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Building a Warre Hive Quilt Box (BEES)

The weather is rapidly cooling and we’ve had a fair few frosty nights but our warre hive set up did not come with a quilt box. We were concerned.

What is a Quilt Box?

A quilt box is a separate section that fits onto your warre hive above the honey boxes and below the roof. It is designed to act like a quilt layer on your hive, keeping the warmth generated by the bees inside the hive and reducing the amount of heat that escapes through the roof. A warre hive is perfectly designed to allow the bees to regulate their temperature on their own as it has similar dimensions to a natural hive, with the addition of the quilt box the hive is quite sustainable over winter with minimum intervention. Indeed, one of the warre hives most redeeming qualities is that you should not need to barely intervene at all, causing the bees significantly less trauma.

Is wasn’t last minute.

I actually ordered a separate warre quilt box last year, around June. It took a long time to dispatch, but I was patient. It never arrived. After a long wait I then had to endure another long wait to get my money back. I then let the task slip my mind for a couple of months.

After a while, as the days got shorter, I remembered I still needed one and ordered another one. I waited. It was dispatched. It never arrived.

This was getting ridiculous. After having a look around online it seemed that it was the same person I tried to order from last time. Making phantom quilt boxes and having the cheek to try to delay my refund or replacement with “can I get your address and Ill look into that” followed by deafening silence. Meanwhile my bees are potentially suffering. As it turns out, I couldn’t find a single other person who makes these quilt boxes, it’s all the same guy.

Right, time to take matters into my own hands. As soon as Christmas is over and everyone opens up the shops again.

Sawmill to the Rescue

We have a great sawmill nearby to us. They have a good supply and some good staff members who know what they are doing. They will also cut up your wood for you at no extra charge – great news for me because I suck at sawing in a straight line. So at the next opportunity I sent my other half over there to pick me up a plank of wood. Specifically a plank of cedar wood, cut to specific dimensions with a certain maximum depth and width.

Huzzah! They had exactly the right plank of red cedar (Thuja) hidden away in the off-cuts section. This guy also knew his stuff and assured my partner that cedar really was the only way to go for a bee hive…

Thuja

Thuja wood is commonly referred to as Red Cedar. It’s not really a Cedar, but let’s not digress. The reason why Thuja is so GOOD for beehives is because it is naturally weather resistant and therefore does not require treating to be able to sit outside for it’s lifetime.  That means less chemicals and happier bees! Apparently it’s also the material of choice for yurt floors for this same reason. To further ensure the minimum of chemicals in my beehive I secured the cuts together with screws – refraining from using the tempting wood glue – just in case.

Hessian & Sawdust

It also happened that I had a few damaged hessian sacks in my shed – perfect for a quilt box! The base of the quilt box is a piece of hessian stretched out and stapled to the box frame. This allows air to flow through the quilt box but still keeps it quite separate. The hessian I used for this box has some printed stuff on it – ideally you don’t want this either and for other people’s hives I would not use this particular off-cut. However, I wasn’t too worried about this minimal contamination for my own in this instance (for no particular reason). The box is then filled with 50-100mm of untreated, unscented sawdust that sits on top of the hessian layer. Boy was this ever hard to find. It’s not as simple as nipping to a pet shop because it’s all treated and scented now. It has to be clean, dry and unadulterated.

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How to Tell if your Hen is Broody

For those of us that don’t have the inclination to buy an incubator and brooder and spend months rearing chicks by hand ourselves every day while loosing a substantial amount of space to the brooder in our homes, there is an all new invention: The Broody Hen.

