Chickens and decreasing daylight

We’ve been experimenting with extending the day for our chickens so they will continue to lay throughout the winter. It’s far from a huge success. We seem to get an average of one egg a day so we’re changing it up a bit. We had been turning a light on before sunup and again before dusk. We’re going to try turning it on only before sunup, around 4:30 am. I don’t think turning it on in the evening helps because they already know dark has arrived.

Beekeeping proefrock style

In the spring we became beekeepers, well, that’s not an accurate description of our beekeeping philosophy. We ordered two packages of bees from a local beekeeper who rears queens in Michigan. He orders standard packages of Italian bees without queens and sells them to his customers with his queens in the crate.

While they are in the crate, we could examine them closely. Boo found them so fascinating that for most of the spring and summer we took daily walks out to the hives to visit the girls. Yes, there are some boys, but not very many and they get kicked out in the fall. It’s a bit sad to watch, but they are deadweight for the winter and needed to go.

The bees appear are clumped in the center because there is a queen bee in a small cage and a yummy can of sugar-water to keep them doped up while they travel. Since the queen in the cage is not the one they grew up with she is protected so they get used to her and don’t attack her. Her cage has a small hole in one end with a sugar plug and cork. We removed the cork and let the bees continue to eat the sugar to set her free. By the time that happens everyone is happy with each other and has forgotten there used to be another queen scent.

When we first set them up in their new homes, the blue hive seemed to be the stronger hive and the purple hive had a lot of dead bodies on the bottom of the crate during transport to us. By the end of the summer the purple hive surpassed expectation and we are a bit worried about the blue hive. We keep a hands-off approach only providing extra layers and frames when they need them. Our bees have a fierce independent streak and chose to build comb in crazy shapes. The books say to rearrange it for them but we chose not to force them to change their instincts. When we rotate the hive pieces in the spring this coming year or the next we’ll deal with that comb. We wrapped both hives in tar paper for the winter, popped in the entrance reducers and will check on them when we have the warm thaw in the later winter/early spring.

Old McDonald had a farm

It’s a slippery slope, first it’s a couple of beehives, then it’s a few chickens and before long you need a barn. I’m pretty sure if I gave Boo an option, he’d have at least one cow and horse for pets as well. He is a lover of animals. The first night we brought our chickens home he was quite upset to find out the chickens had to stay outside in the coop and he had to come inside without them. He’s a fantastic egg hunter, his normal position is atop his father’s shoulders while they survey the backyard. Boo has a unique sound he makes when he spies a little white egg in the brush. We’ve had to hide the fake nesting eggs from him as he continues to find them and not understand why we want those to stay there, perhaps we should paint them so they aren’t white. We’re still struggling with finding all of the eggs, understanding that as the daylight hours disappear the chickens decrease laying. With the first batch of chickens, we had a little coop and pen so they were protected and trapped 24/7. Once they established a routine, we started letting them out in them morning and closing the coop when they return at dark. This worked well until we acquired more chickens. We found a different coop but the old pen didn’t fit right with it so they all became free range with no problems until Sept. We had two hens go broody, at least we thought they did, and they probably did but somewhere in the midst of being out at night in the woods by themselves they got lost. I understand that chickens don’t get lost, but I’m in denial, they are lost. This week we lost another hen, I don’t think she’ll be back so we’re down to 10 and I’m beginning to panic a bit since at least three of them are roosters which means we’re really sitting at 7 hens and we know that not all of them have been laying since Aug. This week we will be closing in the garden properly so they are unable to escape and things hopefully can’t get into them. I need to put up smaller chicken wire over the existing fencing and then we have to come up with something to create a lid. The current plan involves a dome of some sort so we can still get into the pen without crawling around. Stay tuned for photos.

Furbabies

This has been an odd week for our house. Earlier this week one of my cats, LG, started marking everywhere, he’s a neutered domestic shorthair prone to attitude problems. He’s been known to tell he he’s upset by marking, so I figured I wasn’t giving him enough attention and perhaps Boo Bear was giving him too much. How does one help an active 14 month old boy that while he likes to give loveys the cats don’t want them? I’ve done it by telling him no and encouraging the cats to seek higher ground like the couch and our bedroom. If a cat is in the laundry basket of clean clothes, all bets are off and Boo can give loveys. I turned all the empty laundry baskets upside-down, took away all the boxes and plastic bins that LG thought might have been a useful litterbox substitute.

