Chickens · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary

The chicks move in to their new quarters

We love the variety in our Ameraucana chickens. The white one with brown wings likes to crow like a rooster, although she hasn’t done that since she got all this extra space to roam around in. She’s pretty bossy and there’s a 10% chance that she’s actually male according to what I’ve read about sexing baby chicks. I guess we’ll figure that out over the next couple of months and then we’ll have a decision to make. Roosters can be pretty hard on chickens and I really don’t want any more chicks for a couple of years. Twelve chickens will provide more eggs than we’ll need, but we’ll also be happy to share with friends.

So the chicken run gate finally came in and we were able to move the small coop into its new position. We first partitioned off the run about halfway down and I caught and moved 6 of the pullets. The other four went into the coop, so they took a ride as Hubby and I maneuvered the small house into place as gently as we could. The ones I was able to catch made the transition very quickly and went to work eating the oregano. The ones that traveled took about 30 minutes to exit the coop. One cautiously stepped down down (and back up, and back down) for a while, but the others shot out like they had been fired from a t-shirt cannon once that first one moved into the run and joined their sisters.

All of them took to the roosting bars very quickly and by day two became quite adept at flying from one to the other. Meanwhile, the two older girls were very vocal from their side of the chicken wire for the first hour, but they have settled down now. We’ll let the pullets get a little bigger and then frame a doorway between the two runs and let them share the space.

We did not predator-proof the extension to the extent that we did the original run, but we do have chicken wire in the ground and I will complete the rock garden around all of the fencing soon. We may need to add another nesting box to the original coop, but we planned for that when we did the original framing so it will be a relatively easy addition. We will see if the three nesting boxes on the big coop and the three new ones on the small coop will suffice first. I know the original girls are picky about which nesting box they use and typically share the same one, so I’m not going to try to predict what any of them are going to prefer.

The two old girls have either found some motivation from seeing their replacements or they have recovered from the trauma of seeing their sister snatched away from them by a predator and they are back to each producing a daily egg. I am still feeding them yogurt-covered greens and adding apple cider vinegar to their water. I add apple cider vinegar or Hydro Hen more frequently this time of year anyway as they have to drink so much more when the weather turns hot. Hydro Hen also acidifies their water and helps them fight off yeast infections according to what I’ve read over the past few weeks.

I’ll be back soon to blog about the pallets full of wood-ware parts that Hubby just picked up from Yellow Freight. We’ll have plenty to keep us busy all winter, and we’re not even officially in summer yet. Life is never boring on the farm, and it is, as always, good.

Chickens · Honey · Products and Vendors

2021 Honey Harvest

Capped and uncapped honey frame

Memorial Day weekend is usually when we harvest our first batch of honey, and that was the plan this year. The weather has been better than last spring, the hives have been thriving, and the bees have been busy gathering nectar from all of the clover we have surrounding their hives now. So why are here at the end of the holiday weekend with not a single frame spun out?

It’s the chickens fault! The “baby chicks” are very rapidly outgrowing their temporary home but are not yet quite big enough to move in with the big girls. Last year’s run and coop aren’t quite big enough for all 12 of the girls, so we’ve been busy building an extension to the existing run. The small coop we bought when the new chicks outgrew the brooder within 4 weeks will move into one end of the run and we’ll put a chicken-sized door into the other run. The only hold up right now is the gate — the gate that Tractor Supply said would ship in 3 – 5 days. Ten days later, we still can’t get an estimate on when it will arrive. Now, if you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I’m a big fan of Tractor Supply, but if we’d known there was going to be a big delivery delay, we would have purchased something different somewhere else so we could just get the job done.

Coop extension

As you can see, we haven’t been wasting time, though. Instead of using cinderblocks to critter-proof the run, I’m building rock gardens. The section to the left of the pine tree is where the gate will go. The white fence is what I put around my raised beds when the chickens were free-ranging and ate things not intended for them — like all my strawberries! Now that the girls no longer free-range, I can repurpose the fence.

