Effect of feed restriction and feeding plans on performance, slaughter traits and body composition of growing rabbits


  • Marco Birolo University of Padova
  • Angela Trocino University of Padova
  • Marco Tazzoli University of Padova
  • Gerolamo Xiccato University of Padova




feed restriction, feeding plans, growth performance, body composition, nitrogen excretion, rabbit


Two feeding systems (L, ad libitum vs. R, feed restriction) were combined with 3 feeding plans (MM, MH, HH) to evaluate the effects on performance, slaughter results, body composition and nitrogen balance of 300 commercial crossbred rabbits kept individually from weaning to slaughter (34-70 d of age). The R rabbits were fed from 80% (first days on trial) to 100% (end of 3rd wk) of ad libitum intake, whereafter R rabbits had free access to feed. The 3 feeding plans were: MM plan, M diet with moderate digestible energy (DE) content, 10.6 MJ/kg, throughout the trial; HH plan, H diet with high DE content, 11.1 MJ/kg, throughout the trial; MH plan, M diet for the first 3 wk and H diet for the last 2 wk. Feed restriction did not affect nutrient digestibility, growth rate on the whole trial and slaughter results, but improved feed conversion (2.96 vs. 2.89 in L and R rabbits, respectively; P<0.01) and reduced N excretion (2.16 vs. 2.07 g excreted N/d, in L and R rabbits; P<0.05). At the end of the first period (55 d), R rabbits showed lower empty body protein, lipid, and gross energy gains than L rabbits, but differences disappeared within the end of the trial. The HH plan improved feed conversion (2.97 vs. 2.89 for MM vs. HH; P<0.05), but increased excreted N (2.03 vs. 2.17 g/d; P<0.001) in comparison with the MM plan due to the higher digestible protein/DE ratio of H diet, whereas the MH plan showed intermediate results. In conclusion, a moderate feed restriction during post weaning improved feed conversion and reduced N excretion without negative effects on growth or slaughter results. Moreover, N excretion was confirmed to depend largely on dietary nitrogen content.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Marco Birolo, University of Padova

Department of Comparative Biomedicine and Food Science

Angela Trocino, University of Padova

Department of Comparative Biomedicine and Food Science

Marco Tazzoli, University of Padova

Department of Agronomy Food Natural Resources Animals and Environment

Gerolamo Xiccato, University of Padova

Department of Agronomy Food Natural Resources Animals and Environment


AOAC. 2000. Official Methods of Analysis, 17th ed. Assoc. Off. Analyst. Chemists, Arlington, VA, USA. 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, 25-28. Available at: http://www.journees–de–la–recherche.org/PDF/R67–BEBIN.pdf. Accessed: July 2016.

Birolo M., Trocino A., Zuffellato A., Xiccato G. 2016. Effect of feed restriction programs and slaughter age on digestive efficiency, growth performance and body composition of growing rabbits. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol., 222: 194-203. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2016.10.014

Blasco A., Ouhayoun J. 1996. Harmonization of criteria and terminology in rabbit meat research. Revised proposal. World Rabbit Sci,. 4: 93-99. https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs.1996.278

Boisot P., Licois D., Gidenne T. 2003. Feed restriction reduces the sanitary impact of an experimental reproduction of Epizootic Rabbit Enteropathy syndrome (ERE), in the growing rabbit. In: Proc. 10èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, 19-20 November, 2003, Paris, France, 267-270.

Bovera F., Lestingi A., Piccolo G., Iannaccone F., Attia Y.A., Tateo A. 2013. Effects of water restriction on growth performance, feed nutrient digestibility, carcass and meat traits of rabbits. Animal, 7: 1600-1606. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731113001146

Cavani C., Petracci M., Trocino A., Xiccato G. 2009. Advances in research on poultry and rabbit meat quality. It. J. Anim. Sci., 8: 741-750. https://doi.org/10.4081/ijas.2009.s2.741

Dalle Zotte A. 2002. Perception of rabbit meat quality and major factors influencing rabbit carcass and meat quality. Livest. Prod. Sci., 75: 11-32. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0301-6226(01)00308-6

De Blas J.C., Mateos G.G. 2010. Feed formulation. In: C. de Blas and J. Wiseman (Eds.) Nutrition of the Rabbit. 2nd Edition. CAB International, Wallingford, Oxon, UK, 222-232. https://doi.org/10.1079/9781845936693.0222

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.

