Effects of rearing feeding programme on the young rabbit females’ behaviour and welfare indicators

E. Martínez-Paredes, L. Ródenas, J.J. Pascual, E. Blas, G. Brecchia, C. Boiti, C. Cervera

Abstract

Restriction of young rabbit females during rearing is a widespread management technique that could have negative consequences on their welfare and behaviour. In the present work, a total of 24 young rabbit females aged 9 wk were used to evaluate 3 rearing feeding programmes until first parturition: CAL, fed ad libitum with a control diet [C: 11.0 MJ digestible energy (DE) and 114 g digestible protein (DP) per kg dry matter (DM)]; CR, receiving the C diet restricted (140 g/d) from 12 wk of age; and F, fed ad libitum with a low energy/high fibre diet [F: 8.7 MJ DE and 88 g DP per kg DM]. F females presented lower body weight than CAL and CR females at week 18 (–0.4 kg and –0.2 kg; P<0.05), but differences in body weight disappeared at parturition. Feeding programme affected the daily feed intake of young females during rearing and gestation periods (on av. of 2 periods: 140, 127 and 179 g DM/d, for CAL, CR and F females, respectively; P<0.001). Blood levels of glucose and insulin decreased with the age of rabbits (from 97 to 73 mg/dL for glucose and from 11 to 6 μUI/mL for insulin at 13 and 20 wk, respectively; P<0.001). Concentration of non-esterified fatty acids was higher in the blood of CAL females (+0.13 mmol/L compared to F; P<0.05), while corticosterone was higher in F females (+0.7 μg/dL compared to CAL; P<0.05). The type of feeding schedule affected the lying still and eating behaviour (P<0.01) of CR females, especially before and after feeding supply, as well as their behavioural stressed indicators (stereotypies; P<0.01), which were more frequent in CR females before feeding supply at 20 weeks of age. Therefore, ad libitum use of a low energy/high fibre diet is an adequate feeding programme for young rabbit females, which does not alter their behavioural patterns.


Keywords

rabbit females; rearing; feeding; welfare; behaviour

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