A field enquiry mentioned the potential positive impact of a feed restriction on the health of young rabbits, but no objective information relates the intake to digestive health. The effects of a post-weaning feed restriction strategy were thus studied on digestive health and growth and carcass parameters of the growing rabbit, using a monofactorial design that produces a quantitative linear reduction of the intake, from ad libitum (AL group) to 80%, 70% and 60% of AL. The study was performed simultaneously in six experimental sites, on 1984 growing rabbits (496 per treatment) collectively caged from weaning (34 to 38 days of age, depending on the site) to slaughter (68 to 72 days). The feeding programme was applied as followed: restriction during 21 days after weaning, and then ad libitum till slaughter. During the feed restriction period the growth rate was linearly reduced with the restriction level, by 0.5 g/day for each percent of intake reduction. When returning to ad libitum intake (after 54 days old) a compensatory growth and a higher feed efficiency occurred. Therefore, the impact of the feeding programme on the slaughter weight (SW) was significant (−4.5 g/% of restriction), but relatively moderate: the weight loss of the more-restricted rabbits (60%) reached 7.7% (−200 g) compared to the AL group. Over the whole fattening period, the feed restriction reduced linearly and significantly the feed conversion (FC) (−0.0077 unit/% of restriction). Carcass traits were little affected by the feeding programme, except for a slightly lower decrease of the dressing percentage (mean: 1.2 units between AL and the three restricted groups). On the six experimental sites, mortality and morbidity were always caused by acute digestive disorders, namely diarrhoea and/or caecal impaction. Independent of the treatment, the mortality rate strongly varied according to the site (between 7% and 18% from weaning to 54 days and for the AL group). During feed restriction, the mortality was significantly lower from a restriction threshold of 80% (meanly: −9% compared to AL). The morbidity was also significantly reduced (−6%) for the two most restricted groups (70% and 60%). The favourable effect of a lower intake on health did not persist after returning to ad libitum intake (54 days to slaughter), since mortality and morbidity were not significantly different among the treatments. Such a feeding strategy thus represents a double benefit in terms of feed costs and lower losses of young rabbits.
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