Friday, August 31, 2012

My Name is Mud

Mud, mud everywhere in the garden at The Compound.  We stopped out this weekend to survey the damage left from Isaac.  There were lots of palm fronds down in the yard, so I suppose we'll have a large bonfire Saturday.  We had some flooding around the chicken coop, not so much inside since we have a metal roof now, but everywhere around it, especially getting to it.  Good thing I have rubber boots!

We haven't had time to get more mulch for the garden, and the compost we put on is not enough to absorb the amount of water that came down.  I'm hoping it will be dry enough to be able to plant some seeds for the fall garden.  Otherwise my name is Mud.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Guess Who's Vacationing At Our House?

Not vacationing really, but recovering, yes.  Miss Corrie came home with us a couple of days ago.  She feels awful!  I mean awful.  Runny eyes and nose, lethargic, etc.  I'm sure it's something she got from the Cotton Club. 

We brought her home, and gave her a bath.  Yes, you can bathe chickens. Her feathers were full of snot and watery eye stuff and the only way she could get it off was to rub it on her feathers.  It smells really bad.    We put her in a large dog crate on the back patio to dry off in the sun.  At this point, she could not stand on her own, and when she tried either couldn't get her legs underneath her, or went backwards.  She also was not eating very well, or drinking anything.  Trust me, it's not that easy to get a chicken to drink.

The Moose decided to bring her indoors in the air conditioning, and less humidity.  He also cut her a piece of cold watermelon, one of her favorites and she backed up to it and did eat some.  I think it was the only way her body was getting water or food.  Since she wasn't drinking, she wasn't getting any of the antibiotic (tetracyclin).  So here's what we did.

I lightly sprinkled the antibiotic on the watermelon.  What did we have to lose at this point if we didn't try.  I'm serious folks, I think we would have lost her for sure if we didn't try.  So for you chicken lovers, this may work for you too.  By late in the afternoon one of her eyes had started looking better and she was eating more.

So, again last night it was another piece of cold watermelon (must feel good on her throat, and I'm sure she was running a fever being that sick) with some of the antibiotic sprinkled on.  This morning she's much more alert, still has a snotty nose, but the other eye while still red is not near as runny/bubbly.  Again, she got a dose of "pumped up" watermelon.  Along with dry food, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and corn.  All of which she is eating today.

Whew!  Keep your fingers crossed she continues to pull through.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hooligans and the Cotton Club

OK, I'm just plain weird and I know it.  But it keeps my family and friends on their toes or at least it gives them something to talk about when I'm not around!

I've decided to continue to call our original line of chickens the Hooligans.  Their mannerisms are so similar, and it will always be a reminder of where we started in this adventure.  Here are the three we hatched out 3 weeks ago.  Along with Corrie, who is doing well, they will be dubbed the Hooligans.  This is a photo of Rose, Pennie and R.Cogburn out on their first day in the yard.  They huddled together for some time, and then realized bugs and grass were tasty, and scratching was a lot of fun. 

They went out again Sunday morning, and were so happy to get some fresh air.  Can you blame them?  Tropical Storm Isaac was on its way and brought some nice breezes.  I think they liked the wind in their feathers, what little they have.  They're a noisy bunch, much like their parents.

I've decided to call the new flock of White Orpingtons the Cotton Club.  Can you guess why?  Yup, they look like giant cotton balls!

They are doing so much better, it's amazing.  Once totally frightened if you approached the run, now they come within a few feet.  They actually run to the door when we drive in, and are ecstatic about going outside for the day.  They venture further away each time.  Berta, the large hen was really banged up when we got her.  Since we put on her saddle, her fluffy feathers are coming back in.   Also, two of the smaller ones were picked on, one was missing feathers on its bum, the other on its neck.  They are looking much better in a months time.

