Current Studies on Rabbit Housing
RECENT ADVANCES IN RABBIT SCIENCES
preference behaviors The preference of growing rabbits for different housing systems has also been studied. A big problem for growing rabbits, particularly at the practical farm level, is the quantity and quality of available space and the possibility for rabbits to show “normal” locomotory behavior (Stauffacher,1992) and development (Drescher, 1992). According to Lehman (1991) in the rabbits reared two per cage, the ability to perform hopping as well as bone integrity were impaired. Bessei and Rivaletti (1997) used operant conditioning (pressing a bar) to verify the preferences and motivation of weaned rabbits to gain feed and to choose the amount of available space: from 545 to 3150 cm (214.5 sqin to 1240.157sqin)2. The animals learned quickly to open a feeder through bar pressing, although they found it easier in a reduced space than in a larger one. Thus the rabbits worked actively to reduce the floor space. However the frequency of bar pressing to reduce floor space was lower than that to increase the floor space. The author concludes that the preferred space may be somewhere in between the two extremes of the test situations.
Matics et al.(2004) recorded the choices of different groups of rabbits with different group sizes(18 to 30 and 8 to 24) and space allowance (12 to 20rabbits/m sq and 5.3 to 16 rabbits/m sq ) from weaning(at three weeks) until ten weeks of age. They used a free choice design with cages of different sizes (500x 300 - 600 - 900 - 1200 mm) with swing doors between them. Rabbits preferred one of the smallest cages, with a space allowance of 60 - 70 rabbits/m sq and only a few of them chose the largest cage. After5 - 6 weeks of age they began to spread into all of the cages, however the smallest cages received a significantly higher preference until the end of the study period. Princz et al. (2005) observed the preference of young growing rabbits housed in cage-blocks of 2msq (9sqfeet) divided into 4 cages (approx 30 x 30in each , the same size as my grow out cages.) varying in heights of 20, 30,40 cm and an open-top. Fewest rabbits (less than 17%) were observed in the open top, and rabbits chose the higher cages when they were active and the lower ones when they were resting, regardless of the space allowance (16 or 12 rabbits/m²).
pg 92 RECENT ADVANCES IN RABBIT SCIENCES 2.6. Behavior of growing rabbits Marina VERGA , Fabio LUZI , Zsolt SZENDRÖ Istituto di Zootecnica, Facoltà di Medicina Veterinaria, Via Celoria 1020133 Milano, Italy University of Kaposvár, Faculty of Animal Science, Guba Sándor Str. 407400 Kaposvár, Hungary
note: my cages are smallest for New Zealand 576 sq in, and our larger doe and litter are 864sqin, and 900 sqin.
ALTERNATIVE PEN HOUSING SYSTEM FOR FATTENING RABBITS : EFFECTS OF GROUP DENSITY AND LITTER
LAMBERTINI L., VlGNOLA G., ZAGHINI G. | World Rabbit Science They concluded, "Growth performances, slaughter results and carcass quality are on the whole better for animals traditionally raised in wire mesh cages." study compared wire floors to solid floors with litter/bedding.
"In conclusion, group housing systems on litter implies some relevant questions that have to be pointed out, particularly concerning pathology problems (mainly connected to coccidiosis) compared to the intensive breeding in cages. Growth performance, slaughter results and carcass quality are on the whole better for animals traditionally raised in wire mesh cages."
