Behaviour and production of fattening rabbits in colony cages, with and without environmental enrichment

Published: Nov 30, 2017
Rabbit environmental enrichment behavior production

In intensive rabbit husbandry systems animals are usually housed in 2 place-cages without any kind of environmental enrichment. This system may induce stress due to boredom. To reduce stress, both colony cages and the presence of something to gnaw inside the cage may be useful. The aim of this research was to test the effect of environmental enrichment (presence of a piece of wood inside the cage) on performance and health of fattening rabbits, i.e. presence of body injuries. This trial has been carried out in a commercial farm, located in Northern of Italy (Piemonte region), during the summer of year 2002. The ventilation and the photoperiod were under natural conditions. Animals were housed in colony cages (12 cages, 8 animals per cage; cage size: 50x120x40 cm; density: 0.750 cm2 per animal) in semi plain-air conditions. Animals' behaviour was video-recorded during 72 hours (24 hours for 3 days) at 55, 70 and 83 days of age. The video recording covered 48 rabbits for each treatment: environmental enrichment and control group. Animals were weighted at 55, 70, 85 days; the carcass weight and yield were also analysed. Daily weight gain (49.6±2.7g vs 46.18±5.6g) and weight at slaughtering (2973.18±34.09g vs 2834.68±34.45g, P<0.01) were heavier in enriched cages than in control groups. The carcass yield was not different between the groups (62.2%); no injuries were detected on the carcass surface during the slaughter processing on both the environmental and control groups. In the first period (55 days of age) the enriched rabbits were more active than the control ones; in detail, the behaviours lying and lying stretched were significandy lower (P<0.001 and P<0.05, respectively). Furthermore, the enriched rabbits showed a trend to a better feeding activity, maybe linked to a total higher activity. In the second (70 days of age) and third period (83 days of age) the enriched rabbits showed higher feeding behaviour and caecotrophy levels (P<0.05). In the present research, the results show that to give rabbits a hanging wood from the cage ceiling may improve their biological functioning and increase their growth rate without deteriorate their health status. As regards the behaviour of rabbit caged, the results showed that the environmental enrichment might affect their behaviour and increase their welfare.

