Special attention is given to just-born pigs that are unlikely to live, and destined to be tail-enders if they do, at Hanor Farms’ operations in North Carolina. At 6 days old the smallest 3 percent of pigs in a farrowing house are pulled out for special treatment in the company’s small-pig center.

After three weeks there — thanks to attentive care and special feeding — most have caught up with their littermates. By removing them from competing with larger, stronger littermates, the lightweight piglets produce far greater survival and growth rates.

There are two main goals of the small-pig center:

1. In the first 10 days, reduce mortality.

2. In the second 10 days, produce pigs with heavier weaning weights.

“Mortality in the first three weeks runs 7 percent to 10 percent,” says Dave Wade, Hanor vice president and national operating manager. “Without this, most of the small, weak pigs would die or fall far behind littermates. We have eliminated starve-outs.”

Another benefit, notes Wade: “By removing the ‘Typhoid Mary’ pigs, it reduces the need to medicate pigs that remain with the sow. This is a worthwhile savings.”

In the small-pig center, pigs have free access to nutrient-dense liquid feed in a consistently warm, draft-free environment.

“Based on one year’s experience with our small-pig center in North Carolina, we’re able to market an additional one-third of a pig per sow per year,” notes Wade. “This compares favorably with three years of experience in our Oklahoma operation, where we developed and validated the small-pig center in cooperation with Rafael Cabrera of Ralco-Mix.”

The unit in North Carolina is in a renovated building that’s more than 30 years old. “We didn’t spend a lot on the building,” says Wade. It accommodates small, weak pigs from five sow farms. “For five hours each day, a worker gives pigs close attention,” he adds.

Each room has 14, 5' x 5' pens that hold 20 to 22 pigs, with up to 300 pigs per room. In each pen there’s a drinking cup for water and two cups for the milk replacer. It is mixed three times a day (more often in extremely hot weather) and is circulated continuously by compressed air. To avoid bacterial growth in the delivery system, hydrogen peroxide is added, and the system is cleaned weekly with acid used in bulk-milk tanks. Pigs sometimes have the appearance of being dirty because the milk replacer carmelizes, “but they’re healthy,” says Wade.

The Ralco-Mix that Hanor uses is a highly fortified, powdered-milk replacer that contains neomycin. A 20-pound bag is used in 18 gallons of water.

As they enter the center, pigs are injected with an antibiotic and marked with green paint stick. To keep pigs from chilling, both direct heat and room temperatures are kept a bit high. The room has a centralized, gas-heating system, with two heat lamps and a rubber mat per pen. For the first week, the room is kept at 92°F, 90°F during the second week, and 88°F during the third.

When the smallest pig in a pen reaches 10 pounds, a dry feeder is set up to offer ad-lib feeding of a highly fortified nursery diet produced in 1/8-inch micro pellets. Restrictors are then placed in the pen’s milk cups to minimize waste and encourage pigs to eat the dry feed. Milk is discontinued two days after dry feed is introduced.

Every week, the pigs completing their third week in the center are moved into a nursery located elsewhere on the farm. The empty room is power-washed and disin­fected.

After sitting vacant for a week, the room is again filled with 6-day-old small pigs. At any time, one room is unoccupied.

Pigs consume a total of 1.1 pounds of milk and pellets per pound of body weight produced.

“These feeds and other costs come to about $13 to produce a thrifty 12-pound weaned pig,” says Wade. “We believe the small-pig center is a good investment, considering that most of the pigs would probably have died, would have to be euthanized or would always be tail-enders.”