Early weaned pigs fed a liquid diet for 2 weeks gained 54 percent faster than ones fed the same ration in dry-pellet form. What's more, they maintained an advantage all the way to market.

In a research trial at North Carolina State University, conducted by swine nutritionist Jack Odle, 240 pigs were weaned at 11 days of age, averaging 8.66 pounds and were divided into two groups. The nutritional composition of their rations was identical. Only the delivery vehicles were different. Water used in the liquid diet did not change its nutritional composition.

At the end of 2 weeks – at 25 days of age – the liquid-fed pigs averaged 20.98 pounds and the pellet-fed pigs averaged 16.64 pounds. During the 2 weeks, the liquid-fed group consumed 26 percent more feed, gained 54 percent faster and used 23 percent less feed per pound of gain than the other group.

"The difference between the two groups was especially pronounced during the first three days," notes Eric van Heugten, North Carolina swine nutritionist " The liquid-fed group gained 0.55 pound per day, while pigs on pellets grew at 0.14 pound."

Following the 2-week trial period, both groups were then put on the same pelleted ration for 3 weeks, followed by a meal formulation for the last 2 weeks in the nursery.

In the grow/finish phase, all pigs received a meal ration. "For the entire period to market, daily feed intake and gain were 4 percent better for the pigs that received liquid feed for 2 weeks after weaning," notes van Heugten.

He recognizes that liquid feeding requires special equipment and additional labor, and for those reasons, it is not feasible for all operations.

"But," he adds, "liquid feeding is practical when used selectively, especially with lightweight pigs at weaning. It can help them catch up with littermates and reduce the variation in market weights."