The aim of the present study was to develop and evaluate a new housing system for fattening rabbits. Data were collected on a farm with rabbits housed either under new conditions (NC) or established (conventional) conditions (CC). NC housing was characterized by large groups (Ø 58 rabbits, max. 12 rabbits/m2), slatted plastic floor (11 mm slats and 11 mm gaps), elevated platforms with partly solid floor, boxes and different enrichment materials. CC rabbits were kept in small groups (eight rabbits, 23 rabbits/m2) in cages with wire-mesh floor, an elevated platform, a box and one gnawing stick. Skin lesions and weight gain of 524 rabbits, cleanliness of their hind feet as well as their mortality and morbidity were investigated from weaning to slaughter in five batches. The evaluations showed higher daily weight gain (46.3 ± 6.0 g vs. 43.1 ± 5.5 g) and final weight (2878 ± 328 g vs. 2707 ± 299 g), as well as a lower cumulative lesion score at the middle of the fattening period in NC than in CC rabbits. Nevertheless, cleanliness of hind feet was assessed to be worse and mortality was higher in the NC housing. The NC system provided some benefits in terms of animal welfare compared to the conventional system, but hygienic challenges posed by this system make further adjustment necessary.
Keywords: enrichment; floor type; group size; growing rabbits; stocking density; welfare.