When I first started keeping Koi as a teenager it was generally considered that breeding Koi was a pointless exercise for hobbyists, indeed even for anyone outside of Japan, the chances of producing anything worthy of being called ‘Nishikigoi’ were non-existent.

It wasn’t until much later, June 2008 to be precise, that breeding Koi really started to fascinate me.  Since then I’ve spent much time watching breeders in Japan, and professional breeders in Europe and the USA who have taken up the challenge of producing high grade Nishikigoi, comparable with those produced by their peers in Japan. To breed my own Koi is indeed one of my goals.

In Summer 2015 I met Adam Byer for the first time, a UK hobbyist who had embarked on a project to breed Koi.  We were at the South of England Koi Show in West Sussex, and Adam was displaying a pool of Kohaku which he had bred himself.  I was immediately impressed with the quality of these Koi, and keen to learn more.

Some of Adam's Koi on display at the 2015 South of England Koi Show

Some of Adam’s Koi on display at the 2015 South of England Koi Show

It wasn’t until September this year when I finally managed to visit the home of Adam and Amanda Byer to interview them and learn out more about their breeding project.

Adam and Amanda Byer

Adam and Amanda Byer


How did you get into Koi in the first place?

It started when we moved out of London. We had our 3 kids, and felt the time was right to have a more rural setting to bring them up. We found a house near here, moved in, and that house had a Koi pond. It was a fantastic ornamental looking pond with a 10m long, 2m wide stream, waterfall, but because the kids were 1 and 2 years old we actually asked them to empty it before we moved in.


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A few years later when the kids were a little older we decided to get the pond going again with some small updates like a fibreglass lining. We bought our first koi at the 2009 autumn harvest at Cuttlebrook Koi Farm, and within 6 months of keeping Koi we started competing on the show scene, Mark and Lisa Davis at Cuttlebrook Koi Farm were very helpful in getting me started in that.

When I was a kid we used to breed tropical fish, i remember we started with the easy ones, and then we moved on to siamese fighting fish. Years ago they were really tough to breed, nowadays I’ve no idea how easy or hard they are to breed. I must have been around 5, 6 or 7 years old, and from that moment some kind of neural pathways were set in place. So, whenever I’ve started keeping a new type of fish, it’s always been a matter of time before I’m thinking about breeding them.

I enjoyed the Koi shows very much and that, coupled with this neural pathway of an interest in breeding fish, is one of the reasons I think we’ve gone so large with the breeding here, the goal was always to breed Koi with which I could win a prize at a competitive Koi show.

So you started the breeding simply so you could be at a Koi show and truly say, ‘that really is my fish’?

That is it, that was entirely the objective of the project, and that objective remains to this day. Whenever I come up against a prioritisation decision, whether it’s about how we build our tanks, or whether it’s about how we do 2nd selection, or for example the fact we have probably 10 45cm nisai taking up tank space that shouldn’t be, every decision is made with the original objective in mind, how is it going to help me win a prize at a competitive Koi show. It’s such a difficult thing to achieve, and that’s what makes it worthy of trying.

So you started in 2012?


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2012 we started the building, and to create the infrastructure. We moved here in 2012 in the spring and then in fact the first digging was in spring 2013.

One of Adam and Amanda's lined 'mud ponds'

One of Adam and Amanda’s lined ‘mud ponds’

There’s not a whole lot of information out there on breeding Koi. If you wanted to breed another fish, such as Discus for example, there are probably a dozen books on Amazon to help you, whereas there is possibly just 1, if any, on breeding Koi. How did you know, or more-so decide, where to start with breeding Koi?

First I saw how successful Mark at Cuttlebrook had been. When we first got into Koi we visited a lot of dealers, and a lot of good dealers, however, because of this neural pathway to breeding Koi I think we kind of homed in on Mark and Lisa. In terms of learning how to breed Koi, it was by spending as much time as I could at the farm. Sometimes I would go there perhaps to pick a fish up, or maybe Mark had asked me to observe or help with part of their process, and I would end up being there for 3 or 4 hours because other things were going on, and in that period of time I would just watch and learn. For example, there were occasions where I would see Mark seine netting a pond, so that is how I learned how to do that, there were times when I watched him selecting through Shiro Utsuri, I remember that very early on, so a few little bits and bobs like that.

