Group housing of farmed silver fox cubs
In the present study, the effects of social environment on the welfare of farmed silver fox cubs were clarified. After weaning, cubs from silver fox litters were housed (1) singly, (2) in litters until the end of September and thereafter singly, or (3) in litters throughout their growing season. Separating the cubs at the onset of the species' natural dispersal time may not be strictly beneficial for the cubs because it may limit the animals' possibilities to fulfil their needs for social behaviour. However, the lower incidence of bite wounds in both the single housed cubs and the cubs from litters that were split in autumn showed some beneficial effects of separating the cubs. The cubs that were group housed in litters for the whole time were focussed on their own social system, were more averse to human presence and showed greater responses to acute stress than the cubs that were single housed for at least part of the time. However, the serum cortisol level following adrenocorticotropic hormone administration suggested that cubs that were group housed in litters were less stressed over the long-term compared with the cubs that were single housed for at least part of the time; the low incidence of stereotypic behaviour in the cubs raised in litters also supports this hypothesis. Accordingly, and despite some unsolved questions regarding interpretation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, the results from this present study show that social contacts were important for the welfare of silver fox cubs, and suggest that farmed silver fox cubs could possibly be raised in litters without jeopardising their welfare or deteriorating their fur quality.
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