Her Cupboards were Bare
There’s an old child’s poem about Mother Hubbard and her cupboards being bare. Sometimes the whey gets low and then when we get a load there is great excitement amongst the porcine folk at our farm. The five foot six inch long sow above jumped into the six foot diameter wide trough to make the most of the incoming whey as I filled it. Or perhaps she was pushed. Pigs will do that. Moments later someone did and someone else was.
You might notice that she’s a big sow, at almost six feet long, but she’s all the way in the trough. That’s because these are deep cattle watering troughs. This gives us 300 gallons of storage per trough, minus the few big rocks we put in them to help pigs jump back out. Smaller troughs, like the bathtubs we also use, get emptied to quickly. Thus the big herds get big troughs. In fact, the south herd has a bathtub plus two of the big 300 gallon troughs and they still drink all that capacity down very quickly.
Normally we get about one load (~1,800 gallons) of whey a day or every other day, depending on the schedule at the cheese maker. During some periods we only get a quarter of that – so supply can vary. Just as important, what the whey contains can vary. If they’re making butter the whey has one set of nutrients, if cheese then another and if yogurt is the source of the whey it will be a quite different nutritional profile. Also consider that some dairies are better at squeezing out the nutrients so you might get waterier whey than someone else. The pigs on the other hand seem to have a limit of how much they can process through their bodies per day and that appears to me to be the limiting factor in a lot of cases.
We have about 4,000 gallons of storage capacity here between the tanks and troughs to deal with the surges. But sometimes they’ll have a few days off, the flow of whey halts and we run dry. When this happens we flush hot water through our three 1,025 gallon whey tanks. This cleans the tanks out and gives the pigs something to drink. In the bottoms of the tank there is an accumulation of a rich yogurt that the pigs love. You can see chunks of it floating in the picture above. When the tanks are mostly empty and a new truck load arrives the pigs get very excited as the rushing inflow of whey pushes out more of the delicious yogurt.
How much Water vs Whey do Pigs Need?
Whey is mostly water but it has some salt in it which can be trouble for pigs. Normally we free feed pasture/hay and whey so I don’t get exact feeding numbers most of the time. The water flows freely from the springs as well. Free feeding means that the food is freely available all the time and the animals eat as much as they want – e.g., they’re out on pasture and the whey & water are always there in abundance. That means I haven’t known the exact ratio of whey to water that they drink. Or rather I didn’t know until this winter. We had a time when were were low on both water and whey so I was metering out both in a highly controlled manner. This let me see how much of each they drank. What I discovered during this time was that over approximately 250 pigs they drank about 80% whey to about 20% water. Interesting data…
My previous records from rare times that I got to actually measure things show that the pigs drink about 3.5 gallons of whey per hundred weight of pig per day and eat about 0.8 lbs of hay per hundred weight of pig per day. Thus they’re drinking about 0.72 gallons of water per hundred weight in addition to the whey. This in turn means that a big sow may be drinking 17 to 35 gallons of fluid a day! There is some variation with season since how much water is in their forages varies and bigger pigs are more efficient at eating courser fibers.
Outdoors: 77°F/51°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 73°F/66°F
Daily Spark: Cave parent to cave kid, “Let me see your hands… You’ve been painting on the walls again! What a mess! What are the archeologists going to think!”