Effect of early feed restriction on performance and health status in growing rabbits slaughtered at 2 kg live-weight


  • Carlos Romero Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
  • S Cuesta Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.
  • JR Astillero Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.
  • Nuria Nicodemus Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.
  • Carlos De Blas Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.




fattening rabbits, feed conversion, feed restriction, growth performance, health status


The effect of a time-limited access to the feeders (8 h per d from 9:30 to 17:30) on fattening performance and health status was studied in rabbits reared until 2 kg live-weight as typical in the Spanish market. For this purpose, the same diet (10.5 MJ digestible energy/kg, 38.9% neutral detergent fibre and 18.4% crude protein on dry matter basis) was used over two consecutive trials. A total of 192 growing rabbits (96 in each trial) were weaned at 35 d and assigned to 2 different feeding treatments (continuously fed ad libitum or restricted from 35 until 49 d). In the first trial, feed restriction reduced daily feed intake (94.3 vs. 74.2 g; P<0.001), daily weight gain (43.6 vs. 27.1 g; P<0.001) and impaired feed conversion rate (FCR) (2.28 vs. 2.92, P<0.001) in the first 14 d after weaning. Later on, no feed restriction was applied and a compensatory growth was observed in previously restricted rabbits (44.8 vs. 54.8 g/d; P<0.001). Early restricted rabbits did not reach the Spanish commercial weight (2 kg) at 63 d of age and weighed less than full-fed rabbits (1989 vs. 1888 g; P=0.001). Moreover, feed restriction did not improve FCR in the whole fattening period (2.56 on average). The second trial was extended until 70 d to permit restricted rabbits to attain market weight. However, at that age, live weight of restricted rabbits was also lower than that of rabbits always fed ad libitum (2285 vs. 2101 g; P=0.001). In the first trial, no health problem was recorded (average mortality 1.04%) whereas in the second trial feed restriction allowed both mortality (25.6 vs. 6.34%, P=0.017) and morbidity (41.4 vs. 12.7%, P=0.004) to decrease. The higher number of losses in the second trial made economic FCR differ from scientific FCR (3.63 vs. 2.89, on average) in the 35–70 d period. Moreover, morbidity increased heterogeneity of fattening performance. In conclusion, the interest of feed restriction in Spanish fattening rabbit farms is mitigated by the conventional market weight. Nevertheless, in a context with high rates of digestive troubles, a time-limited access to the feeder enhances health status on the farm and could justify the short delay necessary to reach slaughter weight.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Carlos Romero, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

Departamento de Producción Animal. E.T.S. Ingenieros Agrónomos

S Cuesta, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

Departamento de Producción Animal. E.T.S. Ingenieros Agrónomos

JR Astillero, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

Departamento de Producción Animal. E.T.S. Ingenieros Agrónomos

Nuria Nicodemus, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

Departamento de Producción Animal. E.T.S. Ingenieros Agrónomos

Carlos De Blas, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

Departamento de Producción Animal. E.T.S. Ingenieros Agrónomos


Byrne B., Scannell A.G.M., Lyng J., Bolton D.J. 2008. An evaluation of Clostridium perfringens media. Food Control, 19: 1091-1095.

Castelló J.A., Gurri A. 1992. Effects of the energy levels in the feed and the feeding program on performances of growing rabbits. J. Appl. Rabbit Res., 15: 958-964.

Dalle Zotte A., Rémignon H., Ouhayoun J. 2005. Effect of feed rationing during post-weaning growth on meat quality, muscle energy metabolism and fibre properties of Biceps femoris muscle in the rabbit. Meat Sci., 70: 301-306.

De Blas J.C., Mateos G.G. 1998. Feed formulation. In: de Blas C., Wiseman J. (Ed), The Nutrition of the Rabbit. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK, 241-253.

De Blas J.C., Wiseman J., Fraga M.J., Villamide M.J. 1992. Prediction of the digestive energy and digestibility of gross energy of feeds for rabbits. 2. Mixed diets. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol., 39: 39-59.

Dewrée R., Meulemans L., Lassence C., Desmecht D., Ducatelle R., Mast J., Licois D., Vindevogel H., Marlier D. 2007. Experimentally induced epizootic rabbit enteropathy: clinical, histopathological, ultrastructural, bacteriological and haematological findings. World Rabbit Sci., 15: 91-102.

EFSA. 2005. Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards on the request from the Commission related to Clostridium spp. in foodstuffs. EFSA J., 3:9. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2005.199

FEDNA. 2003. Normas FEDNA para la formulación de piensos compuestos. In: De Blas J.C., Mateos G.G., García P. (Ed). Fundación Española para el Desarrollo de la Nutrición Animal, Madrid, Spain.

Foubert C., Boisot P., Duperray J., Guyonvarch A. 2007. Intérêt d’un accès limité à la mangeoire de 6h, 8h et 10h par jour pour engendrer un rationnement alimentaire chez le lapin en engraissement. In Proc.: 12èmes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, 27-28 November, Le Mans, France, 123-126.

Garrido S., Nicodemus N., García J., Chamorro S., De Blas J.C. 2009. Effect of breeding system and farm hygiene on performances of growing rabbits and lactating does over two reproductive cycles. World Rabbit Sci., 17: 71-78.

Gidenne T., Feugier A. 2009. Feed restriction strategy in the growing rabbit. 1. Impact on digestion, rate of passage and microbial activity. Animal, 3: 501-508.

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.

Gidenne T., Murr S., Travel A., Corrent E., Foubert C., Bebin K., Mevel L., Rebours G., Renouf B. 2009b. Effets du niveau de rationnement et du mode de distribution de l’aliment sur les performances et les troubles digestifs post-sevrage du lapereau. Cuniculture, 36: 65-72.

