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10/27/13 Success and Failure…

Posted by Kevin Carpenter on October 27, 2013
Posted in Still alive in 2019  | 2 Comments


Well… the good news is that we rounded the 3 boys up this morning and got them into the corral with virtually no hassle.  Curly was easily run through the sweep and trotted around the curved runway until he got in sight of the chute.  Only took a little prying to convince him to walk forward and before we knew it he was walking through the chute.  He almost beat me to the head catch, which I partially opened, he stuck his head through, and I released.  A perfect catch!  The anti-toxin injection took but a moment and the banding but a few more.  I have no idea how long things took from leaving the house until we were done, but it felt like 30 minutes max.  A great start to the day, even if we did start quite late.  You see, apparently rather than turning the hot water on when we arrived, I turned if off (which means it was on while we were gone *sigh* – waste of power).  That made for a bit of a surprise for my morning shower, which didn’t actually happen until around noon.  At least the water was a hot warmer than the previous morning!

We proceeded back to the house.  Evia and I (mostly Evia) cleaned up around our honey workspace and we went out to harvest!  We were not expecting much however.  We didn’t harvest last year because of the drought and knew we lost some hives after our freaky weather spring (got nice and warm causing the bees to go into massive reproduction mode, then was cold for 4-5 weeks with no flowering – nothing for the larger hive population to eat.)  Still, we started the blooming period with at least 5 hives, one fairly strong, and four weak ones.  Today was the day to see how they survived, and to remove the known dead hives for storage (otherwise they just become homes for mice and roaches and ants and yellow jackets and spiders and… well, you get the idea).

Noticed a lot of the dead hives had a bunch of really dense spider like webbing in them – almost fluffed cotton thick.  They also had something we had seen before in dead hives – rows of cocoons of something.  We thought they were hornet nest.  We noticed they actually seem to eat some of the food frame before spinning their cocoons, whatever they were.  Of course, the dead hives typically had become populated with mice and other things.

I kept disassembling hives, cautiously peeking into each to look and hear for activity.  Evia hauled the empties back to the house for cleaning and storage.  The first few were dead, which was not a surprise, but to my dismay I wasn’t finding any alive.  To our great distress, we only found one hive still alive, and it is not strong.  We removed empty excess supers from it, since I heard that empty space was a problem in the winter since it needed to be defended.  I came in and hit Google hard – what could have killed all my hives?  Ends up the answer was really obvious, disgustingly so.  Its a worm called a Wax Moth.  Those cocoons, a section of which is pictured with this post, is they home.  As their name implies, they eat wax, and it doesn’t bother them if its honey storage or a baby bee.  A very strong hive can fight off a few of them, a weak hive is doomed, the wax moths will overrun them.  ALL the dead hives we removed were heavily infested, with hundreds if not thousands of cocoons.  Apparently this is the number #1 reason hives should not have much extra space, its too hard for the bees to defend all of it, and once established in an unused corner of a hive, the moths win.

The only good news is that a good cold winter (with a few days below 0 being ideal) will kill the larva and eggs.  Obviously, some survive somewhere, but putting your equipment in a deep freezer for 24 hours is considered a reasonable treatment (for empty hives of course).  We are going to manually clean everything up, plastic bag it to try and keep mice and other things out, and just leave them on our concrete porch to freeze this winter.  We didn’t see many live larva, so hopefully they ran their course (having eaten all the wax in the hives), but a winter outside will hopefully allow the equipment to be reused.  Read that a lot of people just burn the hives after facing this, especially in the south without cold winters.  That seems a bit radical to me up here, not to mention expensive.

Alas, this means we are out of the honey business for awhile.  With new colonies now upward of $140 plus shipping, we won’t be re-establishing anything soon.  If we are very, very lucky, our one remaining hive will survive the winter.  If it does, I will keep it space constrained, and again with a bit of luck might catch it before they swarm.  If I do, I’ll be able to split the hive.  With good weather, I might be able to do that 2 or maybe even 3 times in a year (be a lot easier if we lived here). 

Overall, its been a horrible learning experience, and an expensive one.  One way or another we will get back into bees, but if the remaining hive dies out, that won’t probably happen until we find ourselves living here.  At least I won’t make the same mistakes again:  Its fairly common practice to leave a hive body for breeding and one full of honey for the bees to winter on.  I added a super (6″ frame vs. the 8″ body frame) figuring more honey would be better – I didn’t take into consideration that the bees would have to defend that extra space over the winter when they were both depleted in number and mostly concentrating on keeping the queen warm. Likewise I added a lot of extra space in the late spring for them to fill, again not thinking about their need to defend the homes.  At least this explains why full-time bee keepers will visit their hives often and only add a single super at a time, both as a way to prevent swarming (more space! no need to swarm!), and of course to collect more honey.


