Phi kappa peck

The boys came trundling out of their new house in the morning to start a long day marching up and down along the fence separating them from the girls, like they were picketing Jericho.  The girls are inside the orange fence, the roosters are inside the white fence.

All day, back and forth.  In one day they tamped down a groove in the dirt along that fence.They took breaks for shade, and food, but barely.

On the girls’ side, it was all How’s the serenity?  Some hens are whiny and indignant because they’re always whiny and easily offended, but on the whole the mood was completely new over there, relaxed and curious.  They were lounging, and scratching, catching up on a heavy schedule of digging holes and meditation, contemplating the sticks right in front of them.  They went to bed earlier and laid more eggs. It was much quieter.

It was high time to get the roos out of there.  It sneaks up.  They’re just cute little chicks, until one day, they’re hair-pulling jerks.  The hens were prancing around and sunbathing right in front of the guys. Ok, now you’re just taunting them.

Frat house

Of course, I should have taken a pic or two while building it, and didn’t.  I just got it in place in time for night and the rain I wasn’t expecting until tomorrow.  Coop building is becoming a standardized activity.  I’ve got my pattern down.  I have not yet landed on a design for making a freakin’ heavy box of chickens readily portable, though.  The Silkie box with the axle works, but it’s still heavy. Not something you look forward to.

It was urgent to get all the roosters out of Silkieland to give the hens a break.  There’s been too much shrieking lately.  The chicks that came late last year have just matured, and some of the roos are jerks.  They’ll have to go.  In the meantime, they are getting gender segregated, and the girls can get a restorative break for their nerves.  Ohhh, those dudes’ll be grumpy tomorrow when they come out and they’re on the wrong side of the fence.  Some of them wailed like they were going to their doom when I plucked them out of the coop to drop them in their man cave.


It’s screen door season, so there’s Cheeks on the doormat.  She can and does come to watch me through the door.  She one-legs it more at the end of the day; her foot must get sore.  She’s so sweet.  She seems attached to me, hanging out close to the house far more often than the other chicks and when she’s alone, but I can’t touch her.  Oh no.  She’ll barely take food from my hand.  You might stick me in a box again.

It’s also bug-bite season.   Ugh.  I’m speckled with bites.  “Speckled” is kind of a pleasant word, and there’s nothing pleasant about red welts all over, swollen forehead lumps, from blackflies and noseeums and mosquitoes and ticks.   I think it’s that magical time of the year when ALL the biting insect “seasons” overlap.  They’re all on right now.

As I threatened to, I’ve taken to wearing my bee suit gardening, and it’s as awesome as I imagined.  As close as possible to being sealed in an insect-excluding ziploc.  It sure gets dirty fast though. I ordered another suit for actually working with the bees.  Can’t wear it everywhere, though, so existing outside of the bee suit right now means bites.

The loaners

Two hens are on loan to another family who needs some chicks.  They are sitting on eggs and will return when their chicks are grown enough to not need their moms, like Cream Puff did last year (with a boyfriend in tow).  Broody hen rental service.

The hens, one Silkie and one standard, got boxed and transported at night, installed in their brooding accommodations, and after a day to adjust, they have settled in extremely well.

I visited.  Their coop is elevated, so when you open the access door, you’re eye level with the chicken.  Hilarious!I love this look.  Part baleful rage, part total serenity.  She’s fulfilling her destiny, but she will also take your finger off if you get ideas.  She’s not going to blink either.  She’s watching you.

You couldn’t pry her off those eggs now.  She’s in full pancake.

This one is SO happy to finally  have eggs. She’s been brooding around, squealing every time I lift the coop lid, because she knows I’m rudely going to take all the eggs out from under her that she’s been busy stealing and hoarding all morning.  I haven’t had a place to set her up to brood, or I might have given her an egg or two to keep.  I’m not trying to grow my flock this year.

Then this need for loaners arose, and fluke of flukes, I only had one Silkie broody (!).  So she lucked out. She gets to  keep eggs of her very own, and she is incredibly pleased about it.  Mine.  My precioussss.  She’s a very fiesty broody.

The Silkie mom is on the other side of the partition, and they’re set up in deluxe momming suites.

