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Composition of the Wild Rabbit Nest and Its Implication for Domestic Rabbit Breeding

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Wild European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) give birth in an underground nursery burrow where the kits are hermetically closed into the nest chamber for several weeks except for the three minutes of daily nursing. Given this confinement, the nest quality seems to be crucial in affecting the kits’ survival. The situation is less critical in rabbitries where the domesticated descendants are kept and give birth in separate nest boxes where the temperature and humidity conditions are less extreme and nests consist of fur and wood shavings or straw. However, nesting behaviour of domestic does still reflects several aspects of the ancestors, and providing conditions close to their biological needs is advised. The present study aimed to understand the factors contributing to the nest material choice of rabbits by analysing the composition of wild rabbit nests and testing naive domestic does in controlled laboratory settings for their preferences in constructing their nests. We were able to collect 21 just abandoned nests in their natural habitat and found they contained rabbit fur and hay, of which 85% was dry grass, mostly long leaves of Calamagrostis sp. Using domesticated rabbit does, we then tested if there is a preference for the features of the wild rabbit nests or whether the above-mentioned finding was either an accidental consequence of grass availability or ageing of the nest material. Two-way choice tests revealed that primiparous domestic does preferred the dry grass over green and long leaves over short grass bunches for nest building. Ageing of the nest material was rather negligible and did not contribute to the high level of dry grass content. We concluded that long dry grass is recommended as it seems to fulfil basic needs of this domesticated animal.
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Citation: Bilkó, Á.; Petróczi, I.;
Bárdos, B.; Nagy, I.; Altbacker, V.
Composition of the Wild Rabbit Nest
and Its Implication for Domestic
Rabbit Breeding. Appl. Sci. 2022,12,
Academic Editor: Franco Mutinelli
Received: 5 January 2022
Accepted: 8 February 2022
Published: 11 February 2022
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Composition of the Wild Rabbit Nest and Its Implication for
Domestic Rabbit Breeding
Ágnes Bilkó1, Imre Petróczi 1, Boróka Bárdos 2, István Nagy 3, * and Vilmos Altbacker 2
1Department of Ethology, Eötvös University, 1/C Pázmány P., 1117 Budapest, Hungary; (Á.B.); (I.P.)
2Kaposvar Campus, Department of Nature Conservation, University of Agricultural and Life Sciences,
40 Guba S., 7400 Kaposvar, Hungary; (B.B.); (V.A.)
3Kaposvar Campus, Department of Animal Science, University of Agricultural and Life Sciences,
40 Guba S., 7400 Kaposvar Hungary
Wild European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) give birth in an underground nursery burrow
where the kits are hermetically closed into the nest chamber for several weeks except for the three
minutes of daily nursing. Given this confinement, the nest quality seems to be crucial in affecting the
kits’ survival. The situation is less critical in rabbitries where the domesticated descendants are kept
and give birth in separate nest boxes where the temperature and humidity conditions are less extreme
and nests consist of fur and wood shavings or straw. However, nesting behaviour of domestic does
still reflects several aspects of the ancestors, and providing conditions close to their biological needs
is advised. The present study aimed to understand the factors contributing to the nest material
choice of rabbits by analysing the composition of wild rabbit nests and testing naive domestic does in
controlled laboratory settings for their preferences in constructing their nests. We were able to collect
21 just abandoned nests in their natural habitat and found they contained rabbit fur and hay, of which
85% was dry grass, mostly long leaves of Calamagrostis sp. Using domesticated rabbit does, we then
tested if there is a preference for the features of the wild rabbit nests or whether the above-mentioned
finding was either an accidental consequence of grass availability or ageing of the nest material.
Two-way choice tests revealed that primiparous domestic does preferred the dry grass over green
and long leaves over short grass bunches for nest building. Ageing of the nest material was rather
negligible and did not contribute to the high level of dry grass content. We concluded that long dry
grass is recommended as it seems to fulfil basic needs of this domesticated animal.
Keywords: European rabbit; Oryctolagus cuniculus; nest building; preference
1. Introduction
Maternal behaviour of mammals often includes nest building in which they might
simply hide the litter from predators or it can be a more elaborate construction providing
the young with a balanced microclimate [
]. The quality of the nest can be important for
a number of reasons. In general, nests of burrowing small mammals insulate them from
fluctuating weather conditions [
]. As a result, the nest can affect the magnitude of energy
conservation and consequently is considered crucial [
] or even critical [
] from the
aspect of survival or reproduction [
]. Physical features such as the insulation capacity of
the nest are of utmost importance where outer conditions are harsh and energetic costs are
high [14].
