Just add water!
That's the beauty of it! You can keep it simple and functional or make it elaborate and fancy!
"It is just a matter of using the tools that are available when they are available," someone famous once said.
Primary considerations are:
A) A container (ideally an aquarium for beginners) of at least 55 gallon capacity for the breeders, a small "delivery room/nursery" tank of about 10/30 gallons for just that purpose, and a big "grow-out" container (at least 400/500 gallon) for the babies to grow.
B) Temperature control. All your containers must be situated so that the water will not get any lower than 60 degrees in temperature (Tilapia are tropical fish). Ideal temperature is 86
C) The usual items required for keeping fish contained: filtering, aeration (make sure air stones or bars are on the opposite side of the tank from the flower pot), etc. Lighting is important! If your tank does not get natural sunlight, artificial lighting should be on from 6 am to midnight. As you can see in the picture below, my tank is right in front of a large window that gets sunlight most of the day. It also promotes algae growth which the fish love to munch on!
This is my 125 gallon aquarium. Notice the 4 inch PVC pipe segments for the females to hide in, as well as the flowerpot "arena" for breeding
A cheap and Simple approach
A 55 gallon aquarium in your living room (if you are lucky, otherwise out in the garage. Yes honey...) with a couple of 10 gallon ones nearby, and a 6 or 8 foot diameter kiddie pool ($19 bucks at Walmart) out in the patio.
A 55 gallon aquarium will work fine in the beginning when the breeder colony is young, eventually, however, they will outgrow it. That's why it is important not to over feed them at this stage.
An aquarium heater is a must! you want the water to be at least 80 degrees for the breeders to "get in the mood".
Simple filter and air stones will work for the big aquarium, after all, you will only have 6 fish in it.
An air pump and sponge filters will be fine for the small aquariums. For the pool outside, you can get a pond filter/water fountain setup at Walmart. The water fountain action will supply the fish with all the oxygen they need.
Depending on where you live, heating the outside tank is important. Here in Florida you could get by with just covering the tank with a plastic drop cloth when temperatures are going to fall bellow 60 degrees overnight. In North Dakota you might have to invest in an electric aquarium heater and use the plastic drop cloth for weeks at a time.
A 125 gallon aquarium or bigger with all the goodies for the breeders, a couple of 10 gallon aquariums nearby (for multiple births), a 29 gallon one for the fingerling-to-juvenile stage, a small greenhouse or "cold frame" structure in your backyard with multiple small above ground pools or fiberglass tanks, IBC totes, etc.
A back yard pond (or private lake). Just remember: temperature is where it's at. You must be able to keep it above 60 degrees, which means you may have to use a pond heater in the winter.
I built a 24 x 50 feet "cold frame" in my backyard for my first Tilapia farm. In it I had six 500 gallon pools, one 400 gallon pool, and a 5000 gallon tank. (for the 2 pounders ;~)
The added benefit of the greenhouse is that you can also grow vegetables in it, and feed them fish dookie instead of cow manure. My tomatoes love it.
This was "Tilapia World", Orlando's newest attraction when I built it back in 2008. It is now being moved to Brooksville, FL.
These were the 500 gallon pools, the big 5000 gallon tank and the 400 gallon "catch of the day" tank are on the other side of the storage sheds. Check out the tomato plants on the left, the fruit bearing banana in the center, and the papaya right in front of it. What you don't see are the red onions, the pineapple, the chilli peppers, the red and green bell peppers, the thyme, parsley, greek oregano, sugar cane, and cilantro plants. Outside I have Mandarin oranges, Valencia oranges, grapefruit, Japanese plum, cassava (yuca), and blackberry plants
But wait, that's not all! how about the...
Supersize that fancy one please! and make it aquaponic while you are at it!
With as little as less than an acre of land and multiple sets of breeders you can set up a small commercial facility and market your Tilapia and aquaponic veggies to or at: Farmer's Markets, Hispanic, Caribbean, Oriental markets or restaurants, health food stores, "Community Supported Agriculture" groups (CSA's).
Breeding strategies are different for these larger scale operations. I will include them here as time allows.
Umm, umm, umm, Love That Fish!!
How big or how small. It's all in your head.
OK, enough about the hardware for now, how about the software? "Tilapia Farming Basics" is the next stop.