Description of nestbox visits and suckling events in a group housing system for rabbit does as compared to individual cages

Jorine M. Rommers, Bas Kemp, H.W. Houwers, Henk Gunnink, Ingrid C. de Jong


Research was conducted to study nursing associated events of lactating rabbit does. Nest box visits and suckling events were investigated using 6 group pens (8 does/pen) and 12 enriched individual cages. Each group pen and individual cage was observed by video for one day per week until weaning at 35 d of lactation, with exception of the third week of lactation. In the first 2 wk of lactation, videotapes were analysed for the frequency and duration of nest box visits per day. The fourth and fifth week of lactation, suckling events on the floor of the group pens and nest box visits in the individual cages were analysed for one day per week. The first 2 wk of lactation, does visits to the nest boxes were less frequent (respectively 1.9±0.2 vs. 2.6±0.3, P<0.1) and shorter (respectively 113±9 s vs. 158±15 s, P< 0.05) in the group pens than in the individual cages. In the group pens, 32% of the does had intervals of >24 h between nest box visits. In the cages, all does visited the nest boxes at least once a day. In the last 2 wk of lactation, in the group pens suckling duration (mean±standard deviation) was 89±49 and 92.2±37 s in respectively week 4 and 5. In 79% of the suckling events a mix of the does’ own and other kits were suckled. No difference was found in suckling duration between litters consisting of own and/or other kits. Thirty-two per cent of the does in week 4 and 62% of the does in week 5 did not suckle kits on the floor of the pen, whereas all the does in the cages still visited the nest boxes at least once every 24 h. Based on this study, it can be concluded that in group housing less frequent and shorter nest box visits as well as suckling events were found as compared to individual housing.


rabbit does; welfare; housing; nest box visits; nursing behaviour

Full Text:



Baumann P., Oester H., Stauffacher M. 2005a. Effects of temporary nest box removal on maternal behaviour and pup survival in caged rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 91: 167-178.

Baumann P., Oster H., Stauffacher M. 2005b. The influence of pup odour on the nest related behaviour of rabbit does (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 93: 123- 133.

Chu L., Garner J.P., Mench J.A. 2004. A behavioural comparison of New Zealand White rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) housed individually or in pairs in conventional laboratory cages. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 85: 121-139.

Cheeke P.R., Patton N.M., Lukefahr S.D., McNitt J.I. 1987. Rabbit Production. The Interstate Printer & Publishers, inc. Danville, Illinois, USA.

Deutsch J.A.1957.Nest building behaviour of domestic rabbits under semi-natural conditions. Brit. J. Anim. Behav., 2: 5354.

EFSA. 2005. The impact of the current housing and husbandry systems on the health and welfare of farmed domestic rabbits. EFSA Journal, 267: 1-31.

González-Mariscal G., Díaz-Sánchez V., Melo A.I., Beyer C., Rosenblatt J.S. 1994. Maternal behaviour in New Zealand white rabbits: Quantification of somatic events, motorpatterns, and steroid plasma levels. Physiol. Behav. 55: 1081-1089.

González-Mariscal G., Melo A.I., Chirino R., Jiménez P., Beyer C., Rosenblatt J.S. 1998. Importance of mother/young contact at parturition and across lactation for the expression of maternal behavior in rabbits. Dev. Psychobiol., 32: 101111.<101::AID-DEV3>3.0.CO;2-T

Gunn D., Morton D.B. 1995. Inventory of the behaviour of New Zealand White rabbits in laboratory cages. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 45: 277-292.

Hoy St., 2006. Nursing behavior of wild and domestic rabbits. In: Maertens L. and Coudert P(ed). Recent advances in rabbit sciences. Plot-it-bvba, Merelbeke, Belgium, 75-77.

Hoy St., Selzer D. 2002. Frequency and time of nursingin wild and domestic rabbits housed outdoors in free range. World Rabbit Sci.,10: 77-84.

Hudson, R., Schaal, B., Bilko, A., Altbäcker, V., 1996. Just three minutes a day: the behavior of young rabbits viewed in the context of limited maternal care. In: Proc. 6th World Rabbit Congress, 9-12 July 2006, Toulouse, France, 2: 395-403.

Kwantitatieve Informatie Veehouderij (KWIN), 2007-2008. Animal Sciences Group Wageningen University and Research Centre, Lelystad, The Netherlands.

Lincoln D.W. 1974. Brief communication. Suckling:a time-constant in the nursing behaviour of the rabbit. Physiol. Behav., 13: 711-714.

Maticz Z., Szendrö Z., Hoy St., RadnaiI., Biro-Nemeth E., Nagy I., Gyovai M. 2001. Untersuchungen zum Säugeverhalten von Hauskaninchen. In Proc.: 12th Symposium on housing and diseased of Rabbits, Furbearing Animals and Pet Animals: 115-124

Podberscek A.L., Blackshaw J.K., Beattie A.W., 1991. The behavior of group penned and individually caged laboratory rabbits. Appl. Anim. Sci. 28: 353-363.

Rommers, J.M., Jong, I.., de, 2005. De haalbaarheid van groepshuisvesting voor voedsters in de praktijk. ASG rapport 05/I02047. Animal Sciences Group Wageningen UR.

Ross S., Zarrow M.X., Sawin P.B., Denenberg V.H., Blumenfield M., 1963. Maternal behaviour in the rabbit under semi-natural conditions. Anim. Behav.: 283-285.

Ruis M., 2006. Group-housing of breeding does. In: Maertens L. and Coudert P. (ed). Recent advances in rabbit sciences, Plot-it bvba, Merelbeke, Belgium, 99-105.

Ruis M., Coenen E., 2004. Group-housing of breeding rabbits in The Netherlands: an overview of research from 2002-2004. In: Proc. 3rd meeting of WG2: Welfare and housing, COST Action 848, 7-8 May, 2004, Wageningen, The Netherlands: 7-8.

Selzer D., Lange K., Hoy, St., 2004. Frequency of nursing in domestic rabbits under different housing conditions. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 87: 317-324.

Stauffacher M. 1992. Group-housing and enrichment cages for breeding, fattening and laboratory rabbits. Anim. Welfare, 1: 105-115.

Vastrade F.M., 1986. The social behaviour of free ranging domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci, 16: 165-177.

Venge O., 1963. The influence of nursing behaviour and milk production on early growth in rabbits. Anim. Behav., 11: 500-506.

Verga M., 1978. A general review and survey of maternal behaviour in the rabbit. Appl. Anim. Ethol., 4: 235-252.

Zarrow M.X., Denenberg V.H., Anderson C.O. 1965. Rabbit: frequency of suckling in the pup. Science, 150: 1835-1836.

Abstract Views

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM


Cited-By (articles included in Crossref)

This journal is a Crossref Cited-by Linking member. This list shows the references that citing the article automatically, if there are. For more information about the system please visit Crossref site

1. Effects of group housing system, pen floor type, and lactation management on performance and behaviour in rabbit does
Cristina Zomeño, Marco Birolo, Francesco Gratta, Andrea Zuffellato, Gerolamo Xiccato, Angela Trocino
Applied Animal Behaviour Science  vol: 203  first page: 55  year: 2018  
doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2018.03.002


 Universitat Politècnica de València


Official journal of the World Rabbit Science Association (WRSA)


e-ISSN: 1989-8886     ISSN: 1257-5011