Sunday, April 3, 2011

Four articles for Spring Chickens

Prepare for your chicks arrival.

Tips for when your chicks arrive.

Keep your hens entertained. A few tips.

13 tips for raising Happy Chickens

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Blue Cochin as a pullet

"Soldiers returning from China brought the first Cochin bantams to England in the 1860’s. They were known as “Pekin” bantams then and are still referred to as “Pekins” in many parts of Europe. Cochins are heavily feathered down the shanks and toes and appear to be much larger than they actually are. They are very gentle, excellent setters, rdquire little space, and with their many color varieties are absolutely beautiful to look at. Cochins are the most popular of the feather legged bantams and one of our best setters. The true blue color is perhaps one of the most difficult colors to breed for in the poultry world. We have a nice blue that will vary from a bluish white to a beautiful black laced dark blue. (Please see "The Color Blue" under Blue Andalusians for a description of our Blue Cochin chicks.)" From Murray McMurray

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

So you are about to get baby chicks. A few Tips.

My blue cochins as chicks. That is Peach.

If you are planning on getting chicks this spring here are a few tips:
1. Make sure you have extra time on the day you pick up or receive your chicks. You will want to be with them of course, but you will also want to check in on them every few hours to make sure they are ok.

2. You can certainly mix different breeds together, just be aware that different breeds have different personalities and each bird has a unique personality. Every flock has a Boss. In my flock it is Paprika a white Brahma, she is big, loud and always is the first to greet me at the barn.

3. Choose a location for the "brooder" (this is the hen nursery). It must be predator (including house pets) proof! And also must be draft free. Babies need to be warm.

4. For the brooder you could use a big box with holes in it, a big plastic tub, a cardboard box unfolded and rolled into a pen. You get the idea. Just make sure there is plenty of ventilation and that each chick has 2 square feet of space. This seems big, but watch how fast they grow!

4. HEAT! Babies need to be hot. For the first week of life they need the brooder to be above 90 degrees. Then the temperature can come down about 5 or 6 degrees each week after. I use a 250 watt infrared heat lamp. I hang it over my brooder (which has a thermometer in it) and am constantly checking to make sure it is the right temperature. Here is one thing to look for - if the chicks are all huddled together under the lamp, they are cold. If they are at the edges of the brooder they are trying to cool off. They should all be simply walking around and exploring with each other.

5. Line the brooder with newspaper under pine shavings (NOT CEDAR - too perfumey). Deep shavings though because just plain paper can make for a slippery surface and the chicks can hurt their legs with only newspaper. Change the bedding often.

6. Water. Use a specific chick waterer. A dish can be dangerous. You will also have to teach your chicks how to drink. When you first get them gently dip their beaks into the water.

7. Feed. Get a chick feeder. I actually used a little bowl once and they tipped it over and trapped one of their flock mates. Luckily I was right there. I would recommend an organic chick starter (Not Layer). Starter has more protein. Feed them as much as they want.

8. By about 6 weeks your chicks should be able to go out. It should be above 65 degrees.

9. "Pasting up". This can kill your chicks so look for it every time you are at the brooder. Inspect each little hen. It is when the poop cakes up on their booty, over the vent. Which means they then can poop anymore. You should try and pull it off immediately. Apply warm wet paper towel to soften it up then peel it away.

List of things you need:
Brooder pen (box, tub)
Heat lamp, 250 watt red lamp
Pine Shavings
Chick waterer
Chick feeder
Organic Chick "Grower" feed

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My interview with cookbook author Mollie Katzen, in ChopChop

All You Need Is Love
Cookbook Author Mollie Katzen tells how she started
By Orren Fox, age 14

I’m a big fan of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook and her other books, so I was excited about the chance to speak to her in person. Mollie and I started our conversation talking about our love for soft bread dough. We both just love it. Mostly we would never cook it, instead just play with it, making different shapes over and over again. It just feels so great. Try it! Another thing that just feels great, we both agreed, was when people liked our cooking. It makes you feel very accomplished, useful and independent. Here are her tips for beginner cooks.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

*: How to be Happy

*: How to be Happy: "Back in December I talked with Orren Fox of @HappyChickens about 12 things kids should learn on their own about food. Orren, a 14-year..."

Read the rest here

Bee Update. Bees out and about. 45 degrees

If you are thinking of getting hens this spring.

A few things to think about before your hens arrive.

1. Have a plan if you happen to get a rooster. Every time I get new baby chicks that are all supposed to be hens I get a rooster. If you cannot keep a rooster be sure you have a happy place to have your rooster go. Good places to check are other chicken owners, a local farmer. Just a warning, it can be difficult because no one really wants the roosters. I had someone call me once, she had ordered 12 chicks and 6 of them were roosters and she was trying to find homes for them. Roosters fight and cannot usually be in the same coop.

