Like Mother Like Child: Do Fearful Sows Have Fearful Piglets?

Hazel B. Rooney, Oceane Schmitt, Alexandra Courty, Peadar G. Lawlor, Keelin O’Driscoll*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
21 Downloads (Pure)


Gestational and early life experiences affect subsequent behavioural and physical development. The objective of the current study was to investigate associations between gilts’ fear of humans, gestational stress level, and feeding and maternal behaviour, as well as how these related to aspects of the personality and growth of their offspring. A total of 37 gilts were used. Four human approach tests were performed between d 104 and d 111 of gestation to classify gilts as fearful or friendly. Gilt feeding behaviour and salivary cortisol concentration was measured between d 90 and d 108 of gestation, and gilt nursing behaviour assessed at d 13 of lactation. Piglets were subject to a back test at d 13 of age, to an open field test and a human approach test at d 20 of age, and growth was monitored to weaning (d 26 of age). Gilts classified as having a fearful behavioural profile had higher cortisol levels than friendly gilts (p 0.05). Human fear level did not affect reproductive performance or the growth of offspring (p > 0.05). The offspring of friendly gilts tended to have a more active response to the back test (p = 0.09), less freezing response in the open field test (p 0.05), and received human contact more than piglets from fearful gilts (p 0.05). The present study shows that gilt human fear level is linked to their stress levels, which can affect the personality of their piglets.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1232
Issue number5
Early online date24 Apr 2021
Publication statusFirst published - 24 Apr 2021


  • Back test
  • Coping style
  • Cortisol
  • Human approach test
  • Human fear
  • Novel environment test
  • Nursing behaviour
  • Piglets
  • Prenatal stress
  • Sows


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