Birolo, M., Trocino, A., Zuffellato, A. et al. 2022. Use of gnawing hay blocks: Effects on productive performance, behavior and reactivity of growing rabbits kept in parks with different sex-group compositions. Animals 12(9), 1212.

To improve animal welfare in collective park housing systems, this study assessed the effects of the provision of gnawing hay blocks and the group composition (F: females, M: males, FM: mixed sex) on performance, behavior, and reactivity of 288 growing rabbits reared in 18 parks (16 rabbits/park) from 31 to 73 days of age. The presence of gnawing blocks inside the feeding area of the parks scarcely affected performance and budget time, but decreased the time spent in the resting area compared to parks without blocks (p < 0.001); it increased the time spent moving during the open field test (p < 0.05) and the rate of rabbits that approached the object in the novel-object test (p < 0.05). As for sex-group composition, the feed conversion ratio was lower in parks F and FM than in park M (p < 0.05). During the open-field test, FM rabbits spent more time moving (p < 0.05), whereas M rabbits displayed self-grooming for a longer time (p < 0.01). Results related to production, behavior, and reactivity indicate the provision of gnawing blocks for welfare improvement, but do not support the change from current mixed-sex to single-sex rearing.

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