Performance, digestive disorders and the intestinal microbiota in weaning rabbits are affected by a herbal feed additive
Keywords:rabbits, kits, Digestarom®, diarrhoea, weaning, microbiota
A herbal feed additive (Digestarom®, containing a mixture of onion, garlic, caraway, fennel, gentian, melissa, peppermint, anise, oak bark and clove) was fed to rabbit does and kits to study its impact on performance, post-weaning digestive disorders and intestinal microbiota. Two groups of 9 doe rabbits and their offspring, after weaning, were fed a standard diet without or with the addition of 300 mg Digestarom®/kg diet. Forty kits from each group were weaned at 28 d of age weighing 0.614±0.005 kg. They were caged in groups of four rabbits (10 cages/treatment) and fed the same diet as their mothers for 13 d. Weight gain and feed intake of the kits fed Digestarom® was 18 and 14% higher, respectively, than those fed control diet (P<0.001), with no differences in the feed conversion. Rabbits were killed 13 d after weaning and 10 healthy animals from the Digestarom® group and 10 healthy and 10 diseased animals from the control group were dissected. Healthy rabbits fed control diet and those fed Digestarom® showed closer intestinal digesta dry matter, pH and volatile fatty acid (VFA) profi les, compared to diseased animals. VFA concentration in the small intestine was higher (P=0.030) in the diseased animals of the control group compared with the healthy and Digestarom® fed rabbits. However, no differences were observed in VFA concentration in stomach or caecum contents. The fermentation profi le of diseased animals was characterised by a higher proportion of propionic, i- and n-valeric acids in the caecal contents (P<0.001), and an increased i-butyric acid concentration in the stomach and caecum contents (P=0.014), whereas n-butyric acid was reduced (P<0.033) compared with the healthy or Digestarom® fed rabbits. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis indicated a higher caecal bacterial diversity in the control rabbits compared with kits fed Digestarom® (P=0.008). The reduced evenness factor (P<0.010) also indicated that the bacterial composition included more dominant species in the Digestarom® group. Under our experimental conditions, the tested herbal feed additive Digestarom® had protective effects in rabbit kits after weaning, making it an interesting alternative for establishing nutritional strategies.
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