Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More Scientific Research Tidbits

Completely unrelated, but cute :)
Fall semester has started again and I'm in an academic kind of mood...so I thought I would pull out the ole' Recent Advances in Rabbit Science and see what else I could find.  Same rule applies as last time, my friend: I will put the page number as a reference in parenthesis. Please note that the page number refers to the page of the pdf file, not the page number on the document.  They are different in some cases.
  •  Scientists have done a lot of studies about rabbit housing...mostly in regards to stocking density, cage size, and group pens.  Most of this research has been done due to the public's desire for a high level of animal welfare in meat production in European countries.  The journal covers five different situations: 
    • Single caged rabbits - Provide breeders with higher productivity with better disease control and mortality. It also avoids the risk for aggressive behavior. However, a lack of social contact among animals may cause stress and public perception is poor (130).
    • Stocking density - Rabbits (particularly 3 to 6 week early weaned rabbits) preferred to stay clumped together in a higher density cage.  Again, duh?  BUT, even after weaning, research results show that rabbits tend to group together at a higher density instead of opting for better living conditions (131).  
    • Group size in cage -  Performance in small cages (2-3 animals) and large cages (6-8 animals) were compared.  Group size was not found to affect weight gain, body weight, feed intake or mortality. As long as group size was lower than recommended, it had no affect on producivity or dress out percentage (for meat animals). The amount of peri-renal fat decreased with the increasing number of rabbits per cage (Don't know about rabbits, but peri-renal fat is an independent indicator of kidney issues in humans. Someone please chime in if you know.). However, percentage of ear lesions and serious injuries on the animals increased as group size increased (132).  
    • Stocking density in pens - Had only a slight effect on the production of rabbits. Mortality rate was higher on deep litter (straw-filled) than wire floors due to disease (132).  I tried to decipher their chart on the various stocking densities, but it is beyond me today.  I'll try again later. Charts are on pages 132 and 133, if you are interested. Minimum space allowances for rabbits guidelines are on page 136.  They're metric so have fun :) 
    • Cage vs. pen - When comparing performance of rabbits housed in cages or pens, floor types were discussed separately. They compared wire floors to deep litter.  There was a reduction in growth rate for penned animals that was attributed to greater physical activity and/or lower feed intake. Mortality rate was higher in pens due to contamination with excrement and consumption of soiled litter. Rabbits rested less while housed in pens which is generally said to be an expression of good welfare. However...again, frequency of ear lesions was higher in pen housed rabbits.  BUT, these aggressive incidences can be reduced by simply inserting a gnawing stick into the cage/pen. When the temperatures entered the 59 - 68 degrees Fahrenheit range, rabbits prefer staying on wire netting instead of deep litter. The decrease of production of growing rabbits is 3-4 times worse on deep litter compared to wire floors (134).
Overall, the journal recommends rearing rabbits in pens with wire floors at a moderate density (a whole litter together until sexual maturity) and using wooden sticks to reduce body lesions as an alternative housing system.

So what does all this mean to the hobby breeder?  I look to balance what these reports say with my own needs and facilities.  As I remodel or rethink my rabbit room, I take that info into consideration. Right now, I raise my kits in 30" x 60" wire floor pens. Perhaps I should put in a gnawing stick. It couldn't hurt and it might actually help wool-chewing. My rabbits are individually housed in wire cages. They are currently in a typical setup...all in a row, but eventually, I plan to clump the cages together in a square (does in one square; bucks in another...separate areas) so they can all see each other and hopefully increase social interaction without dealing with ear lesions or worse. My EAs are a laid back group, but they are rabbits. I choose this arrangement because wool chewing is dangerous to rabbit health (wool block) and it ruins their beautiful coat as well. I am super-fine that my rabbits live on wire floors.  It is best for their health and cleanliness...in my situation. Your mileage may vary.  I have resting pads in the cages, but my rabbits don't even use them. They prefer to rest on the wire itself. Like everything else, it's all about being open to new ideas/research and what works best for your situation.  I'm having fun. Do what works for you :)


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