Did I even write about the end of free-ranging here? One day the girls were out eating bugs when the dogs started to go crazy. I stepped out on the porch and heard squawking chickens. That’s about all we know for sure, but the slowest (physically and mentally) chicken has not been seen since. A few days later we returned to the house after taking the dogs for their evening run and the dogs chased an eagle out of the large field in front of our house. Our best guess is that the lost chicken became dinner for the eagle, a hawk, or a fox as we never found any feathers.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the other two were so stressed out that they stopped laying for a while. They also show no desire to leave their run whereas before they were very determined to go explore the woods. They called for their sister for a couple of days and then just moped around for a couple more. Happily, they are getting back on track now. Apparently stress can impact their digestive system and feeding them yogurt can help with that , so they’ve been getting hand-picked salads with yogurt dressing! And by salads, I mean the weeds they prefer when they foraged.

We had a lot of the brush that we can’t get to with the tractor pushed back this week which should reduce the risk of non-flying predators. We haven’t seen the terrain this clearly since the timber was thinned our first spring, and even then there was a lot a waste blocking the view. We are ready to start building the forever house, but builders are booked up for months. Still, with this clearing we know that our chosen site is the best one for us. It will happen when the time is right.

We’ll harvest honey, rehouse the chickens, and eat homegrown tomatoes very soon. Life is never boring on the farm and it is always good.

Chickens · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Supplemental Feeding

Honey Refractometer

This year has been odd in regards to honey production. We would normally harvest wildflower honey early June and sourwood honey in July, but June was a bust. We ended up with one medium plastic frame that wouldn’t seat in the extractor and one large frame that fell apart and dumped all the comb in the bottom. While we were able to extract about five pounds over about two hours, the time spent was not worth the output.

However, the bees packed the frames when the sourwood trees were blooming, so we have honey coming — we’re just waiting for the girls to cap the honey! Just in case the honey was actually ready to harvest, Hubby bought a honey refractometer. The last remaining bit of honey we have from last year contains 16% moisture. What is in the hives was still at 20% a week ago. Below 17.8%, the honey will not spoil , but until it gets there, we and our customers are waiting.

Our biggest problem with that right now is the increase is small hive beetles and the decrease in available resources for the bees. Small hive beetle larva can ruin a frame on uncapped honey very quickly if the hive population is low, so we’re keeping an eye on that. We’re also holding off on supplemental feeding as we don’t want any sugar syrup making its way into our honey supers. Once we’ve pulled honey, we’ll split strong hives, feed them well, and try to build up strength before the fall nectar flow starts.

In early spring, we had an abandoned hive that was rife with small hive and wax moth larvae — the chicks loved it! A not-so-nice part of me already feels intense satisfaction feed Japanese beetles to the chickens, but I’m still hoping to not have any chicken treats in our hives — especially as the chickens have not yet started to repay our kindness with eggs!

Hopefully we’ll get to pull honey this weekend. If not, I will attempt my first hot-process soap. Life is good on the farm, and we never run out of things to do!

Chickens · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Products and Vendors

The Great Escape!

20200412 coop and run
Chicken Coop

When I walked into the RV to check on the chicks yesterday morning, all three were perched on the wire mesh that is supposed to keep them inside the cattle trough until they are big enough to move outside.  Surrounding the trough was “evidence” that they had been exploring for quite a while, and they appeared to be smirking at me!   Their new home was almost ready, so we moved up their move-in date, set about completing the final necessary construction, added a brooder lamp to the coop just in case we have some more cool nights, and and moved them over.  I had one more RV chicken wrangling rodeo and then they were in their new home.

We’d expected them to be nervous, but they immediately started exploring and searching for motivational meal-worms.    Within half an hour, they were climbing on their ladder and by the end of the day they had become quite adept at walking up and down the rungs.   The high point of the day was when Hubby found an earthworm in the soil he brought up for the planters and we got to watch two very determined chicks chase one highly motivated chick around while she gobbled up her treat!   They looked remarkably like a picture I remember from one of my daughter’s story books many years ago.

