Amniotic fluid is important for the maintenance of maternal responsiveness and the establishment of maternal selectivity in sheep.
Animal. 2010-06-07; 4(12): 2057-2064
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Amniotic fluid (AF) is important for the establishment of maternal behaviour in inexperienced ewes, but its role in experienced mothers remains to be studied. Here, the maintenance ofpost-partummaternal responsiveness and the establishment of exclusive bonding was investigated in multiparous ewes when AF was removed from the neonate or/and physical contact with the young was precluded for the first 4 hpost partum. Maintenance of maternal responsiveness and establishment of exclusive bonding were measured by the proportion of mothers accepting their own lamb and alien lambs that had been either washed or not washed, and by comparing an acceptance score for each type of lamb. The acceptance score was computed by summing standardised variables of acceptance (low bleats, acceptance at udder, nursing and licking time) and subtracting standardised variables of rejection (high-pitched bleats, rejection at the udder and aggressive behaviour). Washing the neonate reduced its acceptance score, but the proportion of mothers rejecting their own lamb was reduced only when washing the neonate and prevention of physical contact for 4 h were combined (7/15v. 0/10 in controls,P= 0.02). In addition, washing the neonate increased the acceptance score of the washed alien lamb, but not of the unwashed alien. However, washing and privation of physical contact did not increase significantly the proportion of mothers accepting an alien lamb at 4 hpost partum. We conclude that AF is important in experienced ewes for the establishment of maternal responsiveness, as already found in primiparous mothers. In addition, our results indicate that AF also carries some chemosensory information facilitating exclusive bonding.