Okay so it’s not so new, but it is a rare and beautiful find to possess. I figuritively cry when I see forum posts about broody hens when the owner just doesn’t want thier hen to go broody. Of course, I understand in smallscale operations you just want a couple of egg layers and no fuss, but don’t break your broody hen – give her to someone who really needs a broody prone hen and swap her for an egg laying machine. Not only is it kinder to the hen, it’s also vital for many natural method chicken owners. Personally not only do I find it MUCH easier to get a broody hen to rear your chickens, but I can’t stand the fact that many breeds of chicken now simply do not go broody, it’s been specifically bred out of them to ensure relentless egg laying machines for your supermarket eggs. If we didn’t incubate them, they would be in serious trouble as it’s quite rare for them to get broody and raise chicks naturally. Surely that isn’t something we should be encouraging just for our own convenience?

I digress…

Clear Signs you have a broody hen

 

1. You hardley ever see her outside anymore
This is a big one. If your hen is outside all day – the eggs are not being incubated. Eggs can be left without a hen sitting on them for approximately half an hour maximum before you start to loose eggs. Therefore, during brooding the hen has a strong urge to make sure they do not get off those eggs except to feed, drink and poop. For the first few days this can mean they don’t get up at all – as if they are making absolutely sure the ball is rolling before they risk anything. If you don’t think your hen has budged an inch for a  couple of days, you may wish to consider picking her up off the nest and plopping her down by the food to encourage her to eat and drink before she sits down again.

2. Her poop is big and smelly
Because she isn’t eating and drinking throughout the day she also isn’t pooping regularly. This means when she does get up off the nest she has a nice big poop before she get’s back to work. All that extra stored up poop is going to be pretty ripe and much larger than her regular poops.

3. She has stopped laying eggs
Sometimes, she will brood even with no eggs underneath her! These are what I refer to as “Hardcore broodies”. But whether she has enough eggs or not, she will stop laying if she wants to sit and brood. If she still hasn’t “set” try adding some extra eggs into the nest box as it may be she doesn’t have the right number for what she wants to brood. Unless she is an old bird (4 years ish for most breeds to hit ‘menopause’ up to 7 years in some cases), not laying eggs is a good indicator that she has decided to try to brood.

4. She makes the “Broody noise”
I made a little video of an example of a broody noise from quite a tame broody hen which you can watch below. Basically, while she is sitting on the nest if you go anywear near her she will make a gutteral warning noise telling you to stay away from her and her eggs. The severity of this can vary depending on the hen, broodier breeds like maran and maran hybrid types can get quite upset puffing up to increase thier size, pecking at you and being very noisy! Your tamest most gentle hen can suddenly turn into a viscious rapter ready to eat you alive.

 

Video not working? Use the direct link instead and click here.

5. Missing breast feathers
In order to get her lovely hormone elevated hot skin on the eggs to transfer her body heat more effectively, the hen will often pluck a few chest feather out (little downy ones). She will then use these to line her nest for extra insulation. What a clever mommy! Seeing breast feathers in nest boxes is a great indication someone in the flock is getting ready to brood.

 

Worries/Concerns/FAQ

Q. My Hen refuses to eat/drink what should I do?

A. I have had this happen once, during the first week or so of brooding. Even picking her up off the nest did not deter her, she would storm right back to the eggs immediately. The brooding was strong in this one! My solution was to bring the food and water to her. I made sure they were both within reach from the nest if she stretched out her neck, she seemed happy with this solution as it meant she could have a drink and didnt have to leave her precious eggs uncovered. After a week she calmed down and fed/drank/pooped off the nest and I moved the food and water further away. If you have to do this, keep an eye out for pooping on the nest, a hazard caused by the hen’s unwillingness to get off the nest which can kill eggs.

Q. My hen is showing signs of broodiness but isn’t staying on the eggs enough. What is going on?

A. Your hen is thinking about brooding but something isn’t quite right yet. Sometimes I never figure out what it is! It could be not enough eggs, not dark enough, not private enough, not the right size nest area, the weather turned a bit too cold, she doesn’t feel safe there, it’s just not her favourite place to nest or her breed is ‘easily broken’ i.e. a commercial chicken breed that likely will never brood. Good luck!

