This is a brief update to my recent post, Covered in Bees.
I’m a bit late since this was a busy work week for me, but I really wanted to share a bit about my follow-up entree into the hive. As I mentioned before, I needed to go back in to place a new honey super and make room for the booming population in my small hive, and take advantage of the warm weather.
As it turns out, the nectar flow is in full swing! Even more so than I had originally anticipated. That seems to be the theme of the month when beekeeping is at hand. Last week I put two foundationless frames into my hive to replace the frames of honey I was removing. I also really wanted to see how my bees handled building natural comb. I pulled the outer of the two frames and say this:
I hadn’t expected the weight of it! It was totally drawn and already mostly filled with nectar on both sides with bees working away at it. I replaced both, replaced the excluder and stacked on a new box with some regular frames and some without foundation to see what they would do with it. I’m planning to go in three weeks from now to inspect and I’m hoping for an extraction in four.
The nectar must flow!
After work yesterday, I checked the weather and discovered it was still well above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So, I rushed to my mother’s house and got geared up to go into my hive for the first time since last June. I had no idea what to expect, and I was going in alone. In the past, I’ve been the only person working on the hive, but have always had a remote helper to hand me tools from the patio, or take photos. This time no one was even home. I was pretty anxious, but deeply determined to go into my hive.
It was hard. I have an anxiety disorder and recently cut back on my medications in an effort to learn to cope without dampening all of my emotions. This was one hell of a test of those coping skills to be sure, and I’m very proud of myself for how well I did given the circumstances.
My original plan was to remove at least two frames of honey if they were doing well, replace those frames with empties, and add a queen excluder and honey super. I didn’t quite manage it, but I did fairly well I think, given my relative inexperience. Sadly, I crushed a far more bees than I would really like, and I’m still a little panicked that I could have possibly killed my queen. It’s very unlikely, but fear isn’t always rational and I’m so invested in this give that I think I would be devastated if I was responsible for its collapse.
The reason I wasn’t able to complete my mission is that I got stung, which spiked my adrenaline. At first that adrenaline was a much needed kick in the pants, and I pulled the frames I intended to remove and replaced them with blank ones. Unfortunately the adrenaline crash that followed, hit me hard. I got shaky and nauseous to the point that I had a hard time even putting the excluder on, and putting on the next box was just impossible. I decided the best thing I could do was to close everything up and wait until Friday to place the new box.
I’m glad I did too because my body was so overwhelmed by the chemical rush that I fell asleep on the couch right after getting my suit off, leaving my two precious frames of honey outdoors! Later, I went out to retrieve them and found them covered I bees, desperately trying to retrieve any honey they could despite it being after dark. One of the frames which had only been filled and capped on one side was light enough that I was able to bring in by myself. The other had to wait until my mother got home so I would have a second pair of hands to handle the heavy frame while I brushed all the bees off.
Now I have them uncapped on one side each, draining slowly into a big steel tray. I considered cutting out all the comb and crushing it to get my honey faster, but I just couldn’t bring myself to destroy all the hard work my bees put into building the comb. I’m hoping it will be drained by tomorrow so I can give my bees those frames right back… And because I want my honey!!
Now, I may be writing a very dry post about what I did, but I’m actually giddy at the prospect of having my own honey finally. These bees have had it all to themselves for a full year! I’m ready to get something back on my investment here and with the rate at which me and mine all suck down honey, I’m hoping for some really great harvests this year!
I just hope my new roommates don’t mind it too much. I just moved into a new house two cities over and I don’t actually want to drive my roommates nuts.
Despite odds being 50/50 for sex on chicks I’ve hatched myself, I always name them all with girls names. It’s my own bit of superstition, but genetics aren’t much influenced by superstition and as such in fairly certain I have two pullets and two cockerels.
And our bold young cockerels:
Milo (formerly known as Milla)
And Finally, Dame Edna (whose name doesn’t need changing)
Teenagers of all creatures look equally awkward. Add to it that Idris and Edna are surprise frizzles and the awkward trips from gangling into clownishly cute! I will be heartbroken if we end up needing to part with either Milo or Edna. They are mere weeks old, and they already feel like family.
A week ago we hatched some cochin chicks out of eggs purchased from Aarron Hunsinger. If you ever fall in love with bantam Cochins the way I have, I highly recommend getting in touch with him. He breeds several gorgeous lines of Cochins and sells his hatching eggs at the best deal I’ve yet to see.
We had a very tough couple of months during which we lost three of our favorite birds, each under different and devastating circumstances. When Aarron offered up some hatching eggs, I knew it would be a good way to salve my broken heart.
Out of 29 eggs, 10 hatched. For eggs laid in winter and then shipped from Pennsylvania to California, that’s a pretty good ratio. I have no need for 10 new birds, so I split the hatch with another local urban homesteader, and kept only 4 for myself.
Meet Edie (aka Dame Edna)
Her passions include standing in the water dish, looking fabulous in blue, and sleeping in people’s scarves. She’s the oldest of the bunch but young at heart.
