Today I want to talk about nipple waterers. This is something that we use for our chickens, ducks and pigs here. I know that some have a system that works really well for them, this is what works for us, so I wanted to share. We first tried nipple waterers for the chickens. I bought the vertical kind from several companies, I had a lot of problems with water dripping non-stop. They just didn’t work for us.
So, we switched to the horizontal waterers. They are not as easy to obtain, but they work a lot better for us. We start the chicks and ducks on them in their first week. We have five gallon nipple waters in our brooders and all our small pens. In our large pens we have 55 gallon drums with nipples. We originally got the barrels with bung holes on top and we put nipples all the way around them. Lesson learned, these are impossible to clean. Now we only put nipples on one side and we buy drums with the screw tops.
We also use nipple waterers for the pigs. We buy the gravity fed nipple waterers sold on Amazon. We typically use a step drill to put five holes (though we do one at a time) in a V pattern. I’ve had much more success getting younger pigs to drink from the nipples than older. But, once the pigs see any pig drinking they will do it. So, step drill (we use this because we have found that the nipples aren't always a uniform size. So instead of constantly changing drill bits you can just make the hole a bit bigger with the step drill bit) to drill your hole, once you verify the size and fit is correct, you can use silicone to seal it up, then let it dry, fill it up and let your pigs enjoy.
To “train” any of the animals on the nipples I just walk over to it and push the water. Once one animals know how to do it, the next will learn. I always make sure there is a “teacher” in any pen. So really, you only need to teach the first group, they teach each other after that.
For buckets, we always use food grade, BPA free buckets. I used to get them at Lowe’s, but now I’m finding them more places. Tractor Supply has them now. For barrels, I use Food Grade. Typically they have carried jalapeños, olives or pig casings. I rinse them out, the pigs don’t care…
I wrote this quickly to answer some questions and show some pictures for a friend that had questions. Let me know if I missed something, have typos or if I need to clarify!!
Horizontal Chicken Nipples
In the summer time I do things a bit differently for the animals (and myself). I try to feed earlier and later. Not just because we have more hours of daylight, but because of the heat. I don’t know how the animals feel, but I don’t feel much like eating when it’s hot. Along those same lines, I do cut back on feed a bit. We don’t get cold snowy days in Southern California, but we are hot and lazy during the summer, so no one is expending the same amount of energy. But, the biggest overall change is water, our main cooling system.
Pigs: We are slowly moving to 55 gallon drums with nipples, but we still use wallows of mud and water for cooling. When it’s 90+ I go out at 11am and then again around 3. As I’m filing waterers I also hose down the pigs, pigs like getting their bodies washed down, just nothing in the face!!
Sows right after giving birth: If it’s very warm and a sow has just delivered I mix a concoction of ice water and something else, sometimes hard boiled eggs, sometimes molasses (watch the ants), sometimes both – to get the mom drinking and fully hydrated. I’ve had them slurp down a couple of gallons straight. This seems to perk them up and get everyone up, around and happy quickly. There is no science behind this, it simply makes me feel better.
Goats: Goats don’t seem to care at all about the heat!! Those nutballs will lay in the full sun at the hottest part of the day, it makes me hot watching them. Of course, they always have fresh water, I don’t know that they care!!
Chickens: I pay attention to the chickens when it’s warm, typically if they are out free ranging them it’s not too much to worry about. If they are locked in the coop I usually spray it down in the afternoon when it’s 95 plus (Geez, the California Drought Police are going to be after me, huh??). When chickens are holding their wings out from their bodies you can tell they are hot.
Ducks: Ducks are easy, give them a pool, problem solved.
Rabbits: Rabbits get frozen water bottles and fans in the warmer parts of the day. The rabbits are probably most impacted by the heat. If I’m hot, they are hot. When rabbits start panting you spray down their ears with cool water. I also give them ice water.
