If your sanctuary is located in an area where summers are hot or humid, it’s very important to consider the needs of both your residents and any humans on site and to determine what you’ll need to provide and prepare for in order to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Resident Comfort And Safety
Just as cold weather can impact resident comfort and safety, so too can high temperatures. If you care for multiple species, you’ll likely find that different species (and sometimes even different breeds of the same species) will have different thresholds when it comes to hot weather tolerance. Additionally, individuals who are overweight or have certain health challenges may be more sensitive to heat and humidity than others.
Keeping Residents Comfortable
When temperatures start creeping up, it’s important to offer ample opportunities for residents to safely cool off and get out of the sun. It’s also important to regularly check in on everyone to ensure they are comfortable and safe, and to make necessary adjustments before anyone becomes dangerously warm.
Indoor Living Space Design
It’s really helpful if your residents’ indoor living space is designed so that windows and doors can be opened or closed depending on the weather. This will allow you to open or close up the space depending on what will help keep the space cool. In areas with intense sun and heat, having shutters or shade cloth curtains on the windows will allow you to block out sunlight to help keep the space cooler. Much like how we may open all the windows in our home to bring in a cool breeze, close the curtains to block out intense sun, or shut all the windows and turn on the AC, your region’s climate and the cooling system you are using will dictate how the space should be setup.
Utilizing a cooling system during hot weather will help keep resident spaces, especially indoor living spaces, more comfortable. Basic cooling systems typically consist of strategically placed circulation fans. We recommend using fans that are designed for industrial or agricultural use, as these will be better equipped to handle the demands of cooling resident living spaces. If you decide to place fans outdoors, perhaps to cool a covered porch area, be sure to use one that is designed for outdoor use. Always make sure that both the fans themselves and their electrical cords are placed beyond the reach of residents and anyone who may want to chew on them. If you can combine circulating fans with exhaust fans, this can make a big difference in keeping resident spaces comfortable.
A water misting system can be hooked up to circulating fans to provide additional cooling, though in humid areas you’ll need to be careful not to create a damp living environment. Basic misting systems can be attached to a water spigot using a regular hose. There are also more expensive systems that use refrigeration to cool water and use more powerful misting devices.
Some sanctuaries in especially hot climates have employed air conditioning units in resident living spaces. In arid climates, swamp coolers may also be something to look into for certain species. These systems may require frequent cleaning in order to remain effective and to prevent issues with air quality.
Cool Water Sources
Easy access to fresh drinking water is always important, but is especially so in hot temperatures, when residents may be drinking more water than in cooler months. It’s important residents have access to cool water, as they may be less inclined to drink warm water on a hot day. In very hot weather, this may mean water needs to be changed more often to prevent it from becoming too warm.
To ensure water is easily accessible, you may need to set up more water sources than is necessary in cooler months. These water sources should be spread out in both their indoor and outdoor living spaces. When placed outdoors, keeping water in a shady area can help keep it cool longer and also slow algae growth in open water sources.
In addition to ample drinking water, many residents may enjoy access to other water sources to help keep them cool. Ducks and geese obviously need access to open water sources for swimming and bathing, but they aren’t the only residents who might enjoy taking a dip! Pigs, llamas, and alpacas may enjoy cooling off in a kiddie pool or tub filled with cool water, and chickens and turkeys can be provided wide, shallow bowls of cool water to create foot baths for them to stand in and cool off. Just like their drinking water, we recommend keeping these water sources in the shade, refilling will cool water as needed, and cleaning regularly. Sprinklers may also be a fun option for residents who enjoy getting wet.
Ponds can be another great way for certain residents to cool off. In addition to ducks and geese, pigs have been known to enjoy going for a swim and llamas, alpacas, cows, and horses may wade into the water to cool off.
Offering areas of shade in resident living spaces is important during sunny, hot weather. As discussed above, it’s helpful to have the ability to cover windows with shutters or shade cloth in order to prevent the sun from heating up the indoor space too much. If a resident’s outdoor living space does not provide areas of shade, you can set up shade tarps or other shade structures, especially in areas where water is provided or where residents tend to spend their time relaxing.
Overnight Considerations In Hot Weather
If you care for species that must be closed inside overnight in order to be protected from predators, be sure to consider how to keep these spaces cool and ventilated while still remaining predator-proof. For avian residents and small mammals such as rabbits, covering windows with galvanized hardware cloth will allow windows to remain open overnight while still keeping residents safe. You can also use galvanized hardware cloth to build a screen door to offer protection while still allowing for airflow (“standard” household screens should be reinforced with hardware cloth, as they will not provide adequate predator protection). It’s best to close residents into their space as late in the day as you can without compromising their safety. We aren’t recommending waiting until after the sun has set to close in vulnerable residents, but there’s a big difference between closing someone in shortly before sunset and closing them in mid-afternoon. The same is true when it comes to letting everyone out- it’s best to do so as early in the morning as you can.
