Dal Bosco, A., Mugnai, C., Martino, M. et al. 2019. Housing rabbit does in a combi system with removable walls: Effect on behaviour and reproductive performance. Animals 9(8), 528.
We evaluated the effects of two types of colony cages, in which rabbit does were always in a group (C1), and where they were in combi cages furnished with removable internal walls to allow both individual and group housing (C2), in addition to the control group (C: conventional individual cage), on welfare, reproductive performance, and global efficiency. Forty-eight New Zealand White nulliparous rabbit does underwent artificially insemination (AI) and were divided into three groups, and reared in the different systems for about 1 year. The reproductive rhythm provides AIs at weaning (30d). In the C1 system, does were continuously grouped, while in C2, walls were inserted four days before kindling and removed 1week after it (60% of the timesheet in group). Reproductive traits and behaviour were evaluated during the entire year. The behavioural observations were performed around days 7, 36, and 44, corresponding to the inclusion of the does in the maternal cages, the insertion of walls four days before kindling, and the removal of the walls 1week after parturition in the C2 group, respectively. The percentages of does with severe skin injuries and the distribution of the injuries on different parts of body were also registered. Does reared in conventional cages showed the greatest presence of stereotype behaviours, while the C1 group showed the highest (p < 0.05) incidence of aggressiveness after regrouping (attack, dominance features, and lower allo-grooming) in comparison to the C2 group (17% and 22%, in C2 and C1 does, respectively).Individually caged does achieved the best productive performance (sexual receptivity, fertility, kindling rate, and number of kits born alive and at weaning). The C1 group showed the lowest performance (p < 0.05), whereas C2 showed an intermediate one. Does housed in the combi cage (C2) had higher (p < 0.05) receptivity and fertility rates and higher numbers of kits born alive and at weaning (79.2% and 76.2%; 7.95 and 7.20, respectively) than the C1 group, but lower values (p < 0.05) than does that were individually housed.