2. Have your coop all prepared before hens arrive.

3. Each hen should have 6 square feet of space.

4. Make sure the coop is completely predator proof - neighborhood dogs, coyotes, hawks, racoons, fox and rats etc. It needs to be very secure.

5. The coop should be well ventilated but not windy or wet.

6. 5 hens can share a nesting box. A henhouse should always have nesting boxes and roosts.

7. Your chickens should have access to sun. They need roughly 14 hours of light to be good layers.

8. Hens need a place to take a dust bath. This is their natural way to keep pests down. Lice make your hens very uncomfortable and unhealthy.

9. Fresh water every day.

10. Feed should include greens, feed, grit and I add coarse corn and black sunflower seed.

11. Perches or roots. Hens need them I use an old thick broom handle.

12. Any questions email me:

If you are getting baby chicks that's a whole other process.

Don't let your chickens get bored.

During the cold icy winter months stay in their coop, they only go out to the field for a short period of time to forrage. They have an outdoor run that is enclosed with clear corrugated plastic so it is quite warm and sunny, but by the end of the winter months the outdoor coop is well worn. I try to add things to the coop to keep the birds occupied. I don't think it is good for them to be bored. Here are a few things I add to the coop to keep them entertained.

1. Butternut squash cut in half and put into the coop. This occupies them for several days! Just watch out if you have white crested birds, it will stain their feathers.

2. Scratch. This is essentially a special treat for chickens. It is mostly made up of oats and seeds. I love to sprinkle it on the coop floor and the hens "scratch" around for it. It helps dig up the floor and keeps them occupied for hours. Scratch should not replace regular feed, it isn't as nutritious as regular feed.

3.I also go to the local farm and get their leftover tops from beets and carrots and put that in the coop. Both of the tops are different textures and flop around so this is very entertaining. The hens also need greens during this time of year.

4. Tennis balls. I put tennis balls into the coop. The hens think it is hysterical.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Late Winter Hive Check in and Feeding

February 20, 2011
42 degrees in the sun
18 inches of snow on the ground
Bright blue sky, no wind

Two hives alive, one not (Hive two has died. Oddly it was the strongest in the fall). Another winter check in went well, but it was still sort of sad. When some of the more curious bees would come to see who it was, we would tell them to stay inside, because it was only us, the beekeepers. It is one of the greatest feelings to press your ear up to the side of the hive and hear the faint buzzing of the survivors. It is also one of the worst feelings to press your ear to a hive and hear nothing... That has only happened once, and I hope it will not happen again. The little bees are strong but in some cases the bitter cold is stronger. The bees also received a bucket full of thick, sweet syrup to help them make it these last couple of weeks. Many other beekeepers have said that their hives have made it through the heart of winter, but they run out of honey a couple weeks before the nectar begins to flow again. That must bee terrible, so to avoid it we fed them. Just hang on little bees, just a few more weeks.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cool bee facts

Agriculture depends greatly on the honeybee for pollination. Honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination. Without such pollination, we would see a significant decrease in the yield of fruits and vegetables. 1/3 of everything we eat depends on bees.
Bees collect 66 lbs of pollen per year, per hive. Pollen is the male germ cells produced by all flowering plants for fertilization and plant embryo formation. The Honeybee uses pollen as a food. Pollen is one of the richest and purest natural foods, consisting of up to 35% protein, 10% sugars, carbohydrates, enzymes, minerals, and vitamins A (carotenes), B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinic acid), B5 (panothenic acid), C (ascorbic acid), H (biotin), and R (rutine).
Honey is used by the bees for food all year round. There are many types, colors and flavors of honey, depending upon its nectar source. The bees make honey from the nectar they collect from flowering trees and plants. Honey is an easily digestible, pure food. Honey is hydroscopic and has antibacterial qualities. Eating local honey can fend off allergies.
Secreted from glands, beeswax is used by the honeybee to build honey comb. It is used by humans in drugs, cosmetics, artists' materials, furniture polish and candles.
Collected by honeybees from trees, the sticky resin is mixed with wax to make a sticky glue. The bees use this to seal cracks and repair their hive. It is used by humans as a health aid, and as the basis for fine wood varnishes.
Royal Jelly
The powerful, milky substance that turns an ordinary bee into a Queen Bee. It is made of digested pollen and honey or nectar mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in a nursing bee's head. It commands premium prices rivaling imported caviar, and is used by some as a dietary supplement and fertility stimulant. It is loaded with all of the B vitamins.
Bee Venom
The "ouch" part of the honeybee. Although sharp pain and some swelling and itching are natural reactions to a honeybee sting, a small percentage of individuals are highly allergic to bee venom. "Bee venom therapy" is widely practiced overseas and by some in the USA to address health problems such as arthritis, neuralgia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even MS.