If larger residents are closed inside or closed off their pasture overnight for their safety, it’s ideal if you can give them access to these spaces early in the morning when temperatures are still cool. Individuals may prefer going out to graze, root, or explore in the morning before the temperatures warm up, and then spend the hottest part of the day inside before venturing out again in the evening when (or if) temperatures cool off again. Pay attention to your residents’ routines and preferences, and when safe to do so, try to adjust things to allow for these routines.
Speaking of routines, when it’s hot, it’s important to look at your daily routines and consider if there are adjustments that should be made to help keep residents comfortable and avoid unnecessary stress. We recommend paying attention to the forecast so you can plan ahead if adjustments need to be made.
- Cleaning and maintenance– If residents typically need to be closed out of their indoor living space for cleaning or maintenance, this may not be safe to do in certain temperatures. Residents must have access to water and shade while closed out of their indoor living space, but even this may not be enough to keep them safe and comfortable in certain weather. It’s a good idea to either avoid these tasks on days when the weather is excessively hot or humid, or schedule them for times of the day when temperatures are cooler. Alternatively, you may need to break the project up into stages to limit the amount of time residents are restricted to the outdoors, or find safe ways to complete these projects while residents are still inside (which may not always be possible).
- Health treatments– During very hot weather you may need to prioritize getting certain treatments done before temperatures start to rise in order to avoid unnecessary stress and activity when temperatures are uncomfortably hot. Routine health examination schedules may also need to be adjusted.
- Feeding- For residents who are fed portioned meals, especially those who are super enthusiastic to eat, such as pigs, large breed chickens, and large breed turkeys, it can be helpful to feed their first meal earlier in the day before temperatures rise and their second meal after the hottest part of the day has passed. Some sanctuaries feed their pig residents just once per day during the months when they spend more time rooting outdoors, and offer this meal early in the day when temps are still relatively cool.
- Transport- If a resident needs to be transported during hot weather and the vehicle is not climate controlled, it’s important to schedule the trip to avoid dangerously hot portions of the day.
- Tours and events– Be sure to consider how having guests on site during hot weather will impact your residents and their comfort. If some residents are wary of unfamiliar humans and tend to go outside when visitors enter their indoor living space, this might not be appropriate when temperatures are hot, especially if it is going to be a frequent occurrence. Even residents who typically enjoy visitors may not be in the mood during super hot weather. Always consider how having guests will impact resident well-being.
Dangers Of Hot Weather
Hot weather is more than just a comfort issue. Just like humans, residents can develop dangerous heat-related illnesses. It’s important to understand the dangers that can come with high temperatures and recognize signs of heat-related illness so that you can intervene before the condition progresses.
Don’t forget to factor in humidity levels when considering resident safety and comfort. When humidity rises, the temperatures at which a resident is susceptible to heat-related illness lowers. Therefore, just like for humans, the most dangerous periods will be those of high heat and high humidity.
The Importance Of Close Observation
Observation is always important, but during periods of extreme heat or humidity, it is imperative that caregivers closely monitor residents to ensure that everyone is handling the heat well. Some species, breeds, or individuals will be more sensitive to heat and humidity, so be sure to take this into consideration. For each species your sanctuary cares for, make sure staff and volunteers are aware of the signs residents may be too hot, or worse, suffering from heat-related illness. And while all residents should be closely monitored during high heat and humidity, make sure everyone knows who your sanctuary’s most vulnerable residents are. These individuals may require even more frequent checks to ensure their well-being.
While it’s true that some individuals may be more at risk of developing issues in the heat, it’s important to monitor everyone. Even healthy individuals can find themselves in a situation where they are unable to get out of the sun or get to water. For example, gates or doors that should be open can accidentally be closed, preventing residents from accessing the indoors or their water sources, and unlikely scenarios can arise resulting in an otherwise healthy individual being unable to get up on their own. The situations can become dangerous very quickly when the weather is hot and humid.
When entering resident living spaces, be sure to check that cooling systems are working properly and that the space is comfortable. Cooling systems can fail, and humans make mistakes, so it’s good practice to check that cooling systems are on and running when checking on residents throughout the day. We recommend creating a routine where the forecast is checked early in the day (or even the day before) so that living spaces can be set up accordingly before temperatures rise.
In addition to ensuring that cooling systems are up and running, be sure to regularly check resident water sources. Whether you have automatic waterers or have a manual system for filling up drinking water sources, it’s important to check on these sources regularly to ensure residents always have access to plenty of fresh, cool water, and if using an automatic system, that the system is working properly. Not having access to drinking water during high temperatures can result in dangerous dehydration and possibly salt poisoning (while pigs are most susceptible to salt poisoning, other species can also be affected).