Different rearing systems for fattening rabbits: Performance and carcass characteristics
Carla Lazzaroni, a, , Davide Biaginia and Carola Lussianaa Department of Animal Science, University of Torino, via L. da Vinci 44, 10095 Grugliasco, Italy "80 rabbits (40 males and 40 females) of Carmagnola breed were reared from 9 to 16 weeks of age in individual California type cages (0.12 m2) or in group ground pens (0.25 m2/head) . . . Animals reared in ground pens showed lower productive performances, while, as to slaughtering performances, rabbits reared in cages showed the highest slaughtering weight and also the highest weights for most body parts." Meat Science, Volume 82, Issue 2, June 2009, Pages 200-204 http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=21432141
Preference testing in intensively kept meat production rabbits for straw on wire grid floor
J. P. Morisse*, E. Boilletot and A. Martrenchar This study measured rabbits' preference for wire floor vs. straw bedding when allowed to choose, with a control group on wire only. "The most unexpected result was the low attraction of straw. Rabbits in the littered pens spent most of their time on the wire (89% at 7 weeks and 77% at 10 weeks; P<0.01), especially when they were lying (96% at 7 weeks and 84% at 10 weeks; P<0.01). The most plausible explanation for this preference seems to be that rabbits were attracted to the cleanliness and the dryness of the wire. Reactions to a new environment, and parasitism were not significantly influenced by treatments. On the other hand, final bodyweight, carcass weight and daily gain significantly decreased by 8%, 6.5%, and 10%, respectively in the littered pens compared with the wire pens (P<0.05). These results demonstrated that fattening rabbits kept under intensive conditions preferred a wire floor to a straw deep litter. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Volume 64, Issue 1, April 1999, Pages 71-80 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168159199000234
Free choice of growing rabbits between deep litter and wire net floor in pens.
Authors Orova, Z.; Szendro, Z.; Matics, Z.; Radnai, I.; Biró-Németh, E. Book chapter; Conference paper Proceedings of the 8th World Rabbit Congress, September 7-10, 2004, Pueblo, Mexico 2005 pp. 1263-1265
"According to the results, at normal temperature (16-18°C) rabbits prefer wire net floor, compared to deep litter." http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/20053160941.html;jsessionid=0E4E48203415C6FACFBD529DD83F241E
Group housing of growing rabbits: effect of stocking density and cage floor on performance, welfare, and meat quality.
AuthorsTrocino, A.; Xiccato, G.; Queaque, P. I.; Sartori, A. Book chapter; Conference paperProceedings of the 8th World Rabbit Congress, September 7-10, 2004, Pueblo, Mexico 2005 pp. 1277-1282
"Carcass and meat quality, and bone fracture resistance were unaffected by housing system . . . The effect of the type of cage floor was weak and limited to a slight reduction in feed intake during the last two weeks of trial, and therefore an improvement in feed efficiency throughout the study (P=0.01), by rabbits reared on the wire net floor in comparison with rabbits reared on the slatted floor (179 vs 185 g/d; P=0.08). During the open field test, rabbits reared in cages with wire net floor showed higher exploration activity (P<0.01) without any difference in reactivity during the immobility test." http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/20053160944.html
Rearing rabbits on a wire net floor or straw litter: behavior, growth and meat qualitative traits
A. Dal Bosco, , C. Castellini and C. Mugnai
"Three hundred hybrid males, 35 days old, were randomly assigned to one of three housing conditions: conventional bicellular cages, a straw-bedded pen or a wire-netted pen. . . . Pen raised rabbits showed lower growth rate, and higher feed:gain ratio and mortality, than those held in cages. . . . rabbits raised in straw-bedded pens gave the poorest results due to straw ingestion and more direct contact with excreta."
Livestock Production Science Volume 75, Issue 2, June 2002, Pages 149-156 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301622601003074
TEMPERATURE AND CAGE FLOOR ENRICHMENT AFFECT THE BEHAVIOR OF GROWING RABBITS
Siloto E.V.1, Zeferino C.P.1, Moura A.S.A.M.T.1*, Fernandes S.1, Sartori J.R.2, Siqueira E.R.1 1Departmento de Produção Animal, School of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences, UNESP - São Paulo State University, 18618-000 Botucatu, SP, Brazil
"Cages were placed either in a natural temperature chamber or in a refrigerated one. In each chamber, half of the cages had part of the floor surface covered with a wooden board enriched with litter straw such that, in enriched cages, rabbits had free choice between the straw and the wire net floor. . . . In the natural temperature chamber, rabbits preferred the wire net floor over the litter straw (77.9 vs. 22.1%, P<0.01), whereas in the refrigerated chamber they did not show any preference (45.9 vs. 54.1%, P=0.41)." http://world-rabbit-science.com/WRSA-Proceedings/Congress-2008-Verona/Papers/W-Siloto.pdf
Scoliosis, lordosis and kyphosis in breeding rabbits
The oft-quoted 1996 Drescher study ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8767192 ) that supposedly proves that keeping rabbits in cages causes spinal deformities is not actually a good source for evaluating the effects of caging in general.
