Floods

Today was a torrential downpour in the morning.  When it rains I run around like a mad person trying to catch or use it all.  I filled several barrels today.  I’m expecting a long stretch of rainlessness this summer, and that every rain we get may be the last for a long time, although it keeps coming and coming.

All the birds rushed under cover when

it came thundering down, except the little Silkie mama with three chicks.  She never goes under any more cover than the pine tree, and I know when it rains I have to go find her.

She has two cheeklings and a cuckoo chick of her own.  I set her on two of Cheeks’ eggs, once only one hatched from the first batch (they need little friends).  She added an egg of her own, and they all hatched.  So there’s one little black-legged Silkie chick, half the size of her siblings, always lagging behind, seeming tired, but getting along.

I find her out in the downpour just after it starts and she’s already soaked.  I pick her up, trying to scoop all the chicks at once but I fail to catch the littlest.  I plop the soggy captives inside the greenhouse and then I get a merry chase from the tiny Silkie chick, who alternately flees cheeping, and hides in the weeds.  I pop him in too.

When I come back to the greenhouse to shift water (from outside stock tank to inside), she’s sitting right where I left her, inside the door, in a drip, in a fast forming puddle.  But she’s keeping those chicks warm!  I had to move her again (this time I picked them all up at once, little legs dangling out), relocating her to high ground and a pile of straw.  She seemed appreciative, but she stayed there a LONG time.

It was thunderous in the GH.

The rain was coming down so hard and fast that it was filling the tank faster than I could bucket it out. 

The moment it subsided though, the hens were out and about.

It’s a wet feet day, so they’re up on the sawhorses under the deck.

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?

Happy about living naturally