About The Farm

At Cuttlebrook Koi Farm we breed beautiful Koi – Nishikigoi to be exact.  We have been breeding and growing Koi at our farm since we first built it in 1990 and over the years have developed a reputation for producing the finest quality Nishikigoi.  We know of no other purpose built, commercially successful, Koi farm in the UK today. We began trading as Cuttlebrook Koi Farm in 2001 and over the years, Koi bred by us have won hundreds of awards at Koi shows around the country, competing against Japanese imported Koi. If you would like to visit us please see our "Visit Us" page for details. 

This is our story from the beginning:

My name is Lisa Davis, I am Director, administrator, secretary, farm hand and mother to our two sons.  My husband (Mark Davis) and I  run Cuttlebrook Koi Farm right here in Oxfordshire, UK. When I met Mark in 1988 I didn’t know anything about koi but at the time he was writing three of the chapters for the Interpet Encyclopedia of Koi (history, breeding and feeding), a good way to impress a girl!

Sparsholt

I found out that Mark had been to Sparsholt College from 1983 to 1985 and studied fish farming – of course in those days you had to work for a year on a fish farm before they would even let you on the course.  He has some great stories about his year spent living in a soggy caravan at the side of a loch in Scotland!  At Sparsholt he studied water chemistry, geology, fish farm construction techniques, fish health and disease diagnosis amongst other things . During his time at Sparsholt he worked on several fish farms in the UK and also on carp farms in France and Hungary.  He had some amazing experiences during that time. It was here that he encountered his first koi amongst a lake full of table carp in France and it was then that he decided that he wanted to learn more about them. Mark has always been a very creative person. A Koi breeder creates living works of art so breeding Koi combined his two passions , art and fish! When he graduated from Sparsholt in 1985 Mark managed to secure a letter of introduction to Mr Kamihata (Kamihata Fish Industries) who agreed to let him spend six months working on his koi farm in Yamazaki. Mark sold his MG Midget, which was his pride and joy, and set off to Japan where he lived and worked, with the rest of the farm hands, on the farm.  Very few people spoke any English which meant Mark had to learn some Japanese! His bed was a futon, with no pillow, in the fish food store room, and dinner was a bowl of rice with a raw egg cracked over it. He had no preconceptions about koi, never having kept them as a hobby, but his education at Yamazaki was all encompassing. 

Mark with Mr Kamihata Mark preparing for spawning at Yamazaki
Much of his time was spent on the most unpleasant jobs on the farm usually involving pond management.  It may have been mind numbing, back breaking work but the result of this is that he really knows how to keep a good mud pond! Mark was allowed to take part in every aspect of running a koi farm. He sat for weeks with the farm manager, Tanaka, carrying out  selection, constantly asking questions and checking that his selection technique was correct. Mark learned koi appreciation from an expert farm manager, Nushimura, and also from Mr Kamihata himself .  He asked lots of questions and made copious notes.  He even worked in the auction house too. Mark learned koi farming Japanese style from the bottom up and the techniques he learned are as relevant today as they were then.

Photo right - from left to right: Himeji high grade breeder (name not known), Tanaka San  (General Manager for all Mr Kamihata’s farms) - known to the other employees as “the culling machine”!, Nushimura (Yamazaki Farm Manager) and Kesuge Yamaguchi, Mark’s colleague and best mate at Yamazaki. The son of the well known  nishikigoi breeder Isa, who came to study culling at Yamazaki at the same time as Mark.

When Mark came back from Japan he got a job at BritKoi working for Eric Devis and then from there went to work for  the Kent Koi Company. Mark ran their koi farm but also got involved in pond construction and was involved in some very large projects. It was here that he learned all the basic techniques of building a good koi pond and the skills involved from pipework to filtration and fibreglassing. It was also during this time that Mark did the benching at the BKKS National Show three years running. Mark and I first met during this period - it was 1988 and I was working in IT sales at the time.

The Farm

About a year later, Mark decided that it was time he started his own koi farm and with a backer he set about looking for a suitable site.  He looked all over the south of England and on his way back from looking at a site in Hertfordshire, he got lost and ended up heading into Thame in Oxfordshire.  It was March and as he approached the town he could see the flooded water meadows - it looked an ideal area for a fish farm.  He drove into Thame town centre, parked in the car park and the first building he came to happened to be the local land agent.  He went in and told them what he was looking for and the agent said that just that morning a piece of land just like he had described had come onto the market in a village called Towersey, just outside of Thame.  Mark went to look at it and it was perfect!  

The Diggers are in!

Dug Out!
The ponds under construction
To cut a long story short, Mark set up the farm in 1990 only to discover that the money his backer had planned to buy the farm with had disappeared in the recession that had just hit and wasn't  available after all, so the bank had provided the finance - this meant that we had to start selling any fish that he bred as soon as they were big enough and we couldn’t keep any to grow on, we were throwing out the baby with the bath water so to speak! We knew we could never make the business work on this basis and after a couple of years made the painful decision to fold the business. 

