How to Succeed in Your Pet Fish Business - Discus breeding 
How do thousands of beautiful discus thrive in 
the smallest of the HDB apartment? 
Judy Quek

I met Mr Nelson Ng at a veterinary surgery in Singapore when he was bringing in his poodle for treatment. He gave me a name card with a picture of a blue diamond discus and a gold-plated Buddha statute.  It was a photographic paper name card. 

It stated: Nelson Ng (breeder), NELSON DISCUS LOUNGE, his address and contact numbers.  A photographic name card costs more to print and it was impressive and indicative of a successful business person, usually but not always.  
Mr Nelson Ng "talking" to his discus fishes
Healthy red discus for saleI thought he would have one or two fish tanks of discus as his address was a humble 2-bedroom Housing and Development Board (HDB) apartment. He was residing in the smallest of the HDB apartment configurations. There would be no space for fishes as he had a family and furniture.  

A fish breeder in Singapore usually has a sprawling farm land as exemplified by the Qian Hu Corporation,,  a Singapore stock-exchange listed ornamental fish exporter and a Singapore agricultural success story.  

I visited him in 2001. I was pleasantly surprised to see over a thousand very beautiful and healthy discus in the HDB heartland of Toa Payoh, an estate of over 50 years old located in central Singapore.     
Upgraded 2-bedroom Toa Payoh Estate HDB apartments beautified with vertical columns outside common balconies.  Passer-bys can peep into the windows of the bedroom 2 and living area when the walk along the balconies. In 2004, covered walk ways and tiled roads beautify the estate.  Retail shops on ground floor now seldom seen in the newer HDB residential estates as they are now centralised in a common block or shopping mall. 

The fish tanks may be old, but the fishes are in excellent condition and looked vigorous.  The breeding tanks are kept in bedroom 2 while the other bedroom is used by the couple.  The living cum dining room and the kitchen are stacked with fish tanks.  

Nowadays, the internet, especially the websites of discus breeders and wholesalers of ornamental fishes, provides a large wealth of information on discus breeding.  The National Library of Singapore has various branches and there are fish magazines for loan.  It is much easier to acquire knowledge on discus breeding and I would not be writing on how to breed discus.   

As a picture tell a thousand words, I have published his fishes and set up to inspire students who love fishes But who think that they don't have the space to pursue their passion.  

For beginners, the turquoise makes ideal first discus. The turquoise discus is the "traditional" type and are hardy and easiest to keep. 

Know what the global market wants
One means of supplementing the family income is the breeding high quality ornamental fishes that are in great demand by the world and by the local pet shops.  Mr Ng is successful because he breeds what the export market wants - healthy attractive clean discus fishes.  

Singapore Discus. Red freckles on sides Singapore Discus. Red eyes still popular with Europeans.
New colourful strains of discus always interest buyers.   Most discus have "soot" or "carbon marks" but Mr Ng's strains are clean. A new favourite discus is the red diamond. Novices mistake it for a marine fish as it has bright red colours.     
Red Discus fish Red eyes are favoured by European discus fish hobbyists
Mr Ng's discus breeds different colourful strains from his HDB apartment.

It is a hobby which gives much pleasure if you have a passion for fishes and the interest to do research and development to create new strains.  The investment is not great if you do it at home. A good draining and filtration system is important as fishes need the right amount of oxygen and soft water conditions.  You do not need to pay the high rentals or the costs of heating of the water as Singapore has a high temperature.  Daily changes of water for the growing fishes are important.  Start breeding with the hardy turquoise strains and learn by doing it to gain valuable hands-on experience.

Distinct anterior lateral line (white) above and behind the eyes Red strains are in demand and are often mistaken by novices as marine fishes. You can supplement your income by breeding discus in a 2-bedroom HDB apartment.  To succeed, you must produce ornamental fishes that the export market wants.    

Fishes don't bark and become a noise nuisance resulting in regulatory authorities inspecting  the apartment and issuing summons.  

HDB rules inhibit entrepreneurship
The window shutters of the bedroom with the breeding tanks had to be shut as the passers-by might peep in from the common corridor.  I did not ask Mr Ng, but I think some residents may complain to the HDB authorities about Mr Ng's commercial activity as HDB flats are meant to be for residential use only. So it is best to close the windows. 

However, breeding stock should be kept in a quiet environment.  In 2003, a restricted number of businesses are permitted in HDB apartments, but discus breeding may not qualify. 

Excellent management of fishes 
Discus are said to be hard to rear and keep. Mr Ng's discus looked very healthy and the colours took my breath away.  No doubt, his management of the fishes are excellent or they will not look beautiful.   

Mr Ng had 2 air pumps, just in case one failed.  He transported the fishes on his scooter to the fish dealer after packing them in oxygenated water in plastic bags.  The above pictures were taken in 2001. 

Know what the global market wants. 
Mr Ng breeds strains in great demand by Europeans in 2004. The golden dragons are newer strains and were produced in the 1990s. 

Breeding stock in bedroom 2.  Lights are switched off at night.  Sprawning usually takes place in the day. These discus are golden dragons (or pigeons).   A breeding tank in bedroom 2.  All new strains are developed by experimenting such as the keeping a golden dragon male with other strains.    
The turquoise discus (right) has a head bump making it unique.  The calico discus has been bred crossing snow white variants with solid reds. They are in demand as hobbyists like something different. It is reasonably hardy and is recommended for hobbyists with more breeding experience.  Healthy growing stock are fed once daily with just sufficient amount of feed so as not to pollute the water..  
Syphoning water every day for the non-breeding stock. This tank is in the kitchen. The end of the tube is disinfected if the tank has sick fishes, before using it on another tank.  Tap water added after syphoning to replace 100% of the water daily. Sick fishes can be treated with medication.  Water conditioner added later to reduce the chlorine content in Singapore's tap water. 
Fish tanks in the living area near the front door. Mr Ng had the right formula to feed the discus for optimal growth rate.  Live worms seem to be appropriate for his fishes although some breeders worry about bacterial infection introduced into the fish tanks by such worms. Fish tanks for growing fishes in bedroom 2, sharing space with breeding tanks. The blue discus always look good and is easy to care for.  Mr Ng said that European hobbyists love the blue beauties.
Fry feeding on the body mucus.  Foster parents like the turquoise discus may be needed if the modern varieties are unable to produce mucus to feed their fry.

Hard work and passion
You will need to persevere if you want to excel in what you want to do.   Nothing can substitute hard work too.  Mr Ng had been interested in discus since he was sixteen years old. With passion and knowing what the world wants, he started small.  He re-invested his money to grow his business. Now, he has a few thousand fishes. A home is usually an expense, but in Mr Ng's case, his home generates income and he does not need to sublet a room and loses his privacy.    

His children have grown up and he is still active enjoying his hobby. His other sources of income are  from painting Buddha statues in gold for others and a night-time job.  Now, Mr Ng breeds some red- eyed guppies originated from Japan as they are in demand by pet shops.  A pair costs a hundred dollars.  Since his compulsory retirement from the police force at the age of 45, he has never worried about earning an income to maintain his family of a wife and two small dogs.  

He does not need to worry about retrenchment after reaching middle age.  He is an entrepreneur in a small way.  Readers who are now motivated to start a business from home at a young age may wish to appreciate the bigger pictures of his beautiful discus strains.  Goto:   

Readers who wish to share their experiences in the breeding of discus at home or wish to contact Mr Nelson Ng, please email to
This educational article is sponsored by, "affordable homes for expatriates".  Pictures are ©  Last updated: 10 Sep 2004