It turns out the cages in the study where rabbits had issues were only 60 x 40 x 32 cm, which is 23.6 inches by 15.7 inches by 12.6 inches--far smaller than what most people keep even dwarf-sized rabbits in. This particular study really doesn't seem relevant to keeping rabbits in standard-sized cages that allow for a normal range of movement. It's equivalent to raising rabbits for their entire lives in travel-sized carrying cages--the long-term extreme limitation of movement that disallowed a normal posture would be the cause of skeletal problems in such a case, not the fact that the rabbits were on wire.
This study which quotes it mentions the cage sizes:
Floor Mats for added comfort
EFFECT OF FLOOR TYPE ON FOOTPAD INJURIES IN DOES: A PILOT STUDY
De Jong I.C., Reimert H., Rommers J.M.*
This study looked at floor gauges as well as floor mats on the incidence of sore hocks. 2mm is the equivalent of 14-gauge wire, and 3mm is 12 gauge. They didn't find a significant difference between these two gauges of wire, but concluded, "Plastic mats seem to have a positive effect on the footpads, but this should be confirmed on more farms. "
PERFORMANCE OF RABBIT DOES IN CAGES WITH OR WITHOUT ELEVATED PLATFORM OR PLASTIC FOOTREST
This study is rather flawed because the wire gauges and cage sizes were different in each group, with too many variables in addition to having resting mats or not. But it's still an interesting study. They said, "Both plastic platform and footrest had positive effect on the prevention of footpad injuries."
Here is a quote from Welfare and the intensive production of rabbits by J.-P. MORISSE and R. MAURICE *
"Types of flooring and foot lesions: . . . . The adoption of wire-mesh cages was a decisive step in the transition from traditional to specialised husbandry, making it possible to increase the number of animals by reducing the labour requirement. Wire-mesh walls do not create any special problem, as they even allow social contact between animals (only males require solid walls to prevent conflicts), but flooring has been studied closely to reduce the occurrence of foot lesions.
Such lesions, which are a major cause of culling of breeding stock, commence with skin erosion at the tarsus and usually result in scab formation. The posture adopted by an affected animal clearly demonstrates the discomfort and suffering produced by this lesion.
Manufacturers of flooring have assisted in solving this problem by adopting strict rules for the flooring of cages for breeding stock, namely: - abandonment of 19 x 19 mm square mesh - adoption of 75 x 12.5 mm rectangular mesh, allowing a better sitting posture - using wire of not less than 2.4 mm in diameter - removing all roughness from soldered joints.
For their part, breeders have taken into account morphological criteria, such as size and quality of paws, and density of the hair coat to reduce the incidence of foot lesions.
In recent years, breeders have started to use plastic grid floors for males, and often for females as well (Ph. Le Cerf, personal communication), to provide better comfort for the animals and solve the problem of foot lesions."
History of Wire Cages
Types of Cages
Their are multiple ways to house rabbits each with pros and cons. I personally prefer a wire based cage system, so that is what I can speak too in most detail. Their are others who are better versed in successful colony management and setups and that will be covered in another article.
For Wire Cages you can do Hanging, or Stacking, or even Hanging Stacking.
My personal set up is the latter, and we use heavy duty plastic trays to separate and catch " fertilizer". if you are worried about pee or waste getting between trays you can put down a tarp or vinyl board liner under the trays between top and bottom cages as an added layer of protection.
