"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bad Bee News; Baby Broilers

About a month ago, we had a windstorm. That's not news; we have windstorms every couple of weeks from October on every winter. We live on a high, exposed ridge and seventy mile an hour winds are nothing exceptional in the fall, winter and early spring - usually accompanied by stinging rain or hail. Sometimes I wish I had paid more attention to the man who inspected our house before purchase. He grew up just down the road and told us "you get a lot of weather up on this ridge." I guess he thought he was warning us, but the man had a gift for understatement.

Apparently it's the kind of thing you just can't understand without experiencing it. I remember thinking "Sure, sure, a lot of weather. Whatever THAT means." I didn't really try to puzzle it out. After all, I grew up around here myself, and I'm no stranger to rain. Turns out, I was blissfully ignorant of what a local boy means by "a lot of weather." It means having to literally propel yourself against the wind by main force, unable to hear a thing except for the shrieking and howling of the moving air. It means cold rain driving itself into your actual eardrums at fifty miles an hour, giving you earaches. It means that you can't carry a bucket of water ten feet without getting soaked. By the time you reach your destination, the wind will have removed the top half of the water from the bucket, and it will have landed on you, anywhere from the chest down. If this happens in the dead of winter, your pants will be frozen solid against your legs by the time you reach the house. It means laying awake at night listening to the banshee wail of the wind around the corners of the house and wondering when the power will go out; or if you are losing roof shingles; or how the animals are coping.

This year, it meant losing a baby goat to hypothermia. Not this year but two years ago, we had such a prolonged stretch of extreme weather that I had to sit the children down and talk to them about what to do if they had to come outside and find us while we were attending to the animals. Do NOT leave the house, I said, without putting on your coat, your boots, your hat, and your mittens. Come STRAIGHT out to the barn and go inside right away. If you ever get stuck outside and you can't get in the house, go STRAIGHT to the barn and close the door. Once, coming back from chores, I found Paloma, then three years old, stumbling around outside in the driving snow trying to come find me. She was crying and very cold. That episode terrified me. I realized that you don't need to live above the arctic circle for your children to die of exposure. Really, any old freezing weather will do, especially when combined with precipitation. A three year old might suffer severe hypothermia in as little as half an hour.

All of this is by way of preamble: our bees dies over the winter. Both hives. In the windstorm that I mentioned, one of the many, the tops blew off of both hives. In spite of the "bee glue" - propolis - that the bees use to seal the hive. In spite of the cement blocks that we placed on top of the hive lids. The storm blew the lids off, and I went out to find that the interior of the hive was exposed to the cold rain. At the time, I knew the bees were still alive because I could hear them humming, trying desperately to dry out the interior of their home by fanning their wings. I replaced the lids, not knowing what else to do. The bees died. I didn't know for sure they were dead until this past week, when I cooked up a strong sugar syrup for the feeders. After three days, the syrup was untouched. There is only one explanation for that, and it's a hive full of dead bees.

Of course I haven't opened the hives; I won't do that until we get a really warm day. That looks like it might be mid-June, at this rate. But I fully expect, when I do open them, to find a lot of dead, decomposed, wet bee-bodies. I am not going to try again with bees. My husband and my teenage daughter both expressed enthusiasm for beekeeping, and then they both did exactly nothing to help. Personally, I am not excited by beekeeping and never was - I like honey, but I'm scared of bees. I got the equipment because I felt like bees are part of a self-sufficient homestead and I thought I had family members willing to take on the duties. Oh well. Maybe we can salvage some honey and then sell the equipment.

Meanwhile, we have decided to try meat chickens. Homero has always felt that chickens are meant to be eaten, and we have been sadly disappointed by our attempts to turn our birds into something worth eating. Look at the sidebar for links to chickens, meat eating for a log of our past attempts. I told him, finally, that we just didn't have the right kind of birds - our skinny little chickens were great at pumping out eggs but really not worth the twenty minutes it takes to dress them out when it comes to meat. So, this year, we decided to give meat birds a try.

IN GENERAL, I am philosophically opposed to the whole idea of breeding an animal that can't even live to maturity because it gets so heavy that it's legs will break trying to hold it up. However, I have to face the fact that if I am to eat chicken at all, I will either have to eat our skinny, hard-as-nails birds (something we have already decided is damn-near impossible); eat supermarket chickens, which are the same meat birds raised in factory-farm conditions, or eat meat birds that we raise ourselves in humane conditions. From a purely philosophical point of view, raising our own meat birds looks like the lesser evil. It may or may not turn pout to be practical - we'll see.


The Idiot Gardener said...

Yes indeed, that does sound like 'a lot of weather!'

Laura said...

When I was building my house north of Reno, I had 120 mph winds. I was in a 5th wheel. I have PTSD from that experience!!

I have found that with broilers, if you can get them out on grass, they have fewer leg problems - there are still a few, but much fewer. Don't let them go much longer than 8 wks. before you butcher them. Last year I had a batch that I did at 10 1/2 weeks - the cockerels were over ten pounds dressed out! They looked like turkeys! I canned most of them, and may not grow them this year, since I have so much left.

The best part? Home grown broilers taste way better than Foster Farms, especially if they have grass in their diet!

Dea-chan said...

The Matron of Husbandry raises meat chickens -- I'd look at her posts on why she made that choice, and how she keeps them healthy.


Laughter said...

You could look into heritage breeds for your chickens. Find some that don't grow too big. Maybe a dual-purpose bird like Barred Rocks?

Firefly Mom said...

If you're interested in bees for pollination, but don't want to keep honey bees, I'd suggest making some Orchard Mason bee houses. They're VERY simple to make - all you need is some untreated wood and a drill. These bees are more prolific pollinators than the European honey bees, and you don't have to mess with hives (you don't get any honey, though.)