The harsh conditions are also characteristic to litters of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus
cuniculus) [
]. Unlike most of the Lagomorphs, the European wild rabbit does construct
an underground nursery burrow [
]. Kindling takes place in the burrow and the doe
gives birth to a relatively large litter of 2–6 naked kits with closed eyes [
]. These
Appl. Sci. 2022,12, 1915.
Appl. Sci. 2022,12, 1915 2 of 10
underdeveloped animals are only visited once each day [
] by the doe. Meanwhile the
kits are closed into the nest chamber to reduce predation [
] or infanticide [
]. The kits
spend much of the day resting [
], and due to their tolerance of high CO
concentration and
low oxygen consumption, they can still breath through aerated sandy soils, the distribution
of which limits rabbit range [26,27].
By using an internal clock for anticipating the maternal visits [
], the kits uncover
from the nest material and are prepared by the time of the next visit to suckle one third
of their body mass in just three minutes [
] from the extremely rich milk [
]. After
nursing, the doe leaves and covers the nest entrance. The kits urinate and burrow back into
the grass and fur, becoming dry as they do so [
]. As the contact is already reduced to a
minimum, the survival of the offspring is very much dependent on the conditions inside
the nest [
]. The doe collects grass and brings it in her mouth to the chamber where a so
called “straw nest” [
] is constructed a few days before parturition. On the last night, the
mother plucks fur from her belly and incorporates that into the construction [
]. Both
the grass and the fur were found to be necessary for the survival of the young [
even in laboratory settings, where wood shavings or straw are often provided for practical
reasons [
]. The importance of nesting material has also been demonstrated for wild
rabbits in captive condition [37].
The present study aimed to understand the factors contributing to the nest material
choice of rabbits by analysing the composition of wild rabbit nests and testing captive do-
mestic animals in controlled laboratory settings for the behavioural processes contributing
to making nests in these animals.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Animals and Experimental Design
For the laboratory analysis of nest material choice, experimental subjects were ran-
domly chosen primiparous females of chinchilla bred domestic rabbits, originating from
Germany (Standard Chinchilla by Thomae, Biberach) and bred in our laboratory (at Göd,
Hungary). The pregnant females, weighing 2.7 + 0.2 kg, were housed individually in stan-
dard wire rabbit cages (100Lenght
45Height cm) with ad libitum laboratory
pelleted rabbit food and water. The cages were equipped with an outer wooden nest-box
35H cm). The entrance was located in the middle of the 45 cm long side and
it was open during the experiment thus the doe could freely visit their kits. Temperature
was kept between 18–22
C. Illumination was also kept constant during the experiments
at Light:Dark = 14:10 with light on at 0700 h. The animal housing and the studies were
carried out in accordance with the European Communities Council Directive of 10/05/2013
(86/609/EEC). The number of animals used in the study was reduced as little as possible
(1998./XXVIII. Hungarian law on the protection and welfare of animals). Using a small
sample size still enabled us to find large scale differences among the groups.
2.2. Experiment 1
For describing the composition of original rabbit nests, we searched for above ground
signs of rabbit litters in the open sandy grassland patches of the Bugac Juniper Forest
(Kiskunság National Park, Hungary) during the breeding season. We followed their
activity until the nest was unoccupied then the nest material was collected into sealable
sterile bags and kept at 5
C until the analysis. This way the composition of wild rabbits
nests (N = 21) could be collected. The plant and fur components were separated and their
volume was estimated. Further analysis was restricted to the plant components only. For
this purpose, ten subsamples of 25–40 pieces of plants were picked out by forceps from
each nest and identified under a NIKON SMZ1270 microscope using 40
For each piece, the species identity and its colour indicating if it was green (fresh) or yellow
(dry) were determined under the microscope. The length of the grass pieces was also
measured to the nearest cm using a plastic ruler. These subsample data were then averaged
to characterise the composition of the nest.
Appl. Sci. 2022,12, 1915 3 of 10
2.3. Experiment 2
Thirty weeks old randomly chosen primiparous females (N = 7) served as subjects
and tested on day 28 of pregnancy in a two-way choice test. The cages were equipped with
an outer wooden nest box (45L
35H cm) at 9 AM. The entrance was located in the
middle of the 45 cm long side and it was open during the experiment thus the doe could
freely visit the box. Does were offered two grass tussocks of equal volume, but differing
in their dryness, in the two corners opposite to the nest box at 16.00. The predominantly
Calamagrostis grass material of both tussocks was collected the same morning from the
same place, but one of them was dried out in a drying oven for four hours at 50
The treatment resulted in a yellowish dry grass matching the colour and condition of
normal hay. The amount offered was 2 dm
each which was about 200 g green and 100 g
dry grass. As this is about the volume of a complete nest, any of the two types was
sufficient for completing the nest building. The nest material choice tests were run the
same afternoon from 16.00 to 17.00. During the one hour of observation, the behaviour
of the does was observed from behind a paravan set 2 m apart. The observer recorded
(continuous recording) and the time spent in the following variables: eating, collecting
each grass type, or being in the nest box. Behaviour in the nest box was not measured
as dim light in the box prevented observation. After the test the percent of time spent
was determined for each variable. The resulting nest material were replaced by the same
amount of hay, while the composition of the materials collected by the does was analysed
in the way described above for wild rabbit nests. Due to the long preparation and analysis
phases, only one doe per day was tested.
