Monthly Archives: November 2013

Whatever Did Happen to All Those Bantams Chickens?

The bantam chicks of 2012 were an ill fated bunch. There were the early mortalities from shipping stress, the cat attack, the skunk attack, the unusually high number of male specimens and the neighbors who did not appreciate the chorus of croaky attempts at rooster sounds.

Chicken dierama.

Chicken diorama.

Many returned to the soil on an abbreviated timeline, but a few are still with us. Four out of 28, to be precise. Four! Never again will we buy un-sexed bantam chicks. Not worth it.

Mille fleur

Mille Fleur d’Uccle

They truly are lovely paddock ornaments and I delight in the ridiculous sight of a mini fried egg, but even these girls may be rehomed soon. Laying is slowing down, so we will be “retiring” the old ladies of the flock this year. The replacement gals are in the tiny dinosaur stage of life at the moment (half feathered, fully awkward), being fostered by O’s kindergarten class. Once they are big enough to go outside we fear these flightly little bantams will be bad influences.

Silver Sebright

Silver Sebright, beautiful menace?

We had a wild night of terror a couple of months back- chickens freaking out, loud and feathery mayhem in the coop. It seems a predator must have been harassing them through the walls of the coop. A couple gals were quite wounded in some chicken-style friendly fire- bumping into one another during the crisis and being mistaken for the enemy. Since then all the girls have been suspicious of the coop but the above pictured Mille Fleur took matters into her own claws and started roosting in the redwood branches at night. Soon all the other bantams and both Ameracaunas were following her lead. Now we have a half flock of tree roosters. While I find this charming in some ways (trees full of hidden chickens! Ha!), it makes leaving for a weekend difficult (can’t lock everyone in for a few days) and I wonder how they will fair when the rains start. I fear the new babies will learn these tree roosting skills and that would be very inconvenient. So they may have to be Craigslisted. Sigh. Zero out of 28.

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Fall Bee Update, With Queen Pics!

Well, all those weeks ago the bees seemed to have come through the weird mini-swarm incident. The bees that clustered on the leg of the hive were all dead in a pile come morning (too cold?), but a few days later I checked inside the hive and things looked just like they did before the mini-swarm thing. On one of the few frames I pulled out to look more closely I happened to see the queen again, so that’s something. Mysterious bees! I have taken a more hands off approach since then, partially because I was worried I was stressing them too much and partially because that concern was just enough excuse to let the rest of life take priority.

Yesterday I wanted to take a quick peek to see how things were looking. I kept it short and sweet because the girls were feisty! I had this idea that I didn’t want them to unnecessarily gorge on honey, given the limited supply, so I didn’t use smoke. When I was smooth with my movements it was mostly okay, but any little bumps or jerks immediately resulted in that revving engine sound of pissed off bees and a few more angry ladies taking to the air in an attempt to sacrifice themselves to protect the hive.

The top medium super of the near hive.

The top medium brood box of the near hive.

The near hive had far fewer bees than before, but the top medium box was very heavy with honey and there was a small amount of brood in both the top and bottom boxes. I’m still fairly sure they don’t have enough honey stores to last the winter, so I will keep an eye on needing to feed them.

The colony in the far hive, however, was much smaller.

The top medium box of the far hive.

The top medium brood box of the far hive. Sad!

There were few bees in the top box but a fair amount of honey stored. The lower box had a small amount of brood and more bees, but not a lot. It seems that the amount of honey stored relative to the population might actually put them in better stead than the near hive in terms of basic sustenance, but I’m not sure about the chances of a colony this small.

The bottom box of the far hive.

The bottom medium brood box of the far hive.

You can see how the bees are clustering around the frames in the center of the box. This is where there is a bit of brood, so the bees are clustered here to try to keep this area at the constant 91-97 degrees needed to raise baby bees.

And now, something that I wasn’t at all hopeful about getting, pics of the queen! Given what I was just saying about being quick so as not to stress the hives too much, I have some guilt about taking the extra time to snap these pics but I just couldn’t resist. Ah the trials of being kept by a new beekeeper. Poor bees. Thing is, nobody else here at the homestead has ever seen either of the queens and I really wanted to share. So, here she is!

Queen Bee!

Queen Bee!

Can you spot her? Look right in the middle. She’s is the largest bee in this picture (and in the hive). She has a dark, hairless spot on her thorax, a pinched waist and a much longer abdomen compared to the worker bees. Sometimes I’ve found her in the classic pose, with a circle of doting caretakers surrounding her, but often she’s trying to scurry away from the light and the worker bees are more of a jumble around her.

A frame from the far hive.

A frame from the far hive.

Can you see her now? Close to the top, on the middle of the visible section of comb. This is an example of how the girls have drawn their comb using just a starter strip of wax foundation along the top of the frame. This frame is flipped upside-over (as O would say), so the main attachment is along the bottom of the picture. This is a maneuver I can do in cooler weather with a light weight comb, but would be risky in warm weather with a heavier comb- the whole comb might flop right out. Lots of times the girls bring the comb all the way down and anchor it to the bottom of the frame, making it sturdier, but not in this case.

I’ve heard of estimating the weight of a hive by how many fingers it takes to lift the hive, so I gave it a go in order to have some reference point for future hive checks. The near hive is at two fingers needed to lift, the far hive at just one puny finger needed! This seems bad. We shall see.