It’s that time of year again: it’s getting hot. Too hot. The sun is beating down and a dry, hot wind blows. This afternoon, the thermometer indicates 41 degrees Celsius – which is about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. To give you an idea: It is so hot that even the cats stay inside in the airconditioning. It is so hot that the effort of walking over to the pet zoo gives me a dehydration headache. If your incubator got to these temperatures, the chicks would die inside their eggs. If you had a shallow pond in the full sun, the fish would be boiled in the water.
That’s how hot it is.
Days like this are hard on the animals. Fortunately, none of ours have ever died of the heat, but I have heard of it happening frequently. Our pet zoo is built well enough to keep the animals from overheating (thanks to Randy, the original Pet Zoo Man). The cages face north and are shaded by trees and bamboo. They are open on all sides except the south, so they are well ventilated. There is a good automatic watering system and a large, shaded pond where the ducks can cool off.
Still, in these temperatures, animals can die if you don’t take some steps to help them keep cool. Especially cold-climate animals like rabbits and guinea pigs overheat easily. There are several things you can do to keep small animals that live outside from overheating:
1. Shade. Make sure your cages/coops are not in direct sun. Shade of a building or big tree is best, but a shade sail will work.
2. Water. Make sure they always have enough cool water. You can also put ice cubes in their water for extra cooling. I once had a rabbit who liked to sit in his water dish, but I think most prefer not to get wet!
3. Stone. Stone or cement floors stay cool when in the shade. My rabbits scratch the straw away until they get to the cool cement floor and stretch out across it. You can also give them ceramic or marble tiles to lie on.
4. Ice. I freeze bottles of water and put them in the cages in summer. The rabbits lie against them and lick up the cold condensation water.
5. Veggies. Cold vegetables and fruits are a welcome treat in a heatwave! You can try to freeze them, but I found my rabbits won’t eat frozen treats.
For more keeping-cool ideas for rabbits, see this excellent post by Rise and Shine Rabbitry: Tips for raising rabbits in the heat.
For keeping poultry cool in a heatwave, some of the same things apply – shade, drinking water and cool treats are always a good idea. Especially watermelon is a favourite with mine! There are a few other things that poultry will appreciate:
1. Pond. Ducks will always be fine if they have a good-sized, shaded pond to splash in. Chickens also like to stand with their feet in the water to cool off. I have heard of chickens going swimming, but I’ve never seen mine do that!
2. Sprinkler. Yes, water conservation is important, so I try to do this only on the very worst days of the very worst heatwaves. But today I had the sprinkler on for a few hours at the hottest hours of the day. The ducks love to stand in the “rain” and other fowl stand on the edges, enjoying the cool mist.
3. Earth. They scratch at the dirt in a shady place, until they get to the cooler earth underneath, and lie on it.