The resulting nests from this test were also used test if the high percentage of dry
material in the wild rabbit nests resulted from ageing due to later recovery of such nests,
instead of a preference for such material. Wild rabbit nests were found several weeks apart
during the breeding season, thus the storage differences of the wild rabbit nests could be
eliminated by using the nests just collected. For this, at the end of the nest composition data
collection, the seven nests of known initial composition were put in cotton bags and kept
in a refrigerator at 5
C, which is the average soil temperature (measured at 50 cm below
ground) of the study site in the breeding season (own unpublished data). The composition
of these nests was reanalysed once a week for four consecutive weeks, corresponding
to the period from parturition until weaning when the original rabbit nests were most
probably found.
2.4. Experiment 3
Another set of randomly chosen primiparous, thirty-week-old domestic rabbit females
(N = 7) were tested on day 28 of pregnancy in a two-way choice test on the preference of
the length of nest material. Does were offered two dry grass tussocks of equal volume, but
differing in their length, placed in the two corners opposite to the nest box. The material
of both tussocks was collected from the same grassland patch, dried out and divided into
two tussocks of equal volume (2 dm
). One of the tussocks was cut to be long (30 cm),
while the other was short (10 cm) and presented to the females. During the one hour of
observation period from 16.00 to 17.00 the behaviour of the does was monitored the same
way described in Experiment 2.
2.5. Statistical Analyses
In Experiment 2 and 3 the relative percentage of collecting as well as of eating grass
in the two-way choice tests was compared using Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed-ranks
tests. The effect of ageing of the nest material in Experiment 2 was analysed by Fisher exact
test and by Friedman nonparametric ANOVA for repeated measures followed by Dunn
multiple comparison test. IBM SPSS Statistics 27.0 (Student Licence) was used to perform
the statistical analyses.
Appl. Sci. 2022,12, 1915 4 of 10
3. Results
3.1. Experiment 1
The composition of the wild rabbit nests is summarised in Tables 1and 2. Each nest
contained an outer layer of plant material and an inner cover of rabbit fur in roughly equal
volumes. The majority 85% (
4% SE) of plant material was long dry grass, mostly of
Calamagrostis epigeios. The remaining green material consisted mostly of bunches of the
moss Hypnum cupressiforme, and, being rather variable among the nests, short pieces of
different green plants such as Polygonatum officinalis and Colchicum autumnale.
Table 1. Basic elements of the wild rabbit nests (N = 21) from Bugac Juniper Forest, Hungary.
Percent Volume (Standard Error)
Fur 43 (12.2)
Plant material 55 (14.7)
Other (eg. sand, litter) 2 (3.8)
Table 2. The composition of the wild rabbit nests.
Percent Plant Material (Standard Error)
Agropyron 15.3
Calamagrostis 67.3
Carex 13.3
Other 3.5
Total dry 84.4 (14.5)
Colchicum 2.5
Hypnum c. 7.4
Polygonatum o. 3.2
Other 2.5
Total green 15.6 (14.5)
3.2. Experiment 2
When presented with the grass, the pregnant does immediately started to explore by
sniffing both bunches of the unknown grass material. They spent a lot of time hopping in
and out of the nest box which behaviour was frequently preceded by digging movements.
After a few minutes they started collecting the grass by picking out a few dozen leaves and
bringing into the nest box. The females spent more time collecting dry than green grass
(Figure 1), which is a significant difference by Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed-ranks test
(W = 26, N = 7, p< 0.05) showing that there is a preference even in the domestic rabbits
for collecting dry grass. On the contrary, the animals spent much more time eating the
green rather than the dry grass (Wilcoxon test: W = 21, N = 7, p< 0.05). Additionally, the
animals spent 31% of the test time within the nest box where we sometimes could see them
arranging and eating the grass. Although because of the dim light we could not determine
which grass type was eaten, analysis of the nest composition after the test suggested there
could be a differential grazing inside the nest too. The dry grass content of freshly made
nests by primiparous domestic females was 85%, significantly different from chance by
Fisher exact test (X
= 12.1, p< 0.01), and significantly higher (Wilcoxon matched-pairs
signed-ranks test W = 24, N = 7, p< 0.05) than the 75% ratio of collection directed to the
dry tussock.
