Chickens and Honey Bees
– they just seem to go together. We discovered this almost four years ago when we got our first batch of baby chicks.
We started with 15 chicks of several different varieties. There are still eight of the original batch with us. Spring 2015 we got 12 more chicks and six Call ducks. We lost two of the chicks and four of the ducks. So we now house 18 chickens and two ducks.
My older son asked me “why” when I told him we were getting chickens. It wasn’t something he could imagine me doing. This was way out of his comfort zone and mine as he saw it.
So – why? I kept reading more and more about beekeepers also having chickens. It peaked my interest and one Winter night while we were inside desperately trying to keep warm, I said to Kim – “We should get some chickens.” Kim has a long history with chickens so he was on board with the idea.
The next step was to figure out what sort of coop we wanted. Kim came up with a wonderful plan and we have a friend who can build almost anything you challenge him with. So Kim gave him his ideas and he came back with a plan.
Our coop is attached to the back of the garage with a door that goes into the garage. This is great especially in the Winter time. I can go through the garage and right into the coop. There is a platform where food is stored and another door and steps down into the area where the birds are. We have four nesting boxes (most information I’ve seen says have one box for every four birds), three perches (two up high and one down low), four windows that can be opened for ventilation in the Summer time. It’s a wonderful coop.
Our chickens are not fully free-range in that they have a penned in area. We have too many predators for us to be comfortable just turning them out every day. There is a Red Osier Dogwood bush that takes up a big portion of the pen providing not only great shade and protection from the elements, but also challenges the overhead predators.
There is a down side to not having a movable hive – chickens pretty quickly tear up the area where they are. There is not one blade of grass in their pen. We put bales of straw in every so often to give them something to do and to lessen the mud pit effect.
The young ones that arrived in the Spring were very flighty and were constantly getting out of the pen and then freaking out because they couldn’t figure out how to get back in. We finally resorted to clipping their wings – a fairly simple and apparently completely painless procedure. That put a stop to the running loose. We did lose a few and I’m pretty sure that’s what happened– airborne and then wandered off. There are fox, coyote, raccoons and several big dogs in our neighborhood.
We opted not to get a rooster. After lots of contemplating and talking to experienced chicken raisers, it seemed the better way for us. The consensus was that you need a rooster for only one reason. Otherwise all they do is make a lot of noise and keep everybody else agitated. We have several friends that had pretty nasty roosters that ended up in the soup pot.
Hens, like queen honey bees start to go downhill at about three years. The egg laying really tapers off and if you’re in this to make money you’ll end up culling some of the older chickens out of the flock. But I’m in it for the fun. This was not a money making venture. So the chickens we have lost have gone the way of nature. I can’t bring myself to kill them or to let Kim kill them. They’ll be with us until they are snatched or go from natural causes.
That’s the kind of beekeepers we are also. We don’t make money on our bees or on the honey we get from them. We’re in it because of our jobs partly, but also because we just enjoy the bees.
And when you gain some experience in beekeeping and learn about drone trapping, you can give those drone frames to the chickens and they will be so happy to eat all those larva for you. It’s a pleasure to watch them.
This past Spring we decided to add ducks to our flock. We found a hybrid breed named Call Ducks, at the county fair and so we started looking for where to get them. The ones we saw at the fair were solid yellow – light yellow, the color of butter and they were beautiful. There were also blue ones. And they are small in comparison to normal duck breeds. So we were on a mission to find those particular ducks.
We were able to special order them at one of the local feed stores in town. We wanted six. They could not guarantee the color. What I learned was that Call ducks are bred more for their size than their color. That was OK with us, so we ordered. We ended up with three Mallard looking ducks and three that were mostly yellow, but not solid. It didn’t matter, they were as cute as could be.
Kim and I travel a lot and 2015 was an exceptionally busy year. On one of the week long trips, shortly after we got the ducks, our house sitter called and said four of the ducks and one young chick were missing. They were a few weeks old. He looked everywhere and couldn’t find them. Our neighbors have a pond with a big snapping turtle. I’m thinking they might have made their way there and that was the end.
Fortunately we ended up with a male and female. They look just like Mallards, only a good bit smaller. Maybe we’ll have some baby ducks in the Spring.
The ducks are so much fun and a lot more animated than the chickens. They move almost all of the time as a single unit. She stays right by his side, unless she is swimming in her kiddy pool which she absolutely loves. She runs out of the coop each morning quacky loudly and rapidly and runs for the pool, jumps into that cold water and looks so happy.
If you are wondering, yes the ducks live in the chicken coop and because they are ground nesters and the chickens roost up top there is plenty of room and nobody seems bothered by anybody else. We’re not exactly sure what Winter will bring, but we’re going to find out soon.
We have a water heater that we’ve used for the past three Winters that works quite nicely. It is shaped and looks like the lid to a garbage can and you put the water container on top of it and it keeps it just warm enough to not freeze. Ours sits on top of the nesting boxes and the chickens can get to it easily. Since the ducks are on the ground we’re looking for another solution for them. They need water every day, but they are so messy that it’s hard to keep it contained so as not to have it always damp in the coop floor all Winter.
Summer and Fall are easy with the chickens and ducks. They love to be outside. They love to dig around in the ground. The ducks are amazing at eating and catching flies, mosquitos and most kinds of bugs. When the garden is in full swing they love the remnants of the garden also. Our chickens have a varied diet. Most of our table scraps go to them and they thoroughly enjoy that. Be cautious though because there is a list of things that you shouldn’t give your chickens and ducks – chocolate, avocados, raw potatoes and a few more.
Right now we are getting on average nine or 10 eggs per day. Plenty for us, enough to give away and even sell a dozen here and there. And here is where Kim would say 10 eggs and 18 chickens – what’s wrong with this picture? But like I said before I like the chickens because they are fun and entertaining.
So if you’ve got chickens, you should probably have bees and the other way around also. They’re both fun to have around and the honey and the eggs are amazing.