Guest Blog Post from - Debbie at Sapsucker Farms

>> I know this isn't about bees or chickens but I just love maple syrup. Also Debbie has bees so we communicate about bees alot.
Making Maple Syrup Brings Out the Kid in All of Us

As a kid growing up in Minneapolis, I remember early spring as that time of year when the days were longer, the snow was disappearing, and I was allowed to play outside again all day long. The most fun was getting the huge pack of neighborhood kids organized for softball games, to play “kick the can,” or just ride around on our bikes. With all of these options, it didn’t take much effort to get me outside; in fact it was much more difficult to get me back indoors at the end of the day.

As time went by, that wonderful, playful era passed and I grew up, went to college, joined the ranks of the corporate world, got married, bought a house in the suburbs, and became a serious-minded adult. I retreated to the indoors during the cold months and when the snow receded in the spring, I looked out my window and only saw was an ugly, dirty yard awaiting attention – the kind that I just didn’t want to give it

But the spring-embracing child in me re-emerged after my husband and I moved to our farm in 2000 and a friend of ours who grew up in Vermont took note of all of our sugar maple trees. He gave us a tour of our own property, pointed them out, and asked: “Have you ever thought about tapping these trees?”We decided to give it a try. The first year we put out 35 taps, and constructed a primitive outdoor cooking station. We discovered it was really fun, so the next year put out 100 taps and made some upgrades to the cooker. We were hooked and made the plunge, expanding a little more each year. The next year it was 200 taps -- built a sugar house -- installed a maple syrup evaporator. Then 400 taps -- 500 taps -- more improvements. And now our operation is even certified organic.

For us, the sugaring season begins the first week of March. We organize a pack of neighbors – spanning three generations – to put out the 500 taps, tubes, buckets, and lids. We have a special drill bit that is specifically for tree tapping. My husband goes from tree-to-tree, identifying the sugar maples, then drills a hole, wipes the bit clean with an alcohol-soaked rag before going on to the next tree to ensure that no diseases are spread. Behind him, someone is ready with a tap with tube already attached, and gently raps it in place with a small hammer. The next person comes along with a five-gallon bucket and lid, tucks the tube into the lid hole and securely snaps it shut.

On our farm, we only tap the sugar maple trees because they have the highest sugar content in the sap. But all varieties of maple trees can be tapped: red maple, silver maple, even box elder which are also members of the maple family.

The taps need to be installed just before the sap begins to run, and that is completely dependent on the weather. The conditions need to be right: nights below freezing and days that are warm. Why? The sap needs to be moving in the tree in order for it to drip through the taps. Freezing nights stops the flow, warm days gets it going again. The wrong combination -- warm nights and warm days or cold nights and cold days -- will prevent this process from happening. And it is because of these very specific weather requirements that maple syrup is exclusively made in North America.

When the weather is cooperating, sap is collected every one to three days. And let me tell you, there is no greater joy than tromping through the muddy woods on a beautiful spring day to find the buckets full of pure, crystal clear, pristine maple sap. Bucket-by-bucket, the collecting tank is filled and hauled back to the sugar house to be cooked in our wood-burning maple syrup evaporator. The sap is boiled for several hours, evaporating most of the water to concentrate the sap into luscious, pure maple syrup.

Maple sap has a sugar content of about 2.5 percent and pure maple syrup has a sugar content of about 66 percent. In simple terms, it means that a whole lot of water needs to be boiled off in order to concentrate the sap in syrup. It takes 30 to 40 gallons of sap – depending on the variety of maple trees – to produce one gallon of maple syrup. The plumes of steam billowing out of the chimney as the sap is cooked is quite a sight to behold.

While the length of time the sap flows varies each year, it typically lasts about three to four weeks. On our farm in East Central Minnesota, the sap flow is usually from mid-March to mid-April. When the trees start to bud, the chemistry of the sap changes taking on a disagreeable odor, color, and taste. This is known as “buddy sap” and it is the indicator that the sugaring season has officially ended.

When the taps are pulled, the holes have already dried up and begun to heal. Just like your skin, the tap hole will leave a scar on the tree. When we return next year to tap again, we will find the scar and use it as a map, moving around the trunk to tap in a different spot. Over the years, the tree grows adding more rings to its girth so by the time we work around the tree back to that general area the same area on the tree can be tapped once again.

