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KS Press: Researcher explores gator farming in Iowa (repost?

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Posted by W von Papinešu on March 23, 2003 at 12:18:55:

HIGH PLAINS JOURNAL (Kansas) 21 March 03 Researcher explores gator farming in Iowa
Castana, IA (AP): A harsh fact of hog farming is that not all piglets in a litter survive, leaving the farmer with the trouble of burying the animals or the expense of having them hauled away.
Someday soon, however, that farmer may be able to dispose of the animals by feeding them to new dwellers on his farm: alligators.
Kris Kohl, an Iowa State University Extension agricultural engineer, envisions the reptiles as a less costly method of disposal and a source for high-quality meat and hides--a second income for hog farmers.
He is testing his idea with two four-foot-long alligators, at a research farm near this western Iowa town.
"It is a viable industry here," Kohl said, as he peeked into the heated tank that holds "Alligator 1" and "Alligator 2." (Since the pair will be slaughtered at the end of the project, Kohl avoided giving them pet names).
Kohl read an article on alligator production in January, 2000. His wife, Kelly, gave him a pair of baby alligators the next Valentine's Day.
"They came in a Valentine box," Kohl said.
The Kohls used the tub in their guest bathroom to nurture the alligators, only a few inches long, for about a year.
Today, each of the reptiles weighs about 25 pounds. They live in an eight- by three-foot tank heated to about 82 degrees, with an attached wooden platform on which they stretch out or eat.
Kohl believes one is a male and the other a female, based on their varying sizes--54 inches and 47 inches as of Dec. 16.
Their tank is in a farm building that houses office space for the research farm, where about 120 cattle and about 1,000 hogs are finished each year.
Wayne Roush, the farm superintendent, cares for the pair of reptiles, which get about a pound of meat on weekdays. They aren't fed on weekends.
"There is handling, waste and feeding. It takes daily care," he said. "This is a livestock project. It is just a reptile, instead of a warm-blooded animal."
The alligators are no more aggressive than other livestock, Roush said.
"From my perspective, I have a much better chance of getting hurt weighing cattle," he said.
The U.S. alligator industry produces about 500,000 hides a year at $80 to $200 each for belts, shoes and purses, Kohl said. Alligator meat sells for about $5 per pound.
A typical alligator farm in the South--they are most prevalent in Louisiana and Florida--raises about 3,000 of the reptiles.
"If we were to develop farms in Iowa, I would expect them to be at least that big," Kohl said, adding that enough livestock die of natural causes in Iowa each year to feed 1 million alligators.
Kent Vliet, a University of Florida alligator biologist, said having a ready source of food isn't all it takes to get started in the "chancy proposition" of alligator farming.
"A bunch of people have gotten into alligator farming, because they have got a bunch of protein waste product, they think they will save that money in rendering," Vliet said. "Generally, the ones that have come in, in that perspective, have failed to flourish," he said.
The most successful farms are the large ones, with 10,000 to 12,000 animals, he said.
Kohl said about a dozen Iowa farmers have said they are ready to raise alligators, but he wants more research before they go whole hog.
Roush said A-1 and A-2 typically hide in a corner of the tank when they hear him come in for their daily feeding, but he keeps his hands out of the way, just in case.
"I still have all 10 of these," he said, wiggling his fingers.

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