How whey can cut the cost of pig feed

Alternative feed options can help to buffer the impact of rising costs, especially when prices increase due to adverse climatic conditions. Mauro Delle Donne of Zandam Farm explained to Glenneis Kriel how he lowers production costs by using software technology and whey from his cheese factory.

How whey can cut the cost of pig feed
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The Delle Donne family has been farming pigs and making cheese in the Cape Winelands for more than 50 years. This combination may sound odd, but is in fact a good match, as it allows the farm to reduce wastage in the cheese factory, while reducing feed costs in the piggery.

“The cheese factory helps to cut our feed bill by allowing us to feed whey to the pigs – a by-product from the production of mozzarella and hard Italian cheese types. The cheese factory is only a 100m from the grower units, so it can be used shortly after it being produced,” says Mauro Delle Donne, owner of Zandam Farm.

Better feed conversion

Mauro maintains that using fresh whey has helped him improve the feed conversion ratio of his herd as it helps to improve the digestibility of protein in the feed, which in his case, primarily consists of maize. Zandam Farm produces 1kg of meat from 2,9kg of feed, compared with the industry norm of 1kg of meat from 3,2kg of feed. Using whey has therefore allowed the farm to cut the feed bill by about 10%.

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Whey is also highly nutritious and palatable. Very little is left after a feeding session, according to Mauro.

For the best results, by-products such as whey should be treated like any other ingredient in the feed ration and not fed ad lib.

“Rations should be balanced and adjusted according to the animals’ nutritional needs as they grow older,” explains Mauro. “Formulating a diet is easier said than done, however, because it implies that you know the nutritional composition of each ingredient added to the feed. For this reason, we use a dietician to help us develop our feed formulations.”

A software program is used to mix three types of feed, plus whey and water to formulate a daily ration for the specific age of a pig.

Grower pigs receive whey from 70 days until they are sold for slaughter at 155 days. Rations are increased and slowly adjusted as the pigs gain weight, starting with a high protein content of about 19% and ending with a 14% protein content.

“We only have enough whey to feed to the growers, and using it on this group gives a better financial return than using it on the sows. Adding whey to the sows’ rations would also have been difficult because the sows are fed individual rations tailored to their production requirements,” Mauro explains.

Moreover, adding whey to a sow’s rations can result in reproductive problems.

Whey is also unsuitable for

young piglets (between 28 and 70 days old). It will upset their digestion as the microflora in their gut have not yet fully developed. Piglets require feed with high nutritional and energy content to strengthen them after the shock of being weaned between 24 and 28 days after birth, Mauro explains.


Despite fresh whey containing large quantities of live probiotics, Mauro also administers commercially formulated probiotics to the pigs to improve gut health.

“Gut health plays a major part in helping pigs to grow well and stay healthy. Pigs that can’t fully digest their food or absorb nutrients will be more susceptible to disease than ones that can. A healthy gut makes animals less susceptible to disease and in effect helps to reduce a farmer’s dependence on antimicrobial products,” he says.

The sheer variety of probiotics on the market can be overwhelming. Mauro’s advice is therefore to buy probiotics from a reputable source and have the product analysed at a laboratory.

“We have access to a laboratory because of the cheese factory, so we’re able to test the quality of the product for ourselves. We want a product with a wide variety of living probiotics,” he explains.

Automated feed mixing reduces waste

Mauro uses Big Dutchman’s Wet Feed software program to mix the pigs’ rations according to their various production and growth phases.

“Feed ingredients are kept in tanks and then automatically mixed using the program to create the ration required by the specific group of pigs,” he explains.

This removes the human element from the equation and reduces wastage as a result of under- or over-feeding.

Water is kept in a separate tank to flush and clean the pipes through which feed is transported to the groups of pigs. The flushed water is recycled into the feed ration.

While the program is highly efficient, there is still room for human intervention. Moreover, the level of intervention has become more sophisticated than in the past. According to Mauro, this may be because of differences between the consumption levels of the various groups of pigs, possibly influenced by climatic conditions. Pigs tend to eat less during periods of heat stress and more when subjected to cold stress.

The farm’s stockmen are therefore tasked with monitoring animal growth and noting the amount of feed left after each feeding session.

“If we see that a group of pigs are not eating all their feed, we reduce the volume of feed by simply clicking a button. If the animals eat all their feed and seem to struggle to put on weight, we increase the volume. This can be done from the computer, a phone or a tablet,” he explains.

Email Mauro Delle Donne at [email protected].