Archive | June 2015

Chicken Lock Down

A quick post that I will update later with pictures of the new enclosure.

It appears our original plan to free range the chickens will have to be rethought. While the birds seem to love the freedom, it has come at a cost in both lives and landscaping.

First of all in lives. I am sad to report that in a two week period we lost two guinea fowl and four chickens, before a single egg was laid. I put up a trail camera and although I didn’t catch it in the act, there is strong evidence of a coyote in the area. One evening while watching TV, my son saw something moving through the backyard. We had discovered piles of feathers in this area indicating it was where bad things were happening. So he took at it! He didn’t get a good look at it and thought it might be a fox, but I think it was the coyote. My son was able to follow it (at a full run) several acres over on to a neighbors property before he lost it in the thick woods. It has been over a week and no new loses, but cant count it.

Second in landscaping. While I fully understand there would be some damage to the minimal landscaping we have, but with 22 acres I guess I thought it would be “minimal”. At first it was fine, a peck here and plant there. Then the rain started and it rained almost every day for a couple of weeks. Apparently this drove the birds up to the house and into the landscaping where they systematically ate most all of it right down to the ground and then scratched up the mulch to make sure they didn’t miss anything. We were not amused and determined that they would need a proper enclosure for “their own safety”! We still plan to free range them on weekends and times that we can be outside and watch them, but otherwise they will be enclosed.

Currently it is a 6 foot wire fence wrapped around the trees that naturally surround the coop, so folks with OCD who prefer a square or rectangular chicken run would have a fit. We like to call it all-natural. Currently there is no overhead netting, we will keep an eye out for flying predators and decide if we need that later.

I actually planned to build something eventually as I plan to have a garden once we clear a few trees, but this just accelerated the build plans.

Jen the hen

So in a follow up to the post on Kazooster the rooster finding his maturity, this post is about the hens becoming of age.

So lets start with terminology. Young male chickens, under a year old, are refereed to as cockerels. After a year they are called roosters. So technically it is “Kasooster the cockerel”, but that doesn’t have any zing! Female chickens, under a year old, are referred to as pullets. After a year they are called hens. So again technically it is “Jen the pullet” and again, no zing!

Next lets talk about naming the animals. There are different opinions and I believe you shouldn’t name anything you intend to eat, but with that being said – I give you Kazooster and Jen. 🙂 I dont see us eating the rooster any time soon since we only have the one, so he got a name after a horrible first week of attempt to crow. Jen is another story. While we will eventually rotate out these hens for new ones after a couple of years I have affectionately named them ALL Jen. This started when one bird seemed to always be at my feet when I was around the coop and as I would talk to her about why she was always bothering me, I decided she would get a name. I tried to determine which one it was so I could pick her out in a crowd, but apparently I am not that good Since they are all Plymouth Barred Rocks they tend to look a lot a like. There are slight variations in darkness of feathers or size of combs, but really in a group they tend to blend together. So I have just started calling them all Jen when I am speaking (or yelling if they are in the landscaping) directly to a specific bird, except Kazooster of course.

That leads me to real reason for this post, one of my 11 Jen’s has matured enough to start laying. This name thing has worked out since I don’t know which one actually laid the egg, I can just say “Jen started laying!” The chickens are a little over 4 months old, so getting started this early is awesome. At the old house we had Leghorns, since the city didn’t allow roosters we went for an all egg breed. It took them over six months to start laying. The first eggs are a little small, but I have found that to be normal and the increase in size as the birds mature. Here they are verses store bought grade A large.

Fresh eggs

Fresh brown eggs

The other thing I find exciting/interesting is free range eggs verse store bought. You can read the internets about free range organic is better for your health, but you can tell just by looking at them. The one on the left is the free range egg, look at the beautiful deep orange color.

Free range vs Store bought

Free range vs Store bought

And what would a post about fresh eggs be with out a picture that shows one good reason we raise chickens?

Eggs, biscuits and gravy

Eggs, biscuits and gravy

Bee Keeping – a matter of opinion – Part 3

So now we have a hive (Part 1), bees (Part 2), what we need to talk about now is frames. Actually we should have talked about them after the hive and before the bees, but this is where we are!

This post is going to be a little short on details mostly because there are some many details that I could not expect to do a decent job of covering them all. My plan is to give you some things to think about and research and make up your own mind, because like I said each beekeeper has their own opinion.

There are two basic types of frames: full (four sided) frames and top-bar only frames. The full frames come in two basic types, with foundation and without. Top bars do not have foundation.

Regarding foundation here is what I know. Using foundation has a couple of advantages: one it gives the bees a clear indication of where and how (meaning cell size) you wan them to build comb. Two it strengthens the comb so that during inspections and honey extraction the comb has less damage for the bees to repair. The disadvantages that I have read about are if you use the wax coated plastic type, the plastic can off-gas and hurt the bees or even you. If you use the wax foundation, rumor has it most of it is made from old, dirty, toxic wax that is unusable for anything else. You decide! When looking at full frames there are different ways to secure the foundation to the frames: wedge, slotted, grooved, solid. Then there is also wired frames and/or foundation. The wires help strengthen the comb so that it can hold up to mechanically extraction.


Bees on Frames

Going with a foundation-less frame or the top bar frame allows the bees to build comb they way they want! Most would argue this is better for the bees, but not so for the bee keeper. First, to allow the bees to build the comb from “scratch” means they will build the cells in the sizes they need and would use naturally. Do a search on “small cell bees” or “natural cell size” for more information. The downsides are they don’t always build nice straight comb and when it is time to extract the honey you have to completely destroy the comb. The bees will have to start over with an empty frame next year. This means less honey because the bees have to first use resources to build honey comb.

UPDATE: Found this great series on converting to foundation-less hives. In the following link, it is is explained how to rotate the frames so that bees will naturally regress to the “natural cell size”. I was assuming I just swapped out the empty frames, but this makes more sense as each generation of bees will reduce or regress the cell size of the next generation until the get “right sized”!
Foundationless Beekeeping: How to convert to natural beekeeping!

So where am I? Glad you asked! I have full frames in Langstroth hives. Currently my hives are split down the middle. The deep boxes have plastic foundation and the bees have been building it out with no problems. I personally think the artificial materials and cell sizes is not good long term for the bees. I have this setup because this is what came with the nucs I started from and I hadn’t full researched it at the time. On the flip side I have gone foundation-less in my medium honey supers. I will have to report back on that since I just gave them those boxes last weekend. My long term plan is to swap out the plastic foundation in the deep boxes over time so not to disrupt the hives too much this first year. They have enough work to do already to build out the medium boxes and fill them with honey before fall/winter.

I would be curious to hear what others are using and why, comment below!

Found this great link over at Runamuk Acres Farm & Apiary site!
3 reasons to go foundationless in your Langstroth beehive