Unfortunately the previous owner/breeder just dumped all ages in together of the same breed.  No thought to how they would survive in the 10x10 space with one feeder and one waterer.  If you've ever watched chickens, there is a hierarchy.  If the higher ranking ones want access to food or water, they will tear out the feathers of the smaller ones if they are in the way.  Sometimes even if they don't want to eat or drink themselves.  They just sneak up behind them and rip out the feathers.  Poor things!

We have three feeders and two waterers.  They can all eat and drink without fear of being in the way.  When we feed them fresh fruits and veggies we spread them around, for that same reason.  Everyone gets some.  They also have day to day access to a run that's 24' x 33' and get let out on the weekends.  It shows, they are all looking much better.  Please don't tell me chickens don't know a good thing when they see it, live it and feel it.

Besides, it makes the Moose and I happy to see them looking and feeling better.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Proof of Life

It was a very busy Saturday at The Compound, when isn’t it really?!   Started out pretty typical, taking care of the chickens, and mowing part of the acreage.  We’ve decided to try and divide the mowing up in to sections, a little each weekend, that way it’s not too much at one time.  We also worked on cleaning up the garden, pulling weeds and spreading out the mounds of chicken compost we pulled out a few weeks back.  There should be loads of nutrients to pass into our garden.

We were surprised and happy to find some already growing watermelon plants.  Since the Hooligans were regularly fed watermelon, I guess it was only natural to find some new growth in their compost.  We've left them undisturbed.
We placed down cardboard in some of the really weed ridden areas, and put mulch on top to help kill them off.  The cardboard will decompose over time, and we should see a reduction in weeds.  This picture looks great, but it basically looked like a hay field, but it was covered in weeds.  Maybe I'll get over my embarrassment and take a photo or two of the remaining areas that need to be done, just so you can see how bad it actually got.  We need more mulch again.  Not looking forward to that work.
The Moose also helped me by setting up some additional shade cloth so I can grow some of the more delicate plants like lettuce and peas out of the direct sun.  They just don’t do well at The Compound in direct light.  We also set up some water gutters along the walls, so I can plant lettuce, herbs, etc., avoid weeds, and make it one less thing we need to bend over to harvest.  I’m not a spring chicken anymore!  We got this idea from a preppers meeting we had a few months ago.

During the clean-up of the garden the Moose discovered two of these squishy eggs!  Yuk!  They were snake eggs.  I’m wondering how big the snake was to lay these eggs.  They seemed to be about the size of a robin’s egg. 

Finally, while the Moose was rearranging the pond covering, he found this Tilapia.  Proof of Life!  We have some good sized fish in this pond!  There are also plenty of small frys and fingerlings.  OK, not sure on the spelling, but a baby Tilapia fish is called a fry, to make that plural are they frys, or fries?


We left exhausted, and actually disappointed we couldn't get more done.  I'm behind in planting the garden, but thankfully I have some seedlings almost ready to go.  There always seems to be one reason or another for not getting the garden planted in time.    Say a prayer that we have warmer weather, longer than the past two years, so we can actually harvest the veggies we plant.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chick Update - Pennie, Rose and Rooster Cogburn

Meet Pennie, Rose and Rooster Cogburn.  They’re nearly three weeks old, and about ready to get out from under the heat lamp.  Here’s how they got their names;
Pennie was born first, and the thought that actually came to my mind was “pennies from heaven”, hence she’s Pennie. 
Rose was born second, and smaller than Pennie, and her beak has a little rose tip on the end, hence Rose Bud.  She’s also the shyest.
Rooster Cogburn was born last, and from the beginning he was surly.  One of my favorite movie characters of all time was John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in 1969’s True Grit.  They seem to have the same personality traits.   I do think he’ll make a good rooster as he already defends his girls if he thinks they’re threatened.  He has mellowed out a bit, but if he’s anything like the General, he’ll give you a surprise attack once and a while. 
All appear to be doing very well, feathering out nicely.  I think the two hens will have Corrie’s coloring.  Not sure yet at this point what R.Cogburn will look like, more like the production reds I’m thinking.  Roosters/cockerels get their feathers in a bit slower than hens to begin with. 
We're just happy to have the Hooligan prodigy in our midst.  Later today when it warms up, they'll get their first day out in the yard.
Here’s what I’ve learned about identifying whether or not your chicks are hens/pullets or roosters/cockerels.
  • Hens get their tail feathers in earlier than cockerels.  By days
  • Cockerels will have thicker legs.
  • Cockerels will not turn their backs on you if they feel threatened.  Hens will just retreat.
  • Cockerel’s combs and waddles will develop quicker than hens and turn red sooner.  Hen’s combs and waddles will not turn a deep red until they are ready to lay eggs.

