The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is native to the entire state of Mississippi. Until the 1980s, alligator farms were mainly tourist attractions. Research and management efforts have led to the development of commercial operations where alligators are grown in environmentally controlled facilities. Farming, along with regulated wild harvest, have ensured the protection of the species resulting in its removal from the threatened or endangered list.
By 1991, Louisiana had reached a peak of 134 farms, while Florida, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi combined had only 96 licensed farmers. Production was approximately 125,000 hides annually. In 2014, there were 37 producers in Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, and Texas with a total annual production of more than 350,000 hides.
Producers collect eggs from the wild to stock their facilities. Farmers contract with landowners to collect eggs based on population estimates determined by state natural resource agencies. A percentage of the hatchlings are subsequently released back into the wild within 2 years as juveniles. This insures a sustainable wild population and incentivizes landowners to maintain quality habitat on their property.
Alligator production is labor intensive and requires considerable capital outlay. Alligators require a high protein diet and must be fed 5 to 7 days per week. As alligators grow, they require more space to reduce aggression and stress. (For example, a 100 square foot stall can accommodate 100 2-foot alligators but only 33 alligators over 2-foot in length.) Growout stalls or tanks must be drained, cleaned, and refilled on a regular basis. Temperature in the facility is maintained at 80 to 88°F, and a source of heated water is required to refill the stalls or tanks. The current market size for farmed alligators is between 36 to 48 inches and requires a growout period of 12 to 15 months.
Effluent from the facility can be land applied or discharged into water treatment facilities if proper permits are obtained. The facility should be located away from residential areas due to odors generated from waste water and should be sited beyond flood-prone areas.
The feasibility of alligator farming depends upon many factors, primarily price stability and access to the hide and meat markets. The hide market has been relatively unstable, and many operations have come and gone because of the lack of price stability. Availability of eggs can also be a limiting factor. Alligator production in Mississippi should be considered, at best, a risky venture, unless all factors can be demonstrated to be positive toward establishing an operation.
Other Alligator Information:
American Alligator Production: An Introduction
Alligator Production: Breeding and Egg Incubation
Alligator Production: Grow-out and Harvest