 months old to cut down on milk money. But not all rural mothers are able to physically sustain breast-feeding this long. When breast milk starts to dry up before 12 months, babies are bottle-fed on infant formula. A big pack of powdered infant milk (1.2 kg) costs Php590 good for one week, if mixed only with water.

When the infant is between 3 to 6 months of age, and the mom can no longer breast feed him, he is sometimes fed exclusively with “sitsit” or “am” (cooked rice water from a boiling pot). Sometimes a scoop of infant formula is added. 

Sitsit” (cooked rice water from a boiling pot) in a cup. I tried sipping it while hot and with a bit of sugar. Delicious!


As soon as the infant gets to be 6 to 7 months old, he is given “tapong”, a milk-rice soup. Use of tapong soup extends the usage of 1.2 kg formula to 2 weeks. 

Both the “sitsit” rice water and “tapong” soup are the poor man’s substitute of or supplement to infant formula in Metro Manila. Here in the rural areas, they are par for the course, and not something to be embarrassed about.

This is how my cook makes “tapong” soup for her 9 month old baby.

1. Buy a kilo of premium rice (currently Php42/k compared to ordinary variety of Php31 to Php33). A better alternative is to buy brown premium rice (has more vitamins).

2. Have it ground at the market rice grinder for Php 20 fee/kilo.

Ground premium rice (better if brown rice) for boiling and making into “tapong” soup

 
3. Prepare one batch cooking with following ingredients: 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons ground rice.

4. Boil water

5. Mix rice with water and stir.

6. Pour the above rice-cold water mix over the boiling water in Step 4.

7. Stir until thick.

8. Fill 8 ounce feeding bottle with the cooked tapong soup.

9. Add one scoop of milk, shake and it’s done.

Cooked tapong rice stirred until thick; at right a small jar of infant formula, a plastic scoop, and a feeding bottle

 Note: one batch of cooked tapong soup is good for 10 hours, beyond which it will spoil.

Cooking Dog Food and Feeding Dogs

1. Buy dog rice (we usually buy 5 kilos at Php20 per kilo) at the wet market. It’s basically broken rice grains which is a by-product during rice milling of palay.

2. Get two large scoops of dog rice (using a small plastic dipper) and put in a pot.

3. Don’t wash. Add enough water as if cooking ordinary rice.

4. Put over stove. Wait to boil.

5. For dog food, add left-overs to the cooked dog rice. If none, add bagoong isda (fermented fish).

Dog rice is cooked daily in the morning. The cooked rice mixed with left-overs or fish “bagoong” (fermented fish) is fed to our four mongrel dogs at noon and also at 7 pm.

We have a male Labrador guard dog (my daughter’s pet) which was sent off to the farm to be cared for by our farm staff. He is fed 3 times a day with commercial dog food mixed with rice. 

Commercial dog food mixed with boiled rice for our Labrador dog

Feeding our Labrador dog (named Sully)
Giving clean drinking water for Sully

Labrador dog at left; one of our 4 mongrel dogs at right (they are fed cooked dog rice with left-overs or fermented fish)

B. Firewood Gathering, Cutting, Stacking

We need firewood to fuel our clay stoves for cooking. For fuel materials, we make use of dried coconut fronds, tree branches (mango, acacia, paper tree, madre cacao, camachile, etc), as well as ipil-ipil trees growing (like weeds) on dikes.

Firewood material being taken out for cutting into pieces

The usual procedure is to remove all the leaves (of coconut fronds and tree branches) using bolo knife. The leaves of the ipil-ipil trees are fed to the tilapia in the ponds. All other leaves are gathered and put in the garbage dump or compost pit.

The bare midrib of the coconut fronds are gathered from all over the farm and piled up in one place near the main inlet gate. They are cut into firewood pieces later.

Coconut fronds gathered from dikes to be taken to piling area

Coconut fronds piled up in cutting area
Piling up all dried coconut fronds still with leaflets

The branches from various trees are stacked temporarily in one place where the branches were originally cut. These tree branches are then cut into 2foot firewood pieces using bolo knife or axe. After cutting, we stack them temporarily and later transfer them to the kitchen area.

Chopping tree branches into pieces; see pile of branches at background
 
Clearing up the area first before doing the wood chopping

A stack of cut firewood under mango tree
Another firewood stack

The overseer, assistant caretaker, or cook are the ones who haul the cut firewood and take them to the outdoor kitchen, when the firewood stock runs low.


C. Baby Sitting and Feeding the Infant
 

The farm cook has a 9 month old baby she has to take care of. For her to do her main job of cooking, she rocks her baby to sleep first in an improvised hammock. Else, the young daughter baby sits the infant while the baby’s mom is busy in the kitchen. My overseer also helps in baby-sitting or the assistant caretaker, who is the infant’s grandpa.

