Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lippitt Farmstead in Winter – Birds, Bees and Building Projects

By: Marieanne Coursen, Agricultural Interpreter
During the winter, while the museum is closed, it is a good time to mull over ways we can improve our efforts to interpret farming in the 19th century to our modern public.  This winter I came up with two projects that I hope will enhance our interpretation. 

A Broody Coop
Today most chicks are produced using incubators – cabinets that produce an environment that simulates the one provided by a mother hen.  In 1845, a farmer would depend on a “broody” hen to hatch eggs.   This winter Farmer Wayne was kind enough to help me build a broody coop.  This is just a small container to keep a hen comfortable and safe from predators or interference from other hens while she is setting on eggs.  It does not need to be fancy; it can be an old wood barrel turned on its side with a front made of wire or lath added, or a  wood shipping crate can be converted to a fine broody coop.  For our broody coop, however, we used a design from a text book written for an industrial arts class in 1916.  It really is like a small dog house, larger than what the hen needs to just hatch the chicks, but this way it will serve as a home for her and the chicks for a while after they hatch.  We made this extra sturdy version because we want it to be very safe against predators.  The local wildlife around here is well aware that we really aren’t farmers in 1845 with a protective dog and a shotgun at the ready, so we need to take extra precautions. 

My plan is to put the broody coop in the back garden and set a broody hen in it this spring.  I will be sure to keep everyone posted on this project.

Beekeeping was probably as common in 1845 as it is today - not everyone does it but there are plenty of people who do.   We keep a few hives here at the museum and offer two beekeeping workshops every year.  These hives are located on the grounds, but they are strategically placed high on a hill in a pasture where visitors can’t get very close, obviously to avoid the possibility of bee stings.

I have struggled with how to make beekeeping more of a daily hands-on part of interpretation, so this year we are adding two beehives right by the barns at the Lippitt Farmstead.  One hive will be the standard Langstroth hive that was developed by Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth in the mid-nineteenth century and is still widely used by beekeepers today.    Instead of live bees, this hive will contain frames with pictures of what you might see “if” it were a live hive.  It is an excellent teaching tool sold by Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. 

The second hive, will be a reproduction of an old hive in our collection.  It is a simple primitive hive made from rough lumber.  This is a project I can handle.   No scary power tools or high degree of skill required.  I am nearly finished and have done it all with “found lumber” and hand tools just like I imagine the original maker did.  This hive will be kept free of bees also so that we can freely look inside with our visitors.
Hive, Collection of The Farmers' Museum, Cooperstown, NY F0068.1983

These hives will give us an opportunity to let visitors manipulate a hive without risk of being stung and will be an excellent prop to enhance our discussions about beekeeping. 
This ends my Winter at Lippitt Farmstead series; after all, it is spring!  April 1st is opening day and I am looking forward to talking with everyone face to face and sharing our farm from the barnyard instead from our office! 

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