Young female rabbits destined for reproduction represent the reproductive potential of any rabbit farm. Preparing them for a long and productive career is a decisive stage of the rearing phase. This strategy should be jointly elaborated by farmers, feed millers and their genetic providers far ahead of the production cycle. Throughout this preparation phase, young rabbit does must ensure homogeneous growth while avoiding excessive fattening. At this stage, their future feed intake capacity should also be gradually increased to maximise their lifespan and fecundity.
Why are young rabbit does worth special attention?
Preparing young does for a productive career is key to optimise the reproductive potential of livestock and future does’ lifespan. The structure of farms, such as all-in/all-out systems does not always provide these as-yet-non-productive females with optimal rearing conditions. Indeed young female rabbits are often reared in maternity or fattening rooms. As such, they are submitted to feeding and lighting programs that often fail to meet their needs. Yet this primary stage of life is going to substantially impact their body condition and subsequent reproductive performance. At this point, even though these females are not actually productive, having them follow a suitable feeding program could be decisive to their long term reproductive performance. Management errors at this stage could be crucial to their breeding career but also to their future kits’ health and subsequently fattening performances.
Four key goals to suitably feed young rabbit does
Factors such as the environment (lighting, ventilation, temperature, etc.), the management techniques applied (breeding rhythm, artificial insemination (AI), etc.) and sanitary conditions are likely to have a long term impact on female rabbits’ health, fertility, and longevity.
The chosen feeding strategy plays a major role to this end. It is designed to fulfil various goals:
- Developing future does’ size: Unlike multiparous females, young female rabbits are still in a growing process and they therefore need to be fed accordingly. Throughout fattening, it is advised to feed them ad libitum; as soon as individualisation is implemented, their diet should be restricted (but not too much). Experiments have shown that overly restricted feeding (60% of the total amount of feed that was distributed prior to this phase) supplied between 12 and 14 weeks can cause an increase in stillbirths and a higher death rate from birth through weaning. Proteins, amino acids, calcium, and phosphorus supplies can also strongly influence their body condition. These nutrients must therefore be provided in sufficient amounts as a potential deficiency is likely to slow down young does’ growth and development.
- Limiting excessive fattening: Being too fat could cause the young doe’s fertility and birth rate to lower. Other side effects are likely to happen: liver overload, reduced feed intake during the first days of lactation, and a delayed peak of lactation. Therefore, it is advised to begin rationing only after individualisation has occurred (11 weeks). Conversely, one should avoid feeding them ad libitum.
- Increasing their feed intake capacity: Upon the first farrowing, it is usually estimated that female rabbits have attained 60% of their maximum feed intake capacity. Only on the fifth (5) day of farrowing can they manage to reach their optimum level of feed intake. Submitting young does to a restricted feeding program will result in increasing both their digestive tract and feed intake capacity. To this end, their feed should contain a sufficient amount of fibres for optimal digestive security.
- Improving resistance: Preparing young does’ future careers as mature females requires improving their defense system. The ultimate goal is to achieve a persistence rate (i.e. a steady number of reproductive females) of at least 80% upon the third IA. To this end, they need a substantial supply of vitamins and trace elements for strengthening their immune system.
Feeding future rabbit does: how to do it in practice?
- Before 11 weeks: Preferably avoid feeds for pregnancy and have them replaced by a feed designed for fattening or young does. These feeds should be distributed ad libitum to sustain does' homogenous development.
- From 11 weeks to 6 days before parturition: Avoid a maternity feed too concentrated for young does. The rationing strategy applied must be adjusted to the feed distributed as well as to weekly weighings. It is important that females reach a homogenous weight until insemination occurs. Feed flushing upon I.A. should be done with the same feed and it should be fed ad libitum.
- From six days after birth: After does' relocation, supply them with a maternity feed fed ad libitum or a primiparous feed, more adapted to their needs, if the structure of the farm allows it.
Recommendations regarding the rearing of young female rabbits are likely to vary depending on the type of feed provided, animals’ environment, rabbit strains, etc. The Techna Group has set up customised solutions (formulation constraints, premix, ...) designed to assist you with finding a feed that suits your does’ needs. If you want more information, please contact us!
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