Article Details
  • Section
  • Research Articles
Download data is not yet available.
Bigler L, Oester H (1996). Group housing for male rabbits. 6th World Rabbit Congress, Toulouse, 2:411-415.
Brooks DL, Hüls W, Leaman C, Thomson J, Parker J, Twomery S (1993). Cage enrichment for female NZW rabbits. Lab. Anim. Sci., 22:30-35.
COST Action 848 UE (1999). Multifaceted research in rabbits: A model to develop a healthy and safe production in respect with animal welfare, (
Crimella C, Verga M, Luzi F (1987). Differenti sistemi stabulativi nell'allevamento del coniglio da carne. Rivista di Zoot. e Nutr. Anim., 13, n. 3:201. Ed. Edagricole, Bologna.
DEFRA, (1987). Code of recommendations for the welfare of livestock: rabbits,
Eiben Cs., Szendrö Zs., Radnai L, Biróné Németh E., 2001. Effect of weaning age, cage size and stocking density on the performance of fattening rabbits. 13th Hungarian Conference on Rabbit Production, Kaposvâr, 75-79.
Fraser D, Broom DM (1994). Farm animal behaviour and welfare. 3rd ed. Baillere Tindall, London U.K.
Gibb JA (1993). Sociality, time and space in a sparse population of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). J. Zool. (London) 229:581-607
Gunn D, Morton DB (1995). Inventory of the behaviour of New Zealand White rabbits in laboratory cages. Appi. Anim. Behav. Sci., 45:277-292.
Gunn D, Morton DB (1996). The behaviour of single-caged and group-housed laboratory rabbits. In J. Bunyan (Ed.) Proc. Fifth
FELASA Symposium: Welfare and Science, Royal Society of Medicine Press, London, pp. 80-84.
Gvaryahu G, Cunningham L, Tienhoven A (1989). Filial imprinting, environmental enrichment and music application. Effect on behavior and performance of meat strain chicks. Poultry Science, 68:211-217.
Hansen LT, Berthelsen H, (2000). The effect of environmental enrichment on the behavior of caged rabbits. Appi. Anim. Behav. Sci., 68:163-178.
Harkness JE, Wagner JE (1989). The biology and medicine of rabbits and rodents. Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia, pp. 9-19.
Hughes BO, Duncan IJH (1988). The notion of ethological "need", models of motivation and animal welfare. Anim. Behav., 36:1696-1707.
Hüls WL, Brooks DL, Bean Kundsen D (1991). Response of adult NZW rabbits to enrichment objects and paired housing. Lab Anim. Sci., 11:609-612.
Jordan D, Stuhec I. (2002). The influence of environmental enrichment (gnawing stick) on some performance and carcass traits of male rabbits. Acta Agraria Kaposvariensis, 6:2:195-200.
Jordan D, Varga A, Kermauner A, Gorjanc G, Stuhec I, (2004). The influence of environmental enrichment with different kind of wood on some behavioural and fattening traits of rabbits housed in individual wire cages. In: Proc. of the 12th International Symposium, Bled (Slovenia), 2-4 September 2004. Acta Agriculturae Slovenica, Suppl. 1, 81-86.
Lawrence AB, Rushen J (1993). Stereotypic animal behaviour: Fundamentals and Applications to Welfare. Cab International, UK, pp 212.
Lidfords L (1997). Behavioural effects of environmental enrichment for individually caged rabbits. Appi. Anim. Behav. Sci., 52:157-169.
Maertens L, Van Oeckel M. J (2001). Effet du logement en cage au en parc et de son enrichissement sur les performances et la couleur de la viande des lapins. 9émes Journ. Rech. Cun., Paris, 31-34.
Martin P, Bateson Ρ (1993). Measuring behaviour: an introductory guide. 2ed. Cambridge.
Mason GJ (1991). Stereotypes and suffering. Behav. Proc., 25:103-115.
Mirabito L, Galliot Ρ, Soulhet C, Pierre V (1999a). Logement des lapins en engraissement en cage 2 ou 6 individus: Etude du budget-temps. 8emes Jour, de la Rech. Cun., ITAVI Ed., Paris.
Mirabito L, Buthon L, Cialdi G, Galliot Ρ, Souchet C, (1999b). Effet du logement des lapines en cages réhaussées avec plate-forme: premiers résultats. 8emes Jour, de la Rech. Cun., 67-70., ITAVI Ed., Paris.
Moberg GP, Mench JA (2000). The biology of animal stress: Basic Principles and Implications for Animal Welfare. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK. Pages 377.
Morisse JP, Maurice R (1997). Influence of stocking density or group size on behavior of fattening rabbits kept under intensive conditions. Appi. Anim. Behav. Sci., 54:351-357.
Newberry RC (1995). Environmental enrichment: increasing the biological relevance of captive environments. Appi. Anim. Behav. Sci., 44:229-243.
Newberry RC, Estevez I (1997). A dynamic approach to the study of environmental enrichment and animal welfare. Appi. Anim. Behav. Sci., 54:53-57.
Rommers J, Meijerhof R (1998). Effect of group size on performance, bone strength and skin lesions of meat rabbits housed under commercial condition. World Rab. Sci., 3-4. 299-302.
SAS/STAT (1999). User's guide, Version 8, SAS Inst. File, Cary, NC, USA.
Stauffacher M, (1992). Group housing and enrichment cages for breeding, fattening and laboratory rabbits. Anim. Welf., 1:105-125.
Swiss Order on Animal Protection (SOAP), Revision (1991). EDMZ 3001 Bern, Swiss.
Verga, M (2000). Intensive rabbit breeding and welfare: development of research, trends and applications. 7th World Rabbit Congress, 4-7 July 2000, Valencia, Spain. Vol. B:491-509.
World Rabbit Science Association, German Section (1991). Indications for Rabbit Housing.