Group housing in row cages: an alternative housing system for juvenile mink
Hänninen, S.; Ahola, L.; Pyykönen, T.; Korhonen, H.T.; Mononen, J.
Animal 2(12): 1809-1817
We studied a group housing system as an alternative to the traditional pair housing of juvenile mink. The focus was on both the welfare and production of mink. The pairs were housed in standard mink cages, whereas the groups were in row cage systems consisting of three standard mink cages connected to each other. The welfare of the mink was evaluated by behavioural observations (stereotypies and social contacts), evaluation of the incidence of scars assumed to be caused by biting, and adrenal function (serum cortisol level after adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) administration and adrenal mass). Feed consumption, pelt length, quality and price were used for comparing the two housing systems from the economic point of view. Although the incidence of scars showed that there might have been more aggressive behaviour among the group-housed than among the pair-housed mink, this was not observed unambiguously in behavioural observations, and, at least, aggression did not cause mortality or serious injuries to the animals as has been observed in some earlier studies. In addition, the housing system did not affect pelt size, and, although the quality of the pelts was slightly lower in the group than in pair-housed mink, there was only a tendency for lower pelt prices. The lower pelt prices in the group-housed mink might even be partially compensated for by the group-housed mink eating 10% to 20% less in the late autumn, due to thermoregulatory benefits, than their pair-housed conspecifics. The results on the frequency of stereotypic behaviour (but not adrenal function) suggest that the group-housed animals were possibly less stressed than the pair-housed animals. Group housing of juvenile farmed mink in a row cage system cannot be recommended before the effects on welfare and production are clarified in further studies.