Compassion is against the following plans submitted by T&S Nurseries:
• A purpose built rabbit breeding unit within a barn, with the rabbits kept in cages: the size of the barn and UK welfare codes limit the enterprise to 200-250 does (females), plus additional bucks (males) and their young. Due to the size of the barn proposed by T&S Nurseries, the maximum number of rabbits at any one time in this rabbit farm is likely to be in the region of 900-1100.
• Angora rabbits will be bred for the production of high quality fibre – the rabbits will be groomed regularly and the fibres sent to a mill for conversion in to yarn. Grooming can cause great stress to the rabbits.
There are very serious welfare issues affecting rabbits in intensive farming systems. Currently there is no species-specific legislation protecting the welfare of farmed rabbits in the EU and the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 contain only very basic species-specific requirements for rabbits.
Most commercially farmed rabbits are kept in barren wire cages in closed buildings where their natural behaviour is severely restricted. Systems which keep rabbits in cages or hutches without permanent access to additional runs are unacceptable on welfare grounds.
Compassion in World Farming supports systems that give rabbits access to pasture throughout the year, or whenever conditions allow.
The recommended floor space for a cage-housed breeding doe (alone or with a litter up to five weeks of age), as set out in the UK welfare code, is 5600cm2. This is much smaller than the area necessary to allow a rabbit to move around normally by hopping, let alone achieve any meaningful exercise. When the doe has a young litter, at least 800cm2 of this area will be taken up with a nest box, leaving only around 4800cm2 of floor area outside of the nest box, which is insufficient even for the doe to lie in a species-typical resting posture. The lack of opportunity for exercise in caged rabbits can lead to weakened bones.
For the young rabbits who are reared for meat, the recommended floor space per animal in cages, as set out in the UK welfare code, is 700cm2 up to 12 weeks of age and 1800cm2 from 12 weeks of age; this is equivalent to around 14 and six animals per square metre respectively. The total area available to growing rabbits will depend on the group size. Opportunities to express natural behaviour are particularly severely restricted where growing rabbits are housed in small groups. The functional space available to growing rabbits housed in small groups in cages is insufficient to allow many normal activities, such as sequences of hops, running and play behaviour.
The minimum cage height recommended in the UK welfare code is 45cm for all rabbits over 12 weeks of age. This is insufficient to allow rabbits to adopt some normal postures, such as sitting up on the hind legs in a species-typical “lookout” posture, or to make some normal movements, such as jumping.
Whenever housed, rabbits should have access to a rich environment which includes bedding material such as straw, opportunities for burrowing, or pipes they can hide in, and raised platforms. They should have sufficient space to run about and sufficient height to raise themselves to their full height and to jump.
Cages are mainly constructed of wire and sometimes the sides are solid metal sheets. Some farms use floor mats to cover part of the cage floor but usually the floor is made entirely of bare wire. Breeding females and males that are kept for long periods on wire mesh floors commonly develop sores on their footpads and hocks; these sores can cause chronic pain.
The space and environment in which these rabbits are kept can be likened to that experienced by egg-laying hens in barren battery cages – a ban of which is due to come into force across the EU in 2012.
High-fibre forage such as grass or hay should be available at all times. The barren environment and lack of forage feed (eg hay) can lead to rabbits developing abnormal stereotypical behaviours such as excessive grooming and repetitive gnawing or nibbling at the cage. In the worst cases, cannibalism may develop, causing terrible injuries.
Like other animals farmed for meat, rabbits have been selectively bred to grow rapidly and produce more meat than their wild counterparts. This can cause health and welfare issues in the rabbits.
Animals are sentient beings, which means they can feel emotions about things that matter to them. There is now evidence that many animals can learn new skills and some appear to show emotions similar to human empathy. They can also be reduced to a state resembling human depression by chronic stress or confinement.
Compassion believes that rabbits farmed for their meat or fur should be kept in humane farming systems that allow them to live a life free from pain and mental distress. It’s time for us to be banning these cruel systems, not to be introducing them. We will be sure to keep our supporters up to date with any action they can take with regards to objecting to this application, so thank you so much for your interest and support.
If you have any questions, comments or feedback please don’t hesitate to contact myself, Rosie or Tor in Supporter Services and we will be happy to help in any way we can. You can call us on 01483 521 953 (lines are manned 9am – 5pm Monday – Friday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember you can keep up to date with our work on our website at http://www.ciwf.org.