It is not hard to decide what to do with the gaunt, lightweight, sickly pig – it should be euthanized.

But if it's a borderline case, the decision becomes more difficult.

Prompt elimination of a lightweight pig in the growing stage has definite advantages, points out Morgan Morrow, state Extension swine veterinarian at North Carolina State University: The advantages of culling the lightweights include:- Increased floor space for the remaining, robust pigs.

  • Supplying to a market, such as barbecue pigs in the Southeast.
  • Increasing in the throughput (turns) of the building.
  • A decrease in the risk of disease transmission.

But there are additional advantages to euthanizing lightweight pigs early. Those include: - It helps avoid, or at least reduce, antibiotic residue potential.

  • No need for special housing or handling for these pigs.
  • Reduce problems associated with group mixing.
  • No marketing concerns.

No cull trucks picking up lightweights from multiple farms.

Morrow provides some additional insight into determining what kind of program you should develop to address lightweight pigs within your operation.

Available pen space Adequate floor space for healthy, thriving pigs should get priority. It does not pay to let small, poor-doing pigs cause overcrowding. If you have enough pens to devote one or more areas to lightweight pigs, then you may want to finish those pigs out. The key is, they need their own space so they don't have to compete with larger penmates.

Liquid feeding This may be worth considering if you handle early weaned pigs. Research trials show that liquid milk replacer stimulates growth and dry feed intake of pigs weaned at 7 days of age and who are hen liquid-fed up to 21 days old. " But," warns Morrow, " the increased rate of growth was lower in the second week than in the first." Special feeding equipment This is another consideration with liquid feeding. " It takes special automated equipment to mix and dispense the milk replacer," says Morrow. This can add equipment, product and labor costs. " Because proper sanitation is vital, you need to clean equipment regularly and carefully," he says.

Care and handling It takes time, effort and patience to properly care for small pigs, Morrow emphasizes. Worker temperament is a factor. If your operation is short-handed, it may not be feasible to add the special-treatment chores that lightweight pigs require.

Is there a market? Having a steady, strong demand for lightweight pigs is important. Is there a market for barbecue pigs in your area? What about an Asian market? Identifying the prospects ahead of time makes a significant difference, and helps warrant investing time and effort in those lagging piglets.

Market-weight rallyIf you keep lightweight pigs with the intention of selling them at your herd's preferred market weight, you have a couple of options to boost their rate of gain, notes Morrow. Either of these can help laggards catch up.

- Paylean (ractopamine hydrochloride) may be fed to pigs when they reach 150 pounds to 240 pounds live weight at the rate of 4.5 to 18 grams per ton of feed (5 to 20 parts per million)" Feeding trials," says Morrow, " have shown that it can increase the rate and efficiency of muscle-tissue growth and add 2 pounds to lightweight pigs at slaughter. As a result, fewer penalties may be levied against you for pigs falling outside of the packer's matrix." - Producers also have reduced lightweight pigs from 9.6 percent to 3.1 percent, by injecting lincomycin intramuscularly (5mg per pound of body wieght) for three consecutive days. But that's provided Mycoplasma pneumonia is causing a problem.

Planning for the future If you do decide to feed out lightweight pigs, Morrow suggests tracking their performance. He suggests tagging and individually weighing the lightest 5 percent. If a pig dies, record the date and its weight. Then when you sell pigs, weigh the tagged ones.

" These records will help you identify and decide whether you need to change your management program," he says, " and whether lightweight pigs should be euthanized or kept and given special care and treatment."