Titel van het doctoraat: "Optimaliseren van parttime groepshuisvesting voor konijnenvoedsters"
Society increasingly expects social farm animals, including rabbits, to be housed in group, preferably in well-adapted housing in compliance with the animals’ species-specific needs. In Belgium, weaned meat rabbits are already housed in group in enriched multi-litter cages. In contrast, breeding female rabbits (does) kindle and nurse their kits in single-litter cages throughout their entire reproduction cycle, imposing a restriction on their social needs. Continuous group housing systems, in which breeding does and their litters are housed in group from kindling until weaning, are unattractive for the rabbit farming industry due to reported negative effects on both kit and doe performance, mainly caused by aggression among females around kindling. Part-time group housing systems are an alternative for continuous group housing systems that have received considerable interest. In this system, does are housed in single-litter cages during the first weeks after kindling and housed in group when the kits are older and have become more independent from the mother. Although doe reproductive performances improved compared to continuous group housing, inter-doe aggression, mainly due to hierarchy fights, remains an important and yet to overcome problem. In order to optimize part-time group housing, animal experiments were conducted with the aim to reduce aggressive behaviour among females and to improve doe reproductive performance and welfare of both does and kits.
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