Stimulate feed intake before weaning and control intake after weaning to optimise health and growth performance

Tehya Read, Sylvie Combes, Thierry Gidenne, Nicolas Destombes, Luc Grenet, Laurence Fortun-Lamothe

Abstract

Post-weaning feed restriction is a common practice in rabbit farming to reduce mortality, but results in lower growth performance and slaughter weights. This study aimed to assess the influence of 2 diets both rich in fibre and low in starch, with high or low digestible energy (DE) and digestible protein (DP) contents for a constant DP/DE ratio offered from 18 to 70 d of age, on the growth performance and health parameters of rabbits. Eight hundred rabbit kits were divided in 2 experimental groups differing in the feed offered from 18 to 70 d: a high concentrate diet (HC group; 10.37 MJ DE/kg DM and 102 g DP/kg DM) or low concentrate diet (LC group; 9.63 MJ DE/kg DM and 95 g DP/kg DM). Feed was offered ad libitum before weaning (35 d) and from 63 to 70 d, while feed offered from 35 to 63 d was controlled to obtain similar DE intake in both groups. Feed intake, animal weights and health status were recorded weekly. Mortality was recorded daily. Feed intake was similar in both groups before weaning (P=0.204), and consequently the DE intake was higher in the HC group compared to the LC group before weaning (3.91 vs. 3.39 MJ, respectively; P=0.017). Feed intake from 63 to 70 d was lower in the HC than in the LC group (229 vs. 239 g/d/kit, respectively; P<0.001).
Total DE ingested after weaning was similar in both groups (45.44 MJ; P=0.143). Kits were heavier in the HC group throughout the study (P<0.05). A higher average daily gain during the periods of 18-28, 35-42 and 56-63 d was seen in the HC group (+8.1%, +16.8% and +4.5%, respectively; P<0.05). Mortality and morbidity rates were similar between groups throughout the study (P=1.0 and P=0.104, respectively). Our results suggest that when the feed intake after weaning is controlled, i) the feeding strategy before weaning determines the weight at weaning and at slaughter age; and ii) rabbits fed a diet more highly concentrated but rich in fibre increase their growth performance without negative consequences on their digestive health.


Keywords

feeding strategy; health status; pre-weaning; rabbit

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