Growing Out Your Bettas
So, you got a successful spawn and have carefully removed the male. Now what? How to you get those little dots to adulthood? Though it may not be super easy, it definitely is not hard. Two things are going to constantly need your attention. Water quality and food. There are many successful breeders and many different methods for taking care of both. I will give you my version and the reason I do what I do so you have a place to begin. In time we will get more articles from other breeders so you can see what works for them as well. In all things Betta, read, experiment and find what works for your situation. Not everybody wants to raise live foods. And not everybody has the show ring in mind as they raise their fish.
The biggest thing that will affect your little fry is going to be water quality. If you do not currently have a test kit that uses drops, go get one. If you are going to keep fish you really need to know and understand your water. I truly believe ammonia and poor water kill more Betta fry in the first 30 days than anything else. I do not know if it is the egg shells decomposing or all the food we throw at them, but water quality gets funky fast in spawn tanks. Many people turn on a sponge filter when they remove the male, but I do not. I have found that water movement at this young age drive the fry to the bottom where it is less turbulent. I have also found with this behavior to have more fry with missing ventrals. So I personally do not filter any tank with fry until they are a month old. That means lots of water changes, even on newly hatched fry.
It is a good idea to daily test your water for both ammonia and nitrites. Both of these should be zero and anything else will quickly kill off fry. If you have ever had a bunch of fry one moment then none or a few the next time you look, ammonia probably killed them off. Checking daily will allow you to take corrective measures before you lose your fry. I have found that I personally have to do about a 90% water change on my fry tanks every day. After the male is removed, if water quality is good, you want to gradually increase the water level if you have a tank. If you are in shallower containers you still want to remove some water and add in fresh. A length of airline tubing with a plastic uplift tube on the end makes a nice siphon for fry tanks that can be pinched off and on to clean the bottom as well as drain water. The same tube can then be used to run water back into the spawn tanks that is fresh.
If you find your ammonia up to 1 or more you need to remove a large portion of water. If you have ammonia=1 and do 50% water change you still have a .5 level of ammonia that is still toxic to young fry. That is how, even with regular water changes, the ammonia builds up and kills fry and we think we did water changes so that is not the cause. If ammonia gives you any reading at all you need to do 90% then monitor it later. For larger water changes, that don't take all day, take a larger siphon hose and put a fine mesh net over the end to siphon through. I stay in a corner and watch young fry do not get sucked up against the net. Unless the bottom of the tank is really funky I do not worry about getting that removed, all I'm concerned with is removing and replacing water. If a fry does get sucked up against the net, I stop the siphon by lifting it out of the water and that will release the fry. So far nobody has died off from this approach. Then I still use the smaller tubing to siphon fresh water back into the spawn tank. With that large a water change, I add water back in installments. Add a few inches and let it come up to temp. Then a few more, and so until back up to the original water level. If you have several spawns this WILL keep you busy. But, until you get them in a bigger tank with proper filtration, I have found it to be the only way to keep them growing and the water quality kept good.
Foods and Feeding
My first feeding for new fry is vinegar eels . On the morning of the day they are to become free swimming, I add them to the tank so there is something for the new fry to snack on. I continue to feed the vinegar eels for three days, and on the evening of the third day, I add newly hatched brine shrimp. From then on it is a feeding of the various micro worms in the morning and a bbs feeding in the evening. I have all three types of the micro worms and often harvest them all into a small cup of treated water. They are then fed with an eye dropper to my fry. You can also just scrape the side of your worm container and swoosh this into the fry tank. Either works just fine. Just make sure you do not over feed either the worms or the shrimp. A Mystery snail or any other snail can be added to the fry tank at this point to help with clean up. I have found most snails love fry foods. This kind of feed schedule along with lots of water changes should get you good sized fry that at one month that are ready for the grow outs.
At one month of age your fry can be moved to a larger tank to finish their growing out. I prefer 30 gallon tanks because I can lift and carry them to the sink for cleaning. Anything bigger and I can not. But others also use larger as well as smaller tanks. I also have some 20 gal for smaller spawns as well as four 10 gallons for really small spawns. In these tanks you can start to use filtration, but you still need to stay on top of your ammonia and nitrite readings, especially until you get some biological filtration going. I do not use any media from other tanks because I an anal about transmitting anything from tank to tank. That is a decision each breeder will need to make for themselves. To jump start the biological media to handle the ammonia I like to use Dr Tim's One and Only. I have found it cuts a lot of time off cycling that new tank. When I add fry to a larger tank I do not have it completely full of water. I usually have 4-5" in the bottom and add the fry. Over the next few days I add about 2" of water until the tank is full. If my ammonia starts to give a reading I do a water removal as well as add new to get it back to zero.