I know about UTIs in cats and bladder problems, so I stayed on top of his marking, or tried to, it seemed to stop after a day or two of me giving extra attention and corralling the Boo. Fast forward to yesterday when I find he marked a laundry basket with a couple of drops and right in front of us tried to mark on an oven mitt, in a box and a few other places with only a few drops. That’s not an angry kitty, that’s a hurting kitty.

We called the vet, she came in to the office to see us off hours, did some tests and pronounced UTI, a few small crystals and some meds to help clear everything up. I had to isolate him so I could check that he was peeing, which he did but then he stopped keeping food down which happens to both him and his brother if they have antibiotics. By the eight o’clock tonight he hadn’t peed again so back to the vet we went. He’s having a sleepover at the vet’s to clear out his bladder and hopefully get well again.

We’ll be switching him back to his old food to try to get his system back in balance. I’ve spent the last several hours online tracking down the old cat food. I used to special order food through a pet store in GR because the boys are allergic to chicken, we found that Nature’s Variety Lamb & Rice was a good formula had ordered it for 4 or 5 years, then it changed to Lamb & Oatmeal and the store called to make sure that was what I wanted. I thanked them for their diligence and gave them the go-ahead to order it, we went with a certain size bag of that formula for another few years. I place this order every 3-4 months for 7 or 8 years total, always keeping a bag in reserve for possible delays. I last attempted to order it about 6 months ago and waited and waited and waited. I opened the last reserve bag 4 months ago and finally I called the store to see when the food would arrive. The store was unable to order the food and was waiting to try again on the next month’s order but hadn’t bothered to tell me. It turned out to be a packaging change and someone wasn’t smart enough to ask if I just wanted a different sized bag. Someone just decided to keep asking the distributing company for a size that was never going to be restocked or someone from the distributing wasn’t smart enough to find out why the pet food store couldn’t have it. I decided to try to find something in the store that I wouldn’t have to order. That just about sent me over the edge, this is a special order, if there are problems, I need to know. All this to say, I switched the cats to a new food 3 months ago or so and it’s caused LG problems so now I have to switch back to the old one.

I love the internet. I found a lovely place, I hope it’s lovely, that has a few of the old sized bags left and presumably will have the new bags when those run out. Between a nice sale and the place taking PayPal, I’ve got two bags that should be here by Sat. or next Mon. at the latest. What to do with the food the can’t eat, maybe I’ll take it to the food pantry.

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Beekeeping

Over a year ago I read a book that discussed self-sufficiency on a small-scale: keep a couple of chickens, a rabbit or two, learn to knit, play an instrument for entertainment, etc. The woman took a hands-on approach and tried these things and wrote about her experiences. I was absolutely mesmerized by the beekeeping account. I felt for her, she made many mistakes even with a mentor beekeeper, she lost a queen and had a bear attack. That right there kept me from jumping into beekeeping, bears are sited around these parts often enough for it to be a legitimate concern.

My brother-in-law and his wife have some chickens. I thought about chickens, but I really don’t want hands-on animals. Chickens would be nice for the garden, keep bugs down, and be needy. We couldn’t travel or be gone very long without chickensitters. I don’t know how to sit a chicken, I can guess they need food and water of some sort but that’s about it.

My husband and his brothers grew up on a bird farm, they raised bobwhite quail and I think one other type of bird to sell. They all had to help feed and care for them. He and I have discussed some responsibility for Boo Bear when he is bigger. But I have family 800 miles away and like to visit at least once a year, so the critters have to be able to either care for themselves for 10-15 days or we have to kennel them. Our house cats get a sitter by means of looker-iners.

