All the Whey in the World


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.
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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.

Feeding whey and pasture makes for delicious pork with a slightly sweet taste to it as attested to by our many customers and chefs who have standing orders for our weekly deliveries of fresh pork.

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!”

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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33 Responses to All the Whey in the World

  1. Susan Lea says:

    I have only one thing to say to that eager sow: “Whey to go!”

  2. When our cow freshened on May 28th, I began feeding our two pigs up to 3 gallons of raw milk per day. I think the pigs (berkshire, spotted cross) are each about 80 lbs now.

    Do you think that is too much milk?

    We moved the pigs out of the garden and into a field of tall grass just after we started feeding them milk. Since we moved them, they have hardly eaten any of their locally-produced, corn based pig-feed. I am worried that we’re going to end up with pigs that are all fat.

    They have plenty of water from a tank+nipple waterer, which they also don’t seem to drink much of even though I clean it out regularly.

    They seem happy and run around and root in the grass, enjoy the mud hole that I keep watering..

    These are my first feeder pigs, am I worrying too much?

    Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Are you worrying too much? Probably, but that is natural the first time. There are a lot of things to learn – you’ll get it with experience.

      Too much milk? Look at their condition. If they’re fat then back off on the calories. Look at the jowl in particular – the cheek. I should do a set of photos that shows condition levels…

      If they’re growing well then all is fine. In time you’ll develop a keen eye for their health and condition. At three gallons a day for two pigs they should be fine. Some cows have very high fat content in the milk which can lead to fat pigs so it is worth thinking about. One trick would be to feed the milk later in the day if you think they’re too fat. That way they fill up on pasture first.

      I would cut the corn out of the diet. That is calories. The milk has plenty of calories and better protein.

      Enjoy your milk fed pastured pigs!

      Cheers,

      -Walter

  3. Gabe says:

    We have been feeding whey to our pigs now for about 3 months. Its amazing how much they love it. We pasture them as well but the quality of the pasture is fairly low. I worry a bit about soft pork so I am supplementing the whey with some grain. As some of our groups get closer to slaughter I am backing off the whey to less than 2 pounds a day. I am worrying too much (common question)? Have you had any trouble with soft pork?

    • No, we have never had any trouble with soft pork. I have heard of soft fat but suspect it comes from feeding dairy exclusively without the pasture/hay which provides fiber. We have been free feeding the dairy for many years, coming up on a decade. Sometimes we get a little bit of boiled barley from a local brew pub it is a nominal amount per pig. What little we get doesn’t go very far with 300 pigs. I don’t think you’ll need to worry.

  4. Justin Lewis says:

    I am wondering what goes into your decision where you get the whey and quality of the whey. I was thinking about getting local whey from a cheese maker until she told me she worms her goats. This has worried me as I want to give my pigs nothing but the most natural supplement I can get.

    • The first thing I would suggest is to find out what wormer she uses, what withdrawal period she uses and check to see if the wormer comes out in the milk. If she’s making cheese then she’s using a withdrawal period. You might also talk with her about alternatives. If she doesn’t know about managed rotational grazing and such she may be interested in learning as a way of naturally reducing parasites while also cutting her costs by not having to buy wormer or at least not as much.

  5. Roy says:

    My Uncle Bob always recommends his local cheese maker as a good person to get whey from. I think because the quality of the cheese is so important to a craftsperson like this, the whey is always top notch.

  6. Bennett says:

    Very informative pages, thank you Walter!
    May I ask you a question?
    Except winter the pigs are on more distant paddocks. Does it mean that the whey tanks have to be moved from one paddock to another together with the pigs? And how about water? Thanks.

    • The pigs walk in toward the center to get their whey. There are many waterers and small pig ponds. From springs we run black plastic waterline pipes to waters through the paddock in series. I find that as a good rule there needs to be water within 1,000′ of travel.

  7. Chris says:

    Can you think of any problems with feeding whey derived from Greek Yogurt? My understanding is the Greek Yogurt whey will be more acidic with lower protein and sugar levels. Is this a concern?

  8. Brent Eastman says:

    Hey Walter and Holly,

    My fiancé and I have started a small farm here in quechee, vt and have started raising hogs. We raise them for meat but mostly just sell piglets. We have recently started feeding whey but I have a couple of concerns. Whey tends to be extremely low in protein and I was wondering whether it is sufficient feed enough for the pigs (especially bred sows) who are full of piglets. Do you think whey and hay/green vegetation is enough nutrients or more specifically protein for the pigs? What do you guys feed your pigs other then hay/whey, or do you only feed this? How about your bred sows? You guys have a great reputation around Vermont as we have been referred to you guys several times now.

