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Chicken Scratch Poultry

Friday, November 16, 2018

Birds & The Bees / Hens & Hives / Chickens And Honey Bees

Last week we tackled some much needed bee hive maintenance.  Our hives have always sat back behind the house under some spindly trees.  If you know anything about hives, shade and bee hives aren't a good mix, so we began the task of moving them.

 If your wondering why bee hives and shade don't work well together, it's because of hive beetles.  Hive beetles love a cool comfy hive.   Even though our spindly trees didn't provide a lot of shade, it seemed to be enough that the hive beetles were taking complete advantage of the hives.  So I came up with the idea to put the hives in with my hens.  I believe they'll help to keep out beetles, roaches and wax moths.   These pests love to wreak havoc on hives and the hens will not bother the bees.  It's worth a try.  We are down to two hives now and I don't plan on losing anymore.  If bees are using all of there time and energy chasing around hive beetles, that is less time for making honey.

Our cold, long, wet springs that we have here in Southern IL make it difficult to keep bees.
Last February I checked my hives, at that time I had 4 hives.  The bees had plenty of honey and seemed to be doing well, by April two hives died.  What happened in that two
month time period?  Well I think it was the fact that it was warm in February and winter again all through March and April.  The bees died with a full box of honey.  I think it was possibly too cold for them to move from frame to frame to access the honey.

When moving hives, make a plan of where you will sit them.  You want them sitting in full sun (which makes it miserable for us to tend the hives) and fairly close to a water source.
The night before you're going to move them you need to block the hive entrance.  This is probably needles to say but if you move the hive in the middle of the day and you've not blocked the hive entrance, the bees that are out foraging will come back to where the hive was sitting and it will be gone. 
They will not just find the hive.
Also if you try to move the hive and the entrance is not blocked you will have some pretty angry bees by they time your finished.

Larry strapped the hive boxes together.  It's surprising how heavy the boxes are when they're full of honey and they can easily tip and that would be a disaster. 

Next he loaded them one at a time into the tractor dirt scoop and heading for the barn.

We prepared the platform and the ground that the hives will sit on.  It's a good idea to sit them high enough that your not bending over when your tending the hives and if they're elevated skunks are less likely to bother them.
The hives will be sitting in the Lavender Orpington pen, with hopes that they will help with beetle battle.

We spread several bags of barn lime under the hive platform.  This is also suppose to help control hive beetles.  We'll see, it's very inexpensive so it can't hurt to try.  I'm sure the hens will love scratching around in it also.

He sat the hives on the platform.  Two hives are a good number for us.  When we had more it felt a bit over whelming.  I don't have a lot of time to spend tending to them, so two is perfect for now.   Plus we get a hole lot more honey than we can ever use.

Don't forget to unblock the hive entrance when your finished.  Might want to do this part with your bee suit on.  Since it is now November, we only give them a very small entrance hole to keep mice out and put on a bottom board to keep the wind out of the hive.

I shared this photo a couple of weeks ago and someone asked the question, why does it look grey and fuzzy?  Each frame can have a different color of honey and a different color of wax.  It just depends on what the bees are gathering from.  This grey fuzzy looking one is really dark brown honey, almost the color of molasses and the wax cappings are almost white, giving it a grey fuzzy appearance. 
Another person wanted to know how much honey can you get from two hives.  We harvested around two five gallon buckets of honey plus around 7 or 8 frames that we used as cut comb.  That's a lot of honey and if we had spent more time working the hives we probably could have gotten more.

Hopefully our moves help to cut down on beetles and wax moths.  I'll give you an up date sometime in the summer.
Have a blessed day!


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Fall Mushroom Season - Edible Mushrooms Of Illinois

As the poultry season begins to slow down a little, Larry and I find time to sneak off and do something that we love, forage for fungi.  There is nothing more relaxing than getting into the woods and just start walking.

