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Open AccessArticle

The Use of Environmental Enrichments Affects Performance and Behavior of Growing Rabbits Housed in Collective Pens

1
Department of Comparative Biomedicine and Food Science (BCA), University of Padova, Viale dell’Università 16, Legnaro, I-35020 Padova, Italy
2
Department of Agronomy, Food, Natural Resources, Animal and Environment (DAFNAE), University of Padova, Viale dell’Università 16, Legnaro, I-35020 Padova, Italy
3
Sydney School of Veterinary Science, Faculty of Science, B19, R.M.C. Gunn Building, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
4
Sydney Institute if Agriculture, B19 R.M.C. Gunn Building, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(8), 537; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9080537
Received: 15 July 2019 / Revised: 4 August 2019 / Accepted: 6 August 2019 / Published: 7 August 2019
Group housing of growing rabbits is currently used in commercial farms to improve animal welfare. However, these systems have shown some weaknesses, mainly associated with the aggressive behavior exhibited among rabbits. Environmental enrichment can offer additional space and a sheltered area in which an animal can protect itself from pen mates, but studies in rabbits under farming conditions are scarce. Thus, this study evaluated the use of two types of enrichment (an elevated plastic-slatted platform and/or a plastic hiding tube) in rabbits housed in collective pens within large groups during the growing period. The use of the platform allowed rabbits to move up/down, to rest in a more comfortable position and to increase explorative behavior, without modifying production performance. However, more injured rabbits were found at the end of the trial in pens with platforms. The presence of the tube impaired growth performance and did not modify behavior. Hence, elevated platforms have been shown to work as a structural enrichment in group-housed rabbits, whereas the usefulness of the tube remains questionable.
This study assessed the effects of an elevated plastic-slatted platform and/or a plastic hiding tube in collective pens with large group sizes (27 or 36 rabbits/pen; 16 rabbits/m2) on the performance and welfare of rabbits kept from weaning (at 33 days of age) to slaughter (at 68 or 75 days of age). Growth performance, injuries, and behavior (video recorded for 24 h) of rabbits (n = 504) were recorded. The platform allowed rabbits to adopt the rearing position more frequently (+0.14 events during 2 min every 30 min across 24 h) and to rest with stretched body for longer (+3.8% of observed time) (p ≤ 0.001). Production parameters and reactivity at the open field test were not modified, but the occurrence of injured rabbits at the trial end was higher in pens with platforms (+8.9%; p ≤ 0.01). This result was possibly related to the higher group size in pens with platforms (36 rabbits) compared to those without platforms (27 rabbits). The inclusion of the tube decreased growth (−2.2 g/d; p ≤ 0.05), whereas it was scarcely used by rabbits and it did not substantially change their behavior or the occurrence of injuries. In conclusion, under the experimental conditions of this study, elevated platforms worked as a useful structural enrichment in view of animal behavior but negatively impacted on the rate of injuries, whereas the usefulness of the tube was not confirmed. View Full-Text
Keywords: group housing; platform; tube; growth; behavior; reactivity group housing; platform; tube; growth; behavior; reactivity
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Trocino, A.; Zomeño, C.; Filiou, E.; Birolo, M.; White, P.; Xiccato, G. The Use of Environmental Enrichments Affects Performance and Behavior of Growing Rabbits Housed in Collective Pens. Animals 2019, 9, 537.

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