I know there are other “wives tales”, but these have proven themselves with the chicks we’ve raised.
Chickens are just soooo much fun!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Plumeria is Flowering

Plumeria plant/tree.  The Moose found two plants at a yard sale a few years ago.   It's taken that long for them to develop and actually flower.  The plant survives in tropical regions and is used in Hawaii for leis.  I wish we had "smellovision", as they smell wonderful.  They are part of the Oleander family, and seem to do well here at least to Central Florida.  Not sure how well they'd do the further north you go.  Unless you could bring them in, during the winter.  The branches can get as big as 40 feet long.  I've never seen one that big, and this one is only around 3 feet.  They grow roughly around a foot per year. 

I hope to have a Compound and new chick update soon.  Just got back from a couple day training session, and am playing catch up with everything!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Robbing Bees and Top Bar Hives

Our Soprano (Italian Bees) hive was robbed this past week.  Robbed to the point, that only a handful of bees remain, no drones, and no queen.    I had just checked on the bees the previous Saturday, to make sure the queen was still producing brood.  Something I was told should be done at this stage around once a month.  I actually had to pull the cover off the hive, and pull out a comb or two to make a visual check.  Otherwise, I would just take a peek through the observation window and verify activity.  Everything looked good.  This hive was installed in May. 
Unfortunately the information on robber bees was limited in the books and articles I read, or the DVD that I watched for beginner beekeepers.  While I was concentrating on making sure the queen was present, comb was being built,  honey and capped brood were present and no ants or beetles were squatters, I was never worried about robbing bees.  I read that top bar hives are less prone to robbing bandits of bees.  I’m not sure this is true.  I have found plenty of YouTube videos showing top bar hives under attack.  There are other cases to be made for a top bar hive, but I’m not convinced that the elimination of robbers is one of them.
The information I’m presenting, relating to robber bees is what I’ve literally learned this past weekend.  I guess it takes a tragedy to learn your lesson.  It’s a long article, not something I like to do, but hopefully it will provide you with some knowledge, I wish I knew before this last week.
Let’s start first by offering a basic understanding of how the hive works.  Of course there’s the queen, drones (there to mate with queens), scouts, and workers (cleaning and caring for brood, or gathering of pollen/nectar).  There are also sentinels or guard bees.  They are given the task to remain at the entrance and verify that the returning bees actually belong to their hive, and to protect until death the entrance into the hive.

A newly established hive, considered a weak hive, may not have enough guard bees, to hold off an all-out assault.  I believe this to be the problem with our hive.  They just didn’t have enough offspring to generate the numbers of bees it needed.  Now it is not only the weak hives that are attacked, though more common, it can happen with well-established hives.
Robbing bees typically appear in the fall.  Typical does not mean an absolute.  We’re in full summer mode in central Florida.  Their objective is to steal another hives honey stores for their own. It’s a lot easier taking what has already been gathered.  This can occur during times of the year when there is little or no nectar flow, and during the fall when the robbers are worried about having enough honey in their own hive to last them through the winter months. 