Making maple syrup is more than just producing a scrumptious treat. It is an experience that brings together people of all generations to enjoy the great outdoors and celebrate the winter thaw. Lifting buckets, hiking in the forest, splitting wood, and staying up late to cook sap is a lot of work. But the effort is easily surpassed by the pleasure of being outside playing all day until you’re completely exhausted, knowing you get to do it again the next day. For me, making pure maple syrup, is pure childhood joy.

Debbie Morrison is an organic farmer living in East Central Minnesota, about 70 miles north of Minneapolis/St. Paul. She and her husband founded Sapsucker Farms in 2000 and have been making maple syrup since 2001. Other organic crops they raise on their farm include apples, plums, and a variety of vegetables. 20 happy egg-laying hens call Sapsucker Farms home, and Debbie also organically manages up to 20 honeybee hives each year.

Jim & Debbie Morrison Sapsucker Farms

(Photo credits: Mitch Kezar, Kezar Photography)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Guest Blog Post from - Alex Jokela: Beekeeping in Minnesota!

Ice crystals around the front door in MN.

It is January in northern Minnesota. This means we have had much snow which is usually followed up with several severe cold days and nights. Night time temperatures, at their coldest, will reach down to -40F without the wind. How does one keep bees in colder climates? For me, it started with planning. My planning started in August while attending the Eastern Apiculture Society's annual conference (held in Boone, NC, last year). I quizzed any master beekeeper who was from a northern state and who would give me a couple minutes of their time. Valuable common sense tidbits that I assembled, in piecemeal fashion, into comprehensive plan.

Moisture Control.

Growing up, while hunting whitetail deer with my father, I learned to pace yourself while hiking in the woods. You did not want sweat. As soon as you stopped to wait for the occasional deer to wander by, you would become cold faster with the moisture on your body.

The same principle of moisture and cold holds true with beehives. Moisture + cold is a perfect equation for ending up with a pile of frozen, dead bees mid-winter. To control excess moisture (remember, bees shiver in the winter to keep the collective warm; lots of moisture is given off with the shivering), a master beekeeper from Maine recommended using homasote board as an inner cover. A piece the length and width of your top super is cut, and then, using a router with a rabbiting bit, a groove is routed out from middle of the piece - roughly halfway through the material - to one edge. This will be your top entrance for the winter.

On top of the homasote, a 2" wood spacer is used. Inside the space, a piece of rigid foam insulation cut to snugly fit. The outer cover is then placed over the spacer with care being taken to not cover the cut-groove in the homasote.

Insulation Wrap.

I picked an insulation-blanket-type wrap. It is covered in a heavy-mil black plastic. The insulation is loose enough to trap air between itself and the hive boxes while the heavy plastic is useful for keeping out drafts. The wrap is pulled up and secured just below the groove in the homasote board.

As a side note, I use screened bottom boards during the warmer months; to prevent updrafts into the hives, I slid a solid piece under the screens. The bottom entrance is still accessible, but gets covered with snow.

It is very important to make sure that the top entrance remains accessible; this will be the bees' link to the outside world while their bottom entrance is in the snow.

Wind Break.

We have a taller fence to the east and north of the hives. These are the predominant directions the winter winds blow from. Even though the hives are wrapped snug and warm with insulation, there is the fence to act as a wind break. The fence, during the warmer season when the bees are active, also forces the bees to enter and leave the hives at a very steep angle - well above the yards of any neighbors.

Depending upon the size of your apiary, it might not be conducive to put up solid fencing; instead it might be enough or more time-economical to have the top entrance facing away from the predominant wind direction.

Lastly, food. This is a tricky one. You want to harvest enough honey for yourself, but you also need to leave enough for your bees for the winter. It gets trickier if you get an extra cold snap that causes the bees to "lock up" and be unable to reach the food stores. A beekeeper friend had this happen last year; in the spring, there was plenty of food stores left, but all his bees frozen out directly under the food.

By day, Alex is a programmer and data analyst for the University of Minnesota Duluth. But, in his off time, he tends bees and gardens. He is also actively involved in basset hound and coonhound rescue - he and his wife, Melissa, own two bassets and two coonhounds. He blogs about bees and gardening at

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What you can do for your hens when it is dangerously cold

Picture from

This weekend there are supposed to be 3 or 4 days where the temperature doesn't get above 10 degrees with the overnight temperatures well below zero. I don't know what the windchill will do to the temperature.

Here are a few things I do to help my hens.

1. Make sure there is always plenty of fresh water! I use a heated dog bowl which is quite big so if for any reason I can't get there right away they will have enough water.