It’s important to recognize signs a resident is too hot and take steps to cool them off before things progress to a more serious condition. Universal signs of overheating include an elevated respiratory rate, increased thirst, decreased activity, dullness, and loss of appetite. Individuals may feel warm to the touch and show signs of dehydration. Other species-specific signs include:
- Chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese– Holding wings away from their body and open-mouth breathing
- Sheep and goats– Nostril flaring and open-mouth breathing
- Cows– Open-mouth breathing, drooling, and while some individuals may be lethargic, others may appear agitated
- Llamas and alpacas– Nostril flaring, open-mouth breathing, drooling, sweating, and head drooping
- Pigs– Open-mouth breathing, diarrhea, pale gums
- Horses– Nostril flaring, excessive sweating (or not sweating while showing signs of being too hot), dark mucous membranes, open-mouth breathing, glazed eyes, droopy ears, dark urine (or they may not be urinating at all), and they may appear agitated.
- Donkeys– Similar to signs listed above for horses, but because donkeys are so stoic, they may not show obvious signs of distress.
If your residents are showing signs that they are too hot, it’s imperative that you take steps to cool them off before signs become more severe- as the condition progresses, symptoms will become more exaggerated. Increasing ventilation indoors, adding fans, and positioning them directly on residents can help cool individuals off. Spraying overheating individuals with cool water can also help, but be sure to learn the best way to respond to overheating in each species you care for, as different species may require cool water applied to specific areas of their body in order to be effective and avoid further issues (you typically should avoid wetting feathered or wool-covered areas of the body, as this could actually be counter-productive). Watch individuals closely to ensure their symptoms are subsiding and keep the rest of the day as stress-free as possible.
Be sure to contact your veterinarian if your residents are showing signs of heat-related illness, such as weakness, incoordination, muscle tremors, collapse, seizures, or loss of consciousness. Heat-related illness can be life-threatening- contact your veterinarian immediately. If the individual is out in the sun and cannot be safely moved into the shade or indoors, you will need to find a way to create a shady spot where they are. This can be done by having a few caregivers or volunteers hold up a tarp or sheet to shade them from the sun, or you can set up a temporary shade structure (such as with t-posts and a shade cloth). Just make sure there is still plenty of ventilation. It’s important to note that even if you are able to cool them off without veterinary intervention, you should still consult with your veterinarian, as the individual may require additional treatments to address electrolyte imbalances and secondary issues.
Staff And Volunteer Safety In Hot Weather
Don’t forget to take human safety into consideration as well! Humans can suffer from heat exhaustion and heat stroke, so be sure to remind staff and volunteers to take it slow, drink lots of water, and take breaks regularly. Make sure that there is safe drinking water available for them and a cool space for them to take breaks. You may also wish to provide sunscreen to anyone working outside in the summer (in addition to pigs). And just as you may need to adjust routines for resident safety, you might need to do the same for human safety. Skipping non-essential tasks may allow you to free up staff and volunteers to double up on essential tasks so as to lessen the workload and allow for more breaks.
Other Hot Weather Considerations
Depending on your region and the specifics of your sanctuary, there may be additional considerations to think about during the summer:
In some areas, hot weather often comes with periods of drought, but even in areas where this is not common, it’s still possible. A prolonged lack of rainfall will affect pasture quality, which could mean having to feed out hay during times of the year when residents typically get the bulk of their food from grazing. Hay pastures will also be affected, which often can lead to higher-than-normal prices, and could also result in hay shortages. If your sanctuary relies on wells for water, you might also want to consider how a drought could impact your water supply, and what steps you may need to prepare for in the event of a dry well.
Fire safety is important year round, but high temperatures, especially combined with dry vegetation, can bring about additional fire risks. Hot equipment driven over or parked on dry vegetation can result in a fire, and certain products can combust if exposed to high temperatures. Be sure to consider these seasonal fire risks and enact policies that reduce risk (for example, keeping areas where tractors are parked clear of vegetation and cleaning up any leaked flammable liquids or solvents as soon as possible).
If you live in an area where wildfires are an issue, we recommend you work with your local fire department to identify ways in which to help protect the sanctuary, such by installing a fire break around the property.
Visitor Safety In Hot Weather
We talked about tours and events above in terms of resident comfort, but it’s also important to think of the safety of your guests. If there are warnings that dangerously high temperatures or hot and humid weather is on the way, it may be a good idea to postpone tours or events that bring guests to the sanctuary. When guests are present during hot weather, make sure you have cool drinking water available and provide designated areas where they can get out of the sun and heat.
Some of us may long for the summer heat when temperatures are cold, but high heat comes with its own set of challenges. Make sure you are prepared to keep your residents, staff, volunteers, and guests safe and comfortable during the summer months, especially when it’s excessively hot or humid.
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