So your first spawning took place in 2013, what were the main lessons that you learned from that?

In 2013 we spawned 15 times I think it was. Out of those 4 didn’t work, literally they didn’t spawn. There were another 4 where they spawned but there were no fertilised eggs. From the remaining 7 there were fertilised eggs but from only 5 of them did we get fry that hatched.

They are the stats from the year, and what I learned was that it’s quite difficult to get fertile eggs, and once you’ve got fertile eggs there are shed loads of things that can go wrong to stop them hatching, and then, once they hatch it was so difficult just collecting up the week old fry to release them to the mud ponds. I’d been at Cuttlebrook once when they did it and it was a well rehearsed process, but then when you’ve got to do it for yourself it’s a whole lot different. In the end i siphoned them out which I thought was the lowest risk approach, something we now do differently, but there was so much that I learned that first year.


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Was there any point in that first year where you thought, ‘why don’t I just go and buy my show fish like everyone else’?

We’d already done that, 2010, 2011 and 2012, we went to 3 shows per year with fish we’d bought to exhibit, we’d had some successes, and it was rewarding. However, I thought I’d done it. I could have taken a different branch and targeted a different level of awards to the ones we were winning at the time but because of this neural pathway set in my head so young, it was that route that I wanted to take.

So how did things progress the following year, 2014?

2014 was a key year. 2013 was a lot of hard work but we had nothing to show for it at the end. In 2014 we had fry that hatched in the spawning vat, were released outside where they grew to around 1 inch in length, and we had the number of fry which I thought our ponds should deliver which was around 20,000. The process had worked to get the fry to the point of 1st selection, however then I was hit by having to do that 1st selection, which is very challenging! There are no books on that, but I’ve found the hobbyist community particularly good at that stage, notably a chap called Allan Bennet from Australia, he shared a lot of information with me.

So what varieties were you producing?

We actually had less spawnings that worked in 2014 than we did in 2013. When I say worked, I mean that they produced some hatchlings. We only had 2, that year was so so difficult. In May 2014 we ran the spawning that I just described which produced a lot of fry. Although, most of the Koi that we achieved success with at shows in 2015 came from a different spawning. I then spawned maybe another 10-15 times that year and they all went pear shaped, I couldn’t get fertilised eggs for love nor money. That year was a lot of effort for no reward. Towards the end of the year I got a tip from Mike Snaden; he said that at some farms in Japan they can actually get a female to spawn twice. It was just part of a conversation but I reflected upon it and decided to give it a go. It was only 10 weeks or so since the May spawning but I figured I had nothing to lose so I decided to give it another go, and that was a key spawning. It was so late in the season, and there was so little to lose, we just took the eggs, without even waiting to see if they were fertilised, and put them straight outside into the fry pond. I recall a week later seeing nothing, another week later still nothing, and thinking, ‘oh well the season continues’. A further week after that I think I was maybe getting ready to drag the pond or something like that, and I saw a few fry in the margins. A further few weeks after that we harvested 2600 fry of around 1 inch, which is nothing in quantity terms. Out of that came a fish that went on to win the Baby Champion award at the 2015 South of England Show, plus a further 3, 4 or 5 competitive awards in sizes 2 and 3. Out of all the fry from the May spawning, only 1 of those fish has been successful taking a 3rd prize in size 3 Kohaku, interestingly beaten by one from the later spawning. It’s just fascinating and that taught me that yeah, you need quantity, but you also need the genetic mix between the male and the female to gel. By using the female twice that year we gained 2 years worth of experience with her.


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Baby Champion 2015 South of England Koi Show

Baby Champion 2015 South of England Koi Show

So the first year you spawned was it just using Koi that you had as part of your collection, or did you buy Koi specifically as parents with an end goal?

It was very much the latter, in 2012 I started to cycle our fish and at that time we had a pond with quite a diverse range of varieties. I think in the Kangei Koi Club show that year we got Best in Variety prizes in something like 7 of the 13 varieties. Whilst we’d love to get back to that, what we have to do is focus ourselves, and we will focus on Kohaku. That decision to focus on Kohaku is actually the end of the process which started in 2012 when we started to cycle the Koi we owned into Koi that we actually wanted to breed from.