Do you need a separate grow out for each spawn? The answer is it depends. If you are trying to keep track of different lines then the answer may be no. However, if you have a steel and a red spawn and neither is large, you can combine them if close in size and age into one grow out. As they mature the blues will be easily distinguished from the reds. The same is different tail types. Halfmoons can be raised with crown tails because of the ease to tell them apart. However, if you have a bunch, similar in coloring and want to know which spawn they cam from, best to raise each in their own tank, even if it is smaller, like a 10 gallon.
Once the water has reached the top then you just maintain your water quality. In time, when your biological filtration gets up to speed, you can go several days between water changes. But, the more water you change, the faster your fry will grow. During this time the Juvies need to come off the micro worms and get on a good pellet. I prefer New Life Spectrum foods. I personally like the Grow formula for the high protein and fat for growing fish. It crumbles between your fingers so you can make a powder on the top of the water for young fish to start snacking on. Even without crumbling the pellet is only .5mm in size and good for feeding even the adults. I also find the smaller pellet tends to keep me from having swim bladder issues. When your Bettas eat large pellets and eat enough of them, pressure can be applied to the swim bladder causing problems that often do not go away. At one month they can still have and enjoy the bbs, but you want to get them all up to a size to eat a quality pellet while weaning them off of it. Feeding the bbs for a while will also keep the smaller ones growing that can't handle the bigger pellets and avoid runts.
If you have live food like Grindle worms, this is the age you can introduce them. You will find your young Bettas eager to snap up these worms and they do put size on the young fish rather quickly. Grindles are smaller than white worms and what needs fed first around the four week age. You will find even some of the Grindles are too big for the fry at this stage and will not get eaten. As they grow you can transition to feeding the white worms around two months of age. If you do not have these food, there is no worry. A quality pellet is all that is needed to grow healthy Bettas to adulthood.
Another food I have found useful during this Juvie stage is Repashy Gel foods. A chunk of this gel food can be placed in the tank every few days to give your Juvies something to graze on all day lone. This is a more natural behavior for the fish than the starve and gorge daily feeding schedules give. In the group setting of the grow out the young Bettas take quickly to it. However, once in their own containers I have found most refuse it even if they ate it regular before. When separated, I am usually pushing the pellets to get size on them so that is ok and probably my fault as it is not often offered. So, they tend to develop a preference for the pellet.
Somewhere around two months of age you might notice some squabbling and the bigger finnage that shows you have some young males coming of age, or it may be a few weeks later. Different lines and colors mature at different rates. I have found the colors black and red to be very testy at a young age yet my metallics are easy going for many months. Just watch for the attitude change or fins you want to preserve at this time. Hopefully you have thought about how you are going to jar your males and have something ready. I use a barracks system as well as beanies. Others use canning jars, deli cups and soda bottles with tops cut off. Bettas breeders can be very creative when it comes time to housing 100 or more fish. When to pull the fish is going to depend on what your goal is. If you want to show and preserve fins, then the earlier they are pulled, the better. They often develop better without being in water that has all the hormones in it that a grow out will have. Male Bettas secrete a hormone that reduces growth of other males, so being in their own water and changing it often will give you the best growth and protect those fins.
Another way to separate them without out taking them out of the grow out is a 2 liter soda bottle with the top cut off, holes punched in it and hanging in the tank. The fins are protected but they are still subject to hormones in the water. It is often a good place to evaluate males before adding them to another system or to keep a bossy female from damaging others.
Once the males are removed and in their own containers, regular feedings of a quality pellet will bring them along nicely. They will enjoy frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms, live daphnia and mosquito larvae as well as other treats. But if pellets are all you have, no need to worry, they will do fine. You still have to watch your water quality if you don't want fin damage. High ph and poor water quality will lead to fin curling and bacteria that will chew away the fin edge. Once either of these happen to your fish, the show career of that fish is over. But if you plans are to breed that fish, he will still be good for that as it will not affect the genetics he offers. On a side note, if your water is good and you still have curling, you MAY have a genetic issue to watch for going forward.
So you see, it is not difficult to raise those tiny fry into big healthy and beautiful adults. It will take time, but when you see them full grown and in their glory, it will make all those hours you did water changes worth it!