Yesterday morning, I headed out on the four wheeler to cut Bittersweet to fill orders for my Etsy shop, what a great time to also do a little mushroom hunting.
If you love Bittersweet for fall decor head over to the Chicken Scratch Store and get yourself a bouquet.
While cutting the Bittersweet I noticed all around me growing right in the grass was big beautiful Puffball Mushrooms.

Puffballs are easy to find and great if your a beginner in wild mushroom foraging.  The purple spored Calvatia Cyathiformis Puffball pictured to the left are easily found in Illinois.   The only thing to check before cooking is the inside of the Puffball.  Slice it open, if the inside is completely white like a marshmallow it's safe to eat.  If there is any color other than white discard it.
If you find one Puffball there is very likely many more close by so keep searching.  You can find Puffballs growing beside wooded areas in the grass.
If you find Puffballs that have reached the puff stage, go ahead and give them a stomp, this is how the spores are released and you'll very likely be able to find more Puffballs in this are the next season.

Another type of Puffball easily found in Illinois is the pear shaped Puffball.  They're very small but on the good side, if you come across pear shaped Puffballs they always grow in huge clusters and usually never alone.  Same rule goes for this Puffball, the inside must be pure white if you plan to eat.

This is a nice cluster of pear shaped Puffballs.  It's fun when you come across a bunch of these little guys.
Pear shaped Puffballs are found in the forest along side dead trees or growing on dead trees.  September and October is a great time to start looking for this type of shroom.

One of my favorite fungi to find is the Wood Ear.  Wood Ear grows on dead tress or live trees that have dead areas on them.  There is a look alike for Wood Ear that is poisonous but is easy to identify as not edible.  The look alike is bright orange, smelly, and easy to smear.  Wood ear is rubbery and can not smear.  The orange look alike is call Witch's Butter, yuck!!
You've probably eaten Wood Ear before if you've had Hot And Sour Soup in an Asian restaurant.  Wood Ear has no flavor, it is really more about the texture with this mushroom.  Wood Ear fungi can be dehydrated for storage and easily reconstituted in water.
I cooked these lovely ears in a vegetable stir fry, yum!

Hen Of The Woods, another one of my favorites!  September is a good time to start hunting for this delicious shroom.  They're a little difficult to find, they're very camouflaged and look just like a pile of leaves but if you do find one they're usually as big as a basket ball or bigger, so they're a nice find!  I've even heard of people finding enough to fill a pickup truck bed.
Hen Of The Woods does have a look alike but they're also easy to identify so do your homework before eating.
It's a good idea to soak this mushroom in salt water before cooking, the overlapping lobes hide many Beatles and bugs.

The Chicken Mushroom, also easily found in Illinois.  It can be found growing on dead hardwood logs in the forest and will be spotted a long distance away by it's very bright yellowish orange huge.
The Chicken Mushroom grows in huge clusters.  If you find this shroom you will likely fill a bushel basket in one location.  Chicken Mushroom also has a look alike but can also be easily identify, so just do a little research before eating.

On this particular foraging day we found baskets of Chicken Mushrooms.
I have found that Chicken mushroom doesn't agree with me for some reason.  It causes stomach upset, not sure why, it didn't have that effect on anyone else in our family.  I have even tried it a second time with the same effect, so I no longer eat this fungi.
Chicken Mushroom freezes well for storage if you happen to find a bounty of it.

One of the most unique mushrooms we've ever found is the beautiful Lion's Mane.  We went on a hunt just as the leaves were beginning to turn, just so happens this is the prime time to find a Lion's Mane.  My daughter found this one growing on the inside of a fallen dead tree.  They looked just like snowballs!
The taste was amazing!!  Sauteed in butter they taste just like lobster.  Very sweet!
I'm ready to check this particular log again this year.

This week we fried up some Puffball mushrooms.  They're dipped in egg then Parmesan cheese and fried golden brown, I served them with pasta and marinara sauce. Super yummy!
They tasted very much like fried mozzarella cheese sticks.

Get outdoors and do some foraging, even if you don't feel confident enough to eat what you find, it's still fun to hunt.  If you keep researching the mushrooms that you come across, you will soon begin to recognize what is good and what is not good.  When in doubt throw it out.  Only eat if you're completely sure of what you have.

