Hot Weather Steps to Keep Your Rabbits Happy Now and Productive When It's Cool

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Rabbit photo by Flickr user NickPrete under Creative Commons licenseA common problem rabbit raisers face is lack of litters in the fall. One big reason is hot weather in the summer, and we are having plenty of that across the country. When the temperature surpasses 90, which it has done all too often, rabbits suffer unless you take steps to keep them cool. They are wearing their fur coats and have no sweat glands, leaving them only to pant if their long ears don't dissipate enough heat. In addition, bucks can go temporarily sterile from excessive heat, which can be why nest boxes remain empty in autumn.

I like the all-wire nest boxes inside my all-wire hutches for plenty of ventilation. These boxes, with no solid sidewalls and minimal nesting material, are a great hot weather tool for does and litters. They eliminate the need for the cooling baskets to hold youngsters that rabbit raisers used for years. Keeping  bucks in hutches low to the ground helps keep them cooler. In extreme heat many rabbit raisers move bucks to temporary quarters in their basements. Overall though, the goal is to keep all your rabbits comfortable.

Everybody knows providing shade is the first step to take when siting a rabbit operation. If shade trees aren't already where you want them you can plant some. That takes time, of course. In the meantime, vine plants on a trellis over the rabbit shed can include pumpkins, squash and cucumbers. They will help with shade while rabbit manure makes them grow as fast as they can.

You can make sure direct sun doesn't shine on your rabbits. Outdoor hutches with a big roof overhang will help. Insulating with hay or straw is a good idea if you have room between the top of your hutch and the roof over them. If that roof is white or light-colored it will help reflect some heat.

If you can set up a lawn sprinkler to spray the roof it will keep the temperature down some. But a common method for cooling rabbitries is the use of fogging or misting equipment. Misting nozzles attached to a hose or plastic pipe atomize water into a fine mist and cool the air directly by evaporation. You could place foggers around the perimeter of a roof to create a curtain of cooling mist. These nozzles are available in farm stores and garden centers as well as in many seed catalogs.

Also available are misting fans. These come with misting nozzles and attach to a garden hose, or you can just fashion one yourself by attaching a hose to a fan you may already have. The ones you can buy come as small portable models or powerful three-speed types with 10-gallon water tanks. Again, farm stores have them.

The effort you make to keep your rabbits comfortable now will pay dividends in your nest boxes come fall.

Bob Bennett will present three workshops at the Seven Springs, Pa. MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR.  

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