    Thanks,
    Brent and Kate

    • See the Pigs page for more information about our pigs and what we feed them. Pasture/hay plus dairy (mostly whey) is the vast majority of what our pigs eat. Note that not all pastures are equal – improve the protein levels via legumes and such. It’s a long term process. Additionally not all pig genetics are the same – what does well in confinement on candy (commercial hog feed/grain) may not do well on pasture. In the confinement industry they have worked hard to breed out the traits that make good pastured animals because those same traits are a problem in their confined management systems. Even with in breeds there are some who do well on pasture and some who don’t thus producing superior lines. Breed the best of the best and eat the rest to gradually improve your herd genetics.

  9. Brent Eastman says:

    It looks like you’re raising Yorkshire/landrace in your pictures. How do they do on pasture? We are raising Duroc, Yorkshire, and tamworth….how have you found these pigs do with this feed system?

    • Our pigs are a mix of Yorkshire x Berkshire x Large Black and some other in the various herd lines. We have been selecting since 2003 for the traits that do well in our climate, under our management style on pasture. Yorkshire are one of the original foundation pasture breeds used in many breeding programs for their fast growing, temperament and mothering. They do excellently on pasture. Berkshire is known for marbling. Large Black adds to the Yorkshire’s already gentle temperament and excellent mothering. We also have some Tamworth but they are slower growing and I do not favor them. Duroc I avoid because that breed is known to have boar taint and temperament problems. See the Pigs page for more discussion of our breeding program and follow the links from there for deeper discussions of the various aspects.

  10. Jeff Hamons says:

    Walter, your blog and posts are my goto place when making decision on my pigs.

    We have recently started getting whey to supplement the pasture our pigs get. Now that I have them off the grain, I feel my grazing decisions are ven more important. We currently have large black pigs. 1 boar (750lbs or so), 2 sows (just farrowed second litters), 11 6 month old piglets, and 10 1 week old piglets. Do you have any guidelines you use to decide on paddock size? We are moving them every 14 days. The paddocks are primarily hardwood forested areas. I realize this answer may be impossible to answer because of the variability in quality of grazing, but I hope the discussion helps me make better decisions.

    Also, in the past I had to increase the feed for the sows when they were nursing. Do you find in your experience pasture and whey is enough? They have free choice whey.

    Do you supplement with any mineral? I read in one post you mentioned using kelp — but wondered how you fed it? Free Choice?

    Synergistic Acres – Kansas City Natural Farm

    • Generally we don’t do anything special for the sows. If I were to do something I would boost the protein in gestation and the calories in lactation periods. However we have many sows at many stages all out in the same pastures so individual feeding like that is not practical. Rather I make sure that the pastures have a good balance of forages with lots of legumes and then they have the free choice whey. If you can individually control the rations, go for it.

      On the pasture size, that is a question I get a lot. I do it by eye, gauging the pasture, the pigs and moving them within the goals of breaking parasite life cycles (21 days off at minimum). If I see too much rooting I know it is time to have them move on.

      That said, I’m in the middle of a set of experiments that may let me give more exacting figures in the future. We setup a number of control sized paddocks with weaners who are numbered through ear tags and have their weights recorded as they move about for specific day counts.

      However, even when those results are available one must realize that they must not be taken with too sharp a pencil. It will just be a rule of thumb guide based on our pastures in our climate on our soil with our pigs, our forages and our rain this year in the seasons of record. Under other conditions results will vary. The good news is you can just develop a keen eye from watching the animals and pasture and then adjusting dynamically.

      On the kelp we tend to add it to the whey.

  11. Jacob Gjesdahl says:

    Do you find your whey slows down at all in late winter due to dairy farmers drying off most of their cows to save on feed costs? I always imagined they’d focus their cheese operations in spring thru fall and only keep enough going over winter for the fresh milk market.

  12. michael says:

    Hi Walter!

    Happy mid winter – half way+ to spring!

    Do you have any idea of what the ratio of milk to whey is? As in xlbs milk renders ____ lbs whey? I am sure it depends on many factors. I am asking, as we’re hoping to start working with a cheese producer who is using 6000 – 7000 lbs milk a week.

    Thanks for all you do!
    Michael

    • My understanding is it takes about ten pounds of milk to make a pound of cheese or butter but that might vary with the type of cow and the type of cheese. Different cows produce different percents fat in the milk. Disclaimer: I’m not a cheese or butter maker nor have I ever owned a cow. I do have some magic beans though…

  13. Vaughn Peters says:

    Hi Walter,

    I’m getting my 1st pigs in a couple weeks, so I started the ball rolling
    by setting up a waist milk drop off at a local store. I thought I would
    stock up a little ( in case my buddy falls short on trading veggie scraps
    and dairy for a pig). I was shocked to see 40 gallons of week-old milk!
    Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I took it, but I cant freeze
    or refrigerate that much ( they drop it off mon. and thurs. ) In 2 weeks
    it will likely turn. I have a 100 gal. tank for storage ,I know the milk
    should be slightly soured before feeding to pigs, but how sour is too
    sour?!! I intended to add the milk to the tank and just draw off the
    bottom , assuming the fresh milk would mix and sour, sort of a steady
    state kind of affair. Does this sound reasonable ? How many days can
    soured milk sit out and not harm the pigs ?
    Thanks for your input,
    Vaughn
    P.S.
    There was orange juice in with the milk jugs,
    I read pigs don’t like or can’t have citrus , true or false?

