The objectives of this study were to characterize the tissue compositional changes in porcine mammary glands after weaning and to determine whether administration of estradiol alters the profile of these tissue changes. Forty-five primiparous sows were assigned randomly to one of two treatment groups after weaning, control or estrogen treated. Estrogen-treated sows received twice-daily injections of estradiol-17beta (0.125 mg/kg of BW); control sows received vehicle injections. Sows were weaned at d 21 of lactation and killed on either d 0 (d of weaning; n = 5) or on d 2, 3, 4, 5, or 7 after weaning (n = 4 per treatment on each day). Teat order relative to suckling behavior was observed on the day before weaning to determine which mammary glands the piglets suckled. Suckled and non-suckled glands were identified from the teat order observation, and individual mammary glands were collected at slaughter. Mammary glands were trimmed of skin and extraneous fat pad, individually weighed, and bisected to measure cross-sectional area. The remaining half of each gland was ground and stored at -20 degrees C for chemical analyses. Frozen tissue was used for measuring tissue DNA, DM, protein, fat, and ash contents. Suckled mammary glands of sows undergo significant and dramatic changes during the initial 7 d after weaning, with significant changes occurring even by d 2 after weaning. Mean cross-sectional area of parenchymal tissue in suckled mammary glands decreased from 59.7 +/- 2.1 cm2 on the day of weaning to 26.8 +/- 2.3 cm2 by d 7 after weaning (P < 0.0001). Mammary gland wet weight decreased from 485.9 +/- 22.0 g on the day of weaning to 151.5 +/- 24.8 g by d 7 after weaning (P < 0.0001), whereas DNA decreased from 838.8 +/- 46.2 g on the day of weaning to 278.4 +/- 52.5 g by d 7 after weaning (P < 0.0001). The changes in gland wet weight and DNA during the period of mammary gland involution in the sow represent loses of over two-thirds of the parenchymal mass and nearly two-thirds of the cells that were present on the day of weaning. Estrogen treatment did not affect overall mammary involution during the first 7 d after weaning. Mammary glands that were not suckled during lactation had no further loss of parenchymal tissue during the first 7 d after weaning. Mammary gland involution in the sow is a rapid process and is probably irreversible within 2 or 3 d after weaning.