Young daughter carrying the baby whose mom is cooking


Feeding of the infant is the sole responsibility of the mom. As mentioned, the mom is unable to breast-feed the infant continuously for 12 months and had to resort to infant formula. To save on milk money, the older folks in the farm taught her to supplement infant formula with “sitsit” for babies 3 to 6 months old, and “tapong” for babies 7 months or older.

D. Watering of Plants and Sweeping Yard

For watering of plants in our fish farm garden, we source water from a deep well and pump it out using a hand water pump.

Fetching water from drum and basin; son works on hand pump

Watering plants using plastic pail and dipper, a tedious job except for plant lovers

Water being pumped out into drum and basin; at least two persons are needed to do watering

It takes a lot of time and manual work to water the plants without tap water and hose or sprinkler system. At the farm, at least two persons are needed to do this chore – one to work on the hand pump, and the other to fetch water from the pump area to take the water to each potted plant, hanging fern, vine or shrub (using pail and dipper).
 

Ideally, three persons should do the work, in the early morning, to keep the plants in our farm garden sufficiently watered especially during dry season months.

Aside from watering the plants, a daily chore is to sweep the yards and remove fallen leaves and other debris. These areas are in our main garden, the backyard, the farm hut in the middle of the fish ponds, and the walking trail under the mango trees. The leaves are placed in a basin, then dumped in the garbage pit for burning or compost pit.

Keeping yard clutter-free (mostly fallen leaves)

A view of the fish farm garden with plants that need to be watered regularly
Using broomstick (made from midribs or middle spines of coconut leaflets) to sweep the yard
Picking up leaves using improvised dustpan (recycled from a large biscuit can, with wooden handle attached)

E. Washing Laundry

When I first came to the fish farm, one of the things that struck me
was the quality of laundered clothes – so clean, white, dirt-free, no
blemishes, fresh scent. It’s all hand-washed, no washing machines.

I thought we must be washing our clothes in Manila the wrong way.           

My overseer is an expert washer of white laundry items. It’s a source
of simple pride on her part. But she has also shared her laundering skills with her
sisters, friends, and relatives.

Although laundering is in the realm of the mundane, it’s still part of house work. Out of curiosity, I watched her do some laundry (as locals do it) and asked for some
inputs. 

This is how she washes white laundry items with consistently excellent results.

 Hand-washing white laundry with young daughter who is taught to wash her own clothes

1. She gets the following materials on hand: plastic basin, plastic pail, washing board,
scrubbing net (nylon), powdered detergent, bar soap, liquid bleach (usually
Chlorox or our preferred brand Chemrox), and if necessary a cleaning agent
(such as oxalic acid powder which is mixed with water to make oxalic acid).

2. Puts water in a plastic basin and adds powdered detergent. Mixes it, then
puts the white laundry items in the basin for soaking overnight. Does actual washing of laundry the following day.

Note: she washes white laundry using tap water from our metered water
supply. All colored laundry are washed using deep well water (drawn by hand water pump).

3. If white laundry is unusually dirty (with yellowing, moldy spots), adds a small amount of oxalic
acid (made from the oxalic acid powder, called “cleaning” by locals, and can be
bought in small sachets in the public market).  

To apply, she adds two tablespoons of the oxalic power to the basin with water and detergent (this amount is good for one full load in a basin). Oxalic acid is used as a stain remover even
from fabrics, but it will take some time, that’s why it’s applied while the
white laundry items are being soaked overnight.

4. The next day, washes and rubs the clothes using hands in the basin.
Soaking overnight loosens up the dirt. It’s relatively easier to remove through the action of the detergent and hand motion (kneading, pressing, wringing).

5. Removes the overnight water from the basin, adds new water and new detergent to the soaked laundry.

6. Certain portions of the white laundry are prone to dirt buildup. So
she applies bar soap on those portions, then uses the nylon net to scrub off the dirt using the washboard. After that, she goes to other stained portions until the laundry item is 100%
dirt or stain-free.

7. In case the dirty spot or stain does not come off (i.e.,
using bar soap is not enough), she dabs the spot with liquid bleach, then rubs
bar soap on top. Removes the dirt from the tough spot using the nylon net by
scrubbing off the dirt on the washboard.


Note: she cautions that if you use your hands to remove this extra tough dirt spot, they may get slightly burned. Bleach is acidic (a mild solution of sodium
hypochlorite), so care must be observed not to expose the skin to it.

 

8. After all the dirt spots have been removed, does a brief, final hand
washing of all the laundry items in the basin. Wrings and squeezes all items then puts them in a pail.

9. Rinses the laundry to remove the detergent in the same basin but with new clean water. Rinses one item at a time, does a quick washing on plain water (she doesn’t just soak them or dunk them in water), then wrings each item to squeeze out water.

10. Puts the rinsed items in a plastic pail until all items are done. Hangs the laundry using a hanger or clothes line, and lets them dry.

For a complete list of Fish Pond Buddy blog posts on fish farm-related topics, click the Index page.