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Weaning and separation stress: maternal motivation decreases with litter age and litter size in farmed mink

By Jens Malmkvist, Dennis D. Sørensen, Torben Larsen, Rupert Palme, Steffen W. Hansen

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Abstract

The optimal timing of separating the mink dam from the litter is suggested to be a balance between the partly conflicting needs of the mother and the kits. Early removal of the dam or partial removal of the litter may protect the dam against exhaustion. Little is, however, known about dam stress and maternal motivation around the time of weaning and separation. Therefore, we investigated effects of separating the dam from the litter using brown first-parity farm mink dams (n=374) taken away from the litter either day 49±1 (7w, n=185) or day 56±1 (8w, n=189) after birth. The aim was to investigate whether the dams experienced stress/had a different motivation to be reunited with the litter after 7 and 8 weeks, estimated by non-invasive determination of cortisol (FCM: Faecal Cortisol Metabolites) and dam behaviour including calls the first week after separation (D0: Day of removal, D1: next day, D7: seven days after). Supplementary, we evaluated dam body condition (weight, score), nipple activity and health at separation. The two treatment groups had an equal litter size at the time of separation (7w: 5.5±0.17; 8w: 5.5±0.17 kits; P=0.76). Likewise, there was no significant difference in dam body weight (7w: 1420±15.0g, 8w: 1404±14.7, P=0.43). However, the litter size negatively influenced both the dam weight and body condition (P7w) and increased with number of young (P

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 181
Pages 152-159
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.05.028
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Tags
  1. Glucocorticoids
  2. Litters
  3. Maternal behavior
  4. Stress
  5. weaning