Appl. Sci. 2022,12, 1915 5 of 10
Figure 1.
The percentage of time spent collecting or eating from either the green or dry grass by
naive primiparous domestic rabbit females (N = 7) during the one-hour observation period. Asterisks
indicate significant differences (p< 0.05) in Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed-ranks tests.
The effect of ageing on the estimate of grass dryness was tested by repeatedly analysing
the composition of stored nests for four weeks (Figure 2). Although the original ratio of 85%
had been gradually increased to 91% by the end of the 4th week, only the change between
the first and the last two weeks was significant by the Dunn test (alpha = 0.05) following
Friedman nonparametric ANOVA for repeated measures (Fr = 18.38, N = 7, p< 0.01).
Figure 2.
The effect of ageing on the dry matter ratio of nests (N = 7) made by females in Experiment
2. The value for each nest is an average from microscopic observation of 10 subsamples per nest.
Different letters above the columns indicate significant differences in post hoc Dunn test
(alpha = 0.05)
following Friedman nonparametric ANOVA for repeated measures.
Appl. Sci. 2022,12, 1915 6 of 10
3.3. Experiment 3
The does preferred long over short grass when collecting nest material (Wilcoxon
matched-pairs signed-ranks test: W = 24, p< 0.05). (Figure 3). The grass length only
marginally affected the eating (Wilcoxon test: W = 19, p= 0.06). The occurrence of eating
grass was generally low (3.5%) similarly to the dry grass eating in the previous experiment.
This was probably due to the lack of the green material shown to be preferred for eating.
Similar to the previous experiment, the does spent a lot of time (29% vs. 31%) in the
nest box.
Figure 3.
The relative percentage of time spent in collecting from either long (30 cm) or short (10 cm)
grass by rabbit females (N = 7). Asterisks indicate significant differences (p< 0.05) in Wilcoxon
matched-pairs signed-ranks tests.
4. Discussion
We aimed to study the main features of nest composition of wild rabbits and to test
if such features are still preferred in naïve domestic does. The European rabbit is an
especially useful mammalian model for studying maternal behaviour [
] as both wild
animals and domestic stocks are available, and the domestication of this species has not
dramatically changed the features of maternal behaviour [
]. A well-constructed
nest may increase the survival of the offspring and provide long-term benefits to the mother
in the wild but is seemingly less important under controlled laboratory settings [
Remarkable specialization in the physiological mechanisms underlying the above reactions
is known for this species [
]. Mimicking the ancestral situation in the rearing is still
plausible [41] and can improve the welfare status of rabbits [44].
The worldwide distribution of rabbits [
] indicates that it is an adaptable species with
high phenotypic plasticity enabling it to cope with the challenges in various local habitats.
As the vegetation is completely different in the several continents the rabbit inhabits today,
both food and nest material choice should be flexible. Diet composition of these animals
should change both locally and seasonally [
] to follow food availability. Laboratory
data show that the food preferences are fine-tuned by both individual learning and social
impacts on diet choice [
] fulfilling the dietary needs of rabbits. Lagomorphs prefer grass
species as food wherever these are available [
], but grass is also used for nest building,
even by domestic females observed in semi-natural habitats [
]. The high percent of dry
grass found in the field nests could have been explained by the ageing of the material, as
Appl. Sci. 2022,12, 1915 7 of 10
we have probably found the nests already empty thus being at least 21 days old, when the
doe leaves the entrance open and the kits hide outside [
]. Our repeated tests performed
mimicking natural conditions indicate that even though there was a significant increase in
dry grass scores (see Figure 2), its small dimension suggests that the nests collected in the
field should have been predominantly dry at the time of construction.
We have found a remarkably small variation in the composition of both the wild rabbit
nests and the laboratory constructed nests suggesting that rabbit nest building is a result
of tightly controlled mechanisms [
]. While our tests were restricted to the beginning
of the nest building, and the plant components are usually collected during several days
preceding the parturition [
], we were able to demonstrate that even the initial plant
choice indicates clear preferences toward features present in wild rabbit nests. In order to
judge the preference in the two-way choice tests, we reduced the time available for nest
material collection to one hour as initial observation indicated this period is enough for the
does to reduce one bunch of material to minimum. Extending the test period might have
resulted in also collecting the inferior material, even though the offered amount of grass
was enough to construct a full nest. It would be interesting to follow the process during the
several days preceding parturition [51].
