WAXAHACHIE, TX — Amber Penney has been in love with butterfly koi and standard fin Japanese koi for nearly five years. Her passion for this unique breed of fish began when she and her husband, Marc, purchased a small garden pond kit. Amber was at work one day following this purchase when she began making small talk with one of the patients in the office. “I was telling her about my ‘small’ pond,” Amber shared.
“She immediately began to tell me about her ‘big’ pond filled with brand new baby Japanese koi.” The patient gave seven baby koi to Amber as a gift to complete her pond. They came home to their new pond in a storage tote. But, Amber soon realized the koi were too large for the small pond. “You need 10 gallons of water per inch of koi,” Amber explained. “They can hear me coming. When I open the back door they’re right there by the side of the tank waiting for me. I put my hand in the water so they can give me what I like to call koi kisses.” then you would need a 50-gallon pond or tank.
If those same five fish grow to three inches in length, than they need a pond or tank with at least 150 gallons of water.” Amber can’t help but laugh as she remembers that patient. “I thought little babies,” she declared, holding up her thumb and index finger about an inch apart, “not babies that swam in a pond big enough for the patient, her raft and her very large collection of koi.” Unfortunately, Amber and Marc lost their first two koi ponds due to inexperience and a lack of understanding.
Before they were able to regroup with a third pond, they spent months saving money to recoup the loss of the two previous ponds. “I was finally able to order 200 babies,” Amber said. “I received 400 tiny koi that looked like thin hairs with eyeballs. The person I bought them from said I’d lose about 200, but I didn’t lose a single one.” Amber realized she didn’t have the room needed to keep them all, so she immediately placed an ad on Craigslist. “I had to get rid of them in a hurry because my pond was not large enough to accommodate that many fish,” she said. “When you have too many it quickly becomes ‘survival of the fittest.’” The overwhelming success of the third pond led to a venture that is, for Amber, more pleasure than business. Just recently, Let’s Be Koi was created.
One pond has now grown into no fewer than six ponds and/or tanks, swimming with 800 to 1,000 beautifully marked Japanese koi in a rainbow of colors — navy, green, purple, sky blue, red, yellow, orange, black, silver, white, gold, bronze, brown and cream. “The Japanese koi are like snowflakes,” Amber said. “There are no two alike. You may have five yellow, two orange, two white, two red and four blue, but they will all be marked differently.” Amber also compares the koi to dogs. “They are easy to train, and they each have their own personality,” she explained. “They can hear me coming. When I open the back door they’re right there by the side of the tank waiting for me. I put my hand in the water so they can give me what I like to call koi kisses.” Some of the koi will eat food out of the palm of her hand, while others swim over the back of her hand to get their bellies rubbed. But, she’s found they all love to give her koi kisses. One oversized pond is in the backyard, and a second pond at the front entrance is currently a work in progress.
Several tanks on the back patio hold koi in different stages of maturity. An aquarium inside the home is where Amber keeps any new purchases. “New koi must be quarantined for at least two weeks before integrating them with other koi,” Amber stated. “One sick fish can infect an entire pond or tank. You can end up losing an entire pond if you’re not careful.” Weather and water temperatures also have an effect on the koi, especially when it comes to food intake and activity levels. “Water temperature dictates body functions in the fish,” Amber said. “When the weather is cold, the water is cold. Cold water means a less active fish. Less food is given to them, too, because they have a difficult time digesting it. They are in a semi-hibernated state during the winter months.” One fun fact Amber enjoys sharing is the koi’s ability to come back to life after being frozen. “Koi can freeze solid in a pond. Once the water thaws out, the koi come back to life. They are so amazing!” Amber added. “When the temperatures get to the 70s and above, the koi begin to jump and splash.
Their body functions are at 100 percent. This is when the koi are at their best.” Filtration and aeration are key components in maintaining a successful pond. Proper filtration allows for the good bacteria koi need to thrive. The water quality is also very important. “Healthy koi, no matter what the water temperature is, should not be floating on the bottom or on the top of the tank,” Amber stated. “A lethargic fish is usually not a healthy fish.” Small koi can grow very quickly when temperatures begin to warm up and when their food intake increases. Fifty percent of a koi’s growth is done in its first two years. “It’s normal for Japanese koi to get three feet long by the time they reach adulthood,” Amber said. “And their colors don’t really pop until they’re older.”
All koi are born with a certain number of color genes. “You can guess what color they’re going to be,” Amber laughed, “but you never know for sure until they are mature. They may begin white with a few dots of color. As they mature, the white can become the less dominate color. It’s the pattern and color combination that makes a Japanese koi a Japanese koi.” Amber finds enjoyment in working with her fish every day. They offer a calmness she is unable to find anywhere else. “Koi to me is alcohol to another,” she confessed. “They are my one and only vice.” Marc feeds off Amber’s passion for the fish. His support is evident in the ponds he’s designed, as well as in the way he helps Amber maintain them. “I do have to prod him along sometimes,” she admitted with a smile, “but he’s 100-percent supportive of me and my love for the koi. He enjoys them because I enjoy them.”
Written by Sandra Strong.