Next meet Idris
Idris is a messy girl but makes it look cute. She loves sleeping in the food dish, wearing heavy eyeliner, and is always first to check out anything new.
Here comes Felicia.
Felicia is the baby of the bunch. She is smaller and younger, but don’t let that fool you. She can scream her head off if she’s unhappy and is only happy when her twin sister is nearby.
Speaking of, here she is. Meet Milla
Milla is a fierce little red head and is always looking out for her sister, Felicia. She loves staring out the window and long walks on the coffee table at sunset.
A little over a year ago I was given a pair of bantams by a friend who couldn’t keep the cockerel. They were a beautiful pair of Mille Fleur D’Uccle bantams. We used to have chickens when I was a kid, but the coop was pretty run down. These bantams were never going to lay much and we had gotten hooked on the idea that maybe we could raise chickens for eggs. With me working at a feed store, that seemed the natural next step. So I signed up to get three chicks in the next order. Three layers seemed perfect for a four person household that didnt go through a lot of eggs.
On chick day I went in and discovered that there were two more chicks that hadn’t been claimed so I went home with 5 instead of three. No big deal. Especially since one of the turned out to be a rooster a few months later. Before we even knew he was a roo, he had been dubbed with the prophetic name, Dinner. That’s just what became of him since we already had a rooster we loved.
Shortly thereafter, a friend had to give up his elderly hens because he was moving. Thus 6 became 10 because free chickens don’t count, right?
Of those four new ones, two were bullies to my bantams so they went right back out! but it turned out soon after that I had been mistaken and it was actually two other ones that were bullying my little ones. Meanwhile my mother had discovered the existence of black orpingtons and was totally in love so as I reduced my flock yet again, I started a search and found someone who had one, along with some other special breeds I was in love with. We intended to get three birds from her, but there was a discount if we get four! So four it was. Back to 10 birds again.
Life was grand and the flock was noisey. We got complaints about the rooster crowing so we were finally and tragically forced to get rid of the little man who started off our grand chicken adventure. We were heartbroken and to salve our wounded hearts, we put fertile eggs into an incubator in hopes that his progeny would live on in our flock. We decided to make room for them and culled our flock down to 4 again, but 21 days is a long time to wait and in that time I arranged for 4 pullets from a friend who is a show bantam breeder. Two cochins and two silkies to keep my one bullied bantam company.
7 little ones hatched! Hurrah! A couple weeks later my pullets are ready for pickup and I head out to his coop-yard. I fall in love left and right and 4 becomes 7.
So heres the math:
2 free birds + 3 chicks= 7
7 – 1 rooster=10
10 -2 bullies= 6
6 + 1 orpington= 10
10 – 1 rooster= 11
11 + 4 bantams= 18 chickens in my flock!
I think that makes me officially chicken crazy.
Tis the season for skin parasites and for me that’s also a time to panic. The dry summer season is when all skin parasites really boom in population including lice, ticks, fleas and mites. My dogs are long suffering and allergic to many flea meds but we manage to keep their unwanted passengers under control by hook or by crook. My chickens are a different story.
Here’s the thing to know about me: I’m a veritable font of chicken knowledge, but I’m really bad at implementing all of that wisdom in my own coop. I didn’t do any of the preventative treatments that I frequently recommend to customers at the feed store and I took a couple days to check on my chickens when they started shedding feathers like crazy so I ended up with a major pest problem and had to scurry to relieve my hens of their itchy creepy crawlies.
Mites vs. Lice: What is the difference?
Mites and lice are two of the most common skin parasites that chickens get. Both cause irritation which will often cause chickens to scratch and pull out their feathers, and preventative treatment is similar for both.
Red Mites are mostly nocturnal and feed on the chickens’ blood, similar to fleas on your cat or dog. These can actually kill your chickens and carry fowl pox, poultry cholera, and New Castle Disease. Preventative treatment is crucial as they have long lifespans and can survive for extended periods, up to a year, without feeding on your flock. Usually recommended treatment schedule is every 4 months if no infection is apparent (though I personally recommend no more than 3 months between preventative treatments) and every 5-7 days if it is. Treatment can include diatomaceous earth powdering, permethrin/pyrethrum spray or powder, or PYthon Dust for more drastic intervention (more on all these below). Holistic remedies call for pungent oils and herbs such as mint, tea tree, lemon-eucalyptus, and fleabane as well as sticky herbs like Elecampane and fresh Tobacco to trap them. Tobacco also has the added benefit of nicotine being a insecticide and smoking tobacco can be added to their dust baths and nesting boxes to kill buggies and deter breeding.