The result of Experiment 2 is in accordance with the hypothesis that rabbit does can
modify the nest composition by eating out some of the grass disproportionally, as the slight
preference to dry grass in the collection phase was found to be significantly enhanced
in the final nest composition. Nevertheless, there are other possible explanations of this
increase in the dry grass ratio, for example, the time spent collecting is not a reliable
measurement of the amount actually collected. The fact that the ratio of dry grass in the
nests of inexperienced domestic females closely resembles the ratio found in wild rabbit
nests and its very low (4 percent) standard error suggest that domestication had no major
impact on this characteristic. Preference for a given dryness can be functional as nests of
Mongolian gerbils and hay piles of the pika [
] or ground squirrel nests [
] were also
found to be invariant in their ratio of dry material content. Thus, our first experiment
supports the idea that both domestic and wild rabbits prefer dry grass for nest building
and can influence their nest composition in different phases of the construction.
Based on the Experiment 3, the preference for long grass seems quite functional as
the females can more easily (and quickly) collect the long leaves than the same amount of
short grass and the long grass can be more easily structured than the short leaves
Cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) females were also seen collecting dry long grass and
forming an outer grass layer lining the excavated nest cavity [
]. In Blumetto et al. [
studies, mother rabbits preferred straw to wood chips as a nesting material, and elongated
dry material was also preferred in a highly inbred rabbit stock [
]. The functional sig-
nificance of using dry grass as nest material is not yet fully understood, heat insulation
property [
] or/and its high capacity to bind water [
] are likely candidate features
enhancing the survival of wild rabbit kits developing in a closed underground chamber for
weeks [
]. Even though it might be problematic to incorporate hay as a nest material in
rabbit production systems [
] as fungal toxins can induce health issues [
], the welfare
status can be improved by mimicking natural situations in the rearing environment [
In summary, by performing laboratory experiments to understand the functional
significance of the preference of wild rabbits for dry elongated grass nest material we found
that, similarly to their wild ancestors, even unexperienced domestic rabbit females collect
dry and long grass preferentially. The even larger proportion of dry grass found in the final
nests and occasional observations of the does in the nest chamber suggest a modification
of the nest composition after the collection phase by eating some of the green grass (see
Experiment 2 and 3), and thus the final composition of the nests was strikingly uniform and
similar to the composition of the nests found in the field and made by the wild ancestors. It
is important to emphasize that we tested naïve primiparous domestic does without any
previous experience with the nest materials, and our observation focussed on the very
first efforts in the nest construction, which is not affected by the does learning processes
Appl. Sci. 2022,12, 1915 8 of 10
in handling or eating grasses Even though there has been some changes in the genetic
background in the nest building behaviour due to domestication [
], the basic features
of choosing the appropriate nest material seem to remain rather conservative. Thus, we
recommend providing uncut hay as a nest material in the rabbit production as it seems to
fulfil the basic needs of this domesticated animal.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization, V.A. and Á.B.; methodology, V.A.; software, I.N.; vali-
dation, B.B., I.N. and V.A.; formal analysis, I.N.; investigation, B.B.; resources, I.P.; data curation,
B.B.; writing—original draft preparation, Á.B. and B.B.; writing—review and editing, Á.B. and B.B.;
I.N. visualization, B.B.; supervision, V.A.; project administration, B.B.; funding acquisition, B.B.
All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
The work/publication is supported by the EFOP-3.6.3-VEKOP-16-2017-00005 project. The
project is co-financed by the European Union and the European Social Fund.
Institutional Review Board Statement:
This research was approved by the Committee on the Ethics
of Animal Experiments of Eötvös University (permit number: XIV-I-001/532-4/2012). The authors
declare that all experiments were performed in accordance with approved guidelines and regulations.
Informed Consent Statement: Not applicable.
Data Availability Statement:
The data presented in this study are available on request from the
corresponding author.
Conflicts of Interest: There was no conflict of interest among authors.
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... Nest quality is often determined by a complexity score of 4-6 [25,26], from the absence of the nest to the entire nest sphere [27,28]. Studies on the quantity and quality of the nest material used are also typical [29,30], as the quality of the nest is strongly influenced by the nest-building material used [2]. Currently, mice kept in the laboratory are often given strips of paper as nest-building material [31]. ...
... On the first day of the study, between 100 and 150 g of nest material per type was measured to provide all substrates in the same volume, and on the seventh day, the completed nests were evaluated. An examination of the composition of nests was performed according to Szenczi et al., 2011 [37] and Bilko et al., 2022 [30]. After evaluating the quality of the finished nests, they were placed on a tray, and then every nest was homogenized, and subsequently 20 samples were taken blindly using forceps. ...
... Our results show that mice can build better quality nests using hay, probably due to the long, fibrous structure of the material. Nest selection studies in rabbits also show that rabbits prefer long dry grass fibers to short ones [30]. Our findings are consistent with Hess's [2] study, who found that the long, fibrous nest-building material allowed mice to build better quality nests than other materials that did not have a fibrous structure. ...
