We evaluated the impact of concurrent pregnancy and lactation on: nest-building (i.e., digging, straw-carrying, hair-pulling), food intake, milk output, body weight, and the concentration of estradiol and progesterone in blood. Digging was lower in pregnant-lactating (PL) rabbits, compared with pregnant-only (PO) does, on 21-23 d (52±64 vs. 104±86 g, respectively; mean±SD; P<0.05). Straw-carrying was also reduced in PL does on 24-26 d (9±27 vs. 79±94 g; P<0.005), 27-29 (27±56 vs. 99±77 g; P<0.005), and in the total amount of material introduced into the nest box (132±167 vs. 286±217 g; P<0.02). Hair-pulling was expressed by practically all animals. Food intake declined in PO does on the three days preceding parturition (P<0.01) and increased markedly during lactation; this increase was much larger in PL than in lactating-only (LO) rabbits (P<0.01). Milk output was similar between PL and LO does during the first 21 d of lactation but a marked decline in this parameter occurred in PL does from then until 30 d. The differences in nest-building between PL and PO rabbits may be related to the concentrations of estradiol and progesterone on specific days of pregnancy. PL does showed significantly higher estradiol levels than PO animals on pregnancy 1 d (33±13 vs. 23±4 pg/mL; P<0.02) and 21 (34±19 vs. 24±6 pg/mL; P<0.05) and also higher levels of progesterone on pregnancy 1 d (4±5 vs. 1±2 ng/mL; P<0.05). However, PL rabbits had lower levels of progesterone on 7 d (6±3 vs. 9±2 ng/mL; P<0.02) and 14 d (8±3 vs. 11±3 ng/mL; P<0.005) than PO does. Our results indicate that the unique endocrine milieu of PL rabbits has a direct bearing on specific behavioral and physiological phenomena that impact productivity on the farm.
nest building; maternal nest; lactation; food intake; milk output