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


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.


feeding strategy; health status; pre-weaning; rabbit

Full Text:



AFNOR NF V18-122 (1997). Animal feeding stuffs-Determination of sequential cell-wall-Method by treatment with neutral and acid detergent and sulphuric acid. Assoc. Française Normalisation, Paris.

Bebin K., Briens C., Grenet L., Fournier E. 2009. Effect of weaning age and energy levels on weight at 63 days of fattening rabbits. In Proc.: 13èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, 17-18 November 2009, Le Mans, France, pp. 25-28. Available at: http://www.journees-de-la pdf. Accessed: April 2015.

Bouvarel I. Chagneau A.M., Lecuelle S., Lescoat P., Ferreira G., Duvaux-Ponter C., Leterrier C. 2009. Feed composition and hardness interact in preference and intake in chickens. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 118: 62-68. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2009.01.008

Butcher C., Bryant M.J., Owen E., Leach I., Machin D.H. 1983. The effect of dietary metabolizable energy concentration upon the pre- and post-weaning performance of growing rabbits. Anim. Prod., 36: 229-236. doi:10.1017/s1357729800001296

Cesari V., Grilli G., Ferrazzi V.,Toschi I. 2009. Influence of age at weaning and nutritive value of weaning diets on growth performance and caecal traits in rabbits. World Rabbit Sci., 17: 195-205. doi:10.4995/wrs.2009.644

Combes S., Gidenne T., Boucher S., Fortun-Lamothe L., Bolet G., Coureaud G. 2013. Rabbit from birth to weaning: what tools for more robust rabbits? In Proc.: 15èmes Journ. Rech.

Cunicole, 26-27 November 2013, Le Mans, France, pp. 63-77. Available at: Accessed: April 2015.

Coutelet G. 2012. Gestion technico-économique des éleveurs de lapin de chair-RENACEB (Reseau National Cunicole d’Elevage en Bandes) et RENALAP (Réseau National Lapin)-résultats 2012. Institut Technique de l’Aviculture, ITAVI. Available at: Accessed: May 2015.

Debray L., Fortun-Lamothe L., Gidenne T. 2002. Influence of low dietary starch/fiber ratio around weaning on intake behavior, performance and health status of young and rabbit does. Anim. Res., 51: 63-75. doi:10.1051/animres:2002001

Di Meo C., Bovera F., Marono S., Vella N., Nizza A. 2007. Effect of feed restriction on performance and feed digestibility in rabbits. It. J. Anim. Sci., 6: 765-767. doi:10.4081/ijas.2007.1s.765

EGRAN 2001. Technical note: attempts to harmonize chemical analyses of feeds and faeces, for rabbit feed evaluation. World Rabbit Sci., 9, 57-64. doi:10.4995/wrs.2001.446

European Union 2010. Protection of animals used for scientific purpose. Official Journal of the European Union, L276/33-L276/79.

Fortun-Lamothe L., Gidenne T., Lapanouse A., De Dapper J. 2000. Note: An original system to separately control litter and female feed intake without modification of the mother-young relations. World Rabbit Sci., 8: 177-180. doi:10.4995/wrs.2000.708

Fortun-Lamothe L., Sabater F. 2003. Estimation of milk production according to the growth of the suckling rabbits. In Proc.: 10èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, 19-20 November 2003, Paris, ITAVI Ed., Paris, pp. 69-72.

Fortun-Lamothe L., Lacanal L., Boisot P., Jehl N., Arveux P., Hurtaud J., Perrin G. 2005. Effects of level and origin of dietary energy on reproduction performance of the does and health status of the young. In Proc.: 11èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, Paris, 29-30 November 2005, Paris, France, pp. 129-132.

Gidenne, T. 2000. Recent advances and perspectives in rabbit nutrition: Emphasis on fibre requirements. World Rabbit Sci., 8: 23-32. doi:10.4995/wrs.2000.414

Gidenne T., Lapanouse A., Fortun-Lamothe L. 2003. Feeding behaviour of early-weaned rabbits: effect of pellet diameter. In Proc.: 10èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, 19-20 novembre, 2003, Paris, France, pp. 17-19.

Gidenne T., Pinheiro V., Falcão e Cunha L. 2000. A comprehensive approach of the rabbit digestion : consequences of a reduction in dietary fibre supply. Livestock Prod. Sci., 64: 225-237. doi:10.1016/S0301-6226(99)00141-4

Gidenne T., Combes S., Feugier A., Jehl N., Arveux P., Boisot P., Briens C., Corrent E., Fortune H., Montessuy S., Verdelhan S. 2009. Feed restriction strategy in the growing rabbit. 2. Impact on digestive health, growth and carcass characteristics. Anim., 3: 509-515. doi:10.1017/S1751731108003790

Gidenne T., Combes S., Fortun-Lamothe L. 2012. Feed intake limitation strategies for the growing rabbit: effect on feeding behaviour, welfare, performance, digestive physiology and health: A review. Anim., 6: 1407-1419. doi:10.1017/S1751731112000389

Gidenne T., Combes S., Fortun-Lamothe L. 2013. Protein replacement by digestible fibre in the diet of growing rabbits. 1: Impact on digestive balance, nitrogen excretion and microbial activity. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol., 183, 132-141. doi:10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2013.04.022

Knudsen C., Combes S., Briens C., Coutelet G., Duperray J., Rebours G., Salaun J.M., Travel A., Weissman D., Gidenne T. 2014. Increasing the digestible energy intake under a restriction strategy improves the feed conversion ratio of the growing rabbit without negatively impacting the health status. Livestock Sci., 169, 96-105. doi:10.1016/j.livsci.2014.08.015

Maertens L., Perez J.M., Villamide M., Cervera C., Gidenne T., Xiccato G. 2002. Nutritive value of raw materials for rabbits: EGRAN tables 2002. World Rabbit Sci., 10: 157-166. doi:10.4995/wrs.2002.488

Mirabito L., Bocquier C. 2005. Development of a feeding system to separate female and litter feed intake before weaning. In Proc.: 11èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, 29-30 november, 2005, Paris, France, pp. 49-52. Available at: Accessed: April 2015.

Montessuy S., Reys S., Rebours G., Mascot N. 2009. Effect of feed energetic level on fattening rabbit performances and consequences on the feeding cost of the growing kilogram. In Proc.: 13èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, 17-18 novembre, 2009, Le Mans, France, pp. 22-25. Available at: Accessed: April 2015.

Oresanya T.F., Beaulieu A.D., Patience J.F. 2008. Investigations of energy metabolism in weanling barrows: The interaction of dietary energy concentration and daily feed (energy) intake. J. Anim. Sci., 86: 348-363. doi: 10.2527/jas.2007-0009

Perez J.M., Lebas F., Gidenne T., Maertens L., Xiccato G., Parigi Bini R., Dalle Zotte A., Cossu M.E., Carazzolo A., Villamide M.J., Carabaño R., Fraga M.J., Ramos M.A., Cervera C., Blas E., Fernandez Carmona J., Falcão-e-Cunha L., Bengala Freire J. 1995. European reference method for in vivo determination of diet digestibility in rabbits. World Rabbit Sci., 3, 41-43. doi:10.4995/wrs.1995.239

Perez J.M., Gidenne T., Bouvarel I., Arveux P., Bourdillon A., Briens C. Le Naour J., Messager B., Mirabito L. 2000. Replacement of digestible fibre by starch in the diet of the growing rabbit. II. Effects on performances and mortality by diarrhea. Ann. Zootech. 49, 369-377. doi:10.1051/animres:2000128

Perrier G. 1998. Influence of two levels and two durations in feed restriction on the productive efficiency of the rabbit and the characteristics of the carcass. In Proc.: 7èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, 13-14 mai, 1998, Lyon, France, pp. 179-182.

R Development Core Team. 2013. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Available at:, Vienna, Austria.

Renouf B., Offner A. 2007. Influence of feed energy level at different distribution periods on growth, mortality and rabbit carcass yield. In Proc.: 12èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, 27-28 novembre, 2007, Le Mans, France, pp. 101-104. Available at: Accessed: March 2015.

Roper T.J., Marples N.M. 1997. Colour preferences of domestic chicks in relation to food and water presentation. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 54: 207-213. doi:10.1016/S0168-1591(96)01178-1

Szendrő Z., Metzger S., Febel H., Hullar I., Maertens L., Bianchi M., Cavani C., Petracci M., Biro-Nemeth E., Radnai I. 2008. Effect of energy restriction in interation with genotype on the performance of growing rabbits I: Productive traits. Livestock Sci., 118: 123-131. doi:10.1016/j.livsci.2008.01.003

Travel A., Mirabito L., Chana, I., Souchet C., Galliot P., Weissman D., Corrent E., Davoust C. 2009. Feed preference of young rabbits according to pellet diameter with a separated feeding system for the mother and her pups. In Proc.: 13èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, 17-18 novembre, 2009, Le Mans, France, pp. 2-5.

Van Soest P.J., Robertson J.B., Lewis B.A. 1991. Symposium: carbohydrate methodology, metabolism, and nutritional implications in dairy cattle. J. Dairy Sci., 74: 3583-3597. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(91)78551-2

Weis R.N., Birkett S.H., Morel P.C.H., de Lange C.F.M. 2004. Effects of energy intake and body weight on physical and chemical body composition in growing entire male pigs J. Anim. Sci., 82: 109-121.

Wolter B.F., Ellis M. 2001. The effects of weaning weight and rate of growth immediately after weaning on subsequent pig growth performance and carcass characteristics. Can. J.Anim. Sci, 81: 363-369. doi:10.4141/A00-100

Xiccato G., Trocino A. 2010. Energy and Protein Metabolism and Requirements, In: de Blas C., Wiseman J. (Eds.). Nutrition of the Rabbit, CAB International, Oxfordshire, UK, 83-118. doi:10.1079/9781845936693.0083

Abstract Views

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM

 Universitat Politècnica de València

Official journal of the World Rabbit Science Association (WRSA)

e-ISSN: 1989-8886     ISSN: 1257-5011