Growth performance, carcass characteristics and meat quality of growing rabbits housed in cages or open-air park
Abstract. The study was carried out to investigate the effects of two housing systems on the growth performance, carcass traits, and meat quality of growing rabbits during the terminal fattening period. The rabbits were lodged in conventional cages between 35 and 59 days of age (growing period). At this age, they were moved into two different housing systems until they were 87 days of age (fattening period). During the fattening period, 48 rabbits were housed in 12 wire cages (0.5×0.6×0.35 m) and 48 rabbits were housed in one open-air pasture pen (20×9 m). At 87 days, 12 rabbits per treatment were slaughtered and the carcass characteristics and meat quality were evaluated. During the fattening period, the rabbits reared in cages had significantly higher live weights (3 062 vs. 2 705 g), weight gains (45.9 vs. 34.2 g·d−1) and feed intakes (163.4 vs. 110.2 g·d−1) than those reared in pens. The rabbits in the open-air group had a lower percentage of dissectible fat (1.35 vs. 4.19 %), a higher proportion of hind part (34.9 vs. 33.1 %), and less hind leg muscle (79.3 vs. 81.9 %) than caged rabbits. The m. biceps femoris of the rabbits in the open-air group had a higher cooking loss (3.64 vs. 3.02 %), Warner-Bratzler Shear Force (4.26 vs. 3.29 kg·cm−2), and myoglobin concentration (0.41 vs. 0.32 mg·g−1) than caged rabbits. The housing system had no effect on the dressing out percentage, viscera proportion, and ultimate pH. Open-air housing system reduces the growth of rabbits and the fat content of carcasses and increases the redness colour of meat.