Effects of Group Housing in an Enlarged Cage System on Growth, Bite Wounds and Adrenal Cortex Function in Farmed Blue Foxes (Alopex Lagopus)
Abstract:It has been claimed that the present farming environment does not meet foxes' needs for social behaviour. In this study we measured the welfare of farmed blue foxes, Alopex lagopus, housed in two different social and spatial conditions: i) traditional housing (group T) where a male and a female cub were housed together and their vixen alone in standard (I.2m2)fox cages; and ii) family housing (group F) where a vixen and her five cubs were housed together in a connected six-cage system (7.2m2). Production-related welfare parameters (weight gain and the incidence of bite wounds on fur) as well as physiological ones (adrenal mass and serum cortisol response to ACTH administration) were measured in these two groups.
No differences were found in any of the measured parameters between the vixens housed in traditional and family units. In cubs, there was less difference between the sexes in weight gain in group F than in group T, and a significantly lower weight gain was evident only in group T female cubs. The serum cortisol level in response to an ACTH challenge was higher in group T cubs and independent of the sex of the animal, while heavier adrenals were observed in group T male cubs only. We conclude that the enlarged cage system combined with group housing had some beneficial effects on the measured performance- and welfare-related indicators in blue fox cubs.