The study was conducted to investigate the adreno cortical capacity after injection of ACTH and the sensitivity of the pituitary and the adrenal to immobilization in neonatal pigs at different ages. Furthermore, the endocrine reactivity of the offspring was compared with the stress reactivity of their mothers. Four piglets were selected from each of six different litters and subjected to an immobilization test and an adrenal function test using synthetic ACTH1-24 at the ages of 7, 21 and 35 days; the six sows were also subjected to restraint and an ACTH stimulation test. Plasma β-endorphin, norepinephrine and epinephrine concentrations were measured in blood samples taken 2 min after restraint and cortisol concentrations were measured 60 min after ACTH administration. A highly sensitive adrenal response was demonstrated in both sows and piglets and adrenal reactivity showed also a considerable consistency over time within sows. In neonatal pigs, the cortisol response to ACTH was greatest on day 7 and decreased up to day 35. Plasma epinephrine and norepinephrine levels after the 2-min immobilization were also higher at day 7 compared with the other ages (P < 0·01). Piglets from sows, classified as high reacting according to their cortisol or epinephrine response, also showed significantly higher cortisol levels after ACTH challenge at all ages and significantly higher epinephrine levels after restraint at day 7 than piglets from low reacting sows. The results show an age-related change of pituitary-adrenocortical and sympatho-adrenomedullary responses in neonatal pigs and an absence of a stress hyporesponsive period at all ages studied. The results also indicate different levels of excitability in the offspring depending on the maternal stress reactivity.