Maternal undernutrition in pregnancy results in low birth-weights and impaired postnatal survival in sheep. Largely anecdotal evidence suggests that the expression of appropriate maternal and neonate behaviours may also be disrupted by undernutrition. In the present study, we investigated the effect of a moderate (35 %) reduction in ewe nutritional intake in pregnancy on the expression of ewe–lamb bonding behaviours in primiparous Scottish Blackface ewes. Low-intake (L) ewes had significantly higher plasma progesterone than high-intake (H) ewes from mid-gestation onwards (e.g. plasma progesterone at 20 weeks (n/l): H 15·72, L 22·38, SED 1·80, P<0·001), AND A LOWER OESTRADIOL: PROGESTERONE VALUE THAN H EWES AT DELIVERY (H 0·46, L 0·35, sed 0·05, P<0·05). Lamb birth-weight was reduced in the L lambs compared with H lambs (mean body weight (kg): H 3·31, L 3·00, sed 0·14, P<0·05), but the incidence of malpresentation at delivery was greater in L lambs. L ewes spent significantly less time licking their lambs than H ewes after delivery (time grooming in 2 h after birth (%): H 56·12, L 48·17, sed 2·639, P<0·01) and were more aggressive towards the lambs. Lamb behaviours were not directly affected by maternal nutritional treatment, but lamb birth-weight had a significant effect on neonatal developmental progress. Low-birth-weight lambs were slower than heavier lambs to stand and sucked less frequently. In tests of maternal attachment to the lamb, H ewes received higher scores than L ewes at both 24 h after birth (ewes receiving high scores (%): H 41·3, L 21·4, P<0·05) and at 3 d postnatal. We conclude that even a moderate level of undernutrition impairs the attachment between ewes and lambs by affecting maternal behaviours expressed at birth. In addition, the results suggest that levels of nutrition resulting in a decrease in birth weight will affect neonatal lamb behavioural progress.