|Title||Herbage intake regulation and growth of rabbits raised on grasslands: back to basics and looking forward.|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2016|
|Authors||Martin, G, Duprat, A, Goby, J-P, Theau, J-P, Roinsard, A, Descombes, M, Legendre, H, Gidenne, T|
|Date Published||2016 Oct|
Organic agriculture is developing worldwide, and organic rabbit production has developed within this context. It entails raising rabbits in moving cages or paddocks, which enables them to graze grasslands. As organic farmers currently lack basic technical information, the objective of this article is to characterize herbage intake, feed intake and the growth rate of rabbits raised on grasslands in different environmental and management contexts (weather conditions, grassland type and complete feed supplementation). Three experiments were performed with moving cages at an experimental station. From weaning, rabbits grazed a natural grassland, a tall fescue grassland and a sainfoin grassland in experiments 1, 2 and 3, respectively. Rabbit diets were supplemented with a complete pelleted feed limited to 69 g dry matter (DM)/rabbit per day in experiment 1 and 52 g DM/rabbit per day in experiments 2 and 3. Herbage allowance and fiber, DM and protein contents, as well as rabbit intake and live weight, were measured weekly. Mean herbage DM intake per rabbit per day differed significantly (P<0.001) between experiments. It was highest in experiment 1 (78.5 g DM/day) and was 43.9 and 51.2 g DM/day in experiments 2 and 3, respectively. Herbage allowance was the most significant determinant of herbage DM intake during grazing, followed by rabbit metabolic weight (live weight0.75) and herbage protein and fiber contents. Across experiments, a 10 g DM increase in herbage allowance and a 100 g increase in rabbit metabolic weight corresponded to a mean increase of 6.8 and 9.6 g of herbage DM intake, respectively. When including complete feed, daily mean DM intakes differed significantly among experiments (P<0.001), ranging from 96.1 g DM/rabbit per day in experiment 2 to 163.6 g DM/rabbit per day in experiment 1. Metabolic weight of rabbits raised on grasslands increased linearly over time in all three experiments, yielding daily mean growth rates of 26.2, 19.2 and 28.5 g/day in experiments 1, 2 and 3, respectively. The highest growth rate was obtained on the sainfoin grassland despite lower concentrate supplementation. Thus, it seems possible to reduce complete feed supplementation without reducing animal performance. This possibility requires improving our knowledge about organic rabbit production systems and especially grazing and animal health management.