Grouping of breeding rabbit does at different time points: effects on fertility, mortality and weight
Semi-group housing in breeding does has been shown to reduce production and breeding success in comparison to single-housed animals. One reason for this reduction could be stress and aggression when grouping does only 2 d after artificial insemination. The aim of this study was to test different time points of grouping on fertility of does, body weight of both kits and does, and mortality rates. Hence, does were separated and housed individually one day before giving birth to their kits. The does were then artificially inseminated on day 10 postpartum (dpp) and regrouped according to the treatment (time point) on 12 (TG12), 18 (TG18), or 22 (TG22) dpp, respectively. In total, five trials with three groups pertaining to the three treatments (eight does per treatment group) were conducted. Non-pregnant does were replaced with pregnant does before each new trial (57 different does needed). Data were analysed with (generalised) linear mixed effect models and survival analysis. There were no significant differences in fertility, body weight or mortality of does among the treatments. The average fertility rate (number of kindling events/number of artificial inseminations×100) was low (40.92%) and seasonal effects may have partially masked treatment effects, as most trials took place during winter. Likewise, the survival rate of kits was not influenced by the treatment (survival test: χ2=2.3, df = 2, P = 0.3). Body weight of the kits was also not affected by the time point of grouping (average weight: 447.70±46.42 g (TG12), 452.20±55.30 g (TG18) and 460.06±89.23 g (TG22); P = 0.33). In conclusion, grouping does at a later time point in the reproductive cycle did not show any significant improvement in the breeding or productive success in a Swiss semi-group housing system. An elongated separation from conspecifics did not enhance the welfare of semi-group housed rabbits.
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