A scout bee is sent out to look for abundant food, and may come upon the weakened hive.  They enter grab a mouthful of honey and head back home.  Then they send out directions to the other roving bandits and before you know it, your hive is completely surrounded.  It will be a battle royale.  It was with ours, it totally decimated our hive. 

The hive entrance looks nothing like a normal function.  There are bees flying chaotically all over waiting for their chance to gain access to the hive.  They are fighting, stinging and biting each other.  There will be dead bees all over the ground at the front of the hive, and if the robbers gain entrance there will be dead bees in the bottom of your hive. They are loud, and the tone is not the normal humming sound, it's definately turned up a notch and you can tell there is anxiety.

Unfortunately, once they know they have access, they will continue to come back until everything is gone.  We will be moving our hive to a new location when our new colony arrives.  We don't need to make it easier for the same group of bandits to find our hive again.

Learn when your nectar flows are in your area.  Just because flowers are blooming does not mean there is nectar.  It just means there is pollen. Not all flowers produce nectar.  They need nectar for making honey, which is their main source of food.  When the nectar is not flowing, you’ll need to feed your own bees until they are an established hive, or do not have enough stores to feed themselves during the limited nectar flow periods.  I went by the book, and I believe I ended the feeding way too soon, and didn’t start up again when they needed it to.  I found a chart/management calendar from the University of Florida, that will be helpful as I move forward. I would guess most of the Universities in the country would have something similar.
Until the hive is well established, keep a limited hive opening.  My top bar hive has three holes.  Since I followed the instructions again, literally, it said to remove the second plug after about 6 weeks.  This made perfect sense to me, especially in the heat.  I didn’t want the hive overheating with our hot temperatures.  Reducing the entrance allows the guard bees the ability to only have to defend a small entrance and not several.  A weakened hive will not have enough guards to manage an all-out assault.   Also, the plug should be put back in when the nectar flow has stopped, and in the fall when robbing is more common.  You can also tape off part of the remaining opening to only allow 1 or 2 bees to enter or exit at any one time.   Even a well established hive should have an entrance reducer installed in the fall to help avoid robbers. 
I've also learned that this is a totally natural occurrence.  If you see the robbery in progress you can try a couple of things;  put a wet sheet over the hive.  Your colony of bees will manage just fine, and allow them to handle only a few robbers at a time, it also makes it more difficult for the robbers to get access to the hive opening.  You can also spray water on the bees, not hard, but like rain fall.  Some of your bees will be in that chaotic scene.  You're basically tiring them out. I've read a couple different articles both positive and negative with this option.  But if you're desperate, you may want to give it a try.
I am disappointed with myself for not knowing this information. Hopefully it will help others.  I know that beginning beekeepers have a hard time getting a colony established.  But we'll keep our chins up and try again just as soon as we can get another hive.  Live and learn.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Knock on Wood - Robber Bees

I'm beginning to wonder if we're dealing with our own "7 plagues" out at The Compound.  The water hasn't turned blood red, grasshoppers have not taken over (knock on wood), but we've had our share of situations, that I frankly am tired of dealing with.

Without our knowledge, we hosted a standing room only party in our pond for the area storks and egrets.  They cleaned out our Tilapia.  The Moose subsequently had to create a netting roof over the top.  So far so good on that account.  We have plenty of fish. (knock on wood)

Of course a few weeks ago we lost the entire group of Hooligans.  A predator chewed through the roof and killed them all.  We spent three weekends putting on a metal roof.  That's done, and so far no other attempts on the new flocks lives have been made. (knock on wood)

Just when we hope things will start going our way, we discovered our hive of bees, empty.  It appears they were robbed.  Dead bee bodies everywhere, and a chaotic swarm of bees, signs of a robbery in progress.  By this time it was too late.  We opened up the hive, no workers, very little brood, and no queen. They put up a good fight, but there just weren't enough of them to hold off the masses.

