Influence of age at weaning and nutritive value of weaning diet on growth performance and caecal traits in rabbits

 V. Cesari, G. Grilli, V. Ferrazzi, I. Toschi

Abstract

To investigate the relationship between dietary nutrient concentration and weaning age on growth performance and caecal characteristics of rabbits, a trial was carried out on 64 litters (eight rabbits/litter) comparing two weaning ages (25 vs. 34 d) and two diets (HC: high concentrated and LC: low concentrated diet) offered to the kits from 18 to 34 d of age. At 34 d of age 54 animals per group were caged individually and all were fed the LC diet until 45 d of age. All animals were then fed a standard fattening diet (37% neutral detergent fiber, 3.4% ether extract and 18.0% crude protein on dry matter basis) until slaughter at 80 d. The digestibility trial was performed from 56 to 60 d of age on another group of 16 rabbits (8 per diet). During the experimental period (18-80 d of age), feed intake and animal weights were recorded. Caecal volatile fatty acids were measured at 45 and 80 d of age, while microbiological analysis was performed at 25 and 34 d on healthy suckling rabbits. Digestibility of dry matter, protein, neutral detergent fiber, fat and energy was higher in rabbits fed the HC diet (by 7.7, 7.4, 13.1, 26.7, 10.6%, respectively; P<0.001) than in those fed the LC diet. Growth rate and feed conversion ratio (FCR) from 18 to 34 d improved by 7.7 and 9.5% in rabbits fed HC in comparison to the LC diet, respectively (P?0.061). Diet offered around weaning did not influence growth rate or FCR from 34 to 80 d of age. Rabbits weaned earlier increased feed intake (by 67.8%) from 25 to 34 d, but reduced growth rate (by 26.8%) compared to animals weaned at 34 d (P<0.001). Early weaning reduced live weight during the entire fattening period (P?0.018), as well as the FCR (by 4%; P<0.001). Caecal pH was lower at 45 d of age in rabbits weaned at 25 d than in those weaned at 34 d (5.53 vs. 5.83; P=0.019). Treatments did not affect total caecal VFA concentration, but HC diet decreased caecal acetic concentration and increased butyric acid level compared to the LC diet at 45 d (P?0.001). HC diet tended to reduce caecal counts of Enterobacteriacae (P=0.093), while it did not affect facultative anaerobic bacteria, E. Coli and Costridium spp. The LC diet increased at 25 d the number of Clostridium perfringens in comparison with the HC group at the same age and in comparison with animals fed both two diets at 34 d (P<0.001). The values of E. Coli and Enterobacteriaceae increased (P?0.008) from 25 to 34 d of age, whereas that of Clostridium spp. decreased. Weaning at 25 d increased mortality from 18 to 34 d compared with rabbits weaned at 34 d (7.02 vs. 2.46%, P=0.017). However, during the fattening period (34-80 d) rabbits weaned earlier showed lower mortality (7.41 vs. 17.6%; P=0.024).

Keywords

rabbit; nutritive value; weaning age; caecal fermentation; caecal microbiota population

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World Rabbit Science  vol: 18  issue: 1  first page: 9  year: 2010  
doi: 10.4995/WRS.2010.18.02



 

 Universitat Politècnica de València

 

Official journal of the World Rabbit Science Association (WRSA)

 

e-ISSN: 1989-8886     ISSN: 1257-5011   https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs