Are combi parks just as useful as regular parks for fatteners for part-time group housing of rabbit does?
Keywords:rabbits, lactating does, group housing, skin injuries, social behaviour
Group housing of lactating rabbit does is desirable from a welfare standpoint, but agonistic behaviour can cause severe skin injuries, which are undesired for animal welfare. Park layout, creating hiding places and escape possibilities, may help redirect attention away from fighting, which could in turn help prevent skin damage. An experiment was performed to test whether more damaging behaviour would occur in a combi park (with nest box panels) after mixing, compared to a regular park for fatteners, as nest box panels would obstruct does when escaping aggressive interactions. In addition, the position of the PVC pipe underneath the platform differed between parks (longitudinal or transversal), resulting in different escape routes. Twenty-two parks were used, in which 5 does per park were grouped at 23 d of lactation until weaning at 36 d of lactation. Skin injuries were scored at 4 d after grouping and on the day before weaning. The presence of nest box panels in a combi park and the position of the PVC pipe underneath the platform did not affect the level of skin damage. Moderate to severe injuries were observed, mostly at the hind quarters, ears and head. Five to 6% of the does were severely injured (wounds). There was a positive relationship between the average skin injury per park at 4 d after grouping and at weaning. On average, average injury score per park increased from grouping to weaning, but there are differences between individual parks. From this experiment it can be concluded that group housing of lactating rabbit does involves animals getting injured. In fact, 5 to 6% of the does were severely injured (wounds). Social dynamics of group housed does are insufficiently understood and might be important to reduce damaging behaviour in group housing.
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