A welfare assessment protocol for commercially housed rabbits

I.C. de Jong, B.F.J. Reuvekamp

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Within the Welfare Quality® project protocols have been developed to assess animal welfare on-farm in an objective, science based and practically applicable way. For various species like broilers and laying hens, sows and growing pigs, dairy cattle and veal calves, welfare assessment protocols have been developed, but not for commercially housed rabbits. In the current project we made a first step for the development of protocols to assess the welfare of farmed rabbits, based on the Welfare Quality® framework. We did a literature study, describing possible parameters for the different criteria and principles as used in Welfare Quality®. In this first phase we focused on reproductive does (including non-lactating does) and meat rabbits, because it is the majority of the farmed rabbits. The protocol can easily be extended to rearing does and bucks. Where no scientific literature was available, expert opinion was used to find possible parameters. A workshop was set-up for this purpose with experts in the field of welfare of rabbits from The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Italy and Spain. The information of the literature study and expert opinion was brought together in a proposed set of protocols and techniques to measure the parameters on-farm in commercially housed rabbits. For most of the parameters animals based measures can be used, except for absence of prolonged thirst. Examples of animal-based measures are body condition for absence of hunger, lying in fully stretched position and simultaneously resting for comfort and resting, respiration rate and red ears for thermal comfort, skin damages/wounds for absence of injuries, condition of eyes, ears, skin and nose for absence of diseases, a human approach test for good human-animal behaviour. However, for some parameters scoring methods need to be developed before they can be included in a definitive set of measures (e.g. body condition score, emaciated rabbits at the slaughter plant). For some criteria such as appropriate behavior further research is needed to develop tests that also need to be validated before they can be used in a definite assessment protocol. In conclusion, the proposed set of animal-based and resource-based measures for rabbit welfare is the basis for further development of a welfare assessment protocol for farmed rabbits. After development of techniques and validation of tests, measures should be tested in practice at commercial rabbit farms. Subsequently, these data will be used to adapt the protocols and define a first version of the welfare assessment protocol for commercially housed rabbits.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventMinding Animals 2012 Conference - Utrecht, Netherlands
Duration: 3 Jul 20126 Jul 2012


ConferenceMinding Animals 2012 Conference


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