20200411 Grayson Chicks
Curious Cat Checks Chickens

Grayson, one of the twin cats, has been sniffing around the empty dog crate where the chicks have been vacationing for some time, and it didn’t take him long to show up and see what we were all up to.   He did a very good tiger imitation as he walked around the coop and chicken run many times while checking out the measures we’ve taken to keep him, coyotes, raccoons, and other critters out.

We have field wire extending out about 2 feet from the coop and run to keep predators from digging under the fence.   On the sides of the run, we have chicken wire going all the way to the top.   Along the bottom, we have hardware cloth covering the ends of the field wire and chicken wire.  On top of all that, we have cinder-blocks that I will use as planters, and the remaining field-wire is covered with gravel on the high traffic areas and soil where a future wildflower garden will be.   After my sister-in-law’s surprises last summer, we hope the hardware cloth will provide a challenge for any snakes that want eggs for breakfast, but we know that snakes and mice can be pretty determined critters.

20200411 coop inside
Inside the coop.  We’ll add the nesting boxes later. 

The two The two Red Sex Links went right into the coop last night once they realized I was throwing meal worms into it.   The baby, which I’d name Speedy if I were going to name chicks, was reluctant to enter, to say the least.   Trying to get Speedy in while stopping the other two leaving was getting everyone hot and bothered, so we closed the chicken door.   After a while, the inside chicks and Speedy started calling back and forth to each other.  Speedy walked up to the door, kept chirping, and then walked right through when I opened the door up for her.   It took them a little while and a few meal worms to come out this morning, but now we have a routine started.   The chicken door is automatic, and my brother-in-law says that their chickens very quickly got used to going in when they knew the door was about the close.   We have a storm coming through tonight, so we’ll probably herd them again this evening, but as quickly as these girls figured out how to escape the brooder pen after their first accidental escape, I’m sure they’ll figure out where it’s warm at night very soon.

Maggie with chicks
Maggie guards the chicks

Okay – Now it’s time to stop calling the youngest chick Speedy as I am determined to not name the chickens, especially not that one as there’s a possibility that she may not be a she!   At some point, I will need to wrap my head around having a chicken in the crock pot!   Maybe.

We still need to add the nesting boxes and paint the trim, but today has just turned into another rainy day.  Our bodies are telling us that it’s time to take a day off from heavy lifting, and we need to mentally make the shift to our return from spring break!

Stay healthy, everyone, and we will try to do the same because life is just too good to miss on the farm.

Bees · Chickens · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary

Rain break

The chicks are rapidly outgrowing their space, and moving them outside to the dog kennel so that I can clean their indoor home is becoming more of adventure with every passing day.    The baby can now fly out of the cattle trough, and the bigger girls can fly out of the plastic crate I use for transport.  Moving them is no longer a one-man job!    Luckily Maggie is just fascinated with them and wants to herd them like she herds everything else and she’s smart enough to realize they are not new dog toys!   The chicks are becoming accustomed to being handled and one is eager to be picked up when she hears dried meals worms in a Dixie cup.   That’s a trick I learned from my sister-in-law; she has her chickens trained to follow the sound of worms in a plastic Dixie cup, which they love even more than my gifts of chickweed and tender dandelion leaves.

20200401_chicks larva
Chicks April 1, 2020

Wax moths had moved into one of our swarm capture hives, so the chicks got a treat of larvae in a bowl followed by a couple of bee frames to clean up.  They enjoyed chasing small hive beetles and I enjoyed watching!    I kept an eye on them to make sure they weren’t eating anything besides the wiggly invaders.  After three minutes, I had clean frames to put in the freezer and maybe reuse later this week.

This week is spring break, so Hubby has been able to make good progress on the coop and chicken run.  We’ll move the girls into the coop once we have the door on and then we’ll finish up the run.   It started raining today while Hubby was adding rafters to the run and I was painting the screen door, so we ended up with a non-construction day.   We both have indoor chores to catch up on, and it’s probably good to give our bodies a break too.

