Improving Animal Production & Welfare
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Early life stress and maternal behaviour

Stressful experiences during early life can shape the postnatal behaviour and well-being of sows

mother and piglets

Scientists at Roslin and SRUC have discovered that early life stress affects cells in the pig brain that are sensitive to stress hormones and regulate anxiety behaviour.  Pigs that have experienced early life stress are more anxious as adults and when they become mothers they display poorer maternal care towards their piglets.

These findings are important in relation to captive animals, where the environment experienced during postnatal life is often highly artificial.  The discovery has implications for pig welfare and may explain a large degree of variation in pig maternal behaviour.

Original Publication

Rutherford KM et al. (2014) Prenatal stress produces anxiety prone female offspring and impaired maternal behaviour in the domestic pig. Physiol Behav. 129:255-64. DOI: