Effect of housing enrichment and type of flooring on the performance and behaviour of female rabbits
Keywords:Oryctolagus cuniculus, housing enrichment, specific behaviour, reproductive performance, rabbit
This study investigated the effect of housing enrichments (scratching card, gnawing material and a platform), of a change in height and in the type of flooring on the live weight, reproductive performance and behaviour of female rabbits, as well as on the feed intake and spatial distribution of females and their kits. A total of 40 multiparous female rabbits were monitored in three consecutive reproductive cycles (48-d intervals). Four days before parturition in each reproductive cycle, the females were randomly assigned to one of the five types of housing: Control (CNT: 102×47×30 cm, L×W× H); Scratching card (SCT: containing a scratching card); Gnawing materials (GNW: CNT dimensions plus a compressed lucerne hay block and a wooden stick); Platform (PLT: 102×47×60 cm, including a platform with a plastic floor) and Combination (CBN: PLT dimensions with the scratching card, the gnawing materials and a platform). Data were only recorded during the first and third reproductive cycles. The living conditions did not significantly alter the females’ live weight (4889 g at housing; 4890 g at mid-lactation; 4867 g at weaning), reproductive performance (9.0 kits born alive), survival of the kits (90%), nor the feed intake of females and their litters (542 g/day). Providing animals with a gnawing block stimulated Gnawing behaviour (median frequency per group: CTL=0.00, SCT=0.00, GNW=4.69, PLT=0.00, and CBN=2.34; PRearing up behaviour (median frequencies per group: CTL=0.00, SCT=0.00, GNW=0.00, PLT=2.08, and CBN=3.12; P=0.06), and when a platform was present, the rabbits used it (mean values per group: CTL=0.00, SCT=0.00, GNW=0.00, PLT=1.79, and CBN=4.91; P=0.003). Regarding the type of floor, females appeared to prefer the plastic mesh flooring (31.2%) to the wire mesh flooring (18.8%). To sum up, providing female rabbits with simple enrichments appears to stimulate specific behaviours like Gnawing and Rearing up and may contribute to their wellbeing.
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