A lack of knowledge about rabbit herbage intake during grazing limits the development of organic rabbit production. This study describes rabbit herbage intake under a wide range of grazing conditions and characterises the factors that decrease rabbit herbage intake and daily weight gain. It was conducted with growing rabbits reared in moving cages with 0.4 m2 of grazing area per rabbit. Rabbits grazed on pastures dominated by legumes (LEG) or grass and forbs (GRF) and received 60 g/day per rabbit of a complete pelleted feed. Three trials were performed in winter, summer and spring. Mean herbage allowance was 27% higher in LEG (62.3 g dry matter (DM)/kg metabolic weight (MW), equal to kg0.75) than in GRF (49.2 g DM/kg MW). Herbage intake varied greatly (36.3±18.0 g DM/kg MW) among trials and was higher in LEG than in GRF (39.5v.34.1 g DM/kg MW). For both pasture types, herbage intake was logarithmically related to herbage allowance and plateaued around 75 g DM/kg MW. Crude protein and digestible energy (DE) intake differed by pasture type and season. Mean CP intake was 40% higher in LEG (15.0 g/kg MW) than in GRF (10.7 g/kg MW). In summer, mean DE intake was 27% higher in LEG than in GRF but no significant differences in DE intake were found between LEG and GRF in winter and spring. Maximum DE intake plateaued near 1000 kJ/kg MW. Daily weight gain was always higher for rabbits grazing LEG (mean=22.6 g) than GRF (mean=16.0 g). Weight gain was significantly related to CP intake, whereas DE intake had no significant effect. Meeting the objective of mean daily weight gain of 20 g requires herbage intake of 32 and 50 g DM/kg MW in LEG and GRF, respectively. Therefore, according to the herbage use efficiency observed in our experiments, herbage allowance must reach 42 and 78 g DM/kg MW in LEG and GRF, respectively. When herbage allowance is lower, rabbits cannot meet the CP intake (13 g/kg MW) required for this weight gain objective.
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