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Our research examined the nest-building characteristics of two mouse species native to Hungary, the mound-building mouse (Mus spicilegus) and the house mouse (Mus musculus), under laboratory housing conditions. In indoor housing, the nest-building material plays a very important role in the welfare of the animals. The present study examined how wild mouse species choose from natural nest material. In a three-way test, mice were able to choose whether to make their nest from long blades of hay, nonfibrous cotton, or paper strips. In addition, the effect of nest composition on its quality was also investigated. The test was run at the standard laboratory (21 °C) and lower (10 °C) temperatures, assuming that temperature influences the choice. Based on the results of the three-way selection tests, both species of wild mice chose hay nest material in the highest proportion, and it was also found that the increasing the hay proportion coincided with better nest quality. Mice kept in colder places used more hay nest material for their nests and built better quality nests. Our results show that wild mouse species prefer natural nest-building materials that meet their ecological needs even under laboratory conditions, resulting in a good quality nest. This finding is worth considering in designing appropriate enclosures for wild rodent species.
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Successful rabbit production relies heavily on the use of adequate practices that enhance specific aspects of reproduction, such as mating, ovulation and lactation. Regardless of the type of production unit or strain of rabbits used, these processes rely on a complex chain of neuroendocrine steps that include particular hormones, peripheral stimuli and activation of discrete brain regions. Such is the case, for instance, of reflex ovulation, which occurs in response to copulation but is inhibited throughout lactation. Little is known about the mechanisms mediating lactational anoestrus and the restoration of oestrus following the cancellation of a single suckling episode (biostimulation). Nevertheless, the latter procedure (adopted worldwide to accelerate reproduction) has unwanted consequences for the doe and her litter. After successive episodes of biostimulation, the former shows a loss of fertility and body mass. In the kits, alterations are observed in their neuroendocrine response to mildly aversive stimulation in adulthood, as well as reductions in sexual behaviour. In addition to milk intake, a good nest is essential for normal litter growth and development. If this is not available, or if it deteriorates, rabbit caretakers can easily (re) build one from hair sheared off other rabbits or using synthetic material. Lactating does will nurse equally well their own or ‘alien’ young, placed inside the nest. It is crucial to have a minimum of six suckling kits in the nest, as the doe relies on this stimulation to maintain a normal nursing behaviour, i.e., only once a day throughout lactation. Recent work is revealing the similarities and differences in the responsiveness to mating among oestrous, lactating and biostimulated does. The relevance of these findings for the likelihood of reflex ovulation and the additional contribution of factors contained in the semen warrant more in-depth research. New insights on these issues, essential to reproductive neuroendocrinology, can emerge by fostering a richer interaction between academic laboratories and rabbit production settings worldwide.
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Once a day, nursing and absentee mothering make the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) an ideal model animal for measuring differences in maternal behavior. Behavioral events and their hormonal regulation leading to parturition are well documented; however, the genetic background behind individual differences in this complex process is unknown. Decreased progesterone hormone level and the reduction of progesterone receptor activity are crucial to initiating the collection of nest material. The progesterone receptor gene is a likely candidate affecting nest-building behavior. In addition to several known point mutations in the progesterone receptor gene of the European wild rabbit, we have found a new mutation in the promoter region of the gene at 2682 T > C. Although this new single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) was not involved in the formation of the nest-building behavior, an SNP (2464G > A) already described in the promoter region showed an association with individual differences in the initiation of hay carrying. The distribution of this SNP delivered an opposite result compared to domestic rabbits. Genotype (GG) with high uterine capacity was most frequent; the hereditary value of the trait was h2 = 0.10. Thus, progesterone receptor gene polymorphism may manifest in individual differences affecting breeding success in this species.
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Aflatoxins are wide-spread harmful carcinogenic secondary metabolites produced by Aspergillus species, which cause serious feed and food contaminations and affect farm animals deleteriously with acute or chronic manifestations of mycotoxicoses. On farm, both pre-harvest and post-harvest strategies are applied to minimize the risk of aflatoxin contaminations in feeds. The great economic losses attributable to mycotoxin contaminations have initiated a plethora of research projects to develop new, effective technologies to prevent the highly toxic effects of these secondary metabolites on domestic animals and also to block the carry-over of these mycotoxins to humans through the food chain. Among other areas, this review summarizes the latest findings on the effects of silage production technologies and silage microbiota on aflatoxins, and it also discusses the current applications of probiotic organisms and microbial products in feeding technologies. After ingesting contaminated foodstuffs, aflatoxins are metabolized and biotransformed differently in various animals depending on their inherent and acquired physiological properties. These mycotoxins may cause primary aflatoxicoses with versatile, species-specific adverse effects, which are also dependent on the susceptibility of individual animals within a species, and will be a function of the dose and duration of aflatoxin exposures. The transfer of these undesired compounds from contaminated feed into food of animal origin and the aflatoxin residues present in foods become an additional risk to human health, leading to secondary aflatoxicoses. Considering the biological transformation of aflatoxins in livestock, this review summarizes (i) the metabolism of aflatoxins in different animal species, (ii) the deleterious effects of the mycotoxins and their derivatives on the animals, and (iii) the major risks to animal health in terms of the symptoms and consequences of acute or chronic aflatoxicoses, animal welfare and productivity. Furthermore, we traced the transformation and channeling of Aspergillus-derived mycotoxins into food raw materials, particularly in the case of aflatoxin contaminated milk, which represents the major route of human exposure among animal-derived foods. The early and reliable detection of aflatoxins in feed, forage and primary commodities is an increasingly important issue and, therefore, the newly developed, easy-to-use qualitative and quantitative aflatoxin analytical methods are also summarized in the review.