EC. 1998. Commission Directive 98/64/EC of 3 September 1998 establishing Community methods of analysis for the determination of amino acids, crude oils and fats, and olaquindox in feeding stuffs and amending. Directive 71/393/EEC. Off. J. Eur. Union 19.9.1998, L257/14.

ERM/AB–DLO. 1999. Establishment of Criteria for the assessment of the nitrogen content of animal manures, European Commission, Final Report, Luxembourg.

Fernández Carmona J., Pascual J.J., Cervera C. 2000. The use of fats in rabbit diets. In: Proc. 7th World Rabbit Congress, 5-7 July, 2000, Valencia, Spain. World Rabbit Sci., 8, suppl. 1, vol. C, 29-59.

Gidenne T. 2015. Dietary fibres in the nutrition of the growing rabbit and recommendations to preserve digestive health: a review. Animal, 9: 227-242. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731114002729

Gidenne T., Feugier A. 2009. Feed restriction strategy in the growing rabbit. 1. Impact on digestion, rate of passage and microbial activity. Animal, 4: 501-508. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731108003789

Gidenne T., Perez J.M., Xiccato G., Trocino A., Carabaño R., Villamide M.J., Blas E., Cervera C., Falcão-e-Cunha L., Maertens L. 2001. Technical note: attempts to harmonize chemical analyses of feeds and faeces, for rabbit feed evaluation. World Rabbit Sci., 9, 57-64. https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs.2001.446

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

Gidenne T., Bannelier C., Combes S., Fortun–Lamothe L. 2009b. Interaction between the energetic feed concentration and the restriction strategy – impact on feeding behaviour, growth and health of the rabbit. In: Proc. 13èmes Jour. Rech. Cunicole, 17- 18 November, 2009, Le Mans, France, 63-66.

Gidenne T., Carabaño R., García J., De Blas C. 2010. Fibre digestion. In: C. de Blas and J. Wiseman (Eds.) Nutrition of the Rabbit. 2nd Edition. CAB International, Wallingford, Oxon, UK, 66-82. https://doi.org/10.1079/9781845936693.0066

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. Animal, 6: 1407-1419. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731112000389

Gidenne T., Aubert C., Drouilhet L., Garreau H. 2013a. Feed efficiency in rabbit breeding: technico-economical and environmental impacts. In: Proc. 15èmes Journ. Rech. Cunicole, 26-27 November, 2013, Le Mans, France, 1-13.

Gidenne T., Combes S., Fortun-Lamothe L. 2013b. 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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2013.04.022

ISO (International Organization for Standardization). 1998. Animal feeding stuffs, animal products, and faeces or urine - Determination of gross calorific value - Bomb calorimeter method. ISO/TC 34, Agricultural food products, Subcommittee SC 10, Animal feedingstuffs.

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. Livest. Sci., 169: 96-105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livsci.2014.08.015

Maertens L. 2010. Feeding systems for intensive production. In: C. de Blas and J. Wiseman (Eds.) Nutrition of the Rabbit. 2nd Edition. CAB International, Wallingford, Oxon, UK, 253-266. https://doi.org/10.1079/9781845936693.0253

Maertens L., Gidenne T. 2016. Feed efficiency in rabbit production: nutritional, technico-economical and environmental aspects. In: Proc. 11th World Rabbit Congress - Abstracts, 15-18 June, 2016, Quingdao, China, 131-151. Available at: http://pure.ilvo.vlaanderen.be/portal/files/4411117/Maertens_Gidenne_WRC_2016.pdf. Accessed: July 2016.