Dogs: I now have what I call the “Dog Water Park” – Essentially I took one of the BIG pig bath buckets and filled it half way up with water. Normally the only one that goes in it with all four feet is Jess. But she gets so wet and then jumps on the other dogs, so everyone (including me!!) is wet. On occasion (again, don’t tell the Drought Police) I turn on the sprinklers for 3-5 minutes for the dogs when it’s exceptionally hot. Rory loves the sprinklers, Gypsy and Lane will occasionally partake. Luke is far too dignified to indulge in sprinklers.
Myself: Anyone who knows me knows that I’m about as white as they come, plus I get heat and sun stroke with the best of them. On top of that, having Multiple Sclerosis means that heat and I are not friends. I bought a cooling vest off Amazon a couple of years ago. It means I essentially strap ice cubes to my body. I put that puppy on after lunch. It keeps my torso cool and helps me get through the heat of the day. I also try and drink as much as I can. Some days work better than others.
Feed: One easy way to feed your pig is “Pot Bellied Pig Pellets” you can get a 50 pound bag. Feed newly weaned piglets ¼ - ½ cup twice a day, as they grow, you increase the amount of feed. This isn’t an exact science, your pig will always think they are starving, so just watch their waist line. After the pigs are about 6 months old, I split the feed ½ pot bellied pig pellets, and ½ alfalfa pellets (or alfalfa hay is great too!). I feed on the ground, you can try a feeder, but likely they will flip it, it’s up to you! You can also change the feed, just watch to be sure your protein is about 17%, commercial pig food has medication and higher protein for faster growth. If you have a lot of grass they will get a lot of their needs met eating that. The key is to not overfeed them as you will damage their organs, just like a dog or human.
Your pigs will be fully weaned when they arrive, they will know how to eat pig pellets, so you don’t need to worry about milk. But, pigs like milk and eggs and cheese, so they will be happy to eat any leftovers you give them. They eat fruit, veggies, bread, anything you will eat. Be sure if you are supplementing their food you give them less of their pig food. Fat pigs have health problems.
Always call your pigs when you are feeding, even if they are right there. Call them by name or whatever routine you establish and they will get excited. Then they will learn to come when you scream/yell, this is handy if you ever have a lost pig. You can certainly train your pigs many other things, but this one is key.
Water is key for your pigs, you may feel like you MUST have clean water at all times (when really, you MUST have water at all times, it won’t always be clean). You should clean and fill water regularly, then accept it will get dirty – especially in summer or when your pig is hot. I use one of three things for water. Either heavy duty plastic (Fortex® Rubber Pet Bowls) bowls, or, as the weather heats up I go to bus trays that you can buy at Smart N Final or Cement mixing trays that you can get at Lowe’s or Home Depot. You can also give your pigs a baby pool. Just be sure the pigs can drink the water with their fat necks.
For bedding, you can use just about anything. I give the adult pigs straw and the baby pigs and farrowing mother grass hay. They don’t need bedding in their entire area, just where they sleep. You don’t have to, but the young pigs really seem to like a hut, or dog crate to sleep in. This would have bedding in it, they won’t need it anywhere else. Blankets are fine as well. Pigs do need a safe, dry place to be out of the elements.
Potty Training (if desired) -- When they poop the first day or so, decide where you want them to go to the bathroom. Then put the first days poop there and leave it. Just pick up about half of it when you clean the first week. If you give them a few days they will almost always use that as their restroom.
When I got pigs I spoke with my vet about vaccines, she strongly felt that there was no reason to vaccinate, so I don’t. If you are interested in vaccinating your pigs there are tons to choose from, I don’t know as I don’t do it.
The one thing you will do is worm your pigs. I use safe guard pellets or Ivermectin, typically there are pig instructions on most wormers. I don’t do it often, maybe once every 7 months, if I see an issue. I’m not big on drugs, so I am pretty conservative.
Heat: If it’s cold you can give young piglets (less than 3 months) a heat lamp or heating pad, this will vary based on the number of pigs that can snuggle together and your weather. In Southern California I only give newborns heat lamps if we are having bad weather, I don’t need it for weaned pigs. But, it depends on you… You may want to do it for your peace of mind.
You may need to occasionally trim hooves on your pig. You can get them ready for this by touching their feet a lot while giving belly rubs. When and if you need to trim hooves you can use goat hoof trimmers, horse feet trimmers or a Dremmel. Depending on the surfaces that your pig walks on you may never need it. I use Pam, she does the pig hooves for me, I think she is far more of an expert than I will ever be!
Car Sick –Pigs and piglets will occasionally get car sick. If you plan on traveling especially down a curvy road (like ours), plan for them to be car sick. This seems to vary by age, but it is normal.
How many pigs – Some people have pigs as their constant companion, that works great! But, if you are going to have a pig that you visit and hang out with for a bit each day I suggest having two pigs. Pigs like to have friends, they don’t want to be alone, they prefer their own kind, but may adjust to another animal that is intelligent, like a dog or a person. They just don’t want to spend their lives alone.
I want to start with this question as I feel that it’s fundamental. If you plan to have two or three pigs as pets at your home, and you never plan to breed then I suppose this is a pretty simple question. But, pet pigs are a bit like dogs, we are beginning to see a surplus of “tea cup” pigs and pot belied pigs. People may think that they know what they are getting into, but don’t do a ton of homework.
All my pigs are outside, sometimes, I have a pig inside for a few hours at a time if I’m worried about it’s breathing or some other health issue. But, I can’t give buyers a lot of information about having pigs in the house. I just don’t have that experience. I do have people who have one or two pigs in the house and it has worked out great for them. But, you have to work on training from the very beginning. Your Kune will be stronger than you eventually, so establish yourself as the boss early on!! I try not to feed the pigs from my hands, but I have done it on occasion and notice that the pigs have better manners than a lot of dogs. So maybe I’m just paranoid! I also really like my fingers!
If your Kune is going to be an outdoor pet, be sure that it won’t be lonely. Realistically, another pig will be the pest fit, but it’s possible that a dog or any other farm animal may serve as a good companion. But, pigs, dogs and people require social interaction. A pig that’s alone will likely get bored and lonely, which will likely become destructive.
Besides pets, Kunes serve as orchard and farm clean up on a small or large homestead. They are relatively easy to contain and very easy to work with. We use our Kunes in the orchards to eat the weeds and fallen fruit.
Kunes can also produce pork. I know that some people think of their pigs as their pets, so they won’t want to use them as pork. But, this is an option. Kunes can be raised on pasture, which makes them more economical than other animals and they are a lot smaller and easier to handle than a commercial sized pigs. Kune pork has a lot more fat and flavor than the pork you get in the stores.
As a college teacher, the month of April tends to be quite busy. Typically I'm grading term papers, testing students, and help them deal with anxiety over their grades. It's interesting to me that I choose a job that is so cyclical. On the farm, we are selling off goat kids and hatching chicks during April. Realistically, I do the same things at the same time each year. I find solace in the rhythm of life. There may be small changes, but I know what April brings. May we get warmer and we end the month with my birthday. Summer comes, the pigs play in the mud, the chicks grow up and time marches on...
It has come to my attention that all my female pigs (both sows and gilts) come into heat that the same time, every three weeks, unless they are pregnant. Over the summer I had three sows farrow the same day. They had been placed with the boars weeks apart, but somehow managed to "sync up" and deliver me surprises the same day. Recently, my two sows, Stella and Maisy delivered on the same day. The interesting thing about that, is that Maisy was in with the boars two months before Stella. Two and a half weeks later (gilts farrow earlier) Olive and Minnie both had litter within 24 hours of each other.
Now, I understand that this is mother nature and all that jazz. But, wouldn't it make more sense for them to stagger out? That way they wouldn't be drawing away resources (and boars) at the same time. It also would be easier for me, if the pigs care!! It also seems to me, that the females seem to get pregnant in groups, it makes me wonder if the boars just sit around being lazy unless there is competition, or two girls competing.
I looked for peer reviewed articles on the subject, no dice. So, I guess I will just keep my records and see what happens over the long term.