Koi Can Overeat

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Koi make ammonia from the food they eat. Koi are sometimes referred to as ammonia machines. The reason for this is because of the quantity of food that they eat. This ammonia is made in several different ways:

bulletKoi respiration introduces ammonia through the gills
bulletKoi digestion generates ammonia through:
bulletUrine
bulletFeces
bulletUn-eaten food decomposes into several chemicals including ammonia.
bulletSediment on the pond bottom, consisting of feces, plant material from within the pond as well as wind-blown leaves, and other dead organisms, also generates ammonia.

We can calculate the ammonia generated by the food by making a few assumptions:

  1. We feed just the proper amount of food each and every day, which establishes a "Steady State" condition producing the same amount of ammonia each and every day. Once we know the weight of food we feed each day the calculation becomes easy.
  2. Koi eat about 1% to 2% of their body weight in food each and every day, but the calculation should be based on the actual weight of food we feed daily.
  3. The protein content of Koi premium pond food is typically 36%, but sometimes is as high as 40%.
  4. The nitrogen content of protein is typically 16% (the Kjeldahl Analytical Method is based on this).
  5. So multiplying the weight of the food by the % protein, and then by the % of Nitrogen in the protein, we know the weight of atomic Nitrogen going into the water.
  6. If we know the volume and thus the weight of the water, we can then calculate the ppm of nitrogen.
  7. A few calculations based on these assumptions for a typical Koi pond, show that this results in the production of 1.6 ppm of atomic nitrogen every day.
    1. This creates 1.9 ppm of ammonia 
      1. (4.3 ppm for 2% food - 40% protein)
    2. 1.9 ppm of ammonia creates up to 5.2 ppm of nitrite
      1. (11.6 ppm for 2% food - 40% protein)

So each day we generate 1.9 ppm of ammonia, and up to 5.2 ppm of nitrite. When we measure the amount of ammonia and nitrite actually present, we know the difference is the amount "digested" by the bacteria daily.

If there are no bacteria to digest the ammonia and nitrite (see Koi Nitrification), and there are no water changes, then the ammonia concentration will increase by 1.9 ppm per day; the nitrite by up to 5.2 ppm per day.

Under these conditions the Koi will soon die from the toxicity of ammonia and nitrite. A couple of weeks in water over 20 ppm of ammonia or nitrites and we will have mostly dead Koi, the ones still alive will have Columnaris and Aeromonas infections, such as hole in the side disease, fin rot, tail rot, secondary fungal infections, etc..

 

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