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The effects of body shape at birth on the physical and behavioural development of the neonatal pig

Presented at the Neonatal Society 2001 Summer Meeting (programme).

Litten JC, Corson AM, Drury PC, Clarke L

Department of Agricultural Sciences, Imperial College at Wye, University of London, Wye, Ashford, Kent, TN25 5AH, UK

Introduction: Individuals who have undergone perturbations in intrauterine growth often lag behind in both their mental and physical development (1). Recent evidence suggests that body shape may be a more important diagnostic indicator of future health than birth weight alone (2). The objective was to use the piglet to determine whether body shape at birth influences their physical and behavioural development.

Methods: Forty-five sow-reared piglets were selected from a population of 160 animals. Individual body weight and crown-to-rump length (CRL) were recorded until weaning (24-28 days) to assess physical development. Piglet response to, and interaction with a ball for 1800 seconds on 3 consecutive days from day 14 of neonatal life was used to calculate a numerical index of behavioural development as follows:

Behavioural developmental index (BDI) = (1800 - Ttime) + (1800 - Mtime).

Ttime = time taken to touch the ball (sec) and Mtime = time taken to move the ball (sec). Ponderal index (PI: body weight /CRL 3: kg/m) was used to sub-divide the animals into 3 groups: low (<10th percentile), normal (11th-89th percentile) and high (>90th percentile). General Linear Model, ANOVA, was used to assess differences between the groups.

Results: Piglets with a PI >90th exhibited faster behavioural development than the other groups (P<0.001) but their total body weight gain was similar. Total body weight gain was reduced in piglets with a PI<10th compared to the normal group (P<0.01).

Values are means SEM

Conclusion: In conclusion, body shape at birth can have a pronounced influence on the physical or behavioural development of newborn piglets during the first few weeks of life but it has yet to be determined whether these differences extend into adulthood or are a reliable model of human development.

Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank Cotswold Pig Development Company for their assistance during this study. J.C.Litten also wishes to thank Wye College for the provision of a PhD studentship.

1. Lucas, W.D., Campbell, B.C. Human Nature. 2000, 11: 1-26.
2. Barker, D. J. P. (1998) In: Mothers, babies and health in later life, 2nd Edition, London, Churchill, Livingstone, pp 50-54.

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