So what's going on around here the week before Christmas?
After adjusting to the newness of snow, the chickens are doing really well and enjoy getting out in the yard every chance they get. One of us goes out every morning around sun-up to check the girls and open the coop, and by that time they are very ready to be up and about. The cold doesn't seem to bother them a bit, only the really windy days keep them cooped up. We've opened up the chicken run to the garden and they really like pecking and scratching around and in the garden beds.
The coop is a much calmer place since we removed the two other roosters, these days it's downright pleasant. The hens are laying about a dozen eggs a day thanks to the heat lamp which keeps them warm and lighted despite the cold short days. Some people say that the hens need a break in the winter, but we've yet to read a good reason for that and ours seem to be doing fine. We did notice that there were very few hens using the upper boxes, so we added a perch to give them a place to climb in. That seems to have fixed the problem for the most part.
We collect eggs once or twice a day, often reaching under the hens to get them. The hens are generally agreeable to this, although at times one will let you know she's not happy with a sharp peck.
Selling the eggs is going very well too. Thank you very much to everybody that has bought eggs from us! Lately we've been able to buy chicken feed and scratch using the egg money which was a goal of ours.
As near as I can tell, the honey bees are wintering well also. I check them every few days by putting my ear to the box and giving it a quick tap. The bees buzz in response and then go back to their business. What is their business? Keeping the queen warm! The colony forms a tight ball and everybody works together to make heat. The ball moves gradually as the bees consume honey for energy and cycle from the inside to the outside of the ball. Both colonies have access to sugar syrup, but the consumption has gone way down since the fall. Since it's hard for the bees to move far this time of year, I need to switch from the syrup to sugar cakes or dry sugar feeding for the winter. I need to check on them, but hesitate to open the hives because exposure to the cold can kill them. In a well established hive there is enough honey that you don't need to feed, but mine are not that well prepared since we got a late start.
Feeding sugar cakes involves making hard sugar rich patties and placing them in the hive, while feeding dry sugar can be done by placing newspaper on the frames and pouring a few pounds of sugar on newspaper. The humidity in the hive will cause the sugar to harden and form a cake.
I found a very good beekeeping blog with lots of pictures and how to's at http://mudsongs.org/. These guys keep a very neat blog devoted to beekeeping in St. John's, Newfoundland. I am encouraged by reading about their success in a climate worse than mine. Last year they made and fed sugar cakes and I may need to do the same. Mudsongs.org/making-candy-cakes.
Also, http://www.beesource.com/ has a good (lengthy) USDA text explanation of winter feeding at http://www.beesource.com/resources/usda/supplemental-feeding-of-honey-bee-colonies/
I'll keep you posted on my bee's progress and what I decide to do about feeding.
Until then, Happy Holidays to everybody, Merry Christmas, keep warm and stay safe.