The effect of housing system on the behaviour and growth parameters of fattening rabbits
Three housing systems for fattening rabbits were compared using a stocking density of 15 rabbits m−2. The rabbits were housed in large pens (3.67 m2, 50 rabbits), small pens (0.66 m2, 10 rabbits) or in conventional standard cages (0.39 m2, 6 rabbits) from 31 to 72 days of age. Rabbits housed in each small pen or in each cage belonged to the same litter, and the 50 rabbits housed in each large pen were from six or seven litters. At the end of fattening, when rabbits were 72 days old, there was no significant difference in the weight of rabbits from the three different housing systems, even though the rabbits from small pens were slightly heavier in weight compared with rabbits from large pens. The best feed conversion ratio was found in rabbits from cages, but was only significantly different from rabbits housed in small pens. No significant differences were found in the main activities: nutrition, social behaviour, resting, and standing; however, the frequency of runs, hops and consecutive hops was significantly higher in rabbits from large pens compared with rabbits from the two other housing systems. These results confirm that the total surface area available for animals is the most important factor for such locomotory activities. This study did not reveal any significant difference in aggressive behaviours between rabbits from different litters housed in large pens and between rabbits from the same litter housed in small pens or cages.
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