|Title||Impact of feed restriction and fragmented feed distribution on performance, intake behaviour and digestion of the growing rabbit.|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2021|
|Authors||Martignon, M, Burel, C, Cauquil, L, Combes, S, Gidenne, T|
|Date Published||2021 Jun 21|
Postweaning feed restriction preserves rabbit digestive health after weaning, but the underlying physiological mechanisms are not yet understood. To elucidate whether the feeding intake pattern modification related to feed restriction might be involved, we studied the effects of both feed intake quantity and intake frequency. Animals were allotted at weaning (28 d old) in a 2 × 2 factorial design: feed intake quantity (AL = ad libitum vs R = 75% of AL) and fragmented feed distribution (FFD) (1 vs 13 distributions), thus forming four groups (AL1, AL13, R1 and R13). New Zealand White growing rabbits were used from weaning to slaughter (70 d old), to analyse mortality, morbidity, performance, intake behaviour, digestion and microbial activity. Seven days after starting feed restriction (35 d old, group R1), rabbits consumed 44% of the feed within 2 h, 65% in 4 h and in 7 h over 95%. Over the 28-70 d period, mortality was low (5.3%) while morbidity averaged 18.5% and neither was affected by treatment. However, FFD tended to decrease the morbidity rate during the first 14 days after weaning (P = 0.06). Feed conversion (28-70 d) was improved by restriction (+15%, P < 0.001) and by FFD (+5%, P < 0.001). Nutrient digestibility was improved by restriction (+10% for energy, P < 0.01), but not by FFD. Fragmented feed distribution led to a lower stomachal pH, in the antrum (1.48 vs 2.13, P < 0.001) and in the fundus (1.52 vs 2.63, P < 0.001), while a higher pH was found in the caecum (6.07 vs 5.86, P < 0.001). Butyrate proportion in the caecum was reduced by four units for restricted groups. Fragmented feed distribution reduced the caecal VFA concentration by 23% within restricted rabbit groups only. A similar interaction between intake level and FFD was observed for fibrolytic activity (cellulase and xylanase). The diversity of caecal bacterial community was not modified by either of the two factors studied. Globally, fragmented meals have no major impacts on the caecal microbial activity, diversity, and thus would not be implicated in the better resistance of restricted rabbit to digestive troubles.