Some time ago, a popular fried chicken chain held their much-awaited yearly promo: a “Chicken All You Can” event. It’s so popular, people post pictures on their Facebook accounts of them actually waiting two hours to get a seat—and this for chicken they have been eating practically their whole lifetime, as many of us (especially those living in Metro Manila) grew up enjoying their chicken!

With this on my mind, I decided to write about chicken. No, not the live bird, but chicken meat as food for fish. Feeding chicken meat to fish is a controversial topic in some fish forums. Long arguments have been posted in topics regarding this. It has met some criticism and some accolades. Those in favor of it claim that chicken is a good source of protein. Those against it say that chicken is not a natural food source for fish; after all, chickens do not live in water.

Since I am not a nutritionist, I cannot say whether feeding chicken meat to your fish is safe or not. I do not think I am in any position to inform readers whether this practice is good or bad. However, as a fish hobbyist, let me share with you the insights of people who feed chicken to their fish. These guys have been in the hobby for quite some time and are successful fishkeepers. Chicken is a good part of their fishes’ diets.

JC’s Story

James Christian Olimba is a 29-year-old physical therapist and fitness instructor from Batangas. JC, as he is fondly called, has been a fishkeeper for the past 18 years. He has kept many kinds of fish in the past, but what fascinates him the most are monster fish. JC keeps a few tanks of arowanas, bichirs, stingrays, and tigerfish belonging to the Datnioides genus.

In feeding his monster fish, JC prefers to offer chicken breast. He says, “There is only one thing that I can think of as an advantage of feeding chicken breasts: protein!” Given his profession, JC declares that providing protein in a person’s daily diet will enhance his or her growth.

Protein is the building block of muscles, and humans need protein to grow more muscular. Chicken breast is a rich source of protein, and JC considers it a good source of the nutrient for his fish. “From what I’ve read, fish is mostly composed of muscles… so in my logic, protein + fish muscle = fish growth. So far that equation works for my pets,” claims JC.

JC does not exclusively feed chicken breast to his predatory fishes. But you could say that chicken breast is their staple food. It is only on few occasions that his fish are fed other food. “Sometimes I add some live feeders such as rosy barbs, feeder goldfish, and some live bearers. I do this to preserve their predatory instincts. It’s nice to see that they still know how to hunt.”

Another reason why JC feeds his fish chicken breast is the convenience. “For me, feeding pellets is actually the most convenient way to feed your fish. But not all fish can be trained to take pellet food. I work at a hospital near a mall, so after work, I go to the grocery and pick up a kilo or two of chicken breast fillet. I store them in the freezer and I have one week’s supply of fish food.”

Another advantage of feeding chicken breast to monster fish with legendary appetites is its relatively cheap cost. “It is cheaper than buying pellets or market shrimp,” says JC. Thus he is able to provide good food at a budget he can afford.

Convenience is another reason why JC opts for chicken breast. Since he buys chicken breast fillets, preparing the food for his monster fish is a simple task for a person with a busy schedule like him. “At night, after I come home from work, is the only time I can feed them. Usually, I bring out the chicken from the freezer and let it thaw while I eat dinner or do other things.” Since the chicken breast fillets have been deboned and the skin removed, JC just removes the fat if there is any. “Then I chop the chicken breast to bite sized pieces for the different sizes of fish that I feed them to.”

JC’s collection of big and healthy monster fish is his proof that feeding chicken breast is a good option for staple fish food. “I think my fish are healthy; their growth rate is fast and their body build is not what you can call ‘fat’; they are muscular,” he claims.

Of course, good aquarium husbandry is also another reason why his fish are healthy and big. “I always remove leftovers after feeding, just like when feeding them any other food.”

I asked if he would recommend to other fishkeepers that they offer chicken breast to their fish. He replies, “If you are a working hobbyist and also have a limited budget, I could definitely recommend feeding them chicken.”

Emong’s Story

Elmer Torres, 32, is a service delivery manager at Curo Teknika Careers and hails from Mandaluyong City. Emong has been a fishkeeper since his elementary days. Like most of us, he started off with guppies, comet goldfish, and even ‘kataba’, a molly most popularly known to fishkeepers as a feeder fish for predatory fish.

He shares that while he has been into fishkeeping for about 22 years now, he wasn’t as serious about it then as he is now. “I got hooked on this hobby and considered learning all the rules and technicalities I need to know in fishkeeping around February 2014.

Those factors drove me to explore more and try new things in fishkeeping. I find fishkeeping challenging and exciting.” Chicken is also what Emong offers to his fish. And the specific part he offers as a morsel to his fish is chicken heart or “CH” as we Filipino fishkeepers call it. “All my fish eat CH,” he says. “Before I sold my first Jardini Arowana, its diet was 90% CH and 10% krill and market prawn. All my Datnioides tigerfish—like the Indonesian Tigers, New Guinea Tigers, and American Tigers—all eat CH, including my first Motoro stingray.”

For Emong, feeding CH has a lot of advantages that suits his lifestyle. “I feed all my fish CH, because the advantages are: a) Cost. It is cheap compared to live food such insects, frogs, and feeder fish. b) Saves time and effort. It is hassle-free. No maintenance, No extra chamber, container, or drum and life supporting gadgets required as is the case with feeding live food. For CH, all you need is a freezer for preserving the meat for days or weeks. c) Availability. CH is always available at our local market.

d) It is clean in the water. I noticed that CH does not foul the water of your tank, unlike with other fish meat; I observed that the water smells bad every time I feed fish or prawns, so I am forced to do a partial water change after the fish poop. With CH, fish poop just dissolves easily in the water. e) Health of the fish. I prefer non-live food to minimize illnesses and avoid parasites that live food may transfer to the fish.”

Emong buys his CH from the public market and prepares them when he gets home. He washes them and removes the leftover blood, if any. He trims off the fat and cuts them to bite-sized pieces using scissors. He uses just the meaty part of the CH. These are offered to the fish, and the rest are stored in separate containers and placed in the freezer for future consumption. Each container has enough CH for one feeding. Thus, he only brings out one container per feeding to thaw.

Emong does not feed his fish every day. “The frequency of feeding depends on how much I give them. But the usual is that I feed with one or two days’ interval between feedings. I just feed them enough; I avoid overfeeding them.”

While CH is the staple food for Emong’s fish, he does not exclusively offer them CH. On occasions when market prawn or fish are in the kitchen, he offers these as well. “If my mom cooks prawn or salmon for dinner, before these are prepared for cooking, I slice off a few pieces and give these to my fish as treat.”

It is a known fact that Datnioides tigerfish prefer eating live fish, and are difficult to wean off live food. With perseverance, Emong was able to offer CH to his tigerfish. His collection of Datnioides tigerfish is one that other fishkeepers may be envious of. They are big and healthy, and he seems successful with his CH diet. “Based on my experience, I see the fish grow very fast and their bodies have a good shape if they are on the CH diet. My fishes have been eating CH for the past two years; they seem healthy, and I don’t find any issues with feeding them CH.”

Conclusion

JC and Emong are just two fishkeepers who offer chicken to their fish as an alternative to the commercial food available in the market. I am sure there are many more who do so and are equally successful. What is deemed taboo for some may be perfectly fine for others. As Emong simply puts it, “In my opinion, any type of edible meat like chicken heart, beef heart, frogs, lizards, and rats can be fed to your carnivorous fish as long as you know how and when to feed them.”

So if chicken is on the menu, why not offer some to your fish? They might like it just as much as you do.

This appeared as “Chicken for Fish?” in Animal Scene’s October 2015 issue.