Agroecology 7 min

Rabbits on pasture: finding a compromise between performances

Providing rabbits access to outdoor grazing allows them to express a wider range of natural behaviours, but this may slightly reduce their growth and survival, regardless of the density of the animals.

Published on 15 February 2022

illustration Rabbits on pasture: finding a compromise between performances
© Manon Fétiveau

In a context of evolving concern over housing conditions of farmed rabbits, we developed a housing system that allows access to an outdoor area.

The aim was to study the health status, growth and behaviour of rabbits raised at two stocking densities with access to a paddock, or not. We distributed 299 weaned rabbits in four groups (YH: 100, NH: 99, YL: 50 and NL: 50) using a 2x2 factorial design including access (Y: yes) or not (N: not) to a 23 m2 paddock and the indoor stocking density (H, high: 17 or L, low: 9 rabbits/ m2). We measured the growth and health status of each animal weekly for 42 days (from 31 to 73 days of age) and performed reactivity tests to a new environment, a human and new object. We also assessed the rabbits’ behaviour at days 26 and 40 by doing a visual scan of each animal at regular time intervals.

Our results showed that stocking density had no effect on mortality, but mortality tended to increase with outdoor access from 3.0% to 7.0% (P < 0.10). Although the stocking density had no effect on average daily gain, it was higher in rabbits in the N group than in the Y group (+3.6 g/day; P < 0.05). Rabbits entered the paddocks for the first time in less time at the beginning of the trial (50 s at day 3 vs 10 min at day 31; P < 0.001). The proportion of rabbits outside after 20 min of the new environment test was higher among rabbits in the L group than in the H group (+24% points at day 3 and +11% points at day 20; P < 0.001). Regardless of the stocking density, more rabbits in the N group touched the experimenter’s hand (16% vs 27%; P < 0.05) and the new object (34% vs 20%; P < 0.05) than rabbits in the Y group. Inactivity was more frequent in rabbits inside the pens than in the paddocks (70.0% vs 34.2% at days 26 and 40; P < 0.05). Locomotion was more frequent in the paddocks than in the indoor pens (20.0% vs 7.2% at days 26 and 40; P < 0.05). The stocking density did not affect the behavioural traits measured.

In conclusion, providing rabbits access to a paddock could allow them to fulfil some natural  behaviours but slightly reduced their growth.

Laurence Fortun-Lamothe Scientific contactGénétique Physiologie et Systèmes d'Elevage



Learn more

Asking Animals: An Introduction to Animal Behaviour Testing

JUST PUBLISHED - Birte Nielsen, researcher in fundamental and applied ethology, offers in this book an introduction to the use of behavioural tests applied to animals. By including illustrative examples from various species, she invites the researcher to question the relevance of a given behavioural test and the interpretation of its results.

17 April 2020


Animal pain: identifying, understanding and minimising pain in farm animals

A collective scientific expert report on pain in farm animals has been compiled by INRA at the request of the French Ministries for Agriculture and Research. The scientific assessment brought together around twenty experts from INRA and other research establishments including Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, Collège de France, CNRS and Veterinary Schools both in France and abroad. Their conclusions were made public on December 8, 2009.

03 March 2020

Society and regional strategies

The French equine industry prepares for the future

To assist equine industry professionals in preparing for the future, INRA and the French Horse and Riding Institute (IFCE) joined forces to examine upcoming challenges and opportunities for the next few years. Their aim is to not just assess current economic factors but to also improve services, knowledge and innovations. Their foresight study provides a number of scenarios with the various directions the French equine industry might take by 2030.

03 June 2020