Feeding them Fodder, Slipping them Sprouts

Barley sprouts ready for hen pecking!

Barley sprouts ready for hen pecking!

I have been feeding our chickens sprouted grains now for a few weeks.  They are definitely a hit, but it’s not quite what I was expecting.

I bought two 50# bags of grain: one barley, one oats.  The barley sprouts great.  Roots and shoots emerging within a day or two, nearly full germination leading to a dense green mat with interwoven roots.  The oats, not so much.  I usually end up with a tray of wet fermenting grains sparsely growing a spare green hair or ten.

When I presented the first barley tray with its thick 4″ greens to the hens, I thought they’d go crazy.  They love grass leaves, after all – ripping the blades from a bundle or eating individual cut blades after I mow the grass.

However, it turns out they were much more interested in the grainy end.  In fact, they aim for the grains instead of the greens and, upon pulling up a whole sprouted unit, will often shake/shear off the green blade in favor of eating the spent seed.

Root mat on sprouted barely

Root mat on sprouted barely

Besides being a waste, this was part of my plan to get them the fresh greens they need to round out their diet and provide us with those nutritious dark orange eggs!  The next sprouting I only grew to 2″.  It looked like more of the greens were being consumed with the shorter blade.  Sheba, always the most astute, learned that she could eat more grains if she didn’t spend her time shaking off each green blade first.  The other chickens were pretty much sure breaking off the green part was the only way to get their grainy treat.

I may try giving them the tray when the sprouts are just 1″, but they haven’t put on much green at that point, so I’m not sure where the nutrition balance falls with that route.  However, a look through YouTube shows people commonly feeding their hens true ‘sprouts’ with barely a half-inch of roots and shoots.  So I guess we’ll be trying that next!

Sprouted grains in the cascading sprouting trays

Sprouted grains in the cascading sprouting trays

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Bringing Home the Bees

Old combs will be recycled

Old combs will be recycled

After the swarm moved into the hive we had ready for the new packaged bees, I had one day to scrounge a suitable replacement.  Luckily we had the empty hive from the first die-off in 2014.  But it needed some love.

Emptying the hive

Emptying the hive

We decided to let them start from scratch, so we removed and scraped off all of the honeycomb from the top bars, scraped wax attachments from the sides and windows, and removed all of the debris.  The viewing windows were a foggy, waxy, propolisy mess.  I was concerned about what kind of solvent I would have to use, but it turns out that vegetable oil will dissolve beeswax and propolis!

Left window cleaned with vegetable oil!

Left window cleaned with vegetable oil!

After replacing all of the top bars, I leveled the hive so the new combs might be straight, made up a 1:1 sugar water solution, and we were ready for the new bees!

Leveling the hive

Leveling the hive

I met Northwest Bee Supply at the designated pickup location in Seattle. An interesting scene: bees filled the morning air, a long line of beeks meandered through the chilly parking lot, waiting to pickup packages and supplies. We chatted about bee die-offs and mite management techniques as bees randomly landed on us then flew off again. Some people started when a bee landed on them – shook them off, others let them come and go. The bees arrived in a plastic Bee Bus instead of the usual mesh-covered wooden box. Thousands of little legs pushing through the openings reminding me of PETA propaganda for animals being brought to slaughter.

But these bees were (hopefully!) not headed for slaughter. Back home we sprayed the Bus with sugar water so the bees had something to do. Geared up, we opened our top bar hive by removing the top bars towards the back, installed a pollen patty and the quart of sugar water, and replaced the top bars.

Now for the bees. First thing is to remove the Queen. We shook down the bees by solidly tapping the Bus on the ground, lifted out the syrup can, and removed the queen cage. The Queen paced her small wooden cell with its mesh-lined window. Queen alive and well – check.

Straggler honeybees on top of the bars after hive installation.  Queen cage hanging from Bar 10.

Straggler honeybees on top of the bars after hive installation

Next we removed the top bars from the front of the hive, pried open the end of the Bus, poured and tapped 10,000 bees into the open trough of our top bar hive. This is not as easy as it sounds. And it is loud! Each firm tap to release more bees was accompanied by the angry buzzing of one thousand wings.

Beek Scott following installation

Beek Scott following installation

The last step was to secure the queen cage. In a top bar hive, you do this by pinching the metal tail of the cage over a bar so that the cage hangs down into the hive. At this point, the young worker bees have been with their Queen less than 24 h. They do not know Her. If she were set free from her cage, they would kill her for an intruder. So we wait for her pheromones to lull them into compliance. They will feed her through the bars of her cage. When we change the cork plug out for a marshmallow 4 days later, they will chew through the plug and set her free to reign their hive.

Empty Queen Cage!

Empty Queen Cage!

One week later, the queen cage is empty and they have drawn out nearly 3 full combs. Game on!

Posted in animal behaviour, bees, honeybees, top bar hive | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Swarm!

Two days before our package arrived, a swarm moved into the hive!

 

Bees had been checking out the hive for weeks, but it looked like they were just robbing the remaining honey. I stopped thinking it was scouts looking to relocate their hive.  But then – Lo did the sky darken and fill with the buzzing of thousands of honeybees!  We followed them to the front yard where they filled the sky, and then the yard, and then settled on the hive itself.  They bearded on the outside, they covered the top bars under the lid, and they rolled out from the door.  It was awesome.  One week later they are still there, so they appear to be staying.

Swarm filling the yard

Swarm filling the yard

Swarm bees bearding the hive

Swarm bees bearding the hive

Posted in animal behaviour, bees, honeybees, top bar hive | Tagged , | 5 Comments

God Bless the Little Children

The rental house south of us has a large back porch on the second floor that overlooks our chicken yard. Maymay grew up with our chickens – her little voice learning to say ‘Chicken!’ as she watched them from the porch. Later her dad Mike would bring her by to visit with the chickens on ground level and also poke around the yard. We loved it.

Eli patiently feeding the hens dandelion greens.

Eli patiently feeding the hens dandelion greens.

Mike and Ann bought their own place this winter and we were sad to see the enthusiastic little family move on. Luckily, our new neighbors are super cool and have little children who are also fascinated with our chickens. Dave and Chrissy have already brought over Eli (4?) and Olive (2?) who are getting good at feeding the chickens (well, Eli is good at it. Olive is just enthusiastic.).

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Olive watching the hens in their house

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Eli ‘I’m really good at this’ on the push mower.

They also have a penchant for yard work! Eli cut the grass yesterday for 25 minutes and cried when it was time to stop.  As if that weren’t enough, Eli is also very fond of the rock collection that I have on ‘display’ under the pear tree, so he’s way OK with me.

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Eli made space so that Olive could push, too.

Posted in chickens, Family | Tagged | 2 Comments