Enter the bees. We like honey, we cook with honey, our extended family likes honey. I don’t have to pet the bees, I don’t have to clean up their poop, they can be left for a week or two and most likely be fine if precautions have been taken to keep them well fed and safe. I put out a plea to friends on a social networking site and within 15 minutes a friend stepped up who has been keeping bees for years. I have a husband of another acquaintance who beekeeps as well and would sit down with me and talk about bees. While there is no rush, there is. Bees need to be ordered soon to be delivered next spring as they can sell out. I need to get a bee house prepared for them as well as some basic equipment. Luckily, I have one bee mentor lined up and the possibility of another.

Do you keep bees? What don’t I know?

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MI Fiber Festival

Every year over the third weekend in August, there is a fiber festival in Allegan, MI. I’ve wanted to go the last year or two, but it competed with Buckley Old Engine Show. I suggested the compromise of Buckley on Thursday/Friday and the Fiber Festival on Sat. but this year we decided to go to the Fiber Festival on Sun. It was less busy than it would have been on Say. and we had Boo with us so it made for a relaxing day instead of frustrating. I had a lot of fun petting all the fiber and drooling over all the tools. I found it interesting that some of the booths were yarn shops that packed up and came for the weekend while others are small independent dyers/spinners. We saw sheep, alpaca and a few other animals.

I tended to spend more time looking at fiber than anything, I had a list and a budget. I’m happy to say I didn’t over spend and found 60-70% of my list. Some of the things I purchased were for a swap I participated in and I forgot to take pictures before I mailed it off. I bought two things of sock yarn and a bit of fiber that I kept.
Next year I may have to save up a bit more so that I can have a bigger list of wants.

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In which I spin on my Ashford Traveller

I’m addicted. This is as much as I was able to accomplish. I completed the wheel early this morning, 1:30AM and then went to bed. I was able to spin two partial bobbins and then ply them this evening. I was a bit concerned that a double drive would be too difficult to begin with but it wasn’t. The flyer and bobbin do spin very, very, very fast but I was only frustrated a time or two because of speed. The furbaby helping me is Zorro. Boo needed mommy snuggles, so the yarn is on a third bobbin waiting. I need to get it off the bobbin and either wash it or just let it rest. so the twist is set.

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Day 4422 of captivity

Day 4422 of captivity

9:10 am
They locked me in the pen again and left me alone. I really wish they would stop doing that. I like to ride in the car as much as they do. They take me sometimes, I like it when they take me with them, I get to put my head out the window and pant.

9:30 am
Freedom!!!! I’m out of my cage and get to explore. Yum, bunny fur. I’m going to scatter it all over the sidewalk and side yard.

10:00 am
Drat!! The neighbor kid spotted me in her front yard, must run faster. Hurry, hurry.

11:00 am
Drat!! The other neighbor spotted me and is watching me. I’m going to pretend I don’t see him and continue hunting butterflies, cowbirds and maybe a cat.

11:45 am
Thirsty, very thirsty, must go home and get water.

12:15 pm
Time to explore again, maybe the neighbors have gone away and won’t see me.

12:30 pm
Drat, he still sees me. He’s calling my name, I’m gong to pretend I don’t hear him. Oh noes, he’s following me, must head home, quickly. Ack!! He’s still following me, I’ll pretend I’m going in the house and waiting to be let in, maybe he’ll go away.

12:45 pm
I’m trapped on the porch, he won’t let me go.

1:00 pm
He put me back in the pen and duct taped the door close, I’m stuck here.

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It’s official

Spring is here. My plants are happily growing under their light, I have broccoli plants, chives, dill and what I think is a hot pepper plant, only one smallish sprout. The cat grass has sprouted and Duke as bitten the tops off of all the blades. Maybe the boys won’t mind pre-chewed blades. Birds are returning, the blue jays have invaded again, finches abound and cardinals zoom past my living room windows off for an adventure. Most of my winter friends have moved on to warmer places or found their own food supply. I spent a few hours on the porch this morning, snuggled under a blanket reading. The sun was peaking out from behind the clouds, Daisy Mae vigilantly keeping guard near my feet, lest any birds or butterflies drop in for a visit. Today is a new day, full of possibilities.