Mark and myself carrying out one of our first ever harvests in 1990

Mark now found himself out of a job and so started pushing a lawnmower and doing garden maintenance.  We still had access to the ponds, as his ex partner still owned the farm and wasn’t in a hurry to sell, so Mark still did some work on it in his spare time, breeding a few koi each year. The garden maintenance turned into garden design and construction, as well as koi pond construction, which in short, resulted in Mark becoming one of the country’s top garden designers, winning several RHS Gold awards for garden design and construction including the top award for water garden design, the Tudor Rose, at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in 2000. It was during this period that we started our family with our eldest son being born in 1994 and our second son in 1996.

New Beginnings

In 1998 Mark’s ex partner decided he wanted to sell the farm.  We couldn’t afford to buy the whole 15 acre site and so bought the 6 acres that contained the main ponds.  Now that we owned the site ourselves we decided that we would try and make it a business again. There was no accommodation on-site and, although we lived in the village by now, we realised, from experience, that there was no way we could successfully run the farm unless we lived there, so we applied for planning permission to live on site. We now had a six acre field with ponds on it and nothing else, we had no mains electricity, no mains water and no sewage. We had to first build ourselves a 150 metre driveway which had to be 1 metre thick to cope with the water logged nature of the land. Next we had to get mains electricity laid on which cost thousands of pounds, once we had done this we could then construct our living  accommodation! 
Our temporary home in 2000 (not quite finished!) whilst we developed the farm.

We also had to dig a well. Fortunately Mark had perfected the art of dowsing for water with metal rods and was able to find a suitable spot to dig a well for our household use. Now we had water we had to install a sewage treatment plant for the house. Finally, and only once we had done all this, we were able to move in which we did on the 11th December 2000, our youngest son was not quite four years old at the time. We now had to develop our farm. We were no longer able to use the original fish house so we had to construct new holding facilities, for koi fresh from the mud ponds, and also breeding facilities.

The start of the construction of our sales area and holding facility

After completion

In order that Mark could concentrate on the farm full time, I set up  my own company doing business to business telemarketing for IT companies, working from our office at home, this supported us for the next couple of years. We started trading as Cuttlebrook Koi Farm in March 2001 and have had to make do with the facilities that we had, each year adding to and improving them. With no investor and a determination not to borrow money from the bank to finance the development of the business, the farm has had to pay for itself right from the start. In 2002 it was making enough money for me to stop running my telemarketing business and to concentrate full time on the farm. Early in 2005 we finally completed our spawning facilities and for the first time we were able to breed enough koi in one hit to fill all the nursery ponds in one go.

Spawning Continues
Koi Spawning

Our five spawning tanks By the end of 2006 we had completed three  fully insulated and heated buildings - our Quarantine House where we quarantine new brood stock, our Tosai House where we grow our best tosai, or one year old fish, during their first winter, and our Nisai House where we take our Nisai or two year old fish, over the winter.

Quarantine House and Nisai House to the rear

The koi we breed from originate from well known Japanese breeders including Omosako, Matsue, Momotaro and a number of other notable breeders. All are chosen on the basis of their suitability as a parent fish and qualities such as body shape, skin quality etc are uppermost in their selection. We have steadily increased the production of our nursery ponds from harvests of just 5-20,000 fry at 1 inch over the years to now where we harvest between 20 - 50,000 fry per pond.  The more koi you have to select through at 1 inch, the greater the chance of finding the high grade fish that would otherwise not have survived.  We are now keeping less per harvest which means the quality of our koi rises even further.
Each year the quality of the Koi we produce increases and our customers buy from us because they know that the fish they get are healthy, and as good in quality as many of the fish currently being shipped from Japan.  It is our aim to continue to improve the quality of our fish every year and Koi bought from us have already won  many prizes in shows around the country competing against Japanese bred koi. The judges of the British Koi Keepers Society are renowned world wide for their high standards and we are honoured that time and again they have judged our fish worthy of many notable awards.

British Koi Keepers' Society National Koi Show 2010 - Baby Champion
East Midlands Koi Club Winter Koi Show 2010- Baby Champion


Our aim has always been to breed Koi of the highest quality but our emphasis has to be on the health and welfare of our fish first and foremost. We don't buy fish in to grow on and sell and we don't send our fish off site to be grown on elsewhere,  neither do we mix the fish that we sell with Koi from any other source.  We have a bio-security plan approved by Cefas who inspect our farm twice a year for signs of infectious diseases such as KHV and SVC. Our site now consists of two polytunnels, one for Koi sales and the second, a dedicated breeding facility where our parent fish and spawning tanks are located, plus four insulated buildings. The first is a quarantine facility, where new Japanese parent fish are quarantined, the second is our Tosai House, where each year we
overwinter the Koi that we have bred during that summer at around 23 degrees, and the third is our Nisai House, where we grow on Koi that we have bred into their second year. The fourth is a new building, which is an additional growing on facility for larger fish.  We also have nine mud ponds which are designed as nursery ponds for growing on fry over the summer. 

Spawning tanks


In 2008 we replaced our "shed" home with our permanent home which is where we live now.

 
Our home - 2017

In March 2017 we were contacted by the journalist Kevin Pilley who, having read our story, wanted to write an article about us. The article appeared in the Sunday Telegraph!

Who knows what will happen next on the farm but one thing that I have learned is that whatever it is, it won't be boring!