Common Poultry Lice, though more benign than mites, are still a blight and cause extreme stress to your birds, often affecting laying and fertility. There are a couple other types of lice but these are the most frequent culprits and prefer the areas around the vent and rump. Chicken lice feed mainly on feathers and dead skin, but will also bite the skin of chickens and leave itchy irritated areas especially around the vent and under the wings. At first glance they almost look like little off-white or yellow maggots but closer inspection shows that they have legs and tiny pincers. Some birds that are better at grooming can keep lice in check but hot weather and other stressors including overcrowding, poor nutrition, and pecking, can overwhelm even the best groomed birds in a flock. Because lice transmit through contact with infected birds as well as dropped feathers, they can overwhelm a flock very quickly. As with mites, cleaning out the coop and treating the area as well as the chickens is critical to controlling this pest. Ensure that no feathers are left behind as these can continue to feed the lice and reinfect your flock even when treatment has been successful. Direct treatments for lice are very pretty much identical to those for mites but added is the treatment for nits, the egg clusters which adhere to feathers. These can be coated in vaseline or coconut oil to suffocate developing lice and prevent them from hatching.
Why do my chickens have parasites?
You may wonder how these pests get into your coop and run. The answer is often in the form of other critters. Wild birds carry many of the same pests and diseases that affect chickens, and they are attracted to your chickens by the sweet lure of easy feed. Putting feed in less outwardly accessible areas can reduce the number of wild birds coming into contact with your flock, but probably won’t eliminate it entirely so even a well secured flock should be treated several times each year to prevent parasite infections. Another common visitor is rodents. Mice and rats, while unaffected by mites and lice themselves can carry infected materials into your run. Rats also carry numerous other diseases so rat-proofing your chicken area is very important. I have been struggling with this myself this year, and while I know I have reduced the population of rats here and there, they are also growing fat on my chicken feed and continue to reproduce.
What do you recommend?
Before I continue, I would like to make clear that these recommendations are made purely on my own. I am not endorsing these products because of anything other than their efficacy in my experience and those in my community.
For Mites and Lice:
This is an extremely potent insecticide and has a wide range of applications for controlling livestock pests. Though it is recommended for large livestock, it is also effective for chickens though should be used in moderation and only for extreme infections.
This is a preventative treatment containing Permethrin, a synthetic form of pyrethrum, the insecticide found in chrysanthemums. Prozap can be used to treat low level infection when they are detected early, but once the infection is bad, you may want to use something stronger, like PYthon. This stuff also works as an excellent preventative treatment and can be used every 6-12 weeks to keep pesky parasites from bothering yourbirds.
Diatomaceous Earth (a.k.a. DE)
This is a fine mineral powder made from ground fossil crustaceans called diatoms. The mineral structure is such that it cuts the waxy coating that protects insects and dehydrates them. It will also dry out any eggs it comes into contact with. There is some controversy though, as some people feel that the fine dust poses risks to the chickens’ respiratory health. Personally, I am happy to add this to dust baths, nest boxes and run as a preventative and mild treatment for parasites both external and internal. DE is easily obtained as food-grade and is totally organic, making a great choice for small farmers concerned about chemical exposure. Many health food stores carry this in their cosmetics section while Hardware stores usually have it in their garden section.
Permethrin and Pyrethrum sprays
These are widely available by many different names. They can cause some skin irritation when used as a topical remedy, but make a great disinfectant for coop cleaning. Some are also available with herbal additives like eucalyptus, mint, and lemon oils which also act as valuable pest deterrants. When shopping for these insecticidal sprays make sure to find one that is pet and/or child-safe so you know the solvents and additives won’t harm you birds.
The is a household item that can prove exceptionally good at reducing louse populations. Nits, the egg clusters attached to the feather bases can be generously slathered in petroleum jelly which chokes the eggs and prevents them from hatching. This is especially handy around sensitive areas that lice and mites attach such as around the vent, ears, eyes, and wattles.
Nesting Box Blend from Treats for Chickens
Add a small handful of this blend of wonderful smelling herbs to discourage mites and lice from setting up shop. It also keeps down the smell of poo in the coop between cleanings. Try to find it in the bulk section of your local feed stores. it tends to be much fresher and affordable this way. You can also consider mixing up your own batch of dry herbs including mint, lavender, bay leaf, calendula, chamomile, and catnip among others.
This plant has been valued for millenia for its strong minty smell and insect repellant abilities. It is however toxic(liver necrosis even in small doses) and should never be left for chickens to eat. I have a plant in my garden from which I pick sprigs to put into the bottom of their nesting boxes under the straw. I don’t recommend using it anywhere else in their coop for risk of ingestion and it should be grown out of reach of pets and children. Pennyroyal oil is also sometimes available but because of its concentration and risk of skin contact, it poses even greater risk than the fresh or dried leaves. Pennyroyal is an old remedy and a good one but we have advanced enough now to understand the dangers too.
My treatment regimen is completed and I think I’ve got these suckers under control. I may decide to give them one last round of PYthon on Monday to be certain that I won’t be seeing lice and mites again because there are chicks in my living room, and pullets finishing at my breeder’s farm in Gilroy that will be joining the big birds in the next couple weeks.