Bjorns' Breeding Program

Discussion in 'General Beekeeping' started by sqkcrk, Dec 9, 2009.

  1. sqkcrk

    sqkcrk New Member

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    Bjornbee, Can you tell us about your queen and bee raising program? How do you select your queens and where do they originate from? You collect ferals, don't you? Then what do you do w/ them? How do you evaluate them? How do you keep track of them and their characteristics?

    You've probably written about this before, so if i should read another thread, maybe you could direct me to it.

    The reason I ask is, on beesource.com, Micheal Johnson has been writing a little about what he hopes to do w/ a grant that he got to try to develop nosema resistant bees. I think that's what he wrote.

    Thanks,
    Mark
     
  2. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    Mark,
    Thank you for asking.

    When I first started into breeding and expansion into a full business, I bought breeder queens from Glenn Apiaries, and russian stock directly from a friend who bought russians from Charlie for years. This was to get as pure as I could when it came to SMR, Carni, etc. At that same time, I bought queens in lots of 50 from various places around the states, and placed them into various yards, and overwintered them. This went on for several years.

    I never treat them. I let nature cull out the weak.

    Every spring, I hold "evaluation" days, where I take out a few volunteer beekeepers to evaluate, test, and select queens from various yards. I have a 12 point system. Two things automatically gets a queen rejected for breeder consideration. Agressiveness, and ANY signs of pests or disease. One wax worm sighting, one SHB, one cell of chalk....failed.

    We also do various hygienic testing. It can be as simple as placing paper towels with thymol oil onto the top of the bars, or killing off brood. We then select those hives (If they passed the other criteria) that shred and pull out the paper the fastest, or removed the dead brood..

    We do look at v-mites, and test for those also.

    We think several things have happened over the years that has helped us.

    *We have slowly changed over the feral population in the areas surrounding our breeder yards.

    *We actually use drone saturation and have spent much efforts grouping our breeding colonies with 4-8 support yards in the area. This is something that many so called breeder lack....actual drone yards.

    We have not brought in any stock other than carni and russian for the past 6 years. The past three years, we have not bought any breeders, and have relied on getting other northern stock through the northern states queen breeders association members, so we have good diversification of stock.

    I still get some queens from various producers every year. I place them in out yards, and go back the second year to evaluate them. I may not use them for grafting, but use these hives many times for drones.

    I have tested my own comb, and know the queens being produced are not being effected by beekeeper induced treatments, which I have never used except the first year I had 6 hives. I think chemicals are effecting queens from some places, as well as inbreeding and poor genetic selection.

    I do play around with disease and issues for breeding efforts. I have never really selected or tested beyond a few tests, for nosema. I have had the state run some tests, and the nosema was always below the standard threshhold (one million spore count), even for testing in the fall. I'm not sure how he (Johnson) will be running his selection and nosema testing, but many things actually effect nosema levels, and I think the research needs to be very specific and take many things into account. With that said, I will leave any further comments alone.

    As for ferals, I have collected and evaluated many of them. To me, much.....lets say MOST of the hype around ferals are a pipe dream. You got good and bad, and mostly bees just a generation away from being just a swarm. There is some information that some german genetics have been found out of the mid-west. But for many, beekeepers would be best to focus on selection and support their local breeders, associations, and state efforts, and quit looking for magic in a bottle....or would that be....a hole in the tree.


    Hope this helps.
     

  3. rast

    rast New Member

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    Do you think that your climate, cold winters, no brood year round helps?
     
  4. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    rast,
    Absolutely. Even more so when using the darker bee lines (russians and carni) that slow down and are more frugal with stores.

    That is one of the problems in the industry. Some southern producers wanted to use russians when first introduced. But they quickly realized that they need a prolific layers that really never shuts down. They start shaking bees in March, and so they need a bee that will brood all winter long with perhaps some stimulative feeding. Russians, and even carni's, do not fit this need. So it was back to the standard italian.

    So we have a southern bees, being shipped to the north, where we really do not want a bee that lays non-stop, and will eat themselves to death.

    The russians (To which I do not like the pure lines) and carni lines are more in tune for handling northern winters, shut down, and yet can be back up to speed in time for the spring flow.

    I have often said that mother nature is my best emplyee. She culls the weak, those lines not programmed to shut down, and those that can not cluster due to disease or limited functioning of the hive.
     
  5. rast

    rast New Member

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    So, that makes Miksa's Carni and Italian mix more interesting to me. He buys a lot of northern queens for brood stock.
     
  6. barry42001

    barry42001 New Member

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    Please educate me otherwise, but is my observation, or understanding, that there is always emerging brood of some quanity or another--greatly reduced, but always present, which would explain why colonies not properly provisioned for the winter starve out--they are still trying to raise a bit of brood and maintain winter cluster.
     
  7. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    Great comment! And an interesting question.

    IF bees are "programmed" to NOT shut down completely, and I could see the reasoning (Keep queens viability up, a hive's "balance" maintained, etc.) than it would be a problem to overcome in the north. As you stated, bees on brood may not move, and starve. I don't want bees not being able to move within the hive for three week periods (the time for brood to hatch).

    I wonder if the potential problem is multiplied with certain lines, and lowered with others.

    Keeping in mind that bees are somewhat warm climate stock, are we trying to get too much out of them in the far north, when internally they are NOT programmed to fully shut down, thus making a problem which is hard to overcome? I would say yes. And perhaps more goes into this, and as a result, better overwintering success is seen with the smaller darker bee lines, that shut down completely.