This girl is one of the white chocolates– all grown up!  My other one is already a mom – she went broody some time ago and is running around with three little ones.

Seriously. Not again!?

Pansy swarmed AGAIN.  This time I got pictures.

I heard the roaring sound again and looked out.  Pansy?!! What’s it been, five days?  Since a giant contingent of the bees just departed from Pansy, I had a hard time even believing what I was seeing, although, a swarm is pretty unmistakable.  Not possible.  There aren’t enough bees left to split again.  There were.

I was completely expecting Violet to swarm.   Violet hive is huge and strong. Both V and P were full of queen cells when I checked them, so I’m sort of hoping for a Violet swarm, but who knows, maybe they needed to requeen.

I was planning to do other things, but I had a swarm to rehome, so I did that instead.  I got my outfit on, and  set up a box to put them in.

They were so good to me.  They balled up at knee level on a branch I could snip, right next to the hive yard.  What a relief, and change of pace. Look how easy they’ll be to move!  A very small bee ball, but there is also a pile of bees on the ground, almost as many, and still many in the air at this point.After my first snip dislodged a clump of bees from the hanging ball, I got  a box.  Not too helpful.  I placed a stick as a ladder, hoping the ground bees would go up and rejoin.  They didn’t.I snipped the main ball off, walked it over to the box,and in they go.I went back to collect the pool of bees on the ground.

I picked up the loose twigs one at a time and knocked them into my box, which really just made them airborne again.  Unfortunately, they were piled up centralized on a big dirty root ball.  I thought, can I just pull that whole root ball out? Yahoo, I could.  However, have you ever tried to yank a root out of the ground smoothly?  Doesn’t happen.

I put the root by the hive box and took a break to wait for them all to walk inside, with a helpful twig ladder. I come back out.

The root ball is completely clean of bees, cool.  But what’s this?Bees have regrouped on the next branch over!

Repeat: snip, carry, deposit bees in the box. (this is bee shipment #3)There is still a big pool of bees on the ground.This time they are wrapping around a larger piece of wood.

Around this time I notice that there seem to be more bees outside the hive than inside.  They are walking out and walking all over the outside of the hive.  The sticks inside the box are clean of bees, so I can clean up in there.Now the bees are pooling on the ground where the root ball was, and I can’t imagine why this spot is so interesting.  I get the big branch with the bees on it on the box, and then start scooping bees by hand.  Let no bee be left behind.  Then I bring bee shipment #4 to the hive.  Turns out there are many more bees involved here than it originally looked like.  Calloo, callay!  They’ve gone back inside!  The tide has reversed and they’ve chosen to stay, at least for the night.   Bees are so neat when they’re swarmed.  Tickly, all vibrating and buzzing, but for a change, they aren’t on the job.  Bees normally are at work, and tolerate your disruption in the hive because they’re just too focused, mostly, until you really get in their way.  Bees in swarm are like they’re on vacation.  Not on any mission at all, relaxed.  Look at the handful of bees, walking off my hand and in the door. At this point it started to rain, like clockwork (2pm before an evening downpour is apparently optimum time to swarm), so I put a big lid on, sheltering the ball of bees in the box at the threshold, and left them to walk in, now that the decision to stay had apparently been made.

Yay!  A new hive!  I’ve barely got enough hive parts now to catch one more swarm, should Violet split as I’ve been expecting.

A thorough bee day

I had a big bee day, doing all things bee.  Building frames and parts, hive inspection, expansion, and more.  They needed all kinds of things, including a yard cleanup.   I doubt I would have lost that swarm if I was on this a few days earlier, but what’s flown is flown.

Now  all the hives are set on concrete pads, all the wood scraps are cleaned up, and the bee yard looks more classy bee apartment structures, less bee shantytown.  They even got their hive names labeled. I’m pleased with the look now.

