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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Influence of Sow Gestation Diet on Piglet Behavior

Authors
item Scott, Karen
item Morrow, Julie
item Shea Moore, Margaret

Submitted to: Journal of Animal Science
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: June 1, 1999
Publication Date: N/A

Technical Abstract: Although cognition is generally believed to develop postnatally, learning in some species occurs prior to birth. Stimuli presented in the fetal environment can influence future behavior. The purpose of this study was to preliminarily assess how dietary odors and flavors fed to gestating sows affect odor and feed preferences of piglets. Using a randomized complete block design, sows were assigned to 1 of 3 treatment diets, garlic, onion, or control (n=4/treatment), for the last 2 weeks of gestation. Due to the volatile nature of the odor compounds being used, it was necessary to confound treatment with location. At farrowing, 5 piglets from each litter were tested in a Y-maze for odor preferences prior to first nursing. Sow diet did not significantly affect odor preference of piglets tested in the Y-maze. To test the long-term influence of prenatal exposure to odors and flavors, naive piglets from each treatment were weaned into individual pens sand presented with both onion and garlic feed for 4 days post-weaning. Feed consumption was measured and data were log transformed. Data were analyzed using a mixed model analysis with weaning weight as a covariate. Piglets from sows fed an onion diet consumed significantly more garlic feed on day 4 (2.5+/-0.14 log grams garlic, 1.9+/-0.14 log grams onion, P<.001). The sows' onion diet may have created an aversion to onion feed, resulting in greater garlic feed intake. Although these results are preliminary, they suggest that piglets are capable of perceiving and remembering olfactory and gustatory cues presented prenatally, affecting postnatal behavior. By adding volatile compounds to diets during gestation, it may be possible to increase feed consumption and reduce stress at weaning.

Last Modified: 9/10/2014
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