Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Looking Back and Moving On, Part 5

We are getting about 3 eggs in 2 days from our chickens. The chicken killer managed to kill our BEST layers, and leave us our low-end hens. But we are using at least 2 eggs EVERY day, so we worked our way through that 5-dozen egg overstock pretty quickly. We needed to build up our flock again.

Debbie went and bought 4 new chicks. We brought them home, made them as comfortable as any chick could hope--food, water, heatlamp, towel. One ingrate went and died overnight. The nerve!

But the other three grew! When they were too large for the storage bin, we set up a dog crate in the coop and moved them out of the sewing room before the smell grew overpowering. Our theory was that the older chickens could get used to the 3 new chickens, and vice versa, without anyone being killed establishing pecking order.

It seems to have worked, in part, because we now let the chickens all mingle together, and no one gets hurt. But if you look closely, they're NOT mingling. The four older chickens hang out together, and the three younger chickens hang out together, and they all live in the same building. But it's more like 2 small flocks in the same coop.

I don't care. As long as they don't kill each other, and produce eggs, I'm OK with whatever social order they establish.

Now if they would just PRODUCE EGGS. We expect them any day.

Looking Back and Moving On, Part 4

Several weeks passed.

Opening the hive for an inspection, Debbie found that the workers were planning a revolt. They had built queen cells.

Before that happened, we decided to intervene. We took the queen cells, some brood frames and some bees and used them to recolonize the empty hive. Then we sat back and watched.

It seems to have worked!

We have two hives again, although we aren't sure about this new hive. It just doesn't show the same kind of activity as the older hive. But there are bees in the hive, and they seem to be storing lots of pollen and raising lots of brood. We just don't see them flying very much, and they don't seem to be making honey.

But the older hive! You can SMELL the honey, 10 feet away! We've had to add another box to the top of both hives, and maybe we'll be able to get some honey this fall. We intend to let them keep MOST of their work for the coming winter. But it would sure be nice to taste something for all our efforts!

Looking Back and Moving On, Part 3

Back in January, I was cheering about how both hives of bees had SURVIVED the winter!

I was premature.

Spring came, first flow was starting, and the bees were buzzing away.

And a week later, there were dead bees on the porch of one of the hives, and in the grass. The ones in the hive were sluggish and slow, and nobody was flying.

And 3 days later, they were all dead. And that had been our STRONG hive.

Our best guess is that they found an attractive source of nectar or pollen that had been sprayed with an insecticide, and the whole hive was busy collecting poison.

It's also possible that some of them starved in the midst of plenty, as we had provided food over the winter, but this hive hadn't seemed to notice.

The hive stood empty for awhile. Then the other hive swarmed. Thousands of bees were coating the branches of the peach tree next to the hives.

I got a cardboard box and the ladder. We swept the bees into the box, and watched as some of the workers started fanning the queen's pheromones from the edge of the box, saying "Here she is! Come home!"

The circling bees started settling into the cardboard box. We walked away for a few minutes to give them a chance to collect into the box.

When we came back, they were all gone.

But the hive seemed to have just as many bees as ever. Did they all decide to move back IN?

Looking Back and Moving On, Part 2

I had trimmed back an overhanging branch at the coop. We were trying to put the chickens away more promptly. But we didn't really know what to do NOW, since we couldn't identify the killer.

One evening, with the boys off with friends for the weekend, Debbie and I went out for dinner and a movie. We got home after dark.

The killer had struck again.

Two more chickens--one DEAD, which is the normal state for being HEADLESS--and the other badly injured, and again destined to die overnight.

Our egg production, once 3 dozen per week, dropped to 1 dozen. The roosters keep eating, just as much as before. The surviving hens have lost feathers.

And we STILL don't know what is killing them.

Looking Back and Moving On, Part 1

I used to joke about having SO many eggs, we should eat a couple of the hens.

As it turned out, something beat me to it.

When spring came, and the days started getting longer, we didn't always get the chickens cooped before dark. So, about 9:00 PM one fine night, I heard the chickens making noise--which was odd, since they're usually bedded down by then.

I ran out to the coop--perhaps I had a premonition?--and found that two chickens had been badly injured, and two more had lost large patches of feathers.

The fifth and sixth were hiding behind a rooster in the coop. It's the only service that the roosters have ever done for us ;-)

I got them all into the coop. I was scared, and angry, and sad. I didn't expect the injured chickens to live.

I was right.

One died that night, and the other the next. I should probably have put them out of their misery earlier. How the hell should I know?

Now, there's no holes UNDER the fence, and there's no holes IN the fence. But there's no FENCE over the hole on the top. I'm pretty sure something came in from overhead, and left the same way. Problem is, I have NO idea what it was. It may have been a raccoon, or it may have been a raptor bird. But I'm pretty sure it wasn't fox or skunk. It has to climb or fly.