    I think that some see vast differences in overwintering rates among lines of bees and just assume that if all comes down to mites. But just as some work in cooler weather, some shut down brood, and whatever the reason....it may come down to other aspects of the bees that make or break a colony's ability to survive.

    Would this potential selection of bees shutting down or not shutting down, be a industry problem further compounded by raising bees in the south that never shut down, then using them in the north where we want them to shut down? I'd say it plays into it.
     
  8. jdpro5010

    jdpro5010 New Member

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    Bjorn, are you saying that honey production is not a factor in your selection process at all?
     
  9. brooksbeefarm

    brooksbeefarm New Member

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    I think the weather plays a big part in the performance of the queen also. Here in SW Mo. you can usually find eggs starting in mid jan. (about half dollar size), but the last two years we had so much fall rain the colony couldn't build up a winter brood because of the lack of pollen. I had several hives that i thought were strong going into winter (a big cluster) that starved and froze because the old bees died off leaving a double hand full of bees with 80 lbs of honey in the hive with honey within inches of the dead cluster. I fed pollen patties this fall so hopefully it won't happen this year. I like the black queens (mine mostly carni's) and don't have as much robbing problems. But like most beekeepers i can't turn down a big swarm call and keep bringing home those feral Italian robbers. Jack
     
  10. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    No, I'm not suggesting that. It is one of the items on the selection and grading criteria we use.

    But since you asked, I will say it is one of the least weighted items. We follow mother natures selection process by trying to have first year queens going into winter, just as with feral colonies. We do not hold a queen two or three years like some breeders suggest they do ( I think that's a bunch of marketing junk), then breed off them. We aggressively update our breeding stock every year, while understanding that young queens produce more brood, swarm less, and generally produce more honey than older queens. With that system in place, we just are not allowing full seasons or multiple years to pass to really get a good rating on honey production.

    Honey production is very subjective. Too many things go into whether a queen is a honey producer or not. Certainly if looking at 100 hives, you give good grades to those that make good comb and make more honey than the others. For me, that would be a good thing, based on local conditions and timing. But does that translate into a good trait for the beekeeper who had a completely different flow season, environment, or other differences? Hard to say.

    So we try to provide good honey producing queens, but hope that a beekeeper knows their flows, whether pre-flow feeding is needed, as well as a host of other management tasks that may go into whether a good crop is taken.

    It is very hard for a breeder to select for everything that perhaps needs attention. So if a breeder focuses on items such as hive health, disease, mites....and the hive is healthier and more productive across the board (I'm talking less cleaned out cells, better brood production, less time grooming, etc.), than for the most part bees are programmed to collect honey. And the better, more healthier hives, with young queens, on average will collect more. Not sure if that is a breeding trait to give credit too, or the result of breeding bees handling those other issues more effectively, and the results just being more honey.

    I first and foremost want bees that survive....and leave honey management up to the beekeeper, who is probably more responsible of what crop he gets, than the bees.

    In the north, and for bees that have to go through a harsh winter, I will take overwintering survivability over honey production. I can not manage a dead hive. But I can manage a live one, for better honey results.
     
  11. sqkcrk

    sqkcrk New Member

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    Bjornbee, have you had any interest from southern queen rearers, in your stock?
    It seems like if there is any advantage to your stock, which it sounds like there is, someone would want to exploit that advantage. Don't ya think?
     
  12. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    Mark,
    I would think that.

    But that advantage that I spoke of, meaning bees that stop brooding in a dearth, during winter (Which may not be defined as "cold" as much as shortening of days, etc.) is really what southern producers (at least the big boys) do not want.

    Any advantage of my stock, may not be desired from large commercial types. But I certainly shipped more queens south this year than I ever had previously. As I already commented, many went to Texas. May not of went to large producers, but to average beekeepers. Why beekeepers in the south want to order from the north could be for a few different reasons. But if that demand grows, for whatever reason, supply usually follows what demand dictates. I had a few comment that bees raised in the north are what they wanted, and seemed to prefer. Which is something I had not really heard until just the past year or two. Of course, we lack production in the north, from an industry standpoint.

    I do think that traits such as those with dark bee lines, can be overcome through management. I can somewhat keep hives (dark bee lines) brooding in periods where they would like to shut down, through feeding, etc., IF needed. But it is very hard to shut bees (prolific italians) down when they want to brood all year long. But what would a producer in the south be exploiting, if they just are slowly changing the programming of hardy cold weather bees, back to a type of bee that broods all year long?

    That is why I always questioned taking Russian bees and then for over ten years breeding them in the far south such as they did with the russian bee program. What a waste! What traits were altered over many years, making their advantages less than what they could of been if they had been breeding them in the north the whole time. To recognize bees as "cold hardy bees" then at the same time, suggest that breeding them in Louisiana made no difference, was a smack in the face to natures natural selection processes that had previously taken place, which made them different than other bees. Why anyone would stand up and say "we have special bees" then suggest what they do with them afterwards by breeding them in environments they did not come from, was idiotic and obsurd at best.
     
  13. sqkcrk

    sqkcrk New Member

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    Don't you think that your orders from Texas were from beekeepers who wanted to know for sure that they weren't getting AHBs?
     
  14. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    I'm sure that may be one reason.