Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery Tour
Whenever we travel outside of our city, we always attempt to find things to do as a family that are free, fun, and educational. Imagine my surprise when we called the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery and realized that we could come and hang out for an hour or so, and see how they run the largest trout rearing facility under the Missouri Department of Conservation. We learned that trout aren’t native to Missouri, but the Branson area and Lake Taneycomo specifically, provide the perfect temperature for the fish to thrive in, and for anglers to catch.
We’ve visited Branson a total of five times in ten years, and this is our FIRST time visiting the Shepherd of the Hills fish hatchery, and I’m kind of kicking myself for waiting so long.
Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery
Check Out the Live Animals
What really makes this place cool are the live animals that you can interact with, and knowledgeable staff members to answer questions from everyone. The littles had a lot of fun answering questions about snakes, toads, frogs, and birds. Lil Miss got to show off how much she’s learned from programs like Wild Kratts, and even I was impressed with how much information she’s soaked up from them. We got to see a special two-headed snake, and we learned a bit of information there too. Venomous snakes give birth to live babies, while non-venomous ones lay eggs. In the case of the two headed snake (a baby black rat snake) the eggshells of both snakes didn’t form properly, therefore, the snakes didn’t have a chance to develop individually. Cool stuff for sure! The ladybug is a LOT more adventurous than I ever was at her age. For some reason, snakes freaked me out – and they don’t feel like they look.
There were also venomous snakes on display, but those didn’t come out of their tanks – for obvious reasons. We did get to see a poisonous toad, and she promptly let us know that she was NOT happy about being taken out of her tank, and peed. Yes. She attempted to pee on us so that we would drop her. It almost worked to, but I’ve birthed four babies. Pee is just part of the game.
After checking out the rest of the animals, both live and taxidermied, we moved over to the large tank of lake fish, and saw rainbow and brown trout and learned how to tell the difference between the males and females! I won’t tell you here, but I can give you a hint that it has to do with mouth size! The ladybug got really good at identifying the different species of trout based on informational placards on the outside of the tank.
Lessons In Egg Fertilization
We then headed outside to the raceways, where the trout were being raised, to feed them, and see egg collection! Trout food can be purchased for a quarter out of the gumball machines outside of the conservation center. Watching the trout feed was pretty exciting. They kind of attack the food all at once. I’m glad they were hungry. We then walked over to the second building on the raceway to see as female trout were having their eggs harvested, and then mixed with the sperm of the males. Quite an efficient process if I do say so myself. There’s even an 8 minute video that you can watch before heading outside to let you know exactly what’s going on.
The video does go on to explain how and why Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery came to be in Missouri. Given that trout aren’t native to the area, because they need cool temperatures to thrive all year, the area that Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery is in is perfect. It sits right at the foot of Table Rock Dam which fills the Taneycomo basin with cool water whenever it’s empty. Trout like their water very cool, and their habitation in the lake make anglers happy.
If you’re interested in fishing, day passes for catching trout are minimally priced, and there is a 4 fish limit per person. The staff at the hatchery can give you better details on that since we didn’t participate in fishing this time around. Although, Sir Twizzler let us know that the next time we come down, we’ll have to fish, and that’s all right with me, because kids fish for free! The lakes are stocked monthly with rainbow trout, and annually with brown trout.
All in all, it was a great FREE day – outside of the two dollars we spent to feed the trout – and the front desk will gladly make change for you. If you’re into bird-watching, there’s a great set of birdhouses right out front that you can perch at (get it?!) and see a great variety. The day we visited we saw cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, chickadees and a couple of other birds that I wasn’t able to identify. All I know is the blue jay was the meanest of them all. The hatchery is open Tuesday through Saturday, September through May, and 7 days a week June through August. Major and state holidays you will find their doors closed. I recommend planning on spending 45 minutes to an hour there to really be able to enjoy the facility.
Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery
483 Hatchery Rd, Branson, MO 65616
(417) 334-4865 ext. 0