The effect of pen size and an enrichment structure (elevated platform) on the performances and the behaviour of fattening rabbits
The effects of a (30 cm high) elevated platform as an enrichment structure on the behaviour and performance of fattening rabbits kept in groups were investigated. Three housing systems for fattening rabbits were compared using a stocking density of 15 rabbits m–2. The rabbits were housed either in large pens (3.67 m2 plus a platform of 0.39 m2; with 60 rabbits per pen) or in small pens (0.503 m2 plus a platform of 0.159 m2; with10 rabbits per pen), or in conventional standard cages (0.39 m2, with 6 rabbits and without any enrichment) from 31 to 72 days of age. The conventional cages without a platform were used as a control and reference model. Rabbits housed in each small pen or in each cage belonged to the same litter, and the 60 rabbits sharing the same large pen were from six or seven litters. At the end of fattening, rabbits reached the weight of 2,508 g in cages, 2,397 g in small pens, and 2,340 g in large pens; the only significant difference was daily weight gain which was better in cages than in both pens. There was no difference in growth parameters between the two types of pens. The mortality rate was less than 1% for all treatments. No sanitation problems or severe lesions were seen with rabbits even those reared in large pens and large groups. Neither housing systems, nor elevated platform affected activities such as dietary intake or resting. The use of the platform appears to depend upon the amount of space available; in a large pen, an elevated platform can be utilised as an exercise structure while in a small pen it was used more as simply extra space to occupy.
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