Comparison of performance and welfare of single-caged and group-housed rabbit does

Animal. 2013 Mar;7(3):463-8. doi: 10.1017/S1751731112001760. Epub 2012 Sep 27.


Although rabbit does are generally single housed on rabbit farms worldwide, it has been suggested by some specialists and recommendation of organic rabbit production systems that group housing of does is more comfortable and similar to the living conditions of the European wild rabbits. The aim of this experiment was to compare production of single-caged (S) and group-housed does (G). The S does were housed in commercial rabbit cages (floor area 0.32 m(2) and 0.3 m high). In treatment G, four does and one buck were housed in four pens measuring 7.7 m(2) (half of the floor was deep litter and the other half was plastic slat), with four nest boxes in each pen (n = 16). In treatment S, approximately half of the does (n = 18) were inseminated 2 days after kindling (S-33), whereas in the remaining does (n = 16) AI was done 11 days after kindling (S-42). A single-batch system (all of the does in the group were inseminated on the same day) was used in both S treatments. Kindling rates were 77.6%, 85.2% and 45.6% in treatments S-33, S-42 and G, respectively (P < 0.05). During the experiment, the percentage of does that kindled 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 times were 17%, 25%, 17%, 25%, 17% and 0% (G); 0%, 0%, 0%, 8%, 69% and 23% (S-33); and 0%, 0%, 17%, 58% and 25% (S-42, in this treatment does had a maximum of four kindlings). There were no significant differences among treatments for litter size. In treatments S-33, S-42 and G, suckling mortality was 14.0%, 15.2% and 38.5%, respectively (P < 0.001); survival of does was 71%, 81% and 50% (P = 0.084); and faecal corticosterone concentrations were 61, 54 and 175 nmol/g (P < 0.001). The high mortality of kits was associated with stress and aggressive behaviour of does, including scratching, biting or killing the kits, which resulted in the high rates of mortality and culling, as well as shorter lifespan of does. Because of high stress, increased mortality and morbidity, and low productivity, group housing of rabbit does resulted in poorer animal welfare and increased production costs, and therefore is not recommended.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry / methods*
  • Animal Welfare / standards*
  • Animals
  • Breeding / methods*
  • Corticosterone / analysis
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Mortality
  • Rabbits / growth & development*
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*


  • Corticosterone