Mitch Schieber got into the shrimp farming business by chance.
He does remodeling for a living, but he had been looking at different careers. Then, a couple of years ago, his daughter, who was in fifth grade, was doing a science experiment with brine shrimp.
He started wondering if he could raise real shrimp.
“And I’m thinking like in a garbage can in the garage, just for a hobby and just for bragging rights, a ‘hey, look what I’m doing’ sort of thing,” Schieber told guest host Brian Ellison on KCUR’s Central Standard.
He Googled “farming shrimp,” and saw the giant ponds in Southeast Asia where they produce tons of shrimp a year. But he also discovered that people were growing saltwater shrimp indoors in the United States.
He got the bug in his head, he said, and jumped in with both feet. Last February, he and his wife, Julie, opened KC Shrimp in Oak Grove, Missouri.
A 50 x 60 outbuilding that’s attached to a pole barn on their property houses nine above-ground swimming pools that have been modified to accommodate an aeration system for the shrimp. He had to insulate the building well — the water temperature needs to be around 78 to 80. He adds good bacteria to the water to consume the shrimp’s waste. About 3500 shrimp live in each pool.
He buys shrimp that are two months old from a farmer in Indiana. At that point, the shrimp are three-quarters to an inch long and about a gram in weight. It takes about three months for them to grow to full size, and every month, three of his tanks are ready to harvest.
While he checks the water balance daily, he’s experienced some losses.
“We get what we call the suicide jump,” he said, when the shrimp jump out of the tank at night. Even though there’s an extra foot height on the pool, they can easily clear that.
He was also told not to expect much more than a 50 percent survival rate during the first year, he said. One crop hit 50 percent, and he’s seen about 35 to 40 percent lately. After the first year, after he gets the systems established, the survival rate goes up. Later, he’d like to expand into phase two, where he starts growing the shrimp from when they’re about 10 days old.
Farming is in Schieber’s blood. He grew up on a farm in Wellington, Missouri, and his family’s been farming for generations. They grew crops, cattle and, when he was younger, pigs.
He considers himself a modern farmer.
“It’s not your traditional type, but it is considered farming,” he said.
He sells his shrimp to Kansas City restuarants like The Rieger, Novel and Room 39 (he also sells to the general public by appointment). He’s heard from local chefs that the taste is as fresh and clean as you’d get from the ocean.
“I would say that probably mine are going to taste better because they’re fresh,” he said. You don’t know how long shrimp from the ocean have been on ice, he added.
“The day I give them to my chefs, they were still alive this morning.”
Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at email@example.com.