Effect of cage type on the behaviour patterns of rabbit does at different physiological stages
Interest in commercially farmed rabbit welfare has increased in recent years. As a result, new alternative
housing systems have been developed, although they require evaluation in order to demonstrate their potential for improving welfare. The aim of this trial was to study the behavioural traits of rabbit does housed in 2 different types of cage (TC): conventional vs. alternative with an elevated platform, at different physiological stages (PS); lactation and gestation. Behavioural observations were carried out on 12 rabbit commercial does using continuous 24 h video recording. Independently of PS and TC, rabbit does spent most of their time on foot mats (on av. 57.7%). However, due to the use of platforms (on av. 23.0% of time), lactating does spent 36.6% less time on foot mats (P<0.001) and gestating does spent 27.0% less time on wire mesh (P<0.001) in alternative cages than in conventional cages. Alternative cages allowed for standing posture, but this behaviour was only observed in gestating does (on av. 4.6 times a day). Frequency of drinking was higher in conventional than in alternative cages (24.6 vs. 19.1 times a day; P<0.05). Gestating does housed in conventional cages reached the highest duration and frequency of interacting with neighbours (276 s/d and 4.6 times/d; P<0.05). The frequency of interacting with kits was lower in alternative than in conventional cages (2.4 vs. 8.6 times a day; P<0.01). Doe behaviour was influenced by the time of day, with less activity during the midday hours. During dark hours, rabbit does more frequently performed restless behaviour such as hyperactivity or nursing, matching the time at which rabbit does spent more time on the platform. The platform was frequently used by rabbit does, regardless of their physiological stage, and during late lactation phase, when mothers were not receptive to nursing, does housed in alternative cages used the platform as a mean to flee from kits trying to suckle. Use of the platform might lead to hygienic problems due to retained faeces on the platform and faeces and urine falling onto animals located in the lower part of the cage. The absence of stereotypies in rabbit does of this trial, suggested that animal welfare was not compromised by the type of housing (conventional or alternative cages).
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