In rabbit breeding, Biosecurity is a compulsory measure to limit the introduction, circulation and persistence of contaminants (pathogens that cause disease) in the production unit, in addition to their spreading to other production sites. Particular attention must be paid to controlling Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD ) as well as other factors that encourage further outbreaks.

The main contamination factors
in rabbit breeding

Main contamination factors in rabbit breeding

Surroundings and buildings, the initial sanitary barriers

Rabbit breeding (France) Rabbit breeding (France)

The layout of the building and its immediate vicinity must be taken into account in preventing risks of contamination.

It is very important to distinguish 3 activity zones on the farm: 

  • The public zone, including the car park and so-called “unprotected” areas;
  • The professional zone, marked off by physical barriers and in which only authorised persons are allowed to circulate;
  • The breeding zone, made up of the production unit, in which only the personnel essential for breeding circulates).

Maintaining a Biosecurity plan is compulsory. A Biosafety Plan is mandatory. It includes the register of permanent staff and their training certificates, the breeding register, the site circulation plan, the Cleaning & Disinfection programme detailed step by step, the register of crop protection and biocidal products used on the farm, the pest control plan and finally the self-checking plan. 

Each production unit has its own sanitary airlock. This is divided into 2 areas that can be washed and disinfected. It must be equipped with a hot water washbasin, liquid soap, paper towels and waste bins. It must be separate from the storage area for nesting elements.

The surroundings of the building must be clean and well maintained (grass cut, no waste stored along the walls) to avoid harbouring pests (rodents, insects). The entrances to the building have concrete slabs in front to facilitate disinfection.

Minimum distances from water bodies and third party housing must be respected. These are set out in the currently applicable legislation (in France they are generally found in departmental texts).

Five essentials for achieving biosecurity of your building:

  • Setting up protected boundaries around the building, which can be visualised by signalling barriers and regularly disinfected;
  • Using a (clean and tidy) sanitary airlock;
  • Increasing the ease of decontamination of the traffic areas (concrete or stabilised surface);
  • Restricting access to any wild animals (birds, insects, rodents);
  • Safe storage of the materials forming the nest and the equipment (storage shed within the protected boundaries).

The area for storage of the materials forming the nest must be:

  • Protected/covered or under a tarpaulin, as airtight and watertight as possible;
  • Protected from moisture so as to prevent the growth of mould and bacteria;
  • Secured against pets, wild birds, rodents and insects;
  • On a stable concrete substrate.

Note: the materials used must be of secure origin and used materials must be disposed of and stored away from the production site.

Entrance to a rabbit breeding building undergoing disinfection with TH5 Rabbit breeding building undergoing disinfection with TH5

Water: a “food” that should not be neglected

A young rabbit’s body consists of 80% water and that of an adult rabbit 66%. If the quality of the water is not controlled, it may be a vector for potentially pathogenic germs and thus affect the animals’ health and performance.

The drinking water intended for the rabbits is not subject to any legislation setting quality standards, unlike water for human consumption, which is required to fulfil potability criteria. The regulations solely stipulate that it should be of “adequate” quality, and to meet this requirement, a certain number of criteria are defined.

1. Bacteriological quality of the water

Although no established standard exists, it is recommended to test for the absence of microorganisms (total Coli, E. coli, streptococci, etc.) in 100 ml of water.

Contamination may already occur at the water catchment point, but also in the farm piping, particularly owing to the residual biofilm . In order to ascertain the bacteriological quality of the water, an analysis should be carried out (ideally at the airlock and at the end of the line). In the event of inadequate bacteriological quality, it is recommended that corrective measures be taken: checking the watertightness of the catchment point and implementing water disinfection (chlorine dioxide, hydrogen peroxide or chlorine).

2. Physical and chemical quality of the water

It is essential to be aware of the physical and chemical quality of the drinking water, as under certain circumstances, it may cause:

  • Unsuccessful disinfection of the water (e.g.: reduced efficacy of chlorination in alkaline or iron-rich water);
  • Failures of treatments administered via drinking water (e.g.: some antibiotics precipitate in hard and alkaline water) ;
  • Problems related to inadequate watering of the animals (associated with the development of biofilm or with clogging of the piping).

A physical and chemical analysis of the water should be carried out at least once every 2 years.