I use 14 gage wire for flooring , and 16 or 14 gage wire for tops and walls, doe cages have baby saver wire while buck cages have 1" by 2" wire although it is recommended for bucks to have solid partitions between cages to reduce spraying neighbors. This may also be suggested for cage mates who may over groom each other between the bars.
Wire and cage materials suppliers who I have used or have recommended to me are:
Klubertans| pro: decent pricing (will deliver to shows). con: catalog ordering only KW cages| Pro easy online ordering ( will deliver to shows). Con: may take a little while to get your order. Bass equipment| Allthingsbunnies.com| MLB Cage supply : local to Midwest (will deliver to shows). there are other in the area feel free to add your recommendations.
Proper Wire for Support and Comfort
Most species of Rabbits should be kept on one of three types of wire mesh floors. The wire circumference sizes can be 12 gauge Galvanized after weld, 14 gauge galvanized after weld or 16 gauge galvanized after weld. The Wire Spacing should be one inch by half inch, to allow for the best traction, comfort and support of a rabbit floor while allowing waste to fall through to drop pans or the floor below and away from the rabbit.
Minimum Size requirements
Rabbit housing preferences of the rabbit
Climate and Control
Rabbits withstand Colder temperatures better then heat. Rabbits should be kept below 85 degree F. Warmer temps can cause Heat sterility in males.
- Something about Apple cider vinegar or Rhubarb that was found to prevent or reverse heat sterility.....***
When Wire Shouldn't Be Used.
Cases where Wire should not be used or used in conjunction with Solid floors. Rex Coated Breeds have no Guard hairs in their coats so it is a higher chance that they will not have enough fur covering to fully protect their feet. This can be bred out but it is advised that rex coated breeds get extra foot protection in there enclosures. Thin or narrow footed rabbits, have a genetic predisposition to getting sore hocks becuse they have a narrow foot pad and weight isn't as well distributed. Very Large Breeds like Continental Giants, Flemish Giant and Giant Chinchilla do better on heavier solid floors, or at least 12 gauge wire grids with resting matts, other floor types that can support the giant breeds and provide a sturdy footing are Rubber or dipped Vet flooring with thick grids able to support the full foot or Plastic mesh.
Bessei W., Rivaletti D., 1997. Die Bestimmung des Raumbedarfes von Mastkaninchen mit Hilfe deroperanten Konditionierung. Proc. 10 the Symp. on housing and diseases of rabbits, furbearing animals andpet animals. 14-15 May 1997, Celle (Germany), 176-184.
Bessei W., Tinz J., Reiter K., 2001. The preference of fattening rabbits for perforated plastic floor and deep litter under different ambient temperatures. Proc. 12thSymp. on housing and diseases of rabbits, furbearing animals and pet animals, Celle (Germany), 128-129.
Bigler L., Oester H., 1996. Group housing for malerabbits. Proc. 6 the World Rabbit Congress, Toulouse, 2,411-415
Bigler L., Oester H., 1997. Untersuchung zum Einflussdes Lichtes in der Kaninchenmast. Proc. 10 the Symp. on housing and diseases of rabbits, furbearing animals and pet animals. 14-15 May 1997, Celle (Germany), 211-216.
Bilkò A.,Altbacker V., 2000. Regular handling early in the nursing period eliminates fear responses toward human beings in wild and domestic rabbits. Dev.Psychobiol., 36, 78-87.
Chu L., Garner J., Mench J.A., 2004. A behavioral comparison of New Zealand White rabbits(Oryctolagus cuniculus) housed individually or in pairs in conventional laboratory cages. Appl. Anim. Behav.Sci., 85, 1-2, 121-139.
Dal Bosco A., Castellini C., Mugnai C., 2002. Rearing rabbits on a wire net floor or straw litter: behaviour, growth and meat qualitative traits. Liv. Prod. Sci., 75,149-156
Daniewski W., Jiezierski T., 2003. Effectiveness of Divergent Selection for Open-field Activity in Rabbits and Correlated Response for Body Weight and Fertility. Behav. Genet., 3, 337-345