20200405 coop
Chicken Coop

While we currently plan to have a maximum of five chickens, Hubby is building the coop large enough to house more because we’ve learned that our plans are always changing here on the farm.    We may eventually have enough honey and wax products for sale that we’d have a market for eggs too.   I made my first batch of glycerin-honey soap last week and plan to attempt my first batch of soap using lye later this week.    When we harvest honey this year, I need to weigh the wax we refine from cappings to get an idea of how much beeswax soap etc. I can make.    So far, I’ve been using wax from previous years for my experiments, and I don’t plan to make any products with purchased wax.

Hubby just arrived home and announced that the only self-rising flour he could find came in a 25 pound bag, so I guess that I’ll be spending more time than usual baking over the next few weeks!    Even if I bake a cake every day until it’s safe to socialize again, we’ll be eating healthier than we have been doing.    It’s amazing how far we’ve slipped back into our “city” eating habits since the start of the school year.    It takes very little time to make a pitcher of red rooibos tea, but we’ve been drinking sodas for the past few months.   Likewise, I used to eat scrambled eggs for breakfast and they take no longer that Toaster Strudels, but we slipped into a Toaster Strudel routine.   I didn’t realize how many convenience meals we were eating until I noticed how often I was running the dishwasher now that I’m cooking from scratch again!     I hate that it took a pandemic to get us to rethink our eating habits, but that’s also a very small piece of silver lining in the huge cloud that is hanging across the world right now.

Life remains good here on the farm, and our thoughts and prayers are with all our friends, family, and blog-readers in this scary time.

 

Chickens · Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

All Cooped Up

Like the rest of the world, we are self-isolating but lucky to be living less cooped up than our friends who live in apartments.    We both continue to teach, but from a distance.  I’m finally getting into a routine and after a round of parent emails, students have been busy making up work today!

But tomorrow is Saturday.   Tomorrow we start building the chicken coop.   But first, a greenhouse update from Hubby:

Greenhouse is back up and running after a year with improvements that should extend its life and usability. Tried to go cheap last year and used standard 6 mil poly plastic. Found it worked great for about 120 days. Then it totally disintegrated due to UV. This year I used real greenhouse poly which is UV protected and suppose to last 5 years. I also added a solar powered vent opener and “wiggle wire” fasteners around the bottom to keep the poly tight. ‘Maters already growing.

Cattle panel greenhouseEven though the plastic turned brittle and tore easily by summer, the cattle panel greenhouse ended up being more energy efficient than our old pre-fab greenhouse.  The gravel floor seems to help retain heat.   We didn’t have many plants to overwinter this year as we got them all in the ground, so we didn’t need the greenhouse until spring planting time.  I was going to plant fewer tomatoes and peppers this year, but with the way things are going right now have decided that more is better.    We’d already planned to add more raised beds and we had the cinder-blocks delivered last week.  The delivery man from Taylor-Foster Hardware and Hubby found it odd to not shake hands, but we are all practicing safe distancing.

Hubby also added an automatic window to the greenhouse.  We may add one to the front next time around, but this year it’s easy enough to open the door when it’s hot and close it in the evenings, especially as we go up to the RV to visit our chicks in their temporary home whenever we need a computer break.

Because we have so much going on, we’d decided to wait until next year to get chickens.  Then schools closed for a week, then two weeks, then……     So, we now have 3 chicks in the RV and a friend has offered up 2 laying hens as soon as we have the coop built.   Maggie is fascinated by the chicks and they are now used to having big brown doggie eyes staring at them.   Just like the house site, we’ve changed our minds more times than we can count as to where to place the coop but have decided to place it close to the greenhouse with the two plastic compost bins between the two.

Meanwhile, a string of too warm days and 23 degree nights took its toll on our bees, but they are recovering.   We hope we won’t have another hard freeze.   Even if we do, the queens are laying like crazy and every hive is crowded now, so they’d survive.   Very few bees are visiting syrup feeders this week, so they must be finding real nectar out there somewhere.   We have the first blackberry and clover blossoms, but I haven’t seen bees on either yet.

We sincerely hope that all our readers remain healthy.   These are worrying times, and I feel so blessed to have 20 acres of stress relief right outside our door.   Stay safe.  Stay healthy.   Our thoughts are with you.