Just over a week ago, we had a soft opening of the coop. I had envisioned the pomp and circumstance of a grand opening, befitting the chicken chalet my husband built, however the rush of hot weather dictated a different course of events and in retrospect, this worked out much better from an acclimation standpoint for both the chicks and me.
Maryland weather is fickle with temperatures all over the board at times, regardless of season. We have warm, sunny days in the 50’s and then overnight temperatures jump into the upper 80’s and even 90’s. Hot days like that are followed by plummeting temperatures, one overnight reading recently dipped into the upper 40’s.
With June upon us, the chicks needed to be outside. Completion of the run became the priority, allowing the chicks access to the great outdoors and warm summer breezes. We carried them out every morning in a box and left them in the run for the day to enjoy the fresh air and to explore their new digs, then boxed them up at dusk, carrying them inside for the protection and comfort of their brooder in the garage for overnight.
While they enjoyed the run, my husband continued to work on the security measures of the coop so we could transition them completely. As the coop neared completion, I’d allow them access to it during the day as well.
One morning, I placed them inside the coop instead of the run when I brought them out, allowing them to explore the comforts of their new home. I walked around and removed a board I had in front of the opening for the ramp that leads into the run and to my surprise, Lulu was the first to exit, looking out at me and then taking a step onto the ramp and flying down the foot to the ground. It only takes one, so quickly, the other hens ventured out to the run as well which they knew well at this time, using the ramp without any difficulty.
I did this for two days, giving them access to both the coop and the run, but because my husband had a few more areas in the coop that required hardware cloth for security, I brought them in at night. Seeing them wander in and out of the coop like children exploring an area with new access over and over again was fun to watch.
When the coop was secure and it was time for them to sleep outside in the coop, I didn’t anticipate a problem since they had a few days to explore and get used to their new home. However, when the sun began to set, they lined up at the run door peeping loudly to get my attention, letting me know that it was time for them to go inside the garage for the night.
I went into the run and placed them into the coop via the opening above the ramp, but they came back out to me. So I put them in again, this time placing a piece of wood in front of the ramp opening to keep them in the coop. No sooner did I exit the run, than I heard them rush the wood and knock it down, exiting again to me, peeping to let me know they wanted to go inside, as was their routine.
What to do? It was almost dark now so I decided to go inside where they couldn’t see me. I watched from the kitchen window as they considered their options and then one by one, lined up and went up the ramp into the coop. I snuck back out a few minutes later and peaked into a window to see four hens on the roost and the other four on the bedding, settling in for the night.
And that was that. After that first night, they began their evening routine at dusk, entering the coop to bed down for the night. Mornings they get up between 5:15 and 5:30 as it’s light already.
I love looking out of my kitchen window and watching them. When they hear the deck door, they immediately look to see who’s coming and if my son or I speaks, regardless of whether or not it’s directed at them, they congregate at the run door to see us. If they are in the coop and hear us, it is hilarious to watch them race out of the coop at top speed to get to the run door in case we are bringing treats.
The coop and run are secure and functional, but some finishing details remain. The process took a lot longer than either of us imagined, but it all worked out quite well and the coop exceeded my expectations. My husband noted that the girls never mind him working on the coop and ignore the power saw firing up next to the run, barely looking up as they continue about their business of hunting and pecking, but will race inside the coop at any change in the wind pattern. It delights of us all to watch these hens (hopefully all hens) and their shenanigans.
To no surprise, they are spoiled rotten. I go into the garden each morning to pick slugs and bugs from my plants before the sun is even all the way up. I bring them these protein rich treats along with fresh lettuces and kale, clovers and dandelion leaves or yellow tops if available, even sugar snap peas right now. I deliver a bounty of greens to them each morning and I thoroughly enjoy watching them devour what I bring.
Yesterday, they tried a new delicacy of sorts. I had a bee inspection and it was funny to see them watch me walk by their run as I wore my bee veil and other gear, heads cocked to the side, wondering what I was doing.
Honey bees are plagued by a pest called the varroa mite and one method of mite management is called drone trapping. These tiny mites suck the blood from honey bees, spreading disease and debilitating them. Varroa mites prefer brood, drone brood in particular (unborn male bees). I keep a foundationless frame in my brood chamber that the bees build out with drone shaped comb and the queen fills with eggs. After it’s capped, I remove that frame and sacrifice that brood to help manage the mites.
Typically, I’d cut it out and leave it for birds or other wildlife to consume, but yesterday I took the frame into the run. The girls raced over despite my garb and watched me cut out that drone brood and eagerly investigated the drone pupae as they dropped onto the run floor. Interestingly enough, and pointing to a varroa mite problem in my hives that will require treatment after I harvest honey in July, I could actually see a few mites on that white drone brood. The chickens gobbled up their snack and took care of a problem for me in the process.
The garden if flourishing with the warm weather and I see bees everywhere, not just my honey bees, but bumble bees, mason bees and natives bees in quantities that make me happy, knowing my yard provides rich food sources that sustain the bees, thereby sustaining us. My wildflower grasses are teaming with life and I’ve enjoyed stopping to investigate up close, noting so many bees that I can’t identify and butterflies too. Milkweeds are beginning to bloom so I eagerly anticipate the arrival of Monarchs soon too.
We have a new queen in the little hive which they made themselves. I found five capped queen cups in supersedure positions three weeks ago when I inspected. I was planning on replacing the queen in that hive so I was thrilled to see that they were taking matters into their own hands.
I left this hive alone to provide ample time for the queens to develop in their cells, hatch and mate. Bee math tells us that a queen cell is capped on day seven and hatches around day 16, the first queen to emerge being the winner, and fertility begins around day 23 which is today so I suspect she will begin laying eggs very soon.
While it’s been dry and we are in need of rain, it was perfect weather for bee mating which is the queen’s charge once hatched. She flies to a drone congregation area and mates with several males, storing a lifetime supply of sperm. If weather is not good, this can really impact the quality of the queen going forward since it is the one and only time she leaves the hive, absent swarming. Also, flights to and from drone congregation areas are not without risk as the queen can be eaten or injured during these excursions, so laying eyes on my new queen made me feel really good. I did not fool with trying to get a picture of her, just packed up the hive and left her to her work.
The big hive is still booming. The supers have lots of nectar curing into honey and I hope to harvest honey from this hive in July. The blue queen in this hive is doing a super job. I find frame after frame of brood. In the summer, good queens can easily lay 2,000 eggs a day. This hive remains easy to work with, requiring little smoke and tolerating a lot of intrusion.