It's back to square one, and another delay in realizing our sweet dreams of honey.  We'll likely have to wait until next spring to get another colony.  It seems to be one thing after another and I'm just plain tired.  I'm usually the optimistic type, but right now the glass is half empty.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Surprise Surprise!

As many of you know, we had a major set back a few weeks ago out at The Compound.  We've needed some good things to happen that the last few days have provided.  I've waited for a couple of days to make what I consider a huge announcement as I wanted to see how things progressed before I got anyones hopes up including my own.

During the tragedy that struck, the Moose had the wherewithal to collect the remaining eggs and try and incubate them.  Hoping we'd be able to hatch out some of the Hooligan's offspring.  We were blessed with three small fluff balls on Sunday.

The jury is still out on what we have, hens or roosters, but we're thrilled!  They will be extremely spoiled!  I personally think we have 2 hens and 1 rooster, just by personality.  The dark ones are hens, the light color is a rooster, or a very excited hen.  We'll see. 

We stopped by after work tonight to check up on the new chickens (still haven't come up with a name to call the gang), and Corrie.  All things are going well, the little ones that were picked on are healing up and getting very active.  We have been waiting to get some eggs, and the transition on the hens caused them to stop laying for a few weeks.  We fattened them up a bit, and were happy to find these waiting for us.

Now we won't be able to eat these, since we gave the entire group a dose of antibiotic to help clear up some sores that didn't look good and some coughing that had me concerned.  But we have eggs!  And in the nesting box too!

We really needed these shots in the arm!  Thanks for sticking with this crazy blog!  I really appreciate the comments and emails I get from so many of you.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Flying by the Seat of Your Pants

What do you call it when you make a list of chores or things to do with high hopes and expectations of racing through said list only to fail at the completion of them all?

That's how I feel after this past weekend, after most of my weekends.  I had my list in hand as we headed to The Compound on Saturday.  I must have had around 15 different things on my list, of which only a few were completed.  Of course, some additional things were done that were not on the list at all, but does that count?

Should we even be counting? Does it just set us up for failure?  Does a list keep us focused?  I don't feel organized if I don't know what I want or need done, but then I'm disappointed when I can't physically get to them all and end up adding them to the next weeks list of chores.  Sometimes the list is just too daunting and I'd rather just take a nap. 

Maybe that's just life.  How do you handle your workload?  Make a list or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Freedom at Last is Not Bittersweet

We spent the day Saturday taking care of the chickens, sealing up the seams on the new coop roof, stapling the old chicken wire and shade cloth to the underside of the new roof, planting seedlings for the Fall garden, changing the oil on the generator, tidying up the camper and some shoot’in time with Daughter #1.  Trust me that doesn’t sound like much, but it was definitely enough for a day. 

It was the first day we left the door to the chicken run open to see what would happen. We were nervous about getting the new chickens back in to the run, but thought we’d take the chance.   Of course, Corrie took quick advantage of the grass and bugs.  It took the others some additional time to really believe they would be free to roam. They stood at the door and contemplated the pros and cons about leaving the run.  One even took a step out and then quickly jumped back in!   Alfred(our new rooster) really had to do some coaxing to get the others to go outside.  They didn’t travel far, and would come back and forth between outside and their run. 

They didn’t really know what to do with the grass.  They watched Corrie eating it, picked at it some, and then finally gave in and ate some.  It was like watching your 4 year old with new food on their plate and not believing that it really does taste good.  The younger ones actually did better outside then then older ones.  They really liked running around the robellini trees, and of course dust bathing is always top of their list.

Daughter #1 named this young guy Pig Pen, since whenever she sees him, he’s dust bathing, and he was again this Saturday.  By the way, we took advantage of them going back and forth to lock them back in, without incidence.  Except Corrie, she wanted to stay outside.

Oh, the honey bees are doing well, they've started adding more comb and I actually saw a new bee coming out of it's little hole.

Sorry this post is a bit discombobulated.  I have my reasons, and I hope to share them with you in the next day or so.