Mud & Blood

It may sound like a strange title but it is quite amazing how the mud from which the pond is made and the bloodline from which the Koi came from, can have such a remarkable effect on how the Koi develops. The connection and similarities that both the mud and the blood have are inextricably linked; we may never have had one without the other.


YamakoshiI think it is about time I explain myself, much is written about breeders of Koi and breeder’s names and who is breeding the best Koi etc, etc, but is a breeders name really relevant on its own? For example, if you were to purchase a Kohaku from Sakuma Koi Farm in Isawa you would be buying a fish that comes from a bloodline with origins in Niigata and a Koi that had spent its summers growing in the mud ponds of that very region. Yet the Koi would be advertised as a Koi from Sakuma Koi Farm based in the Yamanashi prefecture in central Japan. So, what is the link between the mud and blood ? Well the answer is simple, Sakuma Koi Farm breeds Kohaku every year at his farm in Isawa, yet years of experience have taught the Sakuma family to get the very best from their tiny Kohaku fry they need to ship every one of them to a rented mud pond in the mountains of Niigata each summer.

The reason for this is very straight forward, the bloodline from which their Kohakus originate struggles to grow and develop good skin and colour in the clay ponds of Isawa. Basically if they grow their Kohaku fry in their own ponds they might as well not bother, as the resulting Koi would not have fulfilled or developed any of the potential that is locked in the bloodline without the presence of the Niigata mud.

On the flip side, Sakuma Showa for which the farm is most famous, thrive in the mud ponds of Isawa and fulfil their potential without the need to be transported across Japan. Over the years they have by selected breeding created their own ‘Sakuma bloodline’ so that their Koi are perfect for the Isawa water and mud. Movement of Koi around Japan in order for them to fulfil their potential is not a new phenomenon; many breeders from the South send their Koi to rented ponds in the North on a regular basis. The Niigata mud is so prolific in minerals and dissolved compounds and that has been one of the major reasons for the success of the Koi industry in this region. The combination of the soil and water creates the perfect Koi growing mud pond and interestingly also creates the best conditions for the growing of rice, as Niigata rice is regarded as the very best in all Japan!

So how does this affect someone keeping Koi in the UK, well it really gives hobbyists two options, one of which is simple and the most logical. Before the purchase of a Koi to grow in your own pond it would be prudent to discover if any other Koi from that farm are kept locally and how they have developed over time.

The second option which has been tried by many who are new to the hobby is to recreate Japanese water in their back garden. Many have gone to great lengths with various different devices and systems to try to alter their water to enable their Koi to grow and develop as they would in Japan. This option is a real non-starter. After all, no experienced breeder in Japan tries to do this, many years ago I asked Yukichi Ogawa of Ogawa Koi Farm in Southern Japan why don’t they try to recreate the Niigata water in the South, the reply I received was ‘it’s too difficult and a waste of time, with Koi you have to work with what you’ve got’. I then queried him on what he feels the hobbyist should do in England with regards to growing certain Koi in certain types of water. His answer was simple, ‘buy the Koi that will grow and develop in the type of water you have’, and after a short pause he added ‘and I hope these will ALL be Ogawa Koi!’.

The reasons for this difference in development from one region to another should really make all of us think about the Koi we purchase and obviously ask as many question about the Koi we intend to buy. Put simply, some Koi will do better in some ponds than in others. This is not down to the skill of the UK Koi keeper or any magic food source it may be just down to their geographical location and the water that is prevalent in that area.

A classic example of this is the Shusui and Asagi varieties, if you buy a beautiful blue Tosai Asagi or Shusui and put it in a pond in the South East of England, it will invariably be black by the time it reaches Sansai. The water in this part of the country has this all to regular affect on about 80% of Koi purchased in these varieties, but after doing a little trial and error I now have two breeders from which I purchase all my Shusui and Asagi and less than 10% of these suffer from the ‘going black’ syndrome.

It doesn’t mean that these particular two breeders Koi are any better than anyone else’s when purchased in Japan, but they certainly are after two years in South East England.

The reasons for this difference in development from one region to another not only in Japan but also here at home, should really make all of us think about the Koi we purchase and obviously ask as many questions about the Koi we intend to buy.

Growing Koi to a very a high standard in a UK pond has very long odds, the Kois future growth, skin development and colour development are all dependant on everything being perfect. Perfection is a tall order, made even less likely if you are going to rely on luck, so why not shorten the odds and buy a Koi from a bloodline or a variety that will do well in ‘your’ pond.

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