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How to Hand Feed your Koi

Posted by Ben Cooke on

Hand Feeding Your Koi

Hand feeding, in my opinion, is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of being a pond owner. My kids and I genuinely look forward to feeding the fish together.  Neighbors, friends, and guests alike really get a lot of joy out of the experience too. While it takes some work to earn their trust, once the Koi understand that you are not going to harm them and that you are the one who provides them food, they will eat right out of your hand.

Koi are non-aggressive fish. Koi do not have teeth, so you will not get bit if you decide to attempt to feed your Koi out of your hand. This even allows you to get smaller children involved. Smaller children will be delighted by the beautiful colors and gentle nature of the Koi.

Koi, like any other wild animal, will naturally be afraid of you in the beginning. Instincts tell them to be afraid of you, which is what keeps them alive in the wild. You must build up trust with your Koi, and this takes time and patience. You will not be able to hand feed overnight. It could take days or weeks for them to initially start but once you earn their trust, you have won them over and they will look forward to your visit each day.   

Koi are omnivorous fish, which means they will eat both meat and plants. This means that their diets are very versatile. Koi will eat pretty much anything that you put in the pond, no matter if it is good for them or not. As their owner, you must control their proper diet and snacks. Another potential problem is overfeeding. Again, Koi do not have the knowledge to know when to stop eating, and weight issues may come from overfeeding non-nutritional foods. The healthiest treats for Koi are what they would find naturally in their ponds, such as earthworms and tadpoles, but it will not hurt to feed Koi treats such as lettuce, bread, fruit, and veggies. You should avoid certain foods with a strong outer casings, such as corn, beans, and grapes, as they are difficult to properly digested in your Koi's tummy.

Let's get started!  Make sure your hands are clean with no trace of soap, suntan lotion or other any other substance.  Then find a comfortable and safe place to access the water with your hand. Never make any sudden movements, as this will scare even the most trusting fish.  Time your training so that the fish are hungry and ready to be fed.  Then place a few koi pellets or "snacks" like Dried Krill or Silkworm Selects in your hand and submerge your hand under water. Slowly allow the food to fall out of your hand into the water. The Koi may not seem to be paying by attention, but rest assured that they are aware of your hand, and are aware that you hand is providing the food. Do this for a couple of days. It will be best to begin hand training your fish from the very moment you get them, but it is possible to train fish that you have had for a while too. 

After you have dropped your hand with food and treats into the pond for a couple of days, and have gained the interest of your Koi, begin making the fish remove the food from your hand. I take a handful of pellets and cup them with my hand by making a fist. I then put my fist underwater and loosen up my grip to let a pellet or two release and float up to the top.  If the Koi refuse to take the food from your hand, do not feed them that day. They will quickly get the idea that if they want to eat, they must get the food from you. Food is your number one motivator when it comes to wild animals, and no fish will simply starve itself because it is unsure of the situation. Doing this everyday, repeatedly will get them comfortable with you and earn their trust and pretty soon it’ll become habit.

Koi are social creatures and what I’ve found is that once one of your fish gets the hang of it and starts nibbling from your hands, others to follow in a herd-like mentality. Once one fish starts, pretty soon they’ll all join in! You can increase your chances of taking advantage of these primal herd instincts by introducing a known leader fish that is known to eat out of your hand or by selecting a koi that is known for personality, such as the Chagoi Koi. 

You’ll discover the Chagoi Koi is almost universally agreed to be the friendliest of the koi classifications because it is the most aggressive at feeding time and almost always the first fish to become hand-tame. they are probably more intelligent than other koi in your pond too. For this reason, the Chagoi is sometimes purchased solely for the purposes of taming the rest of a group, and not for its color. Once one fish starts eating from your hand, it’s not hard to bring the rest about.