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Intake restriction for the young rabbit: new strategies to enhance its digestive health and feed efficiency

INRA Prod Anim 25(4) 323-336

T. GIDENNE¹, ², ³ L. FORTUN-LAMOTHE¹, ², ³ S. COMBES¹, ², ³

1 INRA, UMR1289 Tissus Animaux Nutrition Digestion Ecosystème et Métabolisme, F-31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France
2 Université de Toulouse INPT ENSAT, UMR Tissus Animaux Nutrition Digestion Ecosystème et Métabolisme, F-31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France
3 Université de Toulouse INPT ENVT, UMR Tissus Animaux Nutrition Digestion Ecosystème et Métabolisme, F-31076 Toulouse, France


A short-term feed restriction after weaning is now a feeding strategy commonly used in rational rabbit breeding. The different effects produced by a post-weaning intake limitation strategy on the growing rabbit are reviewed. Although a quantitative feed restriction leads to slower growth, these strategies are now used by 90% of French rabbit breeders. Indeed, after weaning, they limit the risk of mortality and morbidity due to digestive disorders (e.g. Rabbit Epizootic Enteropathy). In addition, feed conversion is improved, especially when rabbits are fed freely again, due to a significant compensatory growth. This better feed conversion sources from a better digestion associated with a slower passage through the intestine, whereas the digestive physiology is slightly modified (morphometry of the intestinal mucosa, fermentation pattern, microbiota). The meat quality is unaffected by feed restriction, however there is a decrease in carcass fatness and a slight degradation in slaughter yield. The consequences of an intake limitation for animal welfare are debatable, since feed restriction leads to hunger, but it reduces the incidence of digestive troubles after weaning. However, the growing rabbit adapts very well to an intake limitation strategy, without any aggressive behaviour within a group. In conclusion, restriction strategies could improve profitability of rabbit breeding, but they should be adapted to any specific breeding situation, according to the national market, feed prices, etc.

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