Marlier D., Dewree R., Delleur V., Licois D., Lassence C., Poulipoulis A., Vindevogel H. 2003. A review of the major causes of digestive disorders in the European rabbit. Ann. Med. Vet., 147: 385-392.

Mertens D.R. 2002. Gravimetric determination of amylase-treated neutral detergent fiber in feeds with refluxing in beakers or crucibles: collaborative study. J. AOAC Int., 85: 1217-1240.

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 November, 2009, Le Mans, France, 22-25. Available at: http://www.journeesde-la-recherche.org/Download.php?telecharger=R68-MONTESSUY.pdf. Accessed: July 2016.

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 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. https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs.1995.239

Read T., Combes S., Gidenne T., Destombes N., Grenet L., Fortun-Lamothe L. 2015. Stimulate feed intake before weaning and control intake after weaning to optimise health and growth performance. World Rabbit Sci., 23: 145-153. https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs.2015.3977

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 November, 2007, Le Mans, France, 101-104. Available at: http://www.journees-de-la-recherche.org/PDF/8a-renouf.pdf. Accessed: July 2016.

Romero C., Cuesta S., Astillero J.R., Nicodemus N., de Blas J.C. 2010. Effect of early feed restriction on performance and health status in growing rabbits slaughtered at 2 kg live-weight. World Rabbit Sci., 18: 211-218. https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs.2010.778

SAS (Statistical Analysis System Institute, Inc.) 2013. SAS/STAT(R) 9.2 User’s Guide, 2nd ed. SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, USA. Available at: http://support.sas.com/documentation/cdl/en/statug/63033/HTML/default/viewer.htm#glm_toc.htm Accessed: September 2016.

Szendrő S., Metzger S., Fébel H., Hullár I., Maertens L., Bianchi M., Cavani C., Petracci M., Biró Németh E., Radnai I. 2008. Effect of energy restriction in interaction with genotype on the performance of growing rabbits. I: Productive traits. Livest. Sci., 118: 123-131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livsci.2008.01.003

Tazzoli M., Trocino A., Birolo M., Radaelli G., Xiccato G. 2015. Optimizing feed efficiency and nitrogen excretion in growing rabbits by increasing dietary energy with high-starch, highsoluble fibre, low-insoluble fibre supply at low protein levels. Livest. Sci., 172: 59-68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livsci.2014.12.006

Trocino A., Fragkiadakis M., Majolini D., Carabaño R., Xiccato G. 2011. Effect of the increase of dietary starch and soluble fibre on digestive efficiency and growth performance of meat rabbits. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol. 165, 256-277. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2011.03.008

Trocino A., García J., Carabaño R., Xiccato G. 2013. A metaanalysis on the role of soluble fibre in diets for growing rabbits. World Rabbit Sci., 21: 1-15. https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs.2013.1285

Tůmová E., Zita L., Štolc L. 2006. Carcass quality in restricted and ad libitum fed rabbits. Czech J. Anim. Sci., 51: 214-219.

Van Soest P.J., Robertson J.B., Lewis B.A. 1991. Methods for dietary fiber, neutral detergent fiber, and non-starch polysaccharides in relation to animal nutrition. J. Dairy Sci., 74: 3583-3597. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(91)78551-2

Xiccato G. 1999. Feeding and meat quality in rabbits: a review. World Rabbit Sci., 7: 75-86. https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs.1999.383

Xiccato G., Cinetto M., Dalle Zotte A. 1992. Effetto del livello nutritivo e della categoria di conigli sulla digeribilità degli alimenti e sul bilancio azotato. Zoot. Nutr. Anim., 18: 35-43.

Xiccato G., Trocino A., Sartori A., Queaque P.I. 2003. Effect of weaning diet and weaning age on growth, body composition and caecal fermentation of young rabbits. Anim. Sci., 77: 101-111. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1357729800053704

Xiccato G., Trocino A., Majolini D., Fragkiadakis M., Tazzoli M. 2011. Effect of decreasing dietary protein level and replacing starch with soluble fibre on digestive physiology and performance of growing rabbits. Animal, 5: 1179-1187. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731111000243