Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
For thousands of years, pigs have been the quintessential biological recyclers, foragers, and grazers. They love to eat almost anything they have access to on pasture: grass, clover, plant roots, broad leaf plants, and even thistles. They do, however, do best when they have access to additional protein, specifically lysine, which they need in order to be truly healthy and happy.
In modern CAFO’s (confined animal feeding operations), lysine comes from soybeans that are roasted, ground, and incorporated into their feed but for small homesteader pig operations the best source of cheap, clean, lysine is often outdated milk products. Outdated milk is an especially good alternative to soy-based feeds for farmers who want to avoid feeding GMO’s to their herd. While verifiably non-GMO feeds are often expensive and hard to find, outdated milk is available for free in virtually every town in the country.
In the United States, somewhere in the range of 1 percent to 2 percent of all bottled milk goes out of date before it is sold. This usually occurs while the milk is sitting on the shelf at the store and the milk distributor typically has an agreement with the store to pick up and dispose of any milk that is not sold before it goes out of date. Once it is picked up, it is then returned to the central milk distribution facility where it is disposed of. This is a real blessing for the small-time pork producer wanting to take advantage of old waste milk because this means that the milk distributor is gathering all of the milk into one place for easy pick up. It would probably not be cost-effective for the farmer to drive from convenience store to grocery store to supermarket all day long, just picking up one or two gallons at each location but, with the way the current system works, the milk can usually all be picked up in one central location.
Not far from where I live in rural Virginia there’s one milk distributor that collects about 100 gallons of milk from the stores it services every business day! And that’s just one brand of milk. A quick Google Maps “search nearby” of your town for keywords like “dairy” or “milk” will usually pull up a long list of potential sources. Keep in mind that disposing of the milk is costly for the milk company so if you can convince the folks in charge of that particular distribution point to give you a chance they will be grateful for you and your pigs in the long run.
By far the most critical part of taking advantage of this would-be wasted milk is building a good relationship with the manager of the distribution facility. Be completely straightforward about why you want the old milk and make sure that you offer to bring a pack or two of sausage by from time to time. Usually the biggest concern that the dairy company will have is that they get all of their reusable milk crates back in good condition. Don’t bring them back smelling like pig manure!
When done right, you can reduce your feed costs by up to 75 percent - even after taking your fuel costs into account. The time you spend pouring the gallons, ½ gallons, quarts, and pints out into troughs for your pigs will not be insignificant, but it’s time well spent. If you feed them enough milk you won’t have to feed them any grain at all (as long as you manage your pigs well in a pasture-based rotational gazing system). Pigs will happily drink fresh un-curdled milk but you may find that it’s worth your time to “age” your milk in barrels for a few days before feeding it out. This will help the pigs digest it more efficiently.
David Maren is a husband, father, farmer, and co-founder of Tendergrass Farms. Tendergrass Farms is a cooperative-style online grass fed meats shop that exists as a bridge between the often geographically isolated family farmer and committed grass fed meats enthusiasts like yourself. The Tendergrass Farms vision is to sustain family farms through making it easy for you to purchase their meats by taking advantage of appropriate technology and ultra-efficient transportation models that enable their meats to be shipped to fans all around the USA.