International Organization for Standardization. ISO. 1997. Method ISO 7937. http://www.iso.org/iso/

Jerome N., Mousset J.L., Messager B., Deglaire I., Marie P. 1998. Influence de différentes méthodes de rationnement sur les performances de croissance et d’abattage du lapin. In Proc.: 7èmes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, Lyon, France, 175-178.

Lebas F. 1979. Efficacité de la digestion chez le lapin adulte. Effets du niveau d’alimentation et du stade de gestation. Ann. Biol. Anim. Biochim. Biophys., 19: 969-973.

Lebas F., Laplace J.P. 1982. Mensurations viscérales chez le lapin. 4. Effets de divers modes de restriction alimentaire sur la croissance corporelle et viscérale. Ann. Zootech., 31: 391-430.

Lebas F., Coudert P., Rouvier R., de Rochambeau H. 1996. Comportement alimentaire. In: FAO (ed.) Le Lapin, élevage et pathologie. FAO, Roma. 26-32.

Ledin I. 1984. Effect of restricted feeding and realimentation on compensatory growth, carcass composition and organ growth in rabbit. Ann. Zootech., 33: 33-50.

Lee K.H., Leeson S. 2001. Performance of broilers fed limited quantities of feed or nutrients during seven to fourteen days of age. Poultry Sci., 80: 446-454.

Licois D., Franchet C., Persillon C. 2003. Obtention d’échantillons d’air, prélevés dans des locaux expérimentaux à l’aide de biocollecteurs, chez des lapins sains et des lapins après reproduction expérimentale de l’entéropathie épizootique (EEL). Test d’infection des échantillons collectés. In Proc.: 10èmes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, 19-20 November, Paris, France. 259-262.

Lippens M., Room G., Degroote G., Decuypere E. 2000. Early and temporary quantitative food restriction of broiler chickens. 1. Effects on performance characteristics, mortality and meat quality. Brit. Poultry Sci., 41: 343-354.

Lovatto P.A., Sauvant D., Noblet J., Dubois S., van Milgen J. 2006. Effects of feed restriction and subsequent refeeding on energy utilization in growing pigs. J. Anim. Sci., 84: 3329-3336. Maertens L. 2008. Estrategias para reducir el índice de conversión. In Proc.: XXXIII Symposium de ASESCU. 30-31 October, 2008. Calahorra, Spain. 6-13.

Maertens L., Peeters J.E. 1988. Effect of feed restriction after weaning on fattening performances and caecal traits of early weaned rabbits. Deutsche Veterinarmed. Gesellschaft. pp. 158-169.

McCullagh P., Nelder J.A. 1989. Generalized Linear Models, Second Edition. Chapman and Hall, New York, USA.

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

Perrier G. 1998. Influence de deux niveaux et de deux durées de restriction alimentaire sur l’éfficacité productive du lapin et les caractéristiques bouchères de la carcasse. In Proc.: 7èmes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, 13-14 May, Lyon, France. 179-182.

Polivy J. 1996. Psychological consequences of food restriction. J. Am. Diet. Assoc., 96: 589-592.

Romero C., Nicodemus N., García-Rebollar P., García-Ruiz A.I., Ibáñez M.A., de Blas J.C. 2009a. Dietary level of fibre and age at weaning affect the proliferation of Clostridium perfringens in the caecum, the incidence of Epizootic Rabbit Enteropathy and the performance of fattening rabbits. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol., 153: 131-140.

Romero C., Nicodemus N., Chamorro S., Corujo A., Martínez-Morentin C.G., Margüenda I., De Blas C. 2009b. Efecto de la camada y las condiciones ambientales sobre la mortalidad de gazapos en periodos con distinta incidencia de enteropatía epizoótica del conejo. In Proc.: XIII Jornadas ITEA, 12-13 May, Zaragoza, Spain. 191-193.

Rommers J., Maertens L., Kemp B. 2006. New perspectives in rearing systems for rabbit does. In: Maertens L., Coudert P. (ed), Recent Advances in Rabbit Sciences. Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research, Melle, Belgium. 39-52.

Skrivan M., Tumova E. 1995. The effect of feed restriction in mediumtype meat turkey poults. Scientia Agric. Bohemica, 26: 119-129.

Spanish Royal Decree 1201/2005. 2005. Real Decreto 1201/2005. Sobre protección de los animales utilizados para experimentación y otros fines científicos. Boletín Oficial del Estado, 252: 3436734391.

Szendro Z., Szabo S., Hullar I. 1988. Effect of reduction of eating time on production of growing rabbits. In Proc.: 4th World Rabbit Congress, 10-14 October, 1988. Budapest, Hungary. 104-114.

Tudela F. 2008. Producción de conejos con restricciones alimentarias. In Proc.: XXXIII Symposium de ASESCU. 30-31 October, 2008. Calahorra, Spain. 14-21.

Tumova E., Skrivan M., Skrivanova V., Kacerovska L. 2002. Effect of early feed restriction on growth in broiler chickens, turkeys and rabbits. Czech J. Anim. Sci., 47: 418-428. Tumova E., Zita L., Stolc L. 2006. Carcass quality in restricted and ad libitum fed rabbits. Czech J. Anim. Sci., 51: 214–219.

Weissman D., Troislouches G., Picard E., Davoust C., Leroux C., Launay C. 2009. Amélioration de l’indice de consummation de lapins en engraissement par une distribution nocturne de l’aliment. In Proc.: 13èmes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, 17-18 November, Le Mans, France, 47-49.