Zomeño, C., Birolo, M., Gratta, F. et al. 2018. Effects of group housing system, pen floor type, and lactation management on performance and behaviour in rabbit does. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 203, 55-63.
This work aimed at evaluating the effects of housing system, pen floor type, and lactation management on rabbit doe and kit performance throughout a reproductive cycle, including categorization of aggressiveness and injuries. Forty multiparous pregnant does were assigned to six experimental groups: i) individual pens with plastic floor (4 does), ii) individual pens with wire floor and plastic mats (4 does), iii) collective pens with plastic floor and fixed lactation (8 does), iv) collective pens with plastic floor and random lactation (8 does), v) collective pens with wire floor and plastic mats and fixed lactation (8 does), and vi) collective pens with wire floor and plastic mats and random lactation (8 does). In collective pens, does were kept in groups from 8 d until 2 d before kindling and from 2 d until 33 d after kindling. In the fixed group, does always nursed their own litter; in the random group, a random litter from pen-mates. Behaviours were video-recorded at 8 d before kindling (−8 d), and 2 d (+2 d) and 18 d (+18 d) after kindling. Injuries were scored at 5, 12, 19, 26, and 34 d after kindling. Bayesian inference was used to study the differences between experimental groups. During controlled lactation, doe feed intake (+17.3 g/d; ProbR = 0.84) and milk production (+11.5 g/d; ProbR = 0.83) were higher in collective pens than in individual modules, and kit weaning weight was slightly lower (−20.4 g; ProbR = 0.55). Feed intake and kit weight at weaning were lower in the fixed than in the random lactation group (ProbR = 0.61−0.89). Aggression was lower at −8 d than at +2 d (−39.1 events; ProbR = 0.98), higher at +2 d than at +18 d (+50.2 events; ProbR = 1.00), and higher in pens with plastic mats than with plastic slats (average across all observation days, −14.7 events; ProbR = 0.69). Injury rate was higher at 3 d (34%) and 10 d (47%) after does regrouped from an isolation period, compared with later time points (P < 0.05). In conclusion, aggression was high in collective pens during the short period around kindling, but doe and kit performance were not substantially affected compared with individual housing. Plastic-slatted floors reduced aggression more than plastic mats, without affecting performance. Finally, lactation method had no relevant effect. Thus, random lactation in part-time collective systems may be transferred to commercial farms without negative outcomes.