U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


Main content area

Growth and reproductive development of male piglets are more vulnerable to midgestation maternal stress than that of female piglets

L. A. Mack, D. C. Lay, S. D. Jr., A. K. Eicher, B. T. Johnson, E. A. Richert
Journal of animal science 2014 v.92 pp. 530-548
animal stress, cortisol, farrowing rate, gestation period, head, litter size, liveweight gain, males, mortality, piglets, pregnancy, progeny, reproductive performance, sex ratio, social behavior, sows, synthetic glucocorticoids, testosterone
In many mammalian species, prenatal stress masculinizes female and feminizes male offspring impairing their reproductive capacity. Regrouping gestating sows is a common, stressful production practice, but its impact on the developing pigs of the sow is not fully known. This study examined the effects of regrouping gestating sows and the administration of exogenous glucocorticoids on the growth and external reproductive morphology of pigs. At 37.2 ± 0.26 d of gestation, 6 cohorts of 18 sows (N = 108) were placed in 1 of 3 treatments: socially stable (Stable), hydrocortisone acetate (HCA), or mixed (Mixed). The HCA sows were administered 70 mg HCA, a synthetic glucocorticoid, twice daily during the 21 d experimental period. Each Mixed sow was penned with 2 companion sows (Companion) and regrouped on d 7 and 14 with 2 different Companion sows in a new pen. Stable and HCA sows were penned in treatment groups of 3 sows. Sow social rank was assessed weekly during feeding. After the 21 d experimental period, all sows were housed in gestation stalls for the duration of pregnancy. During the 21 d, Companion sows gained more weight than HCA and Mixed sows (P < 0.05) with Stable sows intermediate. High ranked sows gained more weight than middle and low ranked sows (P < 0.05). Mixed sows had greater head lesion scores than Stable and HCA sows (P < 0.05) with Companion sows intermediate. Head lesions increased with lower social rank (P < 0.001). Sow treatment did not affect farrowing rate, litter size, or sex ratio (P > 0.10). Social rank also had no effect on farrowing rate (P > 0.10), but affected total litter size (P = 0.03). High ranked sows bore and weaned more live females than low ranked sows (P < 0.05), in part due to differential preweaning mortality among female pigs (P = 0.01). Only male pigs were affected by sow treatment. Preweaning mortality was higher among male pigs from HCA than from Mixed sows (P = 0.04) with other treatments intermediate. Despite no weight differences in the preweaning period, at 160 d of age males from HCA sows weighed more than males from Stable sows (P = 0.01) with other treatments intermediate. Males born to Companion sows had longer relative anogenital distances, a marker of fetal testosterone exposure, than males from Mixed sows (P = 0.03) with other treatments intermediate. The prenatal environment affected the pigs in a sex-specific manner altering the growth and reproductive morphology of the males more than that of the females.