Happy Foraging!!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Worming, Ear Tags & Vaccinations - Gotland Lambs

Last week we began the process of vaccinations, worming and ear tags for our little lambs.  We have five Gotland lambs so it wasn't a huge job but it was a learning experience for all of us.  We began the process by fencing off a corner of the paddock with a cattle panel and luring the lambs to the corner so that they were easy to catch up.

The first ear tag was nerve racking to say the least.  After the first one was tagged, I took over the tagging, it was easier for Larry to hold them while I tagged the ear.  It wasn't so bad once we got going.  The lambs seemed fine with the whole process.

All the lambs have a new ear ring and Larry and I have a new skill of piercing ears. 

Next we caught up the ram for his vaccination and worming.  That is the ram's
therapy goat in the background, the calming goat :) 

The next hurdle will be weaning lambs. 

Have a Blessed Day!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Coronation Sussex - The Poultry For Royalty

What better way to commemorate the royal wedding than to offer a 30% off sale on the chicken created for royalty so many years ago?  The beautiful Coronation Sussex was created to honor the Coronation of King George.  I like poultry with a history and I think you will too.
This past weekend we watched as the Royal couple Prince Harry and Megan were given the title of Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

The Coronation Sussex are a large heavy breed, they're impressive in size but even much more impressive in color.  They have a lavender mane and tail on a porcelain white body. 

The roosters are non aggressive and hens are friendly. 
They're a good winter time layer and have down like a goose that helps them thrive in cool climates.
Our summers are very hot and humid here in Southern IL and we find that they need a fan during the hottest weeks.  It is quite a sight to watch them stand in front of the fan with wings spread.

Coronation Sussex eggs have a pinkish hue.  

We've had the Coronation Sussex breed for around 8 years now and I still find them fascinating!
 Come on over and check out The royal Coronation Sussex.  We're offering 30% off of Coronation Sussex started pullets and roosters this week.

Have a blessed day!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Hive Maintenance - Spring Hive Inspection

I always try and do a quick hive inspection in February just to check and see if all the hives have survived the winter.  To my great disappointment this February I discovered that we had lost two hives over the winter months.  We had a very harsh winter this year but I'm not sure if that had anything to do with the hives collapse.  Our spring came really late and from February until May we lost another hive and back in February this hive looked to be healthy. 

We've now had bee hives for about four years, I think, and we're still learning so much about the bees.  Probably one of the hardest lessons learned last summer was don't add a super (or box) onto the hive too far in advance of them needing it.  It's such a fine line, if you wait too long they feel out of space and they'll swarm.  Last year I'm pretty sure I gave a hive a super before they were ready for it and it gave them too much territory to patrol and it allowed wax months to get the upper hand and take over the hive.  That was my fault and I felt terrible about it.

We opened our remaining two hives today.  It's always necessary to smoke the hive before you begin.  Start by puffing smoke into the hive entrance and wait a couple of minuets before opening the hive.  Once you open the hive then give a few puffs of smoke from the top of the open hive.  Maybe you already know all of this information but there could be someone who doesn't know this.  It's taken a lot of painful bee stings before I was able to convenience my husband of this procedure.  It's much less stressful on the hive and the husband if you use smoke.

The hives seemed to be healthy, they're foraging, capping honey and raising brood.  I did see some queen cells being produced in one hive, so it's looking like they will swarm soon.  I need to keep an eye on them, I would like to catch the swarm and start a new hive.

We added new beetle traps to the hives.  I put 2 in each hive, they work very well.  Fill with oil, I use vegetable, or mineral oil.  The bees chase the beetles around and they run to hid in the holes of the trap and drown in the oil.  Hive beetles are probably our worst problem.  Our hives are sitting in a slightly shaded area and really need to be moved into the direct sun, no shade.  Beetles don't like a hot hive.

