The maternal behaviour of 7 ovariectomized, oestrogen-treated ewes was recorded after intracerebroventricular (ICV) infusions of oxytocin (OT). At weekly intervals 10-min behaviour tests were given starting 1 min after control (saline) or OT infusions. In the ewes' home pens, 5-, 10- and 20-micrograms doses of OT significantly increased the frequency of some or all of the maternal behaviours scored (low-pitch bleats, sniffing, licking and approaching/following the lamb), and 3 ewes allowed suckling attempts. Aggressive (head butts) and negative (withdrawal from the lamb) behaviours significantly decreased in frequency. Vaginocervical stimulation (10 min duration) produced similar effects on these behaviours. When the lambs were removed from the ewes' pens, the ewes exhibited significantly more high-pitch bleats (protest) following OT treatment. When 20 micrograms OT was given ICV in the absence of oestrogen priming, or when it was given intravenously with oestrogen priming, no significant effects on maternal behaviour were seen. Maternal behaviour was also significantly stimulated in oestrogen-treated ewes in a larger, novel testing environment (an enclosed area of field) following 5- and 20-micrograms doses of OT. In an additional experiment in the field enclosure it was found that ewes spent significantly more time near a lamb in a cage following both 5- and 20-micrograms doses of OT. In both experimental settings the high OT doses (10 and 20 micrograms) significantly increased the frequency of feeding although the effect was not dependent on oestrogen priming. These results demonstrate that central OT may play an important role in stimulating maternal behaviour in the sheep.