Ewes direct most maternal attention towards lambs that show the greatest pain-related behavioural responses

A Futro, K Maslowska, CM Dwyer

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12 Citations (Scopus)
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Although neonatal farm animals are frequently subjected to painful management procedures, the role of maternal behaviour in pain coping, has not been much studied. We investigated whether ewes were able to distinguish between lambs in pain and those that were not, and whether their behaviour altered depending on the severity of lamb pain. Eighty male lambs were allocated to one of 4 pain treatments within 24 hours of birth. Lambs were either handled only (C), bilaterally castrated with tight rubber rings (RR), as for RR but with the application of a Burdizzo clamp immediately proximal to the ring (Combined) or subjected to short scrotum castration (SSC) where the testicles were retained within the abdomen and only the scrotum removed. The behaviour of the ewe, treated lamb and untreated sibling where present (n = 54) were recorded for 30 minutes after treatment. Castration treatment increased the expression of abnormal standing and lying postures, specific painrelated behaviours (head-turning, stamping/kicking, easing quarters, tail wagging) and composite pain scores (P<0.001 for all). The greatest expression of pain-related behaviours was shown by lambs in the RR group, which were the only group to show rolling responses indicative of severe pain, followed by the SSC group. Ewes expressed more licking/sniffing responses to the RR and SSC lambs than towards the Combined and C lambs (P<0.05), and oriented most to RR lambs and least to C lambs (P<0.001). Ewes with two lambs also directed more attention towards the treated than the untreated lamb (P<0.001). The quantity of maternal care directed towards the lamb was positively correlated with the expression of active pain behaviours. The data demonstrate that ewes are able to discriminate between lambs in pain and those that are not, and that their response is increased with a greater severity of pain.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0134024
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Early online date28 Jul 2015
Publication statusFirst published - 28 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note



  • Abdominal pain
  • Behaviour
  • Castration
  • Pain sensation
  • Rubber
  • Sheep
  • Twins
  • Walking


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