Wire-Floor Pens as an Alternative to Metallic Cages in Fattening Rabbits: Influence on Some Welfare Traits
Abstract:The possibility of improving the welfare of fattening rabbits by rearing them in pens instead of cages was investigated. Time budgets, locomotion, ear lesions, breaking strength of the femur and productivity were compared in fattening rabbits kept at the same stocking density (15 rabbits m−2) either in standard cages of 0.4m2 (6 animals) or in pens of 1.6m2 (24 animals). Behavioural observations, performed by video recording at 6 and 9 weeks of age, indicated that the frequency of rabbits walking over one another was higher in cages than in pens at 9 weeks of age. Although the time spent in locomotion did not differ significantly, the number of consecutive hops performed by animals was clearly increased in pens at 6 weeks and tended to be higher at 9 weeks. In pens (without a ceiling), rabbits were observed 'keeping watch' with a characteristic fully upright posture; this was not possible for rabbits in cages (with ceilings at 30cm).
Ear lesions were more frequent in caged rabbits than in penned; this might be due to the caged rabbits walking on one another, due to the lack of space to perform locomotory behaviour. Weight, diameter and breaking strength of femur tended to increase in rabbits kept in pens. In penned rabbits, body and carcase weight were significantly reduced (by 2.0% and 3.4% respectively) when compared with caged ones. However, overall, the use of wire-floor pens of 1.6m2, housing 24 animals, was considered to be beneficial to fattening rabbits' welfare when compared to standard-sized cages holding 6 animals.