Our two young human children managed to get a “fall break” from school, so were off Thursday, Friday, and Monday.  5 days without school means an extended farm trip!  Alas, Thursday was tied up with PTA meetings, so we didn’t get out of the house until Friday morning.  That actually worked out fine, since I caught a bit of a stomach flu Wednesday night and wasn’t moving very fast Thursday.  Evia did the PTA thing <smile>.

We were planning on finally harvesting our honey this weekend, and needed storage containers.  I considered mail ordering them, but when I saw a $68 shipping charge, we changed our plans and decided to just run upstate and pick them up.  This cost us about an hour in detour, each way, but time is cheap when your not working.  Anyhow, its always fun to to up to the Dadant facility in Hamilton Ill.  They have been servicing the Bee keeping industry for over 150 years, with the family starting their own practice 175 years and 5 generations ago.  The lady I chatted with there commented:  “The amazing thing is we still talk to each other!”.  They are a friendly group to hang with.  Not much to see if your not into bees though.

From there we headed into Kirksville to buy a banding device.  No… this isn’t for tagging canaries… it is for making bulls into steers via a surgical rubber (but much heavier) tube and clip.  E-mail me if you want details, or go visit http://www.nobull.net Its a quality product and the process takes but a minute or two once you get the bull into a head catch.  Suspect I’ll be talking about it a bit over on our discussion forum http://www.highlandcattleforum.org as well.

We pulled into the farm in the late afternoon, unpacked, got our UTV (much to the joy of Vixen, our dog, who considers the UTV to be her pet and running pal), and ran the dog a bit.  Called it an early evening after having a light meal – I still was not at 100% after that flu bug.  In fact, allowed myself to sleep in a bit Saturday morning too…

Saturday was mixed.  We easily moved the 14 members of our primary herd over onto a new pasture, away from the corral, in anticipating of working the boys.  Didn’t see any new ones, which is disappointing.  Three of our cows are now officially late and none are looking particularly close to giving us this years tribute (new calves that is!).  Took us well over an hour to move the 3 boys, along in their own pasture, up to the coral.  Larry, my personal favorite (and hopefully sold, but the buyer hasn’t provided a deposit yet), was easy.  A handful of cattle cubes and Larry will follow me anywhere.  Half the time he just needs a rub and the cubes become optional.  Nice bull (he is lighter colored one on the right in the photo).  Moe, who he is playing with in the photo (as only two 700lb brothers can play!) took a bit more of encouragement, but since he is also cube trained, it wasn’t too hard.  Curly didn’t respond to the “carrot” approach, so I used the “stick”.  That isn’t as bad as it sounds, basically it just means that rather than getting him to follow me, I had to get behind him and manage his “flight zone” to get him to move in the direction I wanted him to do.  Nothing bad, just me watching him, anticipating where he was about to go, and moving to that side to discourage him from doing so.  Herding behavior for me.  Once he saw his brothers, his herd instinct helped as well.  Helped that I only had to do this for an 1/8th of a mile or so.  Once in the outer corral it wasn’t too bad to get them into the chute runway.  Of course, being three teenage brothers, there was a lot of “Hey, you pushed me!” horseplay (or should that be cowplay?) between them.  Twice with that resulting in 2 of the 3 of them going in to the runway backwards… *sigh*   But boys will be boys.  Curly was a bit uncooperative, clearly he wasn’t happy with the chute, although he had been through it before for vaccinations and deworming.  It took us about 90 minutes to convince him to go in, with lots of effort prying with steel pipe which he mostly ignored.  Larry tried to help by pushing him a number of times… thanks Larry.   He finally got past the palpation cage and entered the chute, only for us to miss with the headgate with him escaping!  Larry was next and was a gentlemen – just a bit of encouragement to get all 4 feet on the scale, measurement complete, and he was free to go.  Alas, he didn’t want to.  We opened the side of the chute and he still wasn’t interested.  Although smaller, I opened the palpation cage door and that did it, he walked out halfway, and decided to nibble some grass.  *sigh*  Alas, nothing yet another cattle cube wouldn’t fix.  Finally it was Moe’s turn.  No problem on the scale, a bit of a pause through the palpation cage, but once he started through the chute he was fine.  This time I got the sequence right and had a fair head catch.  We had to push him back a bit to get things settled.  (Evia and I tried each grabbing a horn and pushing but what eventually worked required a whole body effort:  Picture Kevin with his feet planted, a bull’s head in his stomach, and two arms grabbing onto the front of the chute pulling.  Eventually I won.)  1500 units of Tetanus antitoxin and 2 minutes with the bander and he was done.  Walked out the front of the chute and immediately asked for a cattle cube treat.  Nice boy (technically – in about 2-3 days he will be sterile and 10-30 days from now will officially be a steer.)  Alas, I was getting a bit cold after that, so we came in and cooked ourselves some rib-eyes