 

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Make your Own Chicken Nest Boxes

It’s easy to make your own chicken nest boxes out of almost anything. If you have a place that’s sheltered from wind and rain for your chickens, like a roofed run or polytunnel then you don’t need to spend a fortune on nest boxes or hutches. Assuming you already have a hutch where the hcickens will sleep, you can pop nest boxes anywhere off the ground and almost any box type object will do. If you have a broody hen, you can suddenly find yourself without the use of a selection of nest boxes and a hutch and these extra nest boxes may be just what you need in a hurry.

 

What makes a good nest box?

  • dark
  • no breezey gaps – fully sheltered from the wind (unless you don’t want any broodies but we like to encourage ours to go broody)
  • non slippy surface Or straw for grip if it is  a bit slippy
  • Removable top so you can extract broody hens if you need to relocate them.
  • Easy access for the chickens and for you when you collect eggs
  • Dry/waterproof
  • Big enough for your chickens but small enough to be “safe” feeling. Bantams require very little space, but medium and large fowl will need at least 25cm high and as wide/long as possible. Larger is better because it will be too late to change the nest box if you find your chickens are a bit awkward trying to get in and out.

 

Wooden Boxes
Can be costly or require specific and accurate tools to construct properly. Wood may be purchased or salvaged but salvaged wood will be harder to turn into nest boxes.

 

Metal Buckets

Can be costly if purchased. Will require stableising on the bottom. Metal can get too hot or too cold with british weather.

 

Plastic Tubs

Can be costly depeding on wher eyou shop. Can be easily salvaged from skips and require little modification. Can be too bright – will need a coat of paint.

 

My Nest Boxes

I chose plastic tubs from the shop for my nest boxes. I measured up the space I had on the top of the main hutch and got appropriately sized tubs for £5 each. Then I cut a hole in the front of the the tub (one of the shortest sides) big enough so a chicken could comfortably get through (I have large fowl so this required some testing). Then painted the outside to block light coming in and let it dry. Add a bit of straw, place somewhere sheltered and viola, chickens are very happy with thier new choice of nest boxes.

If they look a bit confused, pop an egg into each one and sit the chickens next to the boxes so they can see. They will soon work it out!

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What does a Fertilised Egg look Like?

We now officially have fertilised eggs! When you have a Rooster in the mix, it’s hard not to treat every little difference in your eggs with enthusiasm and optimism. I got excited over every little speck on the eggs thinking it might be fertilised. It’s important to note that blood spots on the egg are normal but not an indication of a fertilised egg contrary to popular belief.

Think about it, you see those blood spots on store bought eggs – where not a single rooster is found so it’s physically impossible for any of those eggs to be fertilised.

I took a picture of our eggs today so you can see our clear fertilised egg. There were actually a couple in the mix but there is one very clear example of what a fertilised ovum looks like.

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Can you spot the fertilised egg?

Make sure you also remember that the ovum looks like a small white speck on the yolk, so it’s the larger, circles we are looking for here.

eggsfertF for fertilised egg!

 

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Saving egg shells

Egg shells: whether you have chickens or not chances are you get through quite a few eggs in your household. Don’t throw those egg shells away though! Egg shells have good stuff like calcium in them which you or a friend may find very useful!

 

I grind up my egg shells and portion them out into small resealable bags For my chickens, as giving them back the calcium helps them create new eggs again!

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Bear in mind – don’t give chickens whole eggs to eat, or you will teach them to eat Thier own eggs.

 

But it’s not just chickens that benefit from egg shells, here are a few more ideas for reusing egg shells:

  • If you keep snails in a fish tank (to eat algae) or pond, try adding some crushed egg shells when they have baby snails. The calcium supplement of egg shells will help the baby snails to grow big and hard shells and protect them from fish as they grow up.
  • add egg shells to chicken feed as an extra supplement to Thier existing diet.
  • Instead of using salt which can harm plants, sprinkle egg shells instead (crushed) and this will also keep snails and slugs away due to the sharp edges.
  • Add the egg shells to your compost as they are rich in good nutrients to help your plants.