Both Violet and Pansy had a short move.  I had to shift them a couple feet to get them on the pads (while disassembled down to the last super, so that I could lift them).  For over an hour, there was a swirl of bees in the space where Pansy hive had been – the workers returning and finding the hive missing from where they expected it to be, then noisily drifting over and discovering it.  Where’d everyone go?!  Oh, there y’all are.  Phew.  Man, my gps must be off today.  Yours too?Violet adjusted better.  I did a comprehensive hive inspection, checking every frame  on all the hives, which takes quite a while for a tall hive.  Amazingly, I didn’t get stung at all in all that shifting and working within a cloud of bees, and killed very few individuals.  Only one for certain. They were very patient, although there was a tense moment when I tried to use the bee brush and they lost their minds.   They hate the bee brush with a berserker level  intensity.  I should probably just get rid of that thing; it’s dangerous to be associated with.  One swipe!  I stood perfectly still, holding it at arms length and wincing while the bees went nuts stinging it and making rage sounds, then put it away and resumed being patient when they subsided.  Phew!  We showed that brush.  That brush won’t be showing its bristles around here anytime soon.

They’re all thriving.  Violet has also grown out of their terrible habit of wildly building burr comb and gluing all the frames together, which is very nice.

All this and I finished putting them all back together minutes before the sky started to drip!

Rain risk vs worm reward

The pig house (pig-less this year) is repurposed as a chicken rain shelter, and they LOVE it.  When it’s pelting down, almost the whole flock crowds in there, and the guineas come running in too.

The hens rock the rain pretty hard, but when it gets too heavy they jog for shelter.  Rain makes the worms come up, but they don’t like to get too wet either.  It’s a chicken risk/reward analysis.

Adding the laundry rack was one of my finer brain waves.  It increases capacity and fits snugly in the peak. Won’t tip over.  They use the shelter on sunny days as well.  Some of them just get on a rung after breakfast and spend half the day.   They like to have a nice safe perch for bird-watching.

That laundry rack has seen a lot of functions.  I remember buying it around 15 years ago.  It spent many years merely drying clothes.  Then it was a keet ladder, and now luxury perching, and I imagine it will last quite a while longer.

Or you can have a midday one legged, head-under wing nap under a coop. It’s a rain day!

A nice nest

One doesn’t think of chickens as being nest builders per se, but they definitely do nest construction.

Guineas, ground nesters like chickens,  craft quite beautifully careful nests, if extremely minimal ones, out of a few blades of grass.  It’s more of a saucer than a bowl – a slight bank to keep the eggs from rolling out, I suppose.

When I set the Silkies on eggs, I think I form a perfect nest in advance, but no.  They always clean it right up, to the point of leaving bare floor around the form of their nest.

When a chicken is working up to getting broody, she makes a lovely round bowl out of straw with a thick underpadding. In this case, there wasn’t a lot of material in the coop because it has just been cleaned, but some hen gathered up just about every blade of straw in there and pulled it into her nest purposes.

I wish I knew how this goes down.  Foot scratching?  Walking with beakfuls?  Beak raking?

Well they’re gone

I had a hive swarm yesterday (What is that roaring sound?  Oh.)

They went up in a big pine tree, and while they landed on a nice 3″ branch that could be sawed off, they were 40’+ up, and very much out of my reach this time.

I quickly prepared a bait box (inviting new home, move in ready), with that new hive smell (lemongrass, honey and old comb).  They ignored it. I prepared a second one, too, in another location.

Then they left.  I heard them leaving and tried to follow them, but they lost me.  They can fly.

I hope they found a nice place.  I won’t be able to help them survive the winter now, but if they do, perhaps the next split will return.  Apartment living with food included maybe not so bad.

I’m out here restoring the wild bee populations.  This was a huge swarm, too, twice the size of last year’s.  I took pictures but they didn’t save, unfortunately (memory card error?), so I’ll have to rely on the mental picture.  It’s actually the same split that swarmed last year and I collected (Pansy hive), that just split again.  And left.  They clearly lean to swarminess.

I’m disappointed to lose a whole hive’s worth of bees like that, but there was nothing more I could do.  I got the bait box out promptly, and I didn’t have a chance to have gotten them out of the tree, even if I had made the attempt, because they left so fast.  In less than an hour, they departed, headed northeast into the woods.  It’s like they’d decided on the new place already and just paused on the pine to regroup.  Or else the scouts worked quick, which means their new location is close, and there’s a possibility I will find them in the woods.  I’m not betting on that.

You catch some you lose some.

