Snail Trail to Success

Linde Olivier Louw has crunched the numbers. 

Up to 200 snails can be farmed per square metre, and each snail can lay between 100 to 350 eggs (caviar). In Europe, 30g of snail caviar can sell for up to NZD$100. 

Louw said if you calculate the acreage per cow versus per snail, snail farming is a viable business and has a much lower environmental footprint. 

She said that because a lot of people have been focused on dairy farming, they're only now focusing on alternative proteins. 

This is the gap Louw, a former office manager, identified as she yearned for a quiet, rural life. 

Now, she farms Cornu Aspersum - the garden variety of snails that plague every gardener - in Port Charles. 

Louw has just finished setting up nine pens for an estimated 3,500 free-range snails. In the pens, they will sleep, feed and reproduce. 

The pens sit within a larger enclosure protected by electric fencing, which not only keeps the snails in but keeps their predators out. 

Kale and other vegetables will be planted in the pens, some of which will supplement the snail's diet; their main fattening feed is calcium carbonate, soy meal, limestone and barley wheat. 

Snail farming is known as heliciculture and, despite the favourable conditions in New Zealand, remains uncommon. Louw wants to change that. 

The Ministry for Primary Industries is supporting Louw in her creation of a New Zealand snail farmers' handbook. 

The book will include her findings on alternative protein, snail slime, snail caviar and the use of snails farmed both free-range and organically. 

Louw said she's also looking at the low carbon footprint and getting more people into the industry. 

Heliciculture can be scaled up or down, according to the size of the plot, so long as there is clean water nearby. 

Selling whole snails to local restaurants is a straightforward option, said Louw. Alternatively, she could process them, cooked and de-shelled, pickled and bottled. These, she said, would be sold at farmers markets. 

Louw farms on land leased from Tangiaro Lodge. The lodge owners hope the farm will attract eco-tourists.