Tank Cleanout

Lower Whey Tanks

Our pig’s diet consists of about 90% pasture and hay depending on the season plus about 7% dairy. The remainder is apples, pumpkins, beets, turnips, mangels, sunflowers, sunchokes and other veggies. Occasionally we get a little boiled barley (high in protien) from a local beer pub and a little day old bread from the local bakery. The latter makes a great treat for training pigs to load for market day. The dairy complements the dietary values of the pasture and hay making for a virtually complete diet for our pigs by providing calories and an important protein, lysine. Additionally the dairy gives a sweet taste to the fat and makes it have a firm consistency and be very white.

Whey Tank Strapped and Cleaning

For us the dairy consists of primarily whey as well as the occasional load of milk, cream, butter and cheese from a local dairy and cheese maker. Whey is a by product of their making cheese and butter. By connecting the cheese maker back to the farm these nutrients get recycled rather than discarded down the chaos slope.

Whey Tank Churner Cleanout on Valve

I make yogurt in five gallon pails which I add to the tanks to culture them. Over time cream, chunks of butter and yogurt solids can accumulate in the tank. This does not flow out very readily so we made a gadget that allows us to churn up the bottom of the tank while allowing the resulting suspended highly nutritious solids to flow out to the troughs.

Closeup of Churner

Originally we just stock a piece of rod up the valve and caught the solids in a bucket. This was inefficient and took a lot of time. The problem was it was difficult to keep the mixture churning while also having the pipe connected. The cleanout churner Tee solves this quite neatly. The churner is threaded pipe fittings formed into a Tee. The hose that goes to the pig feeding troughs plugs into the bottom o the Tee, the Tee plugs into the tank where the hose normally attaches and a long piece of rebar (on the right) with a gasket is inserted into the narrow fitting on the Tee. We then turn the crank of rebar, which is squiggly shaped on the other end in the tank, to stir up the solids in the whey tank. The solids break up, mix with the liquid whey and flow down the flexible pipe to the delight of the pigs. They look forward to these special meals of tasty, rich cream, butter and yogurt solids.

The large 4″ white pipes are to let us fill troughs that are far away from the tanks. Years ago we had used 1″ pipe, which clogged a lot. Then we upgraded to 2″ pipe which was much better. But for very long runs the 4″ drain pipe is best. Time to time we pour a bucket of hot water down to melt out any butter – especially important in the winter. The 4″ pipe also makes good piping for water – it is wide enough to not plug.

The other day Will and I put the yellow binding straps on the tanks. The east tank had been gradually sliding eastward. I didn’t want to see it drop into the south sorting pen so when the west tank was full and the east tank was empty, by design, we strapped the tanks together and rachetted the east one westward. It took two years for the east tank to slide eight inches down hill – less than glacial to be sure. I’ll leave the straps on – cheap insurance on a pair of 1,000 gallon tank that costs that many dollars each.

The keen eye will note one other detail. The valves of the tanks have electric heaters, insulation and waterproofing on them. In the winter these are critical or the metal of the valve ends up being a heat sink that freezes the bottom front of the tank. Even with that on the coldest days we sometimes have to use hot water and a ram rod to open the valves. In the winter snow banks on the north side lift the cold winds up and over the tanks.

Outdoors: 49째F/29째F Drizzle
Tiny Cottage: 68째F/61째F

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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8 Responses to Tank Cleanout

  1. Melissa says:

    Do you ever have problems with spoilage inside the tanks? You've said that you go through whey pretty quickly, but what about the solids that collect in the tanks?

    Neat system. You've obviously put a lot of work into getting it set up for your needs.

  2. The Tee cleanout brings the solids out very nicely for the pigs. On occasion we'll add hot water to melt chunks of butter. We don't have spoilage problems but other farmers do have such problems. One farmer who gets dairy from the same source as we do has a lot of trouble with this. Why don't we have those problems? Probably because I culture our whey with yogurt.

    The biggest thing is that the pigs simply drink the whey up so quickly. Because of that it is rarely sitting around for very long.

    Mold can grow on the surface of the whey, types you don't want. Fortunately the surface area of the whey is small compared with the volume of the tank.

    Another difference is he keeps his tank inside a building where it is warmer. Our tanks are intimately connected with the ground which is never very warm. Our climate is cool so it never gets warm with our record high being a remarkable 86째F once in the last 20 years and our average temperature being more like something in the 50's and highs more like the 70's. Perhaps in Texas this would be more of a problem.

    I have experimented with setting aside a five gallon pail of whey. With no yogurt in it and left exposed to the air in the summer it will get ripe after a week during the hottest temperatures. Add a little yogurt to culture it and it is great.

    About once or twice a year we do a full flush out of our tanks with hot water. Since we only have our small home hot water heater in the cottage this takes a lot of work to clean out all three of the 1,000 gallon tanks. I try to time it for spring and fall. What I would really love is a high temperature pressure washer which would make this task much easier. But we don't have to do it often enough to justify the cost. Perhaps someday when I'm flush.

  3. The other thing about spoilage that I had forgotten to mention is the pH of the whey is such that it is not prone to spoilage.

  4. Alyse says:

    I just wanted to say that I have scanned your blog and website and you are doing an amazing job with your farm. If only you lived in Kentucky near me, you'd be perfect, haha.
    I can't even find pastured beef closer than 200 miles away (which I can't afford.)
    Anyway, kudos, you are doing a great thing for the earth and for your animals.

  5. Evelyn says:

    Have you ever looked at the systems for cleaning RV water storage tanks? They have wands (w/ a hose attachment) that you insert into the tank & a whirly-gig thing at the end. The water squirts out the end of the hose and cleans the sides of the tank. They also have a version that installs into the sides of the tank permanently. I don't know if it would deliver enough pressure to clean tanks as large as yours. RV tanks don't get bigger than ~100 gallons.
    There are also heat blankets for RV tanks, but it seems like you've got that covered. I've only ever put heat tape on my valves, they're the first thing to freeze & the last thing to defrost.
    I think these things are overpriced. But, I'm sure you could rig up something on the same concept… if you thought it would benefit.

    I just wish we could do pigs the way you do. We tried, but they just destroyed the pasture. We're going to have to wait till the orchards start producing & we'll have lots of apple pumice from making cider & such. Then, we can try again. We should also be milking our cows by then…. I hope. :)

  6. Someday I would love to have some sort of clean out pressure washer. We actually do have a simple pressure booster that raises the pressure from our spring but we're still dealing with the limited hot water and not a whole lot of pressure.

    On the pigs and rooting, I find the trick is that if they're rooting it is time to rotate them. Lots of small paddocks, like one or two acres each, with quick rotation results in better grazing just like with cattle and sheep.

  7. Sean Govan says:

    Walter, I think your churner sounds ingenious. I do have a question, though: in the third and fourth photos, I see that the tee doesn’t connect directly to the horizontal pipe. What is the purpose of that flexible gray hose between the tee and the regular pipe?

    • Two things:

      1. It is best to not connect to a tank valve with rigid pipe as it can break the valve or the tank so a flexible line goes from valves to rigid pipes that lead to troughs.

      2. The long flexible pipe lets us use the same tank with many troughs by switching the flexible pipe output to a different rigit white or black rigid pipe.

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