Every farmer's priority is to protect their livestock and we're investing on a huge scale to do exactly that.
Growing premium quality salmon relies on giving our fish the best possible start and maintaining that high level of care throughout their life.
As with home-grown Scotch Beef and Lamb, our Scottish farmed salmon are hatched, reared and fed in Scotland.
They spend their first months in freshwater, just as they would in the wild. Unlike wild stocks however, our young salmon are raised in hatcheries which gives us more control over the key growth factors of water quality, flow, oxygen levels, temperature and light.
Our Barcaldine Hatchery on the shores of Loch Creran takes this a significant step further. Equipped with RAS technology (short for Recirculating Aquaculture System), it enables us to control each of these key growth factors with pinpoint accuracy to give our salmon the very best growing conditions.
The result is bigger, healthier, more robust fish that require up to two months less on-growing at sea and are better able to withstand the natural challenges of the marine environment while there.
Our salmon arrive with us as eggs about the size of a small pea. Grown in trays, they hatch into alevins; tiny fish with the orange-coloured yolk sac still attached. This sac provides the fish with all the nutrients they need at this early stage.
At about eight to 10 weeks, once the alevins have absorbed their yolk and have grown in size a little, they rise to the water surface signalling that they are ready to feed for themselves – known as first feeding or fry stage.
The fry are transferred out of the hatchery into growing tanks where they will begin to feed on the first of a series of specially formulated diets and will continue to grow for another eight to 10 weeks, progressing to parr stage.
Roughly 17 weeks later, the fish will reach a size when they are each vaccinated to proactively protect them from health challenges later in life.
Around this same time, they will also start to take on a silvery colour and more streamlined shape, indicating that they have undergone the natural process of smoltification – a series of physiological, morphological and behavioural changes that readies young salmon for seawater.
At every stage of the freshwater process, each generation of fish is kept separate to reduce the risk of potential health challenges transferring from one generation to the next.
Mimicking the natural life cycle of wild salmon where the fish are spawned in freshwater upstream then migrate to seawater, our smolts are transferred via a network of pipes onto a well-boat – so-called because it has a specially designed ‘well’ of seawater to carry live fish – then transported to one of 63 marine farms across our three farming regions: Scottish mainland, Orkney and Shetland.
There, they grow in sea pens out in the Scottish elements where they are cared for by farmers attuned to the characteristics of the local environment and fed a diet designed to meet their every nutritional need.
Some of our Farm Managers have farmed in the same location for over 10 years, others have gained their experience at several different locations, but each is supported by a dedicated four or five-strong fish husbandry team with specialisms ranging from fish health and feeding to net cleanliness and critical equipment.
This high level of care continues right through to harvest.
When the salmon have reached the required size and weight for market, we transfer them from sea pen to processing facility – again, via a well-boat. This helps keep the adult salmon in their natural environment of seawater for as long as possible.
Chilling this water very gradually helps to calm and settle the salmon, minimising stress during their journey to our processing facilities.
On arrival, the fish are again transported in seawater to the harvesting station, with their flow monitored in real-time to ensure a swift, smooth journey.
They are then despatched quickly and humanely to minimise any stress and also deliver a superior quality product for customers.
This process is carried out using equipment known as the Humane Stunner Universal (HSU) which was recognised with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise Innovation for its contribution to animal welfare.
The HSU lightly electro-stuns the fish whilst still in seawater, rendering them unconscious, after which they are quickly percussive stunned, bled and packed in ice ready for onward transport to processors or market.
All of which is carried out by processing operatives trained in fish welfare, monitored by in-house fish welfare officers and recorded on CCTV, with the harvesting footage retained for 90 days.
Thanks to advances in transport, and sustained investment in logistics, these freshly harvested salmon can be with customers across the UK within a matter of hours and export customers within as little as one or two days.
Read about the ways in which we’re working to reduce the carbon footprint of these journeys here.