Sources of maternal odors and the development of odor preferences in baby pigs.

J. Morrow-Tesch, J. J. McGlone

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83 Scopus citations


Seven experiments utilizing 77 litters of piglets were conducted to determine the relative preferences or aversion of piglets for maternal olfactory cues. A Y-maze was used to test piglet preferences for two substances at any one time. A preference index was calculated from Y-maze data to identify whether piglets expressed a preference or aversion to the two substances tested in each session. The first two experiments examined piglet preferences for maternal fecal odors, colostrum, milk, urine and skin washings at 12 h and 7 d of age. Piglets preferred the odor of nipple washings and sow feces at 12 h of age. Piglets preferred sow fecal odors at 7 d of age in one study. The third study showed that piglets could discriminate between their mother's fecal odor and fecal odors from other sows. The fourth study examined piglet preferences for maternal fecal odors at birth, 12 h and 1, 3 and 7 d of age. At all ages tested except birth, piglets preferred sow fecal odors over water. The final three studies showed that piglets did not prefer to be near novel odors (orange and banana odors), nor did they prefer to be near the putative rat maternal pheromone, deoxycholic acid. In conclusion, piglets learn their mother's odor within the first 12 h of life. Piglets are most attracted to the odors associated with maternal feces and skin secretions. Piglet odor discriminatory ability is specific for maternal odors (not just odorous substances) and very acute (they can discriminate between mother and non-mother odors). When modifying piglet behavior to improve survival, the piglet's well-developed olfactory ability should be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3563-3571
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1990


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