The sustainability of reptile farming
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
Until now, reptile farming has been predominantly pro-poor. For the most part it remains a cottage industry made up of small, family-run businesses. Markets have been relatively fragmented and volatile, making them an unattractive proposition for corporate agribusiness. Start-up costs are low. The financials of reptile farming make it a highly attractive and affordable proposition for those with limited access to capital.
Most reptile farms rely on two primary feed inputs. Waste protein from agri-food chains, and wild harvested natural prey. Waste protein comprises by-products from the poultry, pork and aquaculture industries. By utilising waste from these agri-food chains, reptile farmers help to up-cycle food waste into high quality protein fit for human consumption.
Wild harvested prey is popular with smaller artisanal farms in remote locations. Harvests are typically restricted to species that flourish in mixed agricultural landscapes, such as rodents. Not surprisingly, reptile farmers are regarded as an important ally in the control of crop pests.
Furthermore, many of the reptile farms that rely on wild harvested feed are conscious of the threat posed by agri-chemicals. Pesticides not only impact the abundance of prey populations, but can also contaminate the meat of farmed reptiles. By selecting only pesticide-free fields for their rodent trapping activities, reptile farmers help to incentivise environment-friendly farming practices.
Reptile farming is one of the very few livestock industries suited to urban landscapes. One of the reasons for this is because large numbers of reptiles can be farmed in a very small area. Many species are fond of vertically oriented enclosures (equivalent to tower blocks), because they allow for better thermoregulation along the vertical cline. Similarly, many species are not adverse to high stocking densities and often huddle together naturally to buffer against thermal flux.
Another reason why reptile farming is suited to urban landscapes is because reptile farms produce very low levels of biological waste (because digestion and assimilation rates are so high). Farms are by default relatively clean, odorless and produce low levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In Asia, commercial reptile farms are not uncommon in big cities, even within residential suburbs. Farms also require minimal running water for cleaning purposes and produce no slurry. In parts of China, snake farming is the only intensive livestock industry permitted alongside rivers, simply because of the reduced risk of leaching and runoff leading to water pollution.
Even in its current underdeveloped format, reptile farming has impressive sustainably credentials. However, when dovetailed with modern technology, such as greenhouse materials, solar climate control and vertical farming systems, sustainability benefits have the potential to be ramped up even further. Over the last ten years, Backyard Pythons has been carrying out research to explore solar-biology/solar-technology synergies, and preliminary findings are compelling. The extreme production efficiency of reptiles will undoubtedly play an important role in future food systems.