The first chick of the year

Let’s try this again.

I had a hen go broody.  Try as we might to break her up, she was determined.   Kick her out of whatever corner she was trying to warm eggs in and she’d march around in full turkey mode, every feather flared and growling, until she could sneak back in another coop.

Then Cheeks started making eggs again, and I could give this hen something to do.

Instant turkey

What does she do?  Halfway through the process, she jumps up off the eggs, bursting out of the coop one morning and not returning.  Done being broody.

Luckily, I had Silkies handy and I popped two of them in on the eggs to save them.  I didn’t know if either was serious about sitting, or just laying an egg.  One was just laying an egg (Why’d you lock me in here?), but the other stayed on the eggs.  For a few days.

I popped another Silkie on them.  Another one.  Finally, I got one serious about the job, and she stayed, flattened out in the broody trance they go into.

Then one morning, she nonchalantly hops up, determined to leave.   I quit.  And her eggs are hatching!!!  There’s a big hole in one and it’s cheeping, and there’s another egg also cheeping.  I do what I always do with infant bird emergencies – stick them in my shirt, and finish opening procedures.

I didn’t have any other broody hens!  The coop was empty at breakfast time – no one to adopt these eggs that are in the act of hatching!  Without a mom, these chicks have no future.  I could only hope that one would get broodyish in the same day.  After at least 6 moms keeping these eggs alive til now, it would all come to an end?

I held the five eggs against my skin and got a hot water bottle to put on.  Alas, the cheeping egg ceased to cheep without cracking.  But the cracked egg finished hatching.  In my shirt.

I learned that chicks don’t exactly peck their way out of an egg.  They push.  They peck a crack around it, the same line we would crack around the top of a boiled egg before taking the top off with a spoon.  But the coming out of the egg is a very physical, full-body effort.  They push their way out of the  shell with their feet.  Kicking and kicking, straightening themselves from the tight curl they were in, and very much using their legs to kick the eggshell away from them.  I had eggshell bits all over, falling out the bottom of my shirt, but the chick was this dynamic little thing.  Immediately active, pushing its way around with teeny soft toenails.  It dried out.  It napped.  It stood on my hand.  It flapped.  It peeped when it was cold.

By lunchtime there was a hen settled in enough that I put the unhatched eggs under her and hoped for the best.  I did not think it was safe to give her the chick (Surprise!  Instant hatching), so I kept the chick in my shirt all day, planning to put her under the hopefully broody hen at night, when she’s dreaming, to give the graft the best chance.

day old chick falling asleep
Hot water bottle nap

It was so much fun!  Fun you don’t want to have every day, and recording was out for the day, but  it was just a magical experience, to keep a chick warm its first day of life.  I put my bra on the outside of my sweater, so the chick couldn’t fall out the bottom of my shirt, and got on with my day, careful not to lean on stuff and to put a hand to the chick every time I bent over.

Hello

The chick was happy.  Sooooo happy.  Tiny, but a vigorous life, optimistic, fearless, trusting.  Just joyful to exist.  Nimble and very mobile. Quiet, until it got cold.  It liked best to be up in my neck, but would also burrow into an armpit, and I’d have to restrict movement with that arm for the duration of the nap.

So many problems that can be solved with a cowl neck sweater.

Chicks can last comfortably three days without eating or drinking, in nature allowing time for all the eggs to hatch, and not in nature, to allow chicks to be mailed around the country.  Happily for me on this day, this means they don’t poop either, until they start eating.  Eating starts their digestion up.

Happy outcome: the hen accepted the chick overnight.  Better not be a rooster:)

Knock knock?

Cheeks progressed to spending all day outside.  She started eating from the trough with the other hens, then started laying her eggs in the nest box of the coop!

I hardly saw her from the morning post-yelling eviction until the evening.

She would still come to the door of the house at bedtime, or if it rained heavily.  Hello.  I still live here.  And I’d put her back in her banana box for the night.I can’t reach the handle.Ah!  There you are. Do open this confounded door for me, would you?  I thank you.

I don’t know why chickens often get English “I say, old sport” accents in my head.

So funny!  Coming to the door like a cat in the evening:)

Happy about living naturally