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Behavioural aspects of neonate survival

  • A. B. Lawrence (a1) and C. E. O'Connor (a2)


The postnatal period is the most dangerous phase of life and survival depends on the neonate behaving appropriately from birth. Consequently, many aspects of neonate behaviour are often near to being fully formed at birth. However, experience will often be required to shape the expression of the behaviour and improve its effectiveness. The immediate problems facing the neonate will be related to the overall reproductive strategy of the species. In pigs, sibling rivalry will be critical in establishing and maintaining fidelity to a teat, and this early conflict is probably most important for survival. The teat order that succeeds this early rivalry is probably not, however, the result of competition over the most productive teats but because of certain intrinsic advantages of teat fidelity that maximize growth. In sheep the need to quickly follow and solicit sucking only from the dam makes learning to recognise the mother a priority. Recent results suggest that the ability of the neonate lamb to recognize its mother has been under-estimated and that failure of lambs to recognise their mothers can make a significant contribution to mortality rates. Survival in any species is, however, not simply a matter of appropriate neonate behaviour but may depend critically on the quality of the interaction between the mother and offspring. It is difficult to determine the end of the neonate period given the often protracted nature of weaning. As weaning progresses there is a shift to bonding with siblings and peers and to an extent these relationships take over some of the social functions of the mother-infant relationship such as avoidance of predators. Lastly, experiences gained during the neonate period can have long-term effects on behaviour such as diet selection, social preferences and responses to fear with important implications for farmed livestock.



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