Novel phenotypes of feeding and social behaviour and their relationship with individual rabbit growth and feed efficiency

M. Piles *, M Mora, I. Kyriazakis, L Tusell, M Pascual, J P Sánchez

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Due to the lack of a recording system for individual consumption of group-housed rabbits, published studies about feeding behaviour are based on information recorded at the group- and not at the individual level and periods covering only a few days or, in some cases, only part of a day. Such information could be used to inform rabbit management systems but cannot be used for genetic selection. We aimed to generate and use information from a novel automated feeder for group-housed rabbits to identify new phenotypes for individual animals that could be incorporated into breeding programs to improve feed efficiency and social behaviour under different feeding regimens. At 39 d of age, rabbits from 15 batches were placed in cages and fed ad libitum to become used to the electronic feeder. From 42 to 58-59 d, one group of 1,086 rabbits was fed ad libitum (AL), while another group of 1 134 rabbits was fed on a restricted feeding schedule (R) by limiting the feeding time to the period between 18:00 h and 6:00 h of the following day. We implemented a reliable multivariate method to remove anomalous feeding behaviour records. We then defined novel traits for feeding behaviour that apply to both types of feeding regimes, and for social behaviour that indicates an animal’s rank within the cage hierarchy. We based these traits on feeder records and a biologically sound definition of a meal. Finally, we estimated the phenotypic correlations of those traits with growth and feed efficiency traits. Our findings demonstrate that variables about resource distribution among cage mates and an animal's priority for feed access were found to be good indicators of an animal's dominant or subordinate status within the cage. Based on results obtained in R animals (results were similar in AL animals), the most efficient animals were those that ate less frequently (phenotypic correlation with feed conversion ratio, rho = 0.6), and consumed smaller amounts per meal (rho = 0.7), spent less time at the feeder (rho = 0.4), and appeared to be subordinate, as they did not have priority access to the feeder (rho = -0.3), and had the smallest share of resources (range of rho = 0.2 to 0.6). We conclude that quantifying feeding and social behaviour traits can enhance the understanding of the mechanisms through which individuals exert their effects on the performance of their cage mates.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101090
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal
Volume18
Issue number3
Early online date19 Feb 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

Keywords

  • animal welfare
  • feeding regimen
  • hunger
  • social hierarchy
  • temporal pattern

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