Animal Science /3 Florida Agricultural
Mimeograph Series No. 61-;l Experiment Station
Feed Maintenance Requirement of Mature Rabbits
L. R. Arrington1
The total feed and the specific nutrient requirements for domestic rabbits
are not as well established as are the requirements for most other livestock and
poultry. Information available to 1954 was summarized in the National Research
Council publication (2) of nutrient requirements and the limitations of the data
reported were recognized. The total feed required for maintenance of does or
bucks was reported as 4.0, 3.8 and 3.7 percent of body weight for 5, 10 and 15
pound rabbits respectively. In 1959, the information on rabbit nutrition was
reviewed by Cassady and Gildow (1), but no additional specific requirements for
maintenance were reported.
Most of the feed provided to rabbits in commercial production is a complete
ration in pellet form. It has been observed often in practical feeding that ad
libitum intakes of such a ration by mature animals results in weight gains to
the extent that breeding efficiency may be impaired. The common practice is to
limit the daily intake to an amount which will maintain the animals in good
condition. Specific information is needed for the amount of a complete ration
of known composition which will maintain a uniform body weight.
Lactating does are normally full fed during the lactation period in order
to insure maximum milk production and growth of the young. It is generally
assumed that there is little weight gained during this period, but data are not
available to indicate what body weight changes may occur.
The objectives of this experiment were to determine the daily amount of a
typical commercial ration which would maintain weight or affect a weight change
and to determine the weight change of lactating does when fed ad libitum.
Mature female rabbits of the Dutch and New Zealand breeds were fed different
amounts of feed ranging from fast to full feed. Intermediate amounts were deter-
mined as a percent of initial body weight and the weighed amount of feed-was. rpo-
vided daily (Table 1). Differences between the initial and terminalbod~yweight.
of the individual rabbits for each test period were measures of feed, required to/
maintain weight or to affect a change in weight. The length of the;feeding
periods varied and depended upon the level of feed intake. tWhen itiakes were" f
Associate Animal Nutritionist, Department of Animal Science, Fl1rida
Agricultural Experiment Station.
considerably above or below the maintenance requirement, the response in terms of
weight change was rapid so that the test period was generally shorter than that
for test periods of feeding the approximate maintenance intake. It was assumed
that the previous level of feed intake would affect the weight change on any given
intake of feed, so the intake prior to each experimental period was recorded and
is shown in table 1.
The ration supplied to all animals was a pelleted ration of the following
percentage composition: protein, 15.52; ether extract, 1.8; crude fiber, 11.46;
nitrogen free extract, 51. The gross energy as determined in the bomb calorim-
eter was 3.909 Calories per gram.
The experiment was not designed to determine nutrient requirements for main-
tenance, however, the protein and energy values of the feed were determined and
an estimate of protein and energy required were calculated from the amount of
total feed required to maintain weight.
Twenty three lactating does were weighed at the beginning and end of a four-
week lactation period. These does were full fed from the time of kindling until
the young were weaned at four weeks. Although rabbits are normally weaned at an
older age, the young begin eating dry feed at three to four weeks, so feed con-
sumption and weight changes were determined for the first four weeks of lactation.
Results and Discussion
Average daily weight changes of the rabbits on the different levels of intake
are recorded in table 1. Intakes below three percent of body weight consistently
caused a loss of weight and amounts above three percent caused a gain in both
breeds. There were individual variations among the rabbits of the same breed and
level of intake. The values recorded represent averages for the animals on the
same feed intake. The daily intake equivalent to three percent of body weight
resulted in the least weight change and may be assumed to be the total feed re-
quired when the ration has the composition equivalent to that used in this study.
This amount is less than that reported by the National Research Council (2), but
the ration or rations used in determining these requirements are not known so
direct comparisons are not possible.
The previous level of intake had a definite effect upon the weight change
from any given amount of feed fed. When the prior intake was greater than that
of the test period, there was a greater weight loss or less gain than the same
test intake following a lower intake. The converse was true when the previous
intake was less than the test intake. The use of body weight changes then, when
used in short term experiments to determine feed requirements, must take into
account the prior level of feed consumed.
Assuming that an intake of three percent is the maintenance requirement, the
total energy requirement may be calculated as 117 Calories per kilogram of body
weight. The exact protein requirement is not known but was assumed to be ade-
quate in making this estimation of the energy requirement. The total protein
consumed at the maintenance intake of three percent was 4.65 grams per kilogram
of body weight. This is not reported as the minimum required for maintenance,
but since body weight was maintained, the requirement should not be more than this
When mature rabbits were permitted to consume feed ad libitum, the Dutch and
New Zealand rabbits ate daily quantities equal to 5.9 and 5.0 percent of body
weight respectively and gained weight rapidly. Since three percent was found to
maintain weight, the larger intakes from ad libitum feeding demonstrate that mature
rabbits will consume considerably more feed than is required for maintenance.
Weight changes of the lactating does which were fed ad libitum are recorded
in table 2. The results show that the lactating female does gain slightly, but the
gain is less than for the non-lactating doe. A small percentage of the does lost
weight, but a larger percentage gained and the values recorded represent the
average net gain.
Mature female Dutch and New Zealand rabbits were fed varying amounts of a
complete ration in order to determine the total amount of feed required to main-
tain weight or cause a weight change. A daily intake of feed equivalent to three
percent of body weight resulted in the least change of weight. Intakes below three
percent caused weight loss and intakes above three percent resulted in weight gain.
The energy requirement for maintenance was estimated to be 117 Calories per kilo-
gram of boly weight. Lactating does which were full fed during the first four
weeks of lactation gained some weight but less than non-lactating females fed in
the same manner.
Cassady, R. B. and E. M. Gildow. 1959. Rabbit Nutrition. Proceedings of the
Animal Care Panel. 9:9.
National Research Council. 1954. Nutrient Requirements for Rabbits. National
Academy of Sciences National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N. W.,
Washington 25, D. C.
Table 1. Body Weight Changes of Mature Rabbits Fed Different Intakes of a Conplete Ration
Feed Intake, Previous Feed Dutch Rabbits New Zealand Rabbits
Test Period Intake Test Period No. Rabbits Daily wt. Change No. Rabbits Daily vt. Change
(% body wt.) (% body vt.) (days) (%o of body wt.) (% of body vt.)
Intake amounted to 5.9 and 5.0 percent of body Ieight for Dutch and New Zealand rabbits respectively.
Body Weight Change of Lactating Does Fed ad libitum
No. Young Daily Weight Change
Breed Rabbits Nursed gms of body wt.)
Dutch 14 4.86 +3.86 +0.125
New Zealand 9 3.88 +5.56 +0.122