Buy the best koi for your pond, and your budget.

I am relatively new to koi keeping and only have a few koi at present. I have just finished my second pond, which was built purposely to accommodate more fish.

I want some advice on where to buy my koi. I’ve heard a lot of stories from various people saying some good and bad things about koi dealers and I’m just a bit confused as to who I should be listening to.

I’m planning to go to a few koi shows in 2003 and wondered how safe it was to buy koi from shows – I’ve heard that it’s not a good idea!

I have a few local koi dealers close by and also a big garden centre that also sells koi. Would it make a difference if I bought koi from all different places or would you suggest picking one and sticking to it?

I have also seen koi for sale privately in a local newspaper, do you think it would be safe to buy this way?

Buying koi is one of the most exciting aspects of koi keeping.

It should not be hurried and, as the koi you choose will be in your pond for many years to come, and there is a little enjoyment gained by a pond full of beautiful koi being let down by a handful of koi that you bought in haste and have regretted buying ever since.

The koi buying experience is also a very personal one as the koi you buy define your own tastes as a koi keeper as regards what you look for and except from your koi. However, buying koi is also fraught with risks as you will undoubtedly spend up to (or even over) a substantial budget, wanting that investment in beauty to yield healthy annual returns, rather than a short, unhappy life of ill-health or disease.

If there were no risks involved in buying koi, then we would be quite free to buy our koi from any source, private or public, professional or amateur. But we’re not dealing in commodity items such as bedding plants or honey that can be bought responsibly from the largest and most professional commercial supplier down to a backyard amateur hobbyist – we are dealing with koi, fish of great value and purchases that will have a great influence on the beauty and well-being of own koi collection.

A koi collection is something that we build up over years, and like most collections, it is not possible to complete. And because a pond full of koi is likely to represent a significant investment of both time, heartache and money, the last thing you want is to introduce a koi that could jeopardise what you strived long and hard to achieve. Firstly, before identifying where you should look to buy your koi from, you should be clear as to the quality, class and price bracket of koi you’re looking to add your newly-installed second pond. Good, healthy koi can be bought from garden centres as well as specialist koi dealers, the difference being the wants and needs of their customers. Where do you fit in?

I would definitely be inclined to buy koi from as few dealers as possible, ideally as close as possible to where you live. This can prove to be more difficult than it sounds as most of us are tempted to visit other koi dealers when we’re travelling around the country on other business.

Let’s be honest, if there wasn’t the possibility of us buying koi on that visit, would we really still call in? Likewise, let’s say you have made the decision to only buy koi from your three local dealers and for several months, none have had the koi in stock that you are specifically looking for.

Do you stop buying koi altogether or are you tempted away to other shops – especially if you hear on the grapevine that another koi dealer has the koi you want at the price you are willing to pay?

So if you are ever faced with the above situation, and to assist you in settling on your preferred local koi dealers, look out for the following when visiting a dealer to reduce the risks when buying koi.

1. Koi behaviour. Irrespective of their value or variety, koi should show typical normal and healthy behaviour. This will include koi being highly responsive and alert to your presence, swimming eagerly and with freedom, remaining in touch with the other koi in the pond. Of course, there should be no signs of disease with any koi showing obvious symptoms such as flicking, flashing, gasping and sulking.

It is quite possible for koi to become ill on shop premises, but these should ideally be removed off sale into quarantine or hospital tanks. Beware of any ponds that are discoloured through treatment, or ill fish that are still on view but not marked as ‘not for sale’.

2. Shop procedures. Part of the worry when buying koi is the lack of confidence that we might have that these koi are healthy and have been ‘rested’, not having just landed from Japan (unless they are sold as so). With the benefits of buying a ‘rested’ koi, and in the light of recent disease scares (eg KHV), you should look out for koi dealers who provide their koi with ‘resting’ facility away from the shop floor.

A quarantine facility is actually more accurately described as an acclimatisation or resting facility as koi can still leave this area carrying a disease. However they will be in a better state of health to resist succumbing to disease in the future.

In response to recent incidents of KHV, many koi dealers have taken to raising the water temperature during this period of isolation in an effort to cause KHV to manifest itself. Those koi that have not succumbed to disease by the end of this pre-sale treatment are regarded as being free of KHV.

This safeguarding practice is all the more important for retailers, who due to an imminent change in trading standards legislation, will have to demonstrate that the koi they offer you for sale are not carriers of disease. Historically, it has been the koi keeper who has had to prove that ill koi were diseased at purchase (practically impossible to do so) but soon, the burden of proof will have switched to the koi dealer to demonstrate that their koi are fit for sale.

Consequently I would have to be severely tempted by the price of a koi if sold outside of the relatively controlled environment of a koi dealer or garden-centre. Koi sold at shows by dealers are not likely to be as ‘rested’ as those at their premises, and those available out of someone’s own garden pond, sold privately through newspaper may also come with questionable provenance.

There may well be valid reasons for selling (eg a FOR SALE board outside) but I would still have to be offered excellent value for money to be tempted to take the risk, and even then when I have the back-up of a quarantine or isolation system back at home.

Buying koi is a risky business (even when you have pleasure of hand picking them yourself in Japan), and there are recognisable ways of reducing the risks so the challenge of building a collection of koi is both pleasurable and achievable. So Philip, here’s to pond number three!

Kill blanketweed and string algae.