Hi Readers! Your friendly know-it-all editor-in-charge here! This time, I’m looking to y’all for help in answering a question I received via email. Erik Fain writes to us from Southern Louisiana seeking “wisdom in the counsel of many.” So, let us contribute to finding a solution to this problem.
Read his email below and use the comment box to share your ideas for Erik’s rabbits.
I’m looking for ideas for keeping the rabbits on my homestead cool and reaching out to my friends with knowledge in medicine, agriculture, engineering, science and common sense. They are very sensitive to heat and heat stroke. South Louisiana is a pretty hot climate for rabbits to begin with, but we are having very high temperatures even for our area, especially for this time of year. Another person I know who has a much larger operation said it is about all she can do to keep her rabbits alive right now.
It’s only the beginning of June and my rabbits are showing signs of being uncomfortably hot, so I’m trying to think of anything I can do. My preferred “silver bullet” would be some way to generally lower the temperature in the cage area.
Here is my set up:
• They are under a metal roof under a pecan tree. The metal above them only gets direct sunlight for a brief period in early morning.
• The area is basically open on all four sides except that on the east side there is a chicken house about three feet away. The area toward the East beyond the chicken house is a garden (open area). To the north, south and west there are trees in a sort of savannah (not so thick there is no air flow, but for sure the trees reduce some breezes).
• I have two tiers of cages (with corrugated plastic at a steep angle in between so waste from top does not fall on the ones below).
• I have things set up where there is “bedding” below the cages and chickens scratch around below mixing the manure/urine in with the bedding to prevent ammonia buildup (with chicken wire affixed such that the chickens can’t roost and poop on the cages).
• The whole operation is on a vacant lot. I have municipal water but not gas or electricity.
Here is what I am currently doing/planning to do:
• Given them water that is partially frozen so the water they drink is good and cold.
• If things get bad, I’ll put a 2-liter bottle of frozen water in each cage.
• I give them feed with low protein content to help keep body temperature lowered.
• I would expect the rabbits on the top tier to be hotter (because they are closer to the metal roof), but it is the rabbits on the bottom that show signs of being hot. I think this must have to do with air flow, but I suppose the heat from composting manure below their cage could be a factor.
• It appears that sunlight is blocked well enough and any kind of extra shading I could provide would be more likely to block air flow than lower the temperature.
• The weather in our area is very breezy these days, so that’s a plus.
• My solution has to take into account that at some point in the year the weather won’t be hot (though I don’t think I’ll have too many problems with the weather being too cold in our area.
Some thoughts I’ve had
• I have heard of people wetting the rabbits or wetting their ears. I don’t know if this is safe.
• I’m wondering is some sort of water feature (like a kiddie pool, buckets of water, etc) nearby would help. If rabbits sweated to cool, it would seem to have a negative “heat index” factor, but since they don’t I wonder if the evaporation would help.
• I wonder if some sort of misting device might have an air-conditioner effect. Not sure how to best produce an appropriate mist.
Any thoughts would be appreciated.
In East Tx I had a large rabbit barn, 20×20 feet, most rows just a single tier, a couple rows were double. I went out at all hours of the day, check to make sure there was no direct sun on any of the cages. I would use clothes pins to fasten empty feed sacks to things to make shade if there was.
Use the frozen 2L pop bottles; I would take them out before noon and retrieve them when I fed in the evening, putting them back in the freezer, ready for the next day. Don’t fill completely full of water they will split when you freeze them.
One of the biggest helps was I took an old garden hose and with a hot ice pick poked a row of holes down the length of it. crimped it shut on the end and layed it on the peak of the roof. I’d turn on the water during the hottest part of the day and let it trickle down the metal roof, which kept it a bit cooler
Grow lots of vines around it, training them up the south and west sides, especially. Here in the desert I’ve seen people keep their rabbits in sheds with a cooler on them, but not practical if your aim is inexpensive meat!
you say “but it is the rabbits on the bottom that show signs of being hot.” By that do you mean they are not eating as much, they lay around a lot during the day and they are panting some? All of that is normal. My adults will only eat about half as much food during the worst of the heat as they do in the winter. As long as they are eating some and drinking well they should be ok. hope this helps.
While they may get really hot, they will usually be ok as long as 1) they have plenty of water to drink at all times and 2) they are never in direct sunlight. A rabbit in direct sun on a warm day, that cannot get any shade can die of heatstroke in under an hour. If you have a rabbit going down from the heat it is an emergency (they are limp and listless in the cage, not responding to you, ect.) I had it happen once; the roof had blown off a freestanding hutch during the night (before I built the barn and went to all wire cages) and i didn’t realize it until later in the morning. The rabbit was nearly dead. I dunked it up to it’s neck in cool water until it’s fur was sopping wet and kept it in the shade; later in the evening it perked up and did fine after that.
Thanks for the great info, Mary! By the way, I really enjoyed looking through all your paintings! So very beautiful.
frozen carrot chunks for treats.milk jugs and pop bottles to lay against.A wet quilted moving blanket thrown over the hutch,Our hutches have overhangs on the roof like a low country house, and windows on each end for air flow, so a wet blanket on the sunny side of hutch allows cooler air to flow thru windows. It gets over 100 degrees in summer here and have never lost a rabbit to the heat yet. Been raising for 17 yrs here.
Here is a few ideas that I read about on a rabbit group.
Paint the roof of your shed with white elastomeric coating like is used on mobile homes. It insulates and reflects heat.
Hang shadecloth that has been painted with a silver reflective spray coating a few feet from the walls of your shed that gets the most sun exposure.
And what Mary said 🙂
A misting system is used on most rabbitries in the southwest, a sprinkler on the roof can help too. (hopefully with a gutter system and solar pump to recirculate the water)
We only had a handful of rabbits. To keep them cool in the summer, we froze bottles of water, the Hawaiin Punch jugs work really well for this. We would slip one into each cage during the warmest part of the morning. Our rabbits would snuggle up next to them for the remainder of the day. Cheap solution, if you have the freezer space and the time to set them out.