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Horm Behav. 2007 Jun;52(1):78-85. Epub 2007 Apr 1.

Maternal behavior in pigs.

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Department of Animal Environment and Health, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, PO Box 234, 532 23 Skara, Sweden.


When sows kept under commercial conditions were put into crates in the early 1960s, the neuro-endocrine regulation of the maternal behavior in these domestic animals was disputed. Thus, the study of sow maternal behavior intensified and today a significant body of knowledge has accumulated to support the hormonal regulation of sow maternal behavior. The onset of nest building is associated with a periparturient decline in progesterone, an increase in prolactin and a major rise in plasma concentrations of PGF2alpha the day before parturition. Some nest building behaviors, such as pawing and gathering straw, have been found to correlate with changes in the levels of progesterone, prolactin and somatostatin. The duration of the birth process correlates negatively with peripheral oxytocin levels. During lactation, the stimuli from the piglets affect the release of several hormones which not only regulate the let down of milk but also sow metabolism and mammary milk production. The sow's nursing behavior ensures an even distribution of milk to her piglets. The piglets suckling behavior, in turn, is mainly a way to communicate their individual nutritional needs.

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