Enser, S. 2016. Comparison of housing and welfare of group housed rabbits. Animal Technology and Welfare 15(1), 77-79.
This poster is based on welfare improvements gained from group housing rabbits in floor pens in the new Antibody Production Facility with a focus on development, behaviours and environmental enrichment in both male and female animals. We established floor pens designed to house up to 20 rabbits with different housing options. Pens were set-up with various enrichment products; we made shelves to add to enrichment but also give rabbits privacy. No issues were encountered with settling animals into their new environment (7-10 days). We have a 100% success rate housing 20 females (aged up to 33 weeks) in floor pens, only seeing isolated incidences of tail nipping and scratching. This was limited to individual pens of animals and with frequent rotation of enrichment has been easily controlled. The 80 males (delivered aged 5 weeks) over an 8-week period housed in groups of 20 in floor pens showed very positive behaviours and good steady weight gain. However, slight aggression/bullying started on week 10, at this point enrichment rotation and increasing of platform space within the pen was trialled which did seem to reduce the aggression and settle the pens back down. After 12-13 weeks the aggression increased again to the point of some animals needing to be removed. In conclusion, Female rabbits house successfully in large groups in floor pens and accept being put together into groups at older ages. Females also accept single animals being added to their group. The successes in group housing males is variable, key considerations that seem to add to the likelihood of success are: the size of the group; the available space (i.e. maximum space is better); age of animals at grouping and using family related animal (e.g. brothers); hideaways (e.g. platforms, beds, light levels); location in the unit (e.g. away from females); keeping the pen/cage interesting (e.g. rotation of and new enrichment ideas).