I have had the pleasure of raising rabbits since 1966. I have seen several stress conditions for the animals, both cold and hot. The upcoming week mirrors the summer of 1980 when we had very high temperatures for several weeks.
Heat has been the major challenge to all of Rabbit Farms in the Mid-west. I will share with you some procedures I have found to be helpful to our animals.
In the barns we must maintain air movement, the use of small “box fans” from the local stores are the most used method. These are helpful, but you must place directly under the cage or over the top of the cage. Do not put directly on the rabbit, as it can cause colds, by blowing directly on the animal. Be sure to do maintenance on these fans regularly. During the summer you will have a certain amount of loose hair, and cob webs are floating around. The back side of your fan needs to be cleaned weekly, and check the back of the motor for buildup of hair and clean it off. We use large fans in the barn with sealed motors; with this high heat we have also added small fans to move the air in the doe and litter rows.
The best solution to heat in the barns I have found is soaker hoses. We use the flat soaker hose, usually green with white stripes. We have A-frame roofs on the barns, so I clamp the hose so it sprays out on top of the roof to cool the metal roof. We have a deep well on the farm, and the water is very cool and runs over the roof to cool the barn. I usually use these on days when the air temperature is over 97 degrees. For those of you than can’t be there to turn on the water at 12 noon and off at 7 p.m., get a water timer, they work great. The runoff water is never wasted, as I plant tomatoes along the edge of the barns. I have a lot of breeders that freeze two liter soda bottles for ice. You can put these in your rabbits cage and it helps cool the animals. Shade is still your most important item to have when raising rabbits; if you use outside cages or a building; shade trees are a very valuable asset in these Missouri Summers.
Feed and storage of feed is a very important aspect of your project. With the heat of summer we hear the words as heat index and dew point of the air. Store bags in a dry area, rotate your stock and use the older bags first. When feeding your rabbits, feed only what they will eat in a twenty four hour period. During the heat problems we are facing I feed early in the morning when the rabbits are moving about and ready to eat. Do not full feed rabbits at any time, the feed will draw dampness and will be spoiled. One exception to this rule is does and litters, keep feed before them, but check the feeders daily. The New Feed Bags from Purina Mills are designed to keep the buildup of moisture from your feed. The new bags are made of a fiber type construction which allows the feed to “breathe”. If you use crocks or J bin feeders, check them daily for any buildup of feed.
Heat and Humidity can be deadly for does and litters in these stressful times. If you have does due now, watch them carefully. When a doe goes to kindle, the stress will raise their body core temperature, which leads to heat exhaustion and death. Keep the doe as cool as possible and have an open top nest box for them to kindle in. I put wood chips only in the bottom of the nest box this time of the year. When the Doe litters and pulls a lot of fur, remove as much as possible to keep the babies cool. We like wire nest boxes during the summer. If you have babies just coming out of the box in this heat, then turn the box on its side so the babies can access the box and still come out on the wire floor for air circulation. The kits can easily overheat in the box as the fan air cannot reach these little guys.
In the Missouri Summers, heat and humidity can equal sore hocks on the best of your animals. We use the plastic resting mats sold by most of the Equipment dealers, they stay dry and give the rabbit’s a place to get off the wire. Litters and the stress of the summer can run a doe down and cause sore hocks to crop up. Generally you can just put a matt in or a piece of drywall and they will heal up. Again I can’t say it enough, keep the cage floor dry.
Transporting Rabbits in the summer is another challenge we all face. We do take our animals in an air conditioned van, but when this is not possible, be very careful. When you load your rabbits in their carriers do not pack them tightly. Allow plenty of room to transport. Air circulation and movement is a must. The little fans used in the vehicles, plugged into the power outlet in the dash. Again frozen two liter bottles of ice help “cool the buns”. When traveling on the road, provide water at all times and check your rabbits often for their safety.
There will be times when you may need to do “First Aid” for the heat. A rabbit does not pant as a cat or dog. They sweat though their ears. This is their only cooling mode. You can put cool water or a cool cloth on their ears to help them out. Do not pour cold water on the head as this could cause severe shock.
2011 is projected to be an extreme long hot run of days. Rabbits are very tough, but day after day will take its toll. Keep them comfortable as possible and check on them often. It won’t be long we will be enjoying
Frozen water crocks and subzero temperatures.
Please be safe this week, 115 heat index is not to be taken lightly. It’s time to check the herd again, until next time; we care about you and your rabbits at Purina.