Developing a koi from a baby to a show
winning adult is a long and challenging journey. The challenges faced during this journey are what make many of us tick. It is just plain exciting! How good can we be? How many mistakes can we avoid? What must we do
to head off problems before they begin? How good can the koi we have searched for and chosen become? These are just some of the questions that keep us on our toes and moving forward.
A koi's development is influenced by many, many
factors. One of the most important of these factors is the environment the koi is raised in over the years. We all know that butterfly koi, common pond koi, & comets are very strong and can tolerate a wide range
of water conditions, but because of the years of refinement through breeding the highest quality koi can be quite a bit more fragile. To keep high quality koi healthy and happy you have to be up on your water
quality. To develop and improve high quality koi your water quality has to be pristine and stay that way from day to day and year to year. This is a hard concept to fully grasp until you have visited a pond with
truly good water. The koi look beautiful and stout, the skin shines, and the colors glow.
Water Quality parameters for:
1. Wide (keeping butterfly koi, common koi, & goldfish}
2. Narrow (keeping high quality koi)
3. Extremely Narrow (developing and improving high quality koi)
PH = 7.0 to 7.6 & constant
Hardness = 50 to 180 ppm
Alkalinity = 120 to 180 ppm
Water Temperature = constant - no shifts of more than 4 degrees F. in 24 hours
Dissolved Oxygen = at or near saturation (14 ppm) at all times
Ammonia, Nitrites or Nitrates should be at 0 ppm at all times.
Contaminants such as lead, copper, chlorine, iron,
& residual medications should be kept to a minimum.
Developing koi need good nutrition. Conformation
& body shape are the most important factors in show koi. The first four years are critical in a koi's skeletal structure and bone development. As with most animals Mother Nature has chosen egg and sperm
production as the first priority for nutrition in koi. She builds the eggs first. Growth becomes the second priority, and color development (as we like it) becomes the third priority. Many of us know this concept,
but we should think about what this really means when we are trying to develop a koi into a champion. Developing a koi is a long process that should be approached with a game plan and lots of patience. A prospective
Grand Champion should be chosen for it's merits and potential, then grown out to it's maximum size first, (about 6 to 8 years) then it should be colored up and polished up (about 1 year) in a finishing pond. You can
quickly see we are now fighting Mother Nature's plan. If a koi is spending all of its energy replacing eggs that leaves little energy for growth. So, to have things go the way we want we should prevent our future
grand champion from spawning during the spring and summer months to maximize growth. Keeping male and female koi separate from March to September generally does this. If you can understand the impact of Mother
Nature's priorities versus your own priorities for your koi you have come a long way toward understanding basic koi development. This order of growing out the koi first, then concentrating on the koi's colors is
practiced by the best breeders in Japan and is understood by the most successful hobbyists. But it seems to frighten and confuse most American & European koi hobbyists. How can a koi that ugly cost so much? This
is only because we haven't been exposed to young jumbo koi in the early stages of their development. When we see a Jumbo Champion we see it in it's finished show ready state either at a show or in a magazine where
it has been photographed in the right light and the best angle. Koi shows are a great place to learn about koi, but since the koi in a show are being judged on how they look right now koi shows are not the best
place to learn more about how koi develop. For crash courses in koi development regular visits to koi breeders, whether in America, Japan, or South Africa, will give you an opportunity to view True tategoi, high
quality koi that are still developing and are not yet for sale.
Since koi are always changing as they grow and
develop words and phrases like finished, tategoi, and over the hill become confusing. Let's take the baby Sanke in the photo as an example. With a Sanke we are dealing with three colors, white, black, and red. These
three colors are all developing at different rates, even the white matures and thickens. This is one of the factors that make great Sankes so difficult to produce and to find. There is a point in this Sanke's growth
and development when this fish will look it's best - the point where all three colors are working together. This ideal point may be when the Sanke is 2 months old, 2 years old, or 10 years old. Experienced koi
keepers can predict this time fairly accurately, but the breeder of the koi has the ultimate advantage. He or she can compare the koi to its parents and it's siblings from previous spawns. This is one area where
hobbyists in America are at a disadvantage. Hobbyists don't often have access to the koi breeder and because of the importing system and language barriers they generally can't get accurate information on the koi
they have purchased. When will this Sanke look it's very best? Will it be a year from now? Will it be five years from now? Or has that time already come and gone?
