For snails, size matters

SNAIL BREEDING: Alistair Primrose of La Perouse Escargot grows small organic snails for restaurants.
SNAIL BREEDING: Alistair Primrose of La Perouse Escargot grows small organic snails for restaurants. Richard Jupe

A SNAIL farmer is on the hunt for big snails because of their breeding potential.

Former botanist and agricultural teacher Alistair Primrose and his partner Linda McDavitt have created La Perouse Escargot at Sandford, growing more than a 100,000 snails for food.

"I am looking for large garden snails for breeding.

"Farming snails is like any other farming enterprise with breeding, water and health issues to be covered,” Mr Primrose said.

"A 12-gram snail makes a good breeder, with size comes weight.”

Mr Primrose said the demand for snails had been "astounding.”

He has gained a new respect for the hermaphrodite creatures - not least for their mating abilities, with

copulation lasting up to 17 hours.

His snails are Helix asperse, or common brown garden snail, known in Europe as petit-gris or little grey.

Donations of leaves, vegetables and herbs from Hill Street Grocer at Lauderdale are fed to the snails before they are fasted for seven to 10 days before being sold as food.

The snails are raised using organic principles in 11 large beds covered with netting to protect them from predators.

Mr Primrose said snails were rarely on Tasmanian menus because of a ban on imports.

However, he said they were a natural fit for other niche foods Tasmania produces such as truffles.

There are three snail farms in the state, one in the Tamar Valley and one at Cygnet.

Ms McDavitt set up La Perouse Escargot after eating snails in a restaurant in Melbourne and wondering if they could be viable in Tasmania.

"Then we put a survey out to restaurants, thinking there was no point setting anything up if no one wants them, and the response was terrific: dead keen. One wanted 13 dozen a week.”

Although slow-moving, the snails keep Mr Primrose busy.

"When you've got 10,000 snails out at night it takes a lot of work to catch them. I spent two hours the other night with a headlamp gathering them.”

Topics:  alistair primrose escargot snail breeder snails tasmania

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