Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Two steps forward and one step back

The week has been a little bumpy around here, just when things seemed to be going really well we've had some unfortunate set backs.
In the coop, our hens have been doing great. Since the winter has been mild thus far, they are super active and are getting lots of sunny winter afternoons foraging in the dormant garden. We are gathering a dozen eggs a day regularly and have developed a great group of friends and neighbors who gladly purchase or trade for our eggs every week. The egg money has been covering the cost of feed and things seemed to be just grand.
In the hives, things seemed to be going well also. Both of the colonies are still alive despite my lack of knowledge and the many opportunities to fail. The bees have been making use of the sugar I provided (blog post: mid-december part-2: emergency feeding) and and appear to be wintering well.
Then came the setbacks. We were hit with a nasty wind storm one night which blew the top off one of the bee hives. In hindsight, it's obvious that I should have had rocks on the lids, and I had also mentioned building a windbreak which had not gotten done. I was at work when Whit called to tell me the hive was open, so more than likely it was that way most of the night and all the morning. Bees cluster to keep the queen 92 degrees f. and death from exposure is very common in cold climates like ours. That's why experienced beekeepers never open their hives when it's below 50 f. (the temp when bees can no longer fly). That night it was in the teens and it was in the low 30's when I got home. The other major concern in the winter is moisture. High humidity in a hive is a bad thing and can lead to a bacterial disease called Nosema. When a hive gets Nosema the likely hood is the hive will die without an aggressive treatment with chemicals. So needless to say, the cold wet condition I found my hive in that day was very concerning. I rushed to put the lid back on, and fashioned a lamp in the hive for the afternoon to try and warm/dry things a bit. When I removed the lamp that evening, there were bees were moving about, but there were also many dead bodies scattered on the top of the frames. Since then I've seen bees moving about by peeking in the cracks but have not had a good day to look in and check on them. From what I've read, a shock like that is not always a death blow, but certainly didn't help anything. Of course now there are rocks on the lids and a straw bale wind break in place... learning is hard sometimes.  
As I was still kicking my self over the hive incident, Whit came home one afternoon and found a dead hen. One of our araucanas we called "Grousie" (because she looked like a ruffed grouse as a chick) was laying dead on the coop floor. We looked her over but could not find any marks or anything out of place at all. The coop and run had not been broken into and there was no blood. She looked for all the world like she was laying on the floor asleep. After a sad good bye, we started looking into why this could have happened. There are actually a number of ways a chicken can die unexpectedly from heart attack to calcium over douse. Since we believe little Grousie was a new layer and her vent appeared swollen, Whitney suspects an impaction of the oviduct, a birthing complication you could say. Chicken reproduction is really fascinating, check out this great blog: how hens makes eggs  if your interested. This is our best guess, but for now the death remains an un-solved mystery.
Grousie is the furthest rear hen in the above photo, we'll miss her around the coop.
We remain positive of course, speed bumps like these are all apart of the journey.
I hope my next post brings better news. Until next time.


April said...

So sorry guys. And, thanks for keeping it real and posting the downs along with the ups. Hugs!

John Jolliff said...

Wow Tough break on the bees Was talking to a guy who was ice fishing at rainbow lake..he was telling me how cold it was.

future beekeeper in polson