Nest provision influences reproductive success in breeding blue fox vixens: a preliminary study
The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effects of an unfamiliar nest and environmental enrichment, ie provision of an additional nest, on farmed blue fox (Alopex lagopus) vixens' reproductive performance. Two experimental groups were evaluated in the study: i) a single
nest (SN) group where vixens had an unfamiliar top nest only, and ii) a group with two nests (TN), an unfamiliar top nest and a familiar floor nest. Since reproductive performance is typically lower in young blue fox vixens, half of the experimental animals consisted of primiparous vixens,
to examine whether an unfamiliar and an additional nest affected primiparous and multiparous vixens' reproduction differently. No significant differences were found in reproductive performance between the experimental groups or between the primiparous and the multiparous vixens with the number
of weaned cubs per inseminated vixen 4.8 (± 4.0) and 4.9 (± 4.5) for the primiparous and 5.6 (± 4.9) and 5.5 (± 4.6) for the multiparous vixens in SN and TN groups, respectively. In the multiparous vixens, the cub losses were higher in SN than in TN groups. The
higher cub loss in the SN group may have been due to the lack of a familiar nest. In the TN group, where vixens had the opportunity to choose between two nest types, the majority (86%) of the primiparous vixens whelped in the floor nest, whereas the majority (73%) of the multiparous vixens
favoured the unfamiliar top nest for whelping. Both nests were used by 43% of all TN vixens, a finding that indicates that an additional nest may have an enrichment value for blue fox vixens. The potential welfare consequences of providing blue fox vixens with an additional nest box should
be investigated in future studies.