We opened the hives that collapsed over the winter just to take a look and see if we could tell what had happened.  Each hive had a full box of uneaten honey, so that tells me that they didn't starve.  Some of you more experienced bee keepers, if you have any ideas for us to check for let us know.  We would love to hear what you have to say.

Hive collapse is a serious problem here in the US and we need to do all that we can to help the bees. 

Share your words of wisdom about bee keeping with us, we would love to hear from you.  I'll leave you with these words that I know to be true.

Proverbs 25:16
If you find honey, eat just enough - too much of it, and you will vomit.

Have a blessed day!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Southern Illinois Water Emergency - Rend Lake Water Crisis

Photo credit, Chris Kays for the Southern

A breach in a 36 inch water pipe yesterday evening has shut down water to several cities and towns across Southern IL.  Residents have been asked to conserve water.  Many business, restaurants, hair salons and schools have been closed until workers can create a bypass for one of the three pumps that service our area.   
As you can imagine this has caused much panic and ciaos through our area as people scramble to the stores to purchase every last bottle and jug of water on the store shelves. 

The tiny town of Dahlgren IL, where two of our children live, will have it's water turned off within the next 2 hours and they aren't sure when it will be up and running again.  Would you be prepared in your home if something like this happened?  It hasn't taken much to shut down half of the water in Southern IL.  We've found that we're not very prepared.  We do have a pond for watering the livestock if needed and I suppose we can boil the water for ourselves.  We can use pond water for flushing toilets also.  What would you do, have you even considered it?  I hadn't until now.

As we sat and thought about how to plan for the next couple of days with the water issue,  we know that we must make preparation for our two incubators and hatchers that have a couple thousand eggs in them.  Our incubators and hatchers require a lot of water to keep the humidity at a constant level.  

This might not seem very important to some flocks but these eggs will be chicks and young pullets that will be shipped out for several weeks and months.  So it's important to us.

We'll be setting large pans of warm water in the bottoms of each unit which should keep the humidity at the correct level but will need to be checked often.  Hopefully they'll get the water back up and running before we need to test this theory but it's not sounding like it. 

Take a moment and make a plan today about what you would do if you wake up in the morning and there is no running water.  If you have a pond, do you have a way to filter that water to make it safe for drinking?  If you don't have a pond where will you get water, it's not as easy as just going to the store, keep in mind the shelves will be bare.

All will be good here on the farm with or without running water, I'm assured of that as I keep this verse in mind.

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14  

Have a blessed day!


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Boost A Chick Hydrating Gel - Poultry Shipping Gel

Out of complete desperation two years ago I began the process of creating a hydrating gel for shipping our poultry.  We had used a gel that's been on the market for several years now but it just wasn't performing as we needed and we were experiencing high mortality rates with our chick shipments.   We've shipped chicks now for around 10 years and when we first began, the postal system would get them  to their destitution in a very timely manner but for the last couple of years that has all changed and now the postal system gives themselves three days to deliver poultry.   Well as you can imagine that doesn't work out so well for live animals. 

We needed a product that could stay fresh for several days and provide what the poultry needed in the way of nutrition, hydration and beneficial bacteria no mater the age or size of the bird.  I've tested our product for two shipping seasons and made a few changes here and there.  Our mortality rates dropped, which was my goal all along.

Boost A Chick Hydrating Gel can be used to ship all bird species, quail, ducks, turkeys...if it needs nutrition and hydration, then you need Boost A Chick Gel.

The gel product that we used in the past would spoil and smell bad after the first day, I needed a gel that would stay fresh for three to four days in the mail.  I finally achieved that goal, I feel totally equipped and ready for this years shipments.
The gel is easy to use, just mix with water.  We glue plastic cups in the corners of the boxes and the hatch-lings have easy access to nutrition.

You can purchase this product from our website or Etsy shop.  If I never sell a single package I'll still be completely happy using it for my own shipments.  I hate to keep it to myself when I know how well it works and there has to be other small farms that can benefit from this product.

Boost A Chick Hydrating Gel is available in 500 dose or 2000 dose packages.