With the Kohakus in the photo we are only dealing
with two colors so the timing of the color development is not as much of an issue. The Kohaku will be ready for shows when the red has finished. If the red finishes early the koi will simply be shown in smaller
classes and will most likely not be eligible for Grand Champion.
If we compare the five Kohakus in the bowl since
they are all from the same spawn we can assume that the largest baby will grow to be the largest adult. It has the good even orangy shade of Hi that will develop slowly into an elegant shade of red, but I have found
over the past few seasons that some of the smaller siblings may pass this koi in growth over the next growing season. This time next year one of the other koi may be the largest in the bowl. So how do we choose the
Kohaku out of this bowl with the best potential to become a Grand Champion? They are all from the same spawn; the color, edging, and overall quality are very similar. We could go back to conformation, but the body
shapes are all very similar and good. We can now choose pattern, but which one has the ideal pattern?
Patterns are so subjective. Four of the five have
no obvious flaws right now. The Kohaku at the bottom has a little red running down past the eye, but this will become less of a factor as the head grows and the red moves up. So given they are all fairly equal we
choose the one we like the best, the one we get excited about, the koi we would like to work with for the next few years.
Looking at this photo of baby koi brings us to the
most important aspect of understanding koi development. You need to know as much as you can about the koi you have chosen to grow into a champion. How old is the koi... in months. This will tell you how many growing
seasons the koi has been through. This is very important in determining how large the koi will grow. If the koi is eight inches long but has been through two growing seasons (a growing season is April through
October) it is not going to be a big koi, but it may be a great candidate for Baby or Young Grand Champion, a shorter-term project. This is where Japanese words like Tosai, Nisai, & Sansai become confusing to
us. Ask for the koi's exact age in months. You need to know this accurately to be able to determine the future potential of the koi. What are the parents like? Are they large? What bloodline are they bred from? What
do their siblings look like? How does this line of koi develop? Slow? Fast? I am finding that after I have culled down to the best 100 koi from a spawn, the babies look like their parents and develop like their
parents. Patterns are random, but they aren't totally random. Certain angles and shapes will appear over and over again. The shape of the head and back will follow that of the parents. When breeders and hobbyists
talk of bloodlines this is what they are speaking about. There are certain characteristics that appear over and over, season after season. It may be a certain shade of Hi, it may be the shape of the sumi patches, it
may be the shape of the koi's face. Hobbyists will tend to develop an aesthetic taste for a certain type and shape of koi. This is one of the things that make certain breeders so popular. Their koi have a certain
trademark characteristic that just looks good! Knowing the parents helps you predict the future of your koi. This is what allows Japanese hobbyists to buy what we think are very ugly expensive young koi with
confidence. They don't lose any sleep over it, in fact they have sweet dreams. They know the quality is there and it will show itself in time.
I have noticed the koi keepers who have been in the
hobby the longest seem to be the most enthusiastic. I think it is because they know they are really just getting started. To me developing a koi to it's fullest potential is an incredible and exciting challenge that
requires a great deal of patience and understanding. There is so much to learn and so many ways to do it right or wrong whether you are a breeder or a hobbyist. There are very few ways to make a bad koi good, but so
many ways to make a good koi bad. The next time you find yourself gazing down at a koi that's been crowned Grand Champion regress a little and imagine what this koi looked like at one, two, or three years old,
is it a koi you would have chosen? Now imagine the
journey this koi has taken to become a Grand Champion. Take note of the fact it is 8 years old and has no scars and the fins are all perfect. Take note that it is 30 inches long and has the youthful skin and color
of a 3 year old male. Someone with great handling skill, a great eye for koi, a great understanding of water quality, and an incredible enthusiasm for koi keeping developed this koi from a fish egg to a Grand
Champion. Patience Grasshopper!