2. I make sure they have really deep shavings. I actually use an entire bag of shavings per coop.

3. Today I put 1 heat lamp (on a timer) in each coop so overnight when it gets dangerously cold they have a place to perch and keep warm.

4. I added a little extra cracked corn and gambird feed to their food mix. The gamebird feed is higher in protein and the cracked corn I understand takes some work to digest so keeps their body temp up.

5. I put vaseline on all combs to protect against frost bite.

6. I check them often.

Friday, January 21, 2011

From Ilya to Ike.

I have a rooster, that I originally thought was a hen. At first she was named Ilya but now he is named Ike. The hysterical thing is that when I first entered “her” in the local fair, the judges didn’t pick up on the fact that my bird was really a rooster, not a hen. He was a very good-looking “hen”, so good-looking in fact that he won first prize. Ilya won, but it was really Ike. Thank goodness “she” didn’t crow as she received her blue ribbon. In fact it was just a few months after the fair that I first heard “her” crow and thought “uh oh”.

My family thinks this is hysterical because not only did we not know “she” was a “he” but the judges didn’t know either. I think judging is an art, not a science, so there is room for “interpretation”. Not everyone is perfect, no matter how long they’ve trained or how many books they’ve read, no one gets everything just right.

We also think it is really funny that maybe we have a cross-dressing chicken. It is just a hysterical thing to think about. As a result of a ton of jokes about a cross-dressing chicken, we now have a crazy tradition with one of our good family friends. We have a stuffed fake chicken, yes a stuffed fake chicken that we dress up and hide in each other’s houses. Sometimes the chicken dressed in goggles and a swimsuit will appear in a big box at camp. I have to admit when I get a big box at camp I immediately hope it is homemade cookies and a little note. Then I look at the return address and slowly, secretly, open the box, because inside is usually a stuffed, full-sized fake chicken dressed in shorts with a little backpack and headlamp. Last Easter, I came home from an egg hunt and went to my room, guess who was there in my bed dressed like an Easter bunny, surrounded by marshmallow peeps. You guessed it, The Chicken. Right now The Chicken is at our friend’s house and we keep trying to imagine where she will turn up. I am guessing under the Christmas tree in a reindeer suit!

I'm glad my family thinks this is perfectly normal.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A rookie beekeeper

As a rookie beekeeper I do worry about the bees in such a big snowstorm, but honestly they are probably fine. I just can't help but think about them.

"I have read up on their astonishing winter habits. Bees metabolize the dense carbs in honey ferociously, generating heat, which they further augment by flexing their flight muscles, without moving their wings. Clustering around their queen to retain the heat is their means of climate control. Deep in the hive, the cluster expands and contracts with the temperature; the colder it gets, the tighter the huddle.

But can these cluster physics really maintain a constant central temperature of 70 degrees in a pelting snowstorm? “You bet they can,” said Leslie Huston, a Newtown beekeeper. “And in late January, if they have begun producing brood for the spring, the activity can raise the temperature to 90.” -NYT article here

My very first hens.

Bee Hives at the White House

Hear a nice interview HERE

Digital Subscription to BeeCulture

Good Magazine.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

13 Tips for raising Happy Chickens

13. Feed your girls greens. Weeds. Leftover Salad. The lettuce from the bottom of the fridge (don't throw out your food scraps, give it to your hens)

12. Have a plan for what you are going to do if you end up with roosters. They can be difficult to find homes for them if you can't keep them. Plan ahead.

11. Consider using food grade diatomaceous earth for pest control. Sprinkle it in deep bedding or lightly on the feed. Wear a mask when working with DE.

10. Choose one breed of chicken and get to know that breed. Generally each breed has specific needs and it is easier to start with one breed. I recommend Rhode Island Reds. Or considering helping a heritage breed.

9. Have at least 5 square feet of space for each bird, 10 square feet if they are in a coop all day.

8. Have a place for your hens to perch or roost. Best to use 2" wide poles.

7. Hens need 14-16 hours of light a day to lay eggs. In the winter you may supplement with lights set on a timer.

6. Make sure your coop is predator proof! this includes storing feed in rat proof containers.

5. Coop should be well ventilated but not drafty.

4. To encourage egg laying there should be 1 nesting box per 4 hens.

3. Make sure your birds aren't bored. I make sure they have "scratch" in their coop to give them something to work on.

2. I feed my hens organic layer pellets, cracked corn, black sunflower seeds, mealworms, scratch, fresh greens, worms, grit and of course clean fresh water every day.

1. Talk to your birds, they will talk back, and make sure to give them lots of love.

Happy Chickens for 2011

Alice. Everyone knows Alice.

Josie as a baby.