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Effect of access to outdoor grazing and stocking density on space and pasture use, behaviour, reactivity, and growth traits of weaned rabbits

Abstract : In a context of evolving concern over housing conditions of farmed rabbits, we developed a housing system that allows access to an outdoor area. The aim was to study the health status, growth and behaviour of rabbits raised at two stocking densities with access to a paddock, or not. We distributed 299 weaned rabbits in four groups (YH: 100, NH: 99, YL: 50 and NL: 50) using a 2 2 factorial design including access (Y: yes) or not (N: not) to a 23 m2 paddock and the indoor stocking density (H, high: 17 or L, low: 9 rabbits/m2). We measured the growth and health status of each animal weekly for 42 days (from 31 to 73 days of age) and performed reactivity tests to a new environment, a human and new object. We also assessed the rabbits’ behaviour at days 26 and 40 by doing a visual scan of each animal at regular time intervals. Our results showed that stocking density had no effect on mortality, but mortality tended to increase with outdoor access from 3.0% to 7.0% (P < 0.10). Although the stocking density had no effect on average daily gain, it was higher in rabbits in the N group than in the Y group (+3.6 g/day; P < 0.05). Rabbits entered the paddocks for the first time in less time at the beginning of the trial (50 s at day 3 vs 10 min at day 31; P < 0.001). The proportion of rabbits outside after 20 min of the new environment test was higher among rabbits in the L group than in the H group (+24% points at day 3 and +11% points at day 20; P < 0.001). Regardless of the stocking density, more rabbits in the N group touched the experimenter’s hand (16% vs 27%; P < 0.05) and the new object (34% vs 20%; P < 0.05) than rabbits in the Y group. Inactivity was more frequent in rabbits inside the pens than in the paddocks (70.0% vs 34.2% at days 26 and 40; P < 0.05). Locomotion was more frequent in the paddocks than in the indoor pens (20.0% vs 7.2% at days 26 and 40; P < 0.05). The stocking density did not affect the behavioural traits measured. In conclusion, providing rabbits access to a paddock could allow them to fulfil some natural behaviours but slightly reduced their growth.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, October 5, 2021 - 11:31:51 AM
Last modification on : Tuesday, April 26, 2022 - 2:34:46 PM
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Manon Fetiveau, Davi Savietto, Thierry Gidenne, Sébastien Pujol, Patrick Aymard, et al.. Effect of access to outdoor grazing and stocking density on space and pasture use, behaviour, reactivity, and growth traits of weaned rabbits. Animal, Published by Elsevier (since 2021) / Cambridge University Press (until 2020), 2021, 15 (9), pp.100334. ⟨10.1016/j.animal.2021.100334⟩. ⟨hal-03365288⟩

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