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IDAHO FARM SET TO ACCEPT FIRST GATORS

Published: Sunday, April 17 1994 12:00 a.m. MDT

An alligator farm near Hagerman is ready to accept its first shipment of tiny gators from the South.

After wading through red tape for a year, Leo Ray of Idaho Fish Breeders Inc. said he now has to wait six months for new alligators to hatch."We have all the permits and everything now, and everybody seems to be happy again," Ray said. "But we won't be able to bring them in until September. That's when they hatch back there."

Since alligators have to be shipped air freight, it is not economically feasible to bring in large ones, he said.

"So I'll have to wait until the babies come around again," Ray said.

The shipment will have about 200 alligators 8 to 12 inches long. They will be kept in a concrete pen of 90-degree geothermal water.

Average growth rate of the alligators is expected to be about 4 feet in 18 months. When they are large enough for slaughter, the hides will be salted and shipped to tanning companies, Ray said, and the meat will be sold to distributors who also buy catfish and trout from Idaho Fish Breeders.

Retail price of alligator fillets is about $10 per pound, Ray said. One reason for the high price is that only about 20 percent of the carcass is meat, compared with 50 percent from a catfish, he said.

The alligators will be fed waste from the fish processing plant.

Ray said the Cajun chef at The River Bank Restaurant in Hagerman will be anxious to add alligator to his menu.

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