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September 01, 2003   Email to Friend 

The Crawfish Farmer
John Howle

Above, Cleburne County farmer Cliff Langley shows off one of the crawfish he raised in his pond near Ranburne.
These days you don't have to travel as far south as the bayous of Louisiana to get fresh crawfish for jambalaya and crawfish pie. As one Cleburne County farmer has discovered, fresh crawfish can be produced right here in Alabama.

Already busy with four broiler houses, a 90-head beef cattle farm, and 60 acres of timber, Cliff Langley of Ranburne decided raising crawfish would make his family's farm truly diversified.

"Cattle, poultry and timber prices have been in a slump, and I needed to find another commodity to increase our income," Langley said. "Crawfish seemed like a good choice because the market in this area was wide open. There wasn't another crawfish farmer in a wide radius."

Langley said he constructed a one-acre pond to raise crawfish in the fall of 2001. He then piped water from a nearby spring to fill the pond and installed a shut-off valve that allows him to raise the water level with spring water during a drought or when evaporation takes place.

Once he had the pond built, Langley drove to Lake Pontchartrain, La., to buy the Red Swamp variety of crawfish to start his new operation. During December 2001 and January 2002, Langley stocked the pond with 550 pounds of crawfish, which is more than the recommended 75 to 100 pounds per acre. Fortunately, he had established a market for his crawfish before picking up his first batch for stocking. He simply used the pond for a holding area until he could deliver his first shipments.

To harvest the crawfish, Langley uses pyramid traps with three small openings at the base where the crawfish enter. The crustaceans can crawl up the neck of the trap, but the slick collar prevents them from escaping. Langley then turns the trap upside down and dumps the crawfish into wet burlap bags for delivery.

"If you keep the bags moist, it prevents the crawfish's gills from drying out and keeps them alive," said Langley. Langley recently has purchased an old, refrigerated milk truck that allows fresh delivery on longer routes.

Langley's selling point is that surrounding restaurants can get locally fresh crawfish from him rather than having it shipped in from far away. Langley currently is the only crawfish farmer on record in northeast Alabama. This allows him to serve a wide customer base around the Alabama/Georgia border.

"You have to build your market from scratch with phone calls, restaurant visits and word-of-mouth recommendations," said Langley.

Most of Langley's market consists of local restaurants or private individuals hosting crawfish boils. "As long as I have a couple weeks notice, I can generally supply local people with the crawfish they need," he said.

Langley sells his crawfish by the pound, and his prices are consistent with the Louisiana market. The difference, he said, is that his customers get same-day freshness without having to travel to the bayous for their crawfish pie.

For more information about Cliff Langley's crawfish operation, call (256) 568-2827.


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