3. Cleaning and disinfection of the piping

Purging under pressure is essential during the cleaning operations to achieve a sufficient mechanical flushing effect in order to wash out the impurities removed from the piping walls by the cleaning products.

Water table in rabbit farming (France) Water table in rabbit farming (France)

The standard procedure for cleaning the inside of the pipes to remove as much biofilm as possible is as follows:

  • Filling the pipes with an alkaline solution, followed by a contact time of between 30 minutes and 1 hour;
  • Purging under pressure -> degreasing;
  • Filling of the pipes with a second acid solution, followed by the same contact time -> descaling;
  • Purging under pressure;
  • Disinfection by filling the pipes with a disinfectant solution;
  • Purging with clean water if necessary.

The Circulator with continuous return to the tank device ensures that good water quality is maintained and that cleaning is carried out during the batch.

The essential Cleaning & Disinfection programme

The Cleaning & Disinfection programme and depopulation period are to be defined and adapted to suit the breeding system.

  • In the « doe in place » model: the Cleaning & Disinfection programme in addition to depopulation are conducted in the fattening room after each departure of the rabbits and during breeding at least once a year;
  • In the « all full all empty » model: these operations are to be carried out in the rooms every two bunches;
  • In the « conventional » model: the Cleaning & Disinfection programme in addition to depopulation are to be carried out as soon as possible, but at least once a year;
  • In case of open-air cages: the cages are cleaned and disinfected after each batch leaves for the slaughterhouse.

Only a clean surface can be disinfected.

Good disinfection is impossible without proper washing beforehand, which already achieves 70 to 80% of the decontamination.

Washing and disinfection of the ventilation systems is also essential to avoid rapid and early recontamination of a bunch.

1. Cleaning

The washing and scouring of certain parts of the building are the most tedious but above all the most important operations for properly carrying out a disinfection procedure.

Organic matter (straw, droppings) inhibits the action of disinfectants. The success of disinfection is thus influenced by the thoroughness applied to the cleaning process.

Use of detergency also makes it possible to restore a “new cage” appearance, particularly if carried out using a foaming product.

2. Spray disinfection: 1st disinfection

This is the first disinfection operation after washing the building. It is usually carried out by spraying the previously cleaned surfaces.. On no account should it be performed by thermal fogging or nebulisationon health and regulatory grounds.

There are risk factors in a badly performed spray disinfection:

  • Underdosing of the disinfectant;
  • Insufficient contact time;
  • Application to a contaminated surface.

The equipment used for decontamination

The use of a foam gun makes it easier to apply the disinfectant, provided that a foaming product is used. When applied in foam form, the disinfectant is more effective. The foam indeed allows the product to achieve better adhesion to the surface, thereby increasing the contact time and therefore the efficacy of the decontamination. The product employed must comply with the currently applicable legislation (mandatorily category TP3).

Application of disinfectant in foam form

Safety first

For operator safety, protective measures are indispensable during operations involving Cleaning & Disinfection.

  • When using the high-pressure pump, an impervious suit, an anti-noise headset and waterproof boots should be worn.
  • When applying the products, more specific Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as chemical protection gloves, goggles, a suit impervious to chemicals (Type 4) and a cartridge mask (ABEPK) are required. In case of doubt about the PPE to be worn, refer to section 8 of the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) of the chemical product used.

Advice to reduce the tediousness of Cleaning and Disinfection

  • When designing the building, prefer more easily washable materials: plastic and stainless steel rather than concrete, smooth rather than rough surfaces;
  • Keep surfaces in good condition, not worn or cracked, easily accessible and well lit;
  • Dismantle all the movable breeding equipment that can be disassembled. Clean and disinfect it separately on a stabilised/concrete surface;
  • Start the Cleaning & Disinfection protocol as soon as the animals leave, before the surfaces dry;
  • Apply a detergent before scouring to facilitate dissolution of soiling (particularly on the skirts);
  • Use a stationary washing pump with hose connection by clipping rather than screw fitting;
  • Use a high flow rate pump (28-30 l/min.) and work at low pressure;
  • During scouring, ventilate the room as thoroughly as possible. (Vacuum the hairs away beforehand. Do not blow, as they constitute a major vector of VHD);
  • Apply the products in foam form at the right dose to save time and water;
  • Use the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).