Saturday, April 18, 2015

And...... We're Back To Cages

As you know I recently decided to move my does to our barn, which is really just a series of 4 enclosed stalls.  You can read about it here.

About two weeks ago, Bunny gave birth to eight beautiful kits, finishing out my kindling for the time being.  At the time, I had 9 four week old kits with Zelda, 9 two week old kits with Mimi, and Bunny's newborn kits.  One day last week something told me to go check on everyone, so I started with Bunny's stall.  As you can see, she has a fabulous covered nest box with a hinged door.  She built a beautiful nest and things were going swimmingly.

When I lifted up the door, this is what I found, a big fat beautiful black rat snake.

It was coiled around the nest.  I freaked!  I ran and grabbed a rake and poked at it until it slid to the back of the nest where it is in the photo.  I started frantically pulling back fur to find babies.  I only found four of the eight.  There were three days' old and the perfect size for snake snacking.  One of them was slimy as if the snake had started eating it but spit it out.  Everyone was gathered and put in a nest box and along with Bunny, put in a cage.

I then went to Mimi's cage to gather her two week old kits, and they were not in their kennel.  I think I almost had a heart attack.  But, I pulled the kennel away from the wall and they were all piled up atop one another asleep behind the kennel.  I gathered them and Mimi and also put them in a cage. At two weeks' old, they were still a great size for a snake to tackle.

Even though Zelda's babies were four weeks old, I put them and Zelda in a cage as well, just to be safe.

My nerves were shot by then, and even though I knew it was non-venomous, I didn't want to tackle capturing the snake by myself.  Neither my husband nor my neighbor were home, so I let it hang out where it was.  If I were a drinking person, a good stiff one would have been next on the agenda.

I wiped off the kit that was slimy and I worried that moving Bunny and her nest would confuse her and maybe she would not know where her kits were.  Fortunately I had some of her fur saved from her last litter, so I lined the nest with it and covered the kits.  The next day I saw her feeding the kits so I knew she knew where they were; however, the one kit did not look like it had eaten.  So I took it out of the cage along with Bunny and held her while it nursed.  I did this for a few days to make sure it was eating.  It is growing so I know it's being fed, but it's not growing at the rate of the other ones. Honestly I don't know if it was a runt to start with or if maybe the snake damaged it in some way, but it is active and its eyes opened on schedule.

We've had several cool, rainy days lately and a few mornings ago, I went out to feed and water everyone and it was on the cage floor, out of the nest box, barely moving, likely dying from hypothermia.  I brought it inside and warmed it up and put it back in the nest box.  I checked on it later and it was warm and snuggled up with its litter mate.  It was probably still attached to Bunny when she finished feeding and got pulled out of the box with her.  I will give it credit; it's a survivor!

They should hit two weeks' old in a few days, and at that point, they will start to munch on hay and get their legs under them.  I'll be curious to see how it progresses from there.

So, back to the snake.  It hung around the stall for a while and left at some point.  I'm sure it didn't go far being weighted down with rabbit kits.  Non-venomous snakes serve a valuable role in our eco-system.  They provide rodent control and protect their territory from venomous snakes.  I would never kill a non-venomous snake.  In this situation, I have only myself to blame.  I set up a perfect buffet for that snake.  Because my stalls are predator proof in terms of raccoons and opposums, I never imagined a snake causing havoc, even though it makes perfect sense.  I know we have snakes as I see them every year and occasionally they eat some of my eggs.

So for the last week, I've been very diligent about collecting eggs as soon as possible.  And low and behold, I went to put up the chickens one evening and found a grey rat snake in the chicken coop.  It had indulged on one of my eggs, so Nate loaded it up in the truck and took it down to the canal and released it.  I hated relocating it but I also don't want it eating all of my eggs.  I'm sure the black rat snake is still around so I know we still have a snake coverage.

Zelda's babies just hit six weeks and have pretty good size to them now, so I plan to move them and Zelda back to one of the stalls once it stops raining non-stop.  And, I'll do the same with each subsequent litter until I figure out how to snake-proof the stalls.  I won't be breeding again until the fall so I have some time to work on it.

Happy homesteading,


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Try, Try, Try Again

We've kept bees for several years now, but only one hive.  For some reason, keeping a second successful hive eludes us.  Our one hive really thrives.  It is so strong that during the ice storm last year a limb fell on it and blew it apart.  We found it lying on the ground in pieces with a cluster in one of the boxes.  We put it back together and expected the worst.  Not only did it survive, but we harvested honey all summer from it.

Apparently even an ice storm can't take down our one hive, but when we try for a second one, it fails, every time. We've bought packages of bees more than once, replaced queens, caught swarms, you name it, we've tried it with the exception of splitting our hive.  So, this year I decided to try splitting our hive.  Why would I keep trying to have a second hive after so many failed attempts?  Well, I'm as stubborn as a mule and a sore loser.  You can ask my husband.

Splitting the hive means basically that.  You try to divide the population and put one half in another hive.  It's a man-made swarm.  As the population builds up in the hive, it becomes crowded which triggers a swarm, which is a natural split.  When bees swarm, the mother queen leaves with a portion of the population, and the newly emerged queen stays and takes over the hive.  With it being early spring, I knew they were building up for a swarm soon so I decided to try to beat them to the punch.  So a few weeks ago, a friend came over to help me.

The goal is to take frames of brood that have all stages of development, eggs, larvae, and capped brood as well as cells of pollen and honey and move them to a new hive.  You replace the frames you take from the original hive with empty frames so the queen has room to lay more eggs.  It's great if you can find your queen in the original hive as you can make sure she stays where she is, but if you can't find your queen, you can either let each new colony make a queen, which they will naturally do in the absence of one or you can add a queen.  Since I have failed so many times I decided not to spend anymore money and to let nature take its course and let each hive rear a queen if there wasn't one.  A few of the frames had queen cells so we left them on the off chance that a queen wasn't present.  There was capped honey already in the hive so we gave each hive a frame or two of honey to help feed them while they transitioned.  We also made sure each hive had approximately the same amount of bees.  Of course, the foragers that were out foraging were going to come back to the original hive.  But, we were hoping any foragers that got dumped in the new hive would reorient themselves and stay with the new hive. Often beekeepers move the new hive several miles away so the foragers in the new hive have to reorient themselves, but I really didn't have the means to do that, so I took a chance.

The original hive recovered quickly and even swarmed about a week ago.  I imagine our original queen was left in that hive and one of the queen cells we left as a safety precaution hatched so it swarmed.  I'm fine with that because it's still a really strong hive.  Well, low and behold, I went out to observe yesterday and saw bees bringing in pollen on the split hive.  This video shows foragers coming in and going out.  It's still a weak hive as it had to rear a queen and has to build up its population, but I'm encouraged!  

Please wish me luck!

Happy homesteading,