The first step was to focus on 4 varieties, which were Kohaku, Showa, Shusui and Yamabuki, and then slowly we’ve whittled it down to just Kohaku.

2014 was pretty successful in terms of the results you got in the shows in 2015, what lessons did you carry from 2014 into the 2015 spawning?

We were playing around a lot more with how we cycled the outdoor fry ponds. We were gaining experience, mostly in learning what didn’t work. There were things we were doing that obviously worked, and by 2015 we were starting to work out what some of those things were, however we weren’t there yet, and indeed we still aren’t there yet, but we have a much better idea.

In 2015 we actually only had one spawning which worked, and it was a repeat of that spawning that we did in July 2014 – but this time we had a whole pond full of them.


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We had the volume, in fact I think we had 25,000 of them, so we beat the previous year, however the keep rate at the first selection was around 1/5th, and the comparative nisai we have now from that spawning is equivalent to what we got from 2600 in 2014, the exact same parent set, so it’s very interesting.

In 2015 you went to Japan for the first time, where there any particular lessons you picked up, or things that confirmed to you that you were going along the right track?

That trip was truly mind-blowing, that is the best way I can describe it, there was so much to absorb it was actually difficult to decipher techniques or specific points like that. When I reflect on it I think what I actually got was a boost to my enthusiasm and drive for continuing. As we’ve discussed, the breeding to that point was really tough, I’d had a few successes, just chance successes possibly, but that trip provided a motivation boost. I went to quite a lot of different Koi farms, big ones, small ones, niche ones, ones you’ve heard of, others you maybe not have heard of, and the overall quality out there was really good, something to aspire, that is what I got out of the trip. Plus it broadened my view of the hobby; I saw people getting enjoyment from Koi that they have in Japan, their relationships with breeders.

So the show scene had some pretty big highs for you in 2015, but 2016 has seen some pretty big lows for you?

The start of the 2016 seasons couldn’t have started any worse. I’ve explained that we were recycling out collection since 2012, and certainly the last 2 years I’ve been focused on purchasing the best potential parents that I can. As a result I ended up with 4 fish which were really as good as I could possibly shoot at. I put those Koi all together for the first spawning of 2016 and we lost them all overnight in the spawning vat. We lost the air to the vat during the night and that was that. I remember quite vividly myself and Amanda going down in the morning and it was a disaster. Up to that point we had run about 50 spawnings and only on 2 or 3 occasions, whilst keeping close monitoring on the Koi, had I felt I needed to intervene, perhaps to add extra oxygen, take a male out, something like that.

Of course whist it was a shame, in practical terms it has set back the project because they were the genetics that I’d invested in, it had taken time to get to that set of male and female that I had confidence in. That said we thankfully had another female of similar quality that I’d secured months earlier and we’ve been able to play with, so hopefully that will be a good bet for the future.


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So, as a start the year couldn’t have been any worse.

The second thing that happened was also quite challenging. We ran a repeat of the brood set that had produced the Baby Champion. The spawning went well, we had probably the best result that we had ever had. We’ve developed various spawning and rearing techniques, literally just the way we set things up, slowly each year giving us a better outcome, and it all realised this year to give us 100,000’s of hatchlings.

I thought I had the fry ponds sorted in terms of what to do now, however, at the key point when the hatchlings from this spawning were ready to be released the ponds developed a form of blue-green algae which was actually red in colour and proved to be toxic. So we had a bumper crop of fry and nowhere to put them.

At that point we had to go into contingency mode and start rearing the fry inside, which worked OK, we probably managed to rear 5-10,000 of them.

So all in all, those 2 things conspired to make the start of the year very difficult.

So today we’ve done a selection of some fry, what is the history of those?


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I purchase the female around 3 years ago. Twice I tried to spawn her in 2014, and twice in 2015, and for differing reasons didn’t get any hatchlings. This year we spawned her with the males that I’d used in my previously most successful spawnings and we had a very high amount of fertilised eggs; and we got a good number of hatchlings. The outside ponds were no longer toxic so we were able to put them out to rear and that is where they are from.

