Simply Shrimp: Blomkest farmer raises saltwater shrimp in former dairy calving barn
BLOMKEST — When the Damhof family of Blomkest retired from the dairy business after 50 years of milking cows earlier this year, they didn't retire from raising livestock completely. Today, instead of Holstein dairy cows filling the barns, there are now tens of thousands of Pacific white shrimp being raised in what was once a calving barn.
"It has been very rewarding, very successful," said Paul Damhof, who founded and is running Simply Shrimp LLC. Assisting him are members of his close-knit family.
When Damhof's parents, Phillip and Jane Damhof, decided to close the dairy, the family started looking for a new way to make a living on the farm.
It was Jane Damhof who first found the article about raising saltwater shrimp in the Midwest — hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean. The family started researching the idea last year, while Paul Damhof was still growing his row crops. He figured he would research the shrimp idea for at least a year before making any final decisions.
Then the rains and hail came last summer. With the crop ruined, Damhof turned to shrimp full-time.
"We needed to generate income here. It was time to go," Damhof said.
"It was God's way of closing the door and getting Paul started," Phillip Damhof said.
To start a shrimp farm is not easy. You have to either build or remodel a facility, create the perfect water mixture and apply for all the permits, and there are a lot of them.
"Every shrimp I get, I need to get a permit," Paul Damhof said. He ends up working with the state Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other organizations to make it all happen. Damhof said he is only the fourth licensed shrimp grower in the state of Minnesota.
Of course, there is no ocean water in west central Minnesota, and Damhof has to make his own. He started with Blomkest well water, directly from the family farm. He then added salt directly from the sea.
"We get a special ocean sea salt. We want to match the ocean environment to the best of our ability," Damhof said.
Damhof also adds beneficial bacteria into the water, which in turn eat the waste from the shrimp. The added bacteria leaves the water a muddy color, but Damhof said the water is clean.
"There is zero waste in the pools," Damhof said.
The shrimp are shipped to Minnesota from Florida. There are 33,000 baby shrimp in one shipment, and Damhof can fit most of them in the palms of his hands.
"They are the size of an eyelash," Damhof said.
They are so tiny that when he finally puts them in the pools, the shrimp are invisible. For the first few days he really has no idea if the shrimp have survived.
"You feed by faith, that everything is going well," Damhof said.
After a few weeks, the shrimp are split into different pools and left to grow. As they increase in size, their diet changes. They start on a liquid diet and gradually move to larger and larger sizes of solid granules.
"It is about five different feeds throughout the grow cycle," Damhof said. The shrimp are fed by an automatic feeder, which both Paul Damhof and Phillip Damhof keep filled.
At about 120 days old, the shrimp are ready to be sold. Customers come directly to the Damhof farm where they can purchase shrimp for $20 per pound.
"You cannot get any fresher than what we've got here. We can provide whatever size shrimp the customers wants. That is what we are here for," Paul Damhof said.
While raising and selling saltwater shrimp isn't for everybody, it has so far been a good business decision for the Damhofs. They have been able to find a new way to diversify in agriculture and keep the family on the family farm.
"We were born and raised in agriculture," Damhof said.
While the hard labor is significantly less when raising shrimp in comparison to milking cows, there is still plenty of work.
"Everyday when I walk in, it's what challenges am I going to face today. This is what I enjoy," Damhof said, adding the work is more mental than physical.
Those interested in learning more or purchasing shrimp can contact Paul Damhof though the farm's Facebook page under Simply Shrimp LLC, call 320-979-1440 or just stop by. Simply Shrimp is located at 14580 U.S. Highway 71 S., rural Blomkest.
Damhof hopes to have shrimp available for purchase year-round, for special occasions, holidays or any day.
"We get shrimp every month. I want a steady flow of shrimp coming out of here," Damhof said.