Cage-enrichment: rabbit does prefer straw or a compressed wooden block
Keywords:animal welfare, rabbits, enrichment materials, behaviour
The effect of different food related materials on the behaviour of commercial meat rabbit does was investigated to provide them enrichment. Five different treatments were tested. Control (pens without additional enrichment, C) was compared with pens containing a pinewood stick (Pine), straw in a plastic bin (Straw), a compressed wooden block (Ply) or a combination of straw and a pinewood stick (Straw+Pine). The experiment was conducted on a commercial rabbit farm using 80 cages with multiparous lactating hybrid (Hycole) rabbit does. Behavioural observations were conducted in the first 4 wk of 2 successive lactations of 6 wk each, twice a week from 15:00 to 18:30 h. Once every week the consumption of gnawing materials and soiling of the cages was scored. More does were significantly occupied with Straw and Ply than with Pine (24±20, 11±9 and 4±3% of does, respectively) for a longer duration (4±4, 2±2, 0.1±0.2% of observed time, respectively). In does of Straw+Pine group, the pinewood was barely touched and straw was preferred. It can be concluded that straw (loose material) and wooden block are used by the animals as enrichment material to gnaw or chew on. The materials remain attractive for the 2 lactations which were measured. The pinewood stick as provided in this study was rarely used and it may be questioned whether it is sufficient as enrichment material or if it should be provided in another way than hanging on the roof of the cage. This study provides a first step towards a positive list of enrichment materials that can be used in commercial rabbit farming in The Netherlands.
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