So it took 3 years to get to that position with that female, and we were able to harvest a few thousand fry and now we can start to see whether there is any potential with those fry.

Adam and Amanda selecting through 2016 born fry

Adam and Amanda selecting through 2016 born fry

Selection of 2016 Kohaku

Selection of 2016 Kohaku

3 month old tategoi

3 month old tategoi

3 month old tategoi

3 month old tategoi

You won Baby Champion in 2015, and you could have perhaps said, ‘I’ve done it’, but where does that sit in terms of achieving your overall goal?

After the first year, and having some idea how hard it was going to be, I decided this was a 10 year project. I thought it was going to take me 5 years to learn how to breed, and get a parent set that actually worked. Then it was going to take me another 5 years to breed them and have some that I could be exhibiting at ages of 2, 3, 4 or 5. I thought that I might have some chance successes in the first five years but I thought that my best chance of some competitive prizes would be in years 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. In terms of what sort of prizes I thought I could win, I didn’t think I would come anywhere near winning Baby Champion at an open show in the UK. So to be honest that has exceeded my expectations. To put those Koi more in perspective, at the All England Show in 2015, a much larger and more competitive show, those same Koi didn’t place, even in size and variety.

My overall objective of major prizes is in the middle sizes, so with the investment that we are making in the genetics, and this is my gut feel only, I think we can shoot at that sort of level.

So the passion is still there to carry on with the project?


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You know, it is, and the Japan trip was a key part of that. After winning that Baby Champion part of me thought, ‘oh I’ve done it’, but still I want to shoot at the middle sizes. We actually had our first taste of it at the South of England Show in 2016 when a fish from that July 2014 spawning came 3rd in size 4 Kohaku, out of a field of 12. Admittedly 4 of the 12 were Koi that I took, however it still certainly beat a few fish so for me was an achievement. In 2016 we also won the Baby Champion prize again, but the 3rd place really meant a lot to me.

Baby Champion, 2016 South of England Koi Show

Baby Champion, 2016 South of England Koi Show

The 2015 Baby Champion returned to the show in 2016

The 2015 Baby Champion returned to the show in 2016


Two weeks after this interview was conducted Adam and his back garden bred Koi raised the bar to another level when one of his Kohaku was awarded the Baby Champion prize at the All England Koi Show, without question the most competitive show in the UK.  There were no less than 18 Kohaku entered into size 2 at that show, and a total of 82 size 1 and 2 Koi across all classes.

Baby Champion, 2016 All England Koi Show

Baby Champion, 2016 All England Koi Show (courtesy SE Koi Club)

Adam receiving his Baby Champion trophy at the All England Koi Show

Adam receiving his Baby Champion trophy at the All England Koi Show

Bernie Woollands, BKKS and ZNA Judge, stated, ‘And believe me it wasn’t just the numbers the quality was there too.’

As a final question I subsequently asked Adam:

You achieved great success at the 2016 All England Show, without question the most competitive in the UK. How has that success affected your plans and goals for the future?

Winning those awards has taken a while to sink in, because they are such a big step forwards for us. It’s a level of success I thought I could only dream about, and if I was to get anywhere close to that I thought it would be in the second half of my 10 year plan rather than the first half.


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There are various decisions I made in year 3, in the way we rear and select, that I can link directly to the two fish that won awards at the All England show and that reassures me that I am on the right track with my 10 year plan and the focus on just one variety and aiming to breed koi that win prizes at competitive Koi shows.

I don’t know when the next fish capable of winning a prize at the All England Show will appear so I set my short term objectives around the breeding and rearing process, and next year that is to increase the number of fry we rear to first selection from each spawning so there is more chance of a finding a fish with show potential, and also to rear samples of fry from new brood set pairings to improve my understanding of that side of things.

Spending more time in Japan is also going to be important and, with a young family, this is difficult to achieve so I will take opportunities as and when I can.


You can read a lot more about Adam and Amanda’s Koi breeding project on their blog at http://adambyerkoihobbyist.blogspot.co.uk


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