Southwestern Summertime

by Amy Kroush, AZ

Most of you live in parts of the country where raising rabbits in the summer is a challenge, but try it in the desert southwest. This year the headlines were full of stories about the heat in Texas, but what they had is normal for me.

My barn is cooled most of the year with a swamp cooler (when I moved to Phoenix from Illinois I didn't know what they were either). A swamp cooler is a big metal box, with lots of small slats from the outside. Inside it has pads that are kept wet and a very powerful motor and pump. The motor pulls air across the wet pads which cools it down and then forces it into the building. In essence these units cool the air by adding humidity to it, and because of the very powerful motors they also insure that the buns always have fresh air. Many people use these on their homes as they are economical to operate, as compared to a heat pump or air conditioning unit. As long as the swamp is on I can pretty much operate my bam as most of you do. I do have the added advantage of being able to breed all year. Our winter lows only get down to about 30-40 degrees overnight.

The problem comes in the hottest part of the summer. In late June and early July the temperatures are usually 112-115 degrees. The swamp cooler just can't keep up with the rising heat, and over night it only cools off into the 90s. Then in mid July the monsoon moisture creeps up from Mexico, and although the temperatures drop to the 105-110 degree range, it becomes very humid with dew points in the 60's and 70's. During this time of the year rabbits can survive with only swamp cooling, but the barn gets very hot, and the does do have a difficult time kindling in the heat. At this point you have to choose between being able to breed your animals and not having any other life, or having a life but not breeding your animals.

Yup I always go with the breeding option. This means turning on air conditioning. My barn has 6" of R32 insulation in the walls, and ceiling. It has vents all along the bottom, and the cages have pans lined with newspaper. The problem is that when the vents are closed to turn on the air the barn is so tight that there is NO ventilation. Ammonia builds up very fast, and the barn is almost unbearable after 24 hours. I have 78-88 holes depending on if the 4th floor is up, but that's another story. It takes about 3 hours to clean everyday. No days off from this job for about 60-75 days.

I get up at 4 am to clean the barn before work, because mornings are not my best time it takes me about a half hour of staring at the wall before I get started. I use about a gallon of Zaps It every 2 weeks (Proud of me Susan?). All cages get the old paper thrown out, the pan sprayed with Zaps-It, and a new paper put down. We also have lots of Black Widow Spiders in the southwest, and they are common everywhere, even in the barn, and I think they like the air conditioning. I had read somewhere that the buggers are attracted to bright color, so I only use the black and white parts of the newspaper. This takes a little longer when lining tray, but I have only ever lost one bunny to a black widow. I am usually done cleaning by 7:30, then I feed. In the morning they get shredded wheat, and Doc's. I also use crocks for water so when I fill, any messy bowls get dumped and wiped. Then (just telling the truth) I check all the babies, why do all this work if you don't get to hold a bunny? By this time it is usually almost 9, time to get dressed and get to work I am normally only 15 minutes late. Oh well I have my priorities.

At lunch time my husband goes home to check the barn. If the air broke, or even the swamp in the more temperate times of year we would lose the bunnies. We try to check them every 4 hours, figuring that they could survive that long since we do have so much insulation. He checks them again when he gets home from work at about 4:30. I don't get home until 6:30. I always have to stay late to make up time that I took off to go to a show, or that I was late. (Bad Amy!!)

By the time I get my dinner done and phone calls returned, and club business taken care of for the many clubs I belong to it is about 8:00. Time to feed and water. At night the buns get hay, and pellets. The hay seems to take a long time to feed because you have to open the doors to put it in, and when you open a door out comes a head to be scratched. In the case of a doe with litter out comes several heads!! Feeding takes until around 10. Now you might have noticed that I do this to be able to breed buns right? See the problem? No time. I have not started any extra barn chores (breeding dusting, defurring), or house work (dishes, vacuuming), and I have to get up in 6 hours.

I do all these other things on the week ends, so I can only go to a few shows in the summer. Is it worth it? You bet!!! I would do it again in an instant to see those beautiful little babies. And so every summer it starts again...... the temperatures begin to rise.


The Hollander / Fall Issue - October 1998