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Nest quality is important for the survival of new-born rabbits. Nesting material in rabbit farms generally consists of wood shavings, which is completely different from the dry grass used by the European wild rabbit ( Oryctolagus cuniculus ). The aim of the experiments was to examine which nest materials are preferred by rabbit does when building their nest. In experiment 1, the choice of multiparous rabbit does (n=37) among nest boxes bedded with different nesting materials was monitored. In each pen (1.0×1.83 m) 1 doe and 4 nest boxes (0.37×0.23×0.31 m) with different nest materials (meadow hay [H], wheat straw [S], fine fibre material [Lignocel<sup>®</sup>, L] or wood shavings [W]) were placed 3 days before the expected parturition (gestation length is about 31 d in the Pannon White breed). Some 48.6% of the does kindled in nest boxes that contained pure materials (L: 40.5%, S: 5.4%, H: 2.7%), and 51.3% of the does kindled in nest boxes where the nest materials of different nest boxes were mixed by the does (S with L: 21.5%, S with L and H: 5.4%, W with L: 8.1%, L with H and S: 5.4%). Does preferred kindling in the nest box bedded with L, and most of them refused the nest box with W. In experiment 2/a (n=32 does) and 2/b (n=25 does), each pen (1×0.91 m) was equipped with 3 and 2 hay racks and filled with H, S or L, and H or S, respectively. The experiments lasted from the 27<sup>th</sup> day of pregnancy until the day of parturition and 24-h video recordings (10 does/experiment) were evaluated throughout the experiment. The events of carrying the nest materials from the hay racks were registered. In experiment 2/a, the frequency of nest material carrying was highest on the day of parturition. The preferred nest material was L (compared to H and S) on each experimental day except day 30 of pregnancy. At the day of kindling, 87.5, 6.3 and 6.3% of the nests contained pure L, mixed L-H and L-S, respectively. In experiment 2/b, the frequency of nest material carrying (mostly S) was highest on the day of parturition, and on days 27 and 30 of pregnancy. More does built nests with only S (72%) than H (16%), and in 12% of the cases the S and H were mixed. For the purpose of nest building, material S was the most frequently used (72%) compared to other possibilities (H: 16%, S-H: 12%). It can be concluded that rabbit does showed the following clear preferences for specific nest building materials: L>S>H>W.
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Background: The material placed into the nest should provide comfort to both does and their kits. Objective: To evaluate the effect of different nesting materials on rabbit doe performance and nest building. Methods: Thirty primiparous rabbit does were randomized allotted in a block design with three treatments and ten replicates each. The treatments consisted of nest bedding with wood shavings (280 g, control), Tifton hay (220 g), and thin strips of newspaper (200 g). The state of the nest was assessed to evaluate mixing of the material with doe’s hair and preservation of the original material. Kit body weight, daily weight gain, and survival rate were evaluated from birth to weaning. Results: The nesting material did not affect the mixing level of material and hair, amount of hair in the nest, body weight, daily weight gain, or survival rate of rabbits from birth to 35 d of age (p>0.05). However, preservation of original material in the nest was lower when Tifton hay was used (p<0.05). Correlations between material type and total number of born alive and the amount of hair, mixture level between hair and material, and material preservation in the nest were not significant (p>0.05). No correlation (p>0.05) was observed between material preservation and hair presence or mixture level between both. Positive correlation between hair presence and mixture level (p<0.001) was observed. Conclusion: Tifton hay and cut newspaper can be used as nest bedding for pregnant does in replacement of wood shavings, with no negative effects on nest building behavior or kit performance.
