The improvement of rabbit gut microbiota by modifying nutritional components of the feed or favoring its early intake of feed has been previously investigated. The early administration of dehydrated alfalfa (A) or fresh grass (G) for rabbits, during the peri-weaning period (30 and 45 days of age), and their effect on performance and caecal microbiota compared to a standard diet (C) were evaluated. Until 15 days of age, nine litters/group were housed in the maternal cage and milked once per day. From 15 to 30 days, the young rabbits could consume both milk and solid feed (pelleted for C or supplemental feed for A and G). At 30 days of age, the rabbits were weaned and, until 45 days, were kept in single cages following the same dietary protocol. No significant changes were found in the milk intake or the individual weight of young rabbits at 30 and 45 days. The caecal Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes (bacterial phyla ratio) increased with age (from 2.43 to 6.05 on average, at 30 and 45 days). The Ruminococcaceae/Lachinospiraceae (bacterial family ratio) was highest in the A group at both ages, followed by G then C. The early administration of dehydrated alfalfa is a promising solution to improve health status by favoring an appropriate digestive microbiota.
Keywords: caecal microbiota; dehydrated alfalfa; fresh grass; peri-weaning feeding; rabbit.