Snow Eaters

Pigs Eating Snow

When you see livestock eating snow it means you should check your waterers. They can do fine eating snow, as research has shown, however it takes more calories to convert the frozen snow to liquid water in their diet and some animals will grow faster if they have fresh fluid water. It’s a choice of how to spend calories.

A Cornel University study points out that snow can be a fine source of water for sheep and we have seen this too. Chickens, ducks, geese and pigs also can do well eating snow but all of them do better if they have liquid water. If it happens to be warm water, say over 40°F such as from a spring, they drink even more.

Like us, they enjoy a hot tea. We found in experiments with chickens that they drank more water in the winter if given hot water than cold and then they also laid more eggs in the winter when they had the warm tea tea. This makes me think about how to make thermo-siphoning solar hot water heater for the livestock…

Most of our water is provided by mountain springs, delivered down to the troughs via thousands of feet of 1″ and 2″ black plastic pipe. The water is pretty cold this time of year, flowing continuously which prevents freezing.

We feed whey which naturally has some salt in it. Salt can be a problem for pigs if it gets too high a level in their diet and they get restricted in their water intake. I’ve measured that with water and whey freely available next to each other that the pigs drink about 3.6 gallons of whey per hundred weight of pig and about 20% more of that in water, about 0.72 gallons. This means a 200 lb finisher pig will drink up to 7.2 gallons of whey and 1.44 gallons of water. A 400 lb sow drinks about 14 gallons of whey and about 3 gallons of water. This gives her plenty of fluid for producing milk for her suckling piglets. That volume seems to be the limit of what they can process for fluids – this is based on averages over large numbers of animals at various weights. What is of particular interest is the ratio of whey to water. It’s about 4 to 1. If you were feeding a saltier fluid then this may well change.

Speaking of water, the weather report says we should see 41°F. It wasn’t that warm here but late in the afternoon saw some dripping on the icicles and a few wet spots on the driveway where the sun made headway. Mostly though it’s still cold dry here. Perhaps they’re conditions reporting down in the valley. The difference may be the wind in part. I do think the coldest part of winter has passed although we’ll still see some significant snows.

Outdoors: 24°F/-4°F Mostly Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/61°F

Daily Spark: Focused like a laser is a funny phrase because lasers are not focused, they are parallel.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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9 Responses to Snow Eaters

  1. traye says:

    This isn’t really about water but along those lines. My pigs love love love warm tea. My very close neighbour grows lots of oats so I can get that cheap. I did the numbers and it’s my cheapest source of good lysine. To make it digestible I cook it. But I cook it with alfalfa hay and just a bit of corn. I cook over a fire in a giant kettle I have. The pigs favorite part is the warm “tea” that it makes, I figure they get good nutrients from it, I just have to make sure I spread it out in several drinking troughs because they shoulder each other to get to it.

  2. charlie says:

    Providing water for your animals is just good Animal Husbandry, it’s as simple as that.

  3. Patrick says:

    Some of my ducks and geese like snow. They will jump into water, drink, then jump out and wander about eating snow. They wag their tails and get excited after a few inches. The chickens go out and run back into their hoop house, though.

    This is not Vermont, so anything more than 6″ is Snowmageddon . I have a whole hatch of duck from last year that had never seen snow before, and I love going out to watch them after the first heavy snow.

    Over winter the number of waterfowl that eat snow has increased. I think they learn from each other. No idea. My kids love to eat snow, too – though it’s a good thing to make sure they have different “pasture” areas to eat from.

    Snow eating in the animals used to worry me, but not now. For us it’s not a sign of water loss. It’s funny watching them. I even have a few Muscovy that I swear fly up and dive into piles of loose snow on purpose. My “flyers” seem to like the snow, once they learn to fly out of it.

  4. Glenn Warren says:

    I’m a numbers guys, so was focused more on that than the animals. You conclude “What is of particular interest is the ratio of water to whey. It’s about 4 to 1.” Based on your previous observations, would that be the ratio of whey to water is about 4 to 1?

    Thanks again for the blog; it is a fascinating look at life on your farm.

  5. Farmerbob1 says:

    I’m really having an interesting day today wandering your site, Walter!

    Do you use small passive solar heaters for your water troughs? A solar heater box only a couple feet long can make a huge difference in the temperature of a backyard swimming pool holding many thousands of gallons. Something similar would probably greatly reduce the caloric costs of heating the water inside your pigs.

    Basically a parabolic dish made of aluminum foil, with a short length of iron pipe. Put it in a black painted box and seal the front with a bit of acrylic. Insulate the incoming and outgoing water hoses. It was shocking how much of a difference that simple gizmo made in my friend’s swimming pool when I helped him build it back for a science project in grade school. The pool water that was cold on Friday morning when we hooked it up was warm on the following Monday. Powering the pump might be difficult if it’s not near an electrical source though. I doubt you’d want to spend money on a photovoltaic array to power the pump (though I might be wrong).

    If you have gravity fed water, it might be conceivable to have some sort of a power take off system to take power from the incoming gravity fed water line to run a smaller pump to move water through the heater? This would reduce the flow of the cold water source line though, and perhaps lead to freezing?

    • I’ve always wanted to try that for the waterers but it has never been necessary. Our water comes from springs that are warm (45°F) so they don’t freeze. I did setup 300′ of 1″ black water line to heat a small swimming pool for years. That worked great. The inflowing water from the spring was heated, dumped in the pool and kept the pool fresh and warm eight months of the year without chemicals, without electricity, without pumps and without auxiliary heat.

      • Farmerbob1 says:

        I feel silly that I didn’t think about simply using black hose directly inline from the water source. Tried to over-engineer the problem. Bad!

        Well, something else completely out of the blue today. While researching today’s writing I discovered a concept called coppicing. Based on what I’ve been seeing about your farming and conservation philosophy, you might already be doing it, but I did a Google search of this site for the word, and it didn’t come up.

        So, have you ever coppiced trees for poles and/or firewood, and if so, what’s your experience been with it?

        • We do something similar in some of our fields with regen, the trees that grow up from the stumps of trees we cut. It provides us with kindling, poles and fodder as well as shade for the livestock and roosting areas for poultry.

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