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Selective pressures imposed by pathogenic microorganisms to embryos have selected in hosts for a battery of antimicrobial lines of defenses that includes physical and chemical barriers. Due to the antimicrobial properties of volatile compounds of green plants and of chemicals of feather degrading bacteria, the use of aromatic plants and feathers for nest building has been suggested as one of these barriers. However, experimental evidence suggesting such effects is scarce in the literature. During two consecutive years, we explored experimentally the effects of these nest materials on loads of different groups of bacteria (mesophilic bacteria, Enterobacteriaceae, Staphylococcus and Enterococcus) of eggshells in nests of spotless starlings (Sturnus unicolor) at the beginning and at the end of the incubation period. This was also explored in artificial nests without incubation activity. We also experimentally increased bacterial density of eggs in natural and artificial nests and explored the effects of nest lining treatments on eggshell bacterial load. Support for the hypothetical antimicrobial function of nest materials was mainly detected for the year and location with larger average values of eggshell bacterial density. The beneficial effects of feathers and plants were more easily detected in artificial nests with no incubation activity, suggesting an active role of incubation against bacterial colonization of eggshells. Pigmented and unpigmented feathers reduced eggshell bacterial load in starling nests and artificial nest boxes. Results from artificial nests allowed us to discuss and discard alternative scenarios explaining the detected association, particularly those related to the possible sexual role of feathers and aromatic plants in starling nests. All these results considered together confirm the antimicrobial functionality mainly of feathers but also of plants used as nest materials, and highlight the importance of temporally and geographically environmental variation associated with risk of bacterial proliferation determining the strength of such effects. Because of costs associated to nest building, birds should adjust nest building effort to expected bacterial environments during incubation, a prediction that should be further explored.
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In agrocenoses and forest borders, for the greater part of the year, the trophic niches of hare and rabbit overlapped. In both localities quantitative food composition was similar in 69% of cases; qualitative food composition was similar in 78% in the agrocenosis and in 49% in the highlands. -from Author
Nest building is important in sow preparation for motherhood. However, straw or other bulky materials can block drains, and a finer-grained material such as peat is of interest as an alternative. The main aim of this study was to evaluate effects of different nesting materials on maternal behaviour during farrowing and early lactation. Norsvin Landrace x Swedish Yorkshire sows (n = 54) were loose-housed in individual farrowing pens with wood-shavings as litter. Mean ( ± SE) parity was 2.9 ± 2.0 (range 1–9), and 16 were primiparous. They were provided with peat (n = 18) or straw (n = 17) as nesting material from two days before expected farrowing until they farrowed, or received wood shavings litter only (controls, n = 18). From video recordings positive (i.e.sniffing, grunting, nudging) and negative (i.e. pushing, threatening barks, biting) communicatory behaviours from sow to piglets during farrowing (≤4 h) and on Day 1 post-partum (4 h) were registered by one-zero sampling at 1-min intervals. Nursing behaviour on Day 2 post-partum (6 h) was registered by continuous observation. During farrowing, sows provided with straw or peat as nesting material showed a lower frequency of negative communication towards piglets compared to controls (P < 0.05). Sows provided with straw had a higher proportion of sow-initiated nursing bouts and successful nursing bouts (i.e. with milk let-down) terminated by the piglets than sows in the peat and control groups. There were also differences in maternal behaviour across parities 1, 2–3 and≥4 (P < 0.05). Sows of parity≥4 exhibited a lower frequency of negative communication during farrowing than younger sows. On Day 1 post-partum, sows of parity 2–3 performed a higher frequency of positive communication than sows of other parities. The proportion of sow-initiated nursing bouts was higher in sows of parity≥4 than in primiparous sows, whereas the proportion of successful nursing bouts terminated by piglets was higher for primiparous than older sows. Positive sow-to-piglet communication increased with litter size during farrowing, but declined with litter size on Day 1. Proportion of sow-initiated nursing bouts increased with litter size, whereas the proportion of successful nursing bouts terminated by piglets decreased. The number of piglets without a teat during milk let-down increased with litter size (P < 0.05).These findings show that both peat and straw were associated with a lower rate of negative sow-to-piglet communication during farrowing compared to sows given wood shavings alone. Provision of straw, particularly, resulted in nursing behaviour indicative of increased maternal investment.
Seasonal foods of European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus (Linnaeus, 1758) were studied by microhistological analysis of pellets in a protected area Bugac Juniper Forest, Hungary. Field experiments were also conducted to examine the role of rabbit foraging on common juniper Juniperus communis. The proportion of grasses, forbs and browses changed significantly throughout the seasons (p <0.0001). Spring diet was dominated by grasses (89%), summer diet by grasses (30%) and forbs (42%), whereareas in autumn grasses (60%) and browse (24%) were the main diet components. Juniper appeared only in winter diet (19%) together with other browse (60%). The high proportion of aromatic thyme Thymus glabrescens in summer diet (30%) and juniper in winter diet indicates that monoterpenoids of these plants did not keep rabbits from consumption even when other food sources were available. Planted juniper seedlings disappeared within weeks due to the browsing by rabbits.