Andrist, C. A., Bigler, L. M., Wurbel, H. W. et al. 2012. Effects of group stability on aggression, stress and injuries in breeding rabbits. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 142(3-4), 182-188.

On Swiss rabbit breeding farms, group-housed does are usually kept singly for 12 days around parturition to avoid pseudogravidity, double litters and deleterious fighting for nests. After this isolation phase there is usually an integration of new group members. Here we studied whether keeping the group composition stable would reduce agonistic interactions, stress levels and injuries when regrouping after the isolation phase. Does were kept in 12 pens containing 8 rabbits each. In two trials, with a total of 24 groups, the group composition before and after the 12 days isolation period remained the same (treatment: stable, S) in 12 groups. In the other 12 groups two or three does were replaced after the isolation phase by unfamiliar does (treatment: mixed, M). Does of S-groups had been housed together for one reproduction cycle. One day before and on days 2, 4 and 6 after regrouping, data on lesions, stress levels (faecal corticosterone metabolites, FCM) and agonistic interactions were collected and statistically analysed using mixed effects models. Lesion scores and the frequency of agonistic interactions were highest on day 2 after regrouping and thereafter decrease in both groups. There was a trend towards more lesions in M-groups compared to S-groups. After regrouping FCM levels were increased in M-groups, but not in S-groups. Furthermore, there was a significant interaction of treatment and experimental day on agonistic interactions. Thus, the frequency of biting and boxing increased more in M-groups than in S-groups. These findings indicate that group stability had an effect on agonistic interactions, stress and lesions.

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