    • I would make yogurt out of the milk. This helps it keep longer, improves digestibility and condenses it some as you can draw off the whey which has the lesser value. Keep it as cool as you can and sealed should make it last longer. Realize that a few piglets won’t go through huge amounts so it will be a while before they use much quickly. If you make it to cheese then you could even get an eight or ten to one condensing.

      How long it will last depends on the form (milk, yogurt, cheese, butter) as well as the temperature (lower is better). Pigs thrive on milk that you and I would considered too past.

      Pigs can have the orange juice too. It will have sugars as well as some vitamins.

  14. Mark says:

    Walter, I love to read your posts, thank you for sharing your knowledge!
    I am raising 6 pigs (3/4 Berkshire, 1/4 Hereford), rotating them every 2 weeks in our pasture. They are approx. 150-175 lbs. at this point, when I got them 2 months ago they weighed 65-70 lbs. Have been feeding them some corn/soy with minerals, but since we have a farm market we have also been providing a pretty good amount of fruits & veggies that us humans have rejected. Sweet corn in particular seems to be a favorite – they will easily go through 10-15 dozen a day. The plan is to finish them for their last month or so on primarily apples (our main crop at the farm). All that being said, we have an opportunity to get approx. 200 gallons of milk/week from a “local” dairy, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble. The “local” dairy is actually about 35 miles away. Obviously that means a significant commitment of time and gasoline to get there and back. Are you aware of any figures that would help me justify the time and expense of getting the milk regularly? i.e. so much milk being fed equals so much corn/soy being fed? I have considered doing it a time or two instead of weekly, but again, not sure if it really makes sense.
    Thoughts or comments?

    Thanks!!!
    Mark

    • For comparison, 200 gallons of milk is worth something like 2,000 gallons of whey plus or minus, your mileage will vary and all that. If you’re able to get it I would. I find our pigs on unlimited hay and dairy drink about 3.6 gallons of dairy per hundred weight per day. You don’t need to feed that much. That is about the limit of their ability to process the fluid. The milk is very high in nutritional value. If you yogurtize the milk and have cool weather, shade, ground contact then it may last two weeks. For more, see these articles Feeding Whey and Feeding Dairy. There is overlap between those lists so go through the titles and pick out the interesting ones.

  15. Andrew Williams says:

    Mr. Jeffries,

    Thank you so much for your blog. If you did not have the whey source that you do, what would you use to supplement your pigs diet?

    • There are many things you could use rather than dairy. Whey happens to be what we have readily available as there are a lot of dairy farms in our area and there is a cheese maker close to us.

      In my case, if I didn’t have whey I would use eggs. I can easily manage laying hens on pasture without needing to feed grain. The hens are our organic pest control eating the insects produced by our local marsh down the mountain from us and the insects that live in our fields. As a side benefit the hens produce tens of thousands of eggs. I would boost the number of hens I keep from the 100 to 500 range to the 3,000 to 5,000 range. I would keep them in multiple flocks centered around mobile hen houses that I would move on field roads around the farm so they would graze different areas over time. An egg is a near perfect food. But eggs sell for very little in these parts. Pork on the other hand sells for a lot more. I supplement of about 7%DMI eggs in the pasture diet of the pigs might be plenty to promote excellent growth.

      I would also grow more pumpkins, sunflowers and other foods for the pigs and hens as well.

  16. Shara LaFave says:

    Walter I read a research paper that stated that whey could cause gastric ulcerations and intestinal disease. Have you ever encounter these issues or any other health problem? Thanks in advance because I am learning so much from you.

    • My understanding is that is caused by feeding just whey. Adding fiber to the diet fixes it. Our pigs eat about 80%DMI pasture and about 7%DMI dairy most of which is whey. %DMI means Percent Dry Matter Intake of diet. e.g., they eat 8 lbs of dry matter of pasture plus 0.7 lbs dry matter of dairy. See The Pig Page for more about what they eat, read the feeding section and follow links from there for details.

  17. Shara LaFave says:

    Thanks for clarifying that. That helps me very much. You are so full of knowledge and it is so kind of you to share and pass it on so that others can be successful.

  18. Ove Halseth says:

    Hi:)

    Thanks for a great blog:)

    You say: “3.5 gallons of whey per hundred weight of pig per day”
    And i guess by “per hundred weight of pig” you are referring to lbs not kilo?

    Best regards
    Ove B-)

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