Has beekeeping become a numbers game?

Discussion in 'General Beekeeping' started by PerryBee, Dec 10, 2011.

  1. PerryBee

    PerryBee New Member

    Messages:
    5,829
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I have read on a couple of threads lately some interesting and thought provoking lines of discussion and something suddenly occurred to me. (Iddee, G3 - insert joke here :D )

    Has beekeeping changed in that it has simply boiled down to a numbers game? With all that has occurred over the last decade or two, but the last decade particularily (ccd, nosema ceranae, beetles, etc.) has the basic emphasis on beekeeping shifted, becoming little more than "staying ahead of the game" proposition. We split like mad, buying queens, collect swarms, etc. all in an attempt to build up to a certain set of numbers, hoping to offset last winters losses and stay well enough out front to be able to absorb the future losses.
    I realize that we must do what we have to in order to survive in this endeavor and I have no problem with that. Beekeepers have allowed for deadouts for decades in the 10 to 15% range, splitting in the spring to make up losses. But it seems things have evolved into preparing for winter losses (of a much higher order, ie: we put more hives than normal into winter, try overwintering nucs, etc.)
    Have some of us (a generalization, no finger pointing here) reluctantly abandoned prevention and instead turned to preparation of the inevitable? Acceptance has become a form of beekeeping?
    I am not wishing to stir the pot here but I am interested in others opinions on this.
     
  2. brooksbeefarm

    brooksbeefarm New Member

    Messages:
    3,276
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Well Perrybee, you got me figured out. I keep building up my hive numbers, so if all of you'uns lose all your bees, you'll have to come to me to get more bees, and that will make me the WINNER. :lol: :lol: Jack
     

  3. Omie

    Omie New Member

    Messages:
    2,845
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Yes, I think that is true. But then, I also think there have always been BKrs who take that approach. Maybe there are more of them now with the rising popularity of local and organic foods and 'natural beekeeping' (whatever that is, depending on who you ask).

    But whether each person thinks that's good or bad isn't really the point, because we all have our own opinions about treatments and how to keep bees- keeping bees is highly individual. At one extreme there are those who treat their be routinely several times a year whether they need it or not, as a 'preventative'....at the other extreme there are those who believe it's better to let the weak bees die off in a 'survival of the fittest' approach. Most of us fall somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum.

    People treat or don't treat their hives in endlessly varied combinations and approaches....and yet everyone still loses hives...a much higher percentage of hives are lost these days than 30 years ago, regardless of 'prevention', treatments, or non-treatments.
    Whether people use chemical treatments or not, I think it's smart practice to be prepared for hive losses. The fact remains that everyone loses more hives than they would like.
     
  4. Marbees

    Marbees Member

    Messages:
    983
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Perry asked:
    Acceptance has become a form of beekeeping?
    I would say a part of beekeeping

    Omie said:
    Whether people use chemical treatments or not, I think it's smart practice to be prepared for hive losses.
    I agree
    The fact remains that everyone loses more hives than they would like.
    True, unfortunately
     
  5. riverrat

    riverrat New Member

    Messages:
    2,683
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Perry I agree with your post 100 percent its a numbers game all the way around wether you are a keep, researcher or a salesman for a bee supply company. ITs all about numbers. In fact I find when talking to other people weather it be other keeps or the general public one of the first questions asked is how many hives do you have. With which I have no straight answer as my hive numbers move up and down depending on the time of year. Now as for stir the pot. Naw its just a good straight up observation that will bring forth some good friendly discussion on this site. However I couldnt answer if that would be the case brought up elseware
    :thumbsup: :goodpost:
     
  6. pturley

    pturley New Member

    Messages:
    419
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Yeah, it's a numbers game... ...but one we can benefit from and one we can "fix" in our favor!

    There is another side to the as well...

    By accepting and allowing a certain number of hives to fail without significant intervention with chemicals and treatments, we are actually allowing natural selection to take its course. Provided there are no new pathogens/stresses introduced into the populations, we should eventually see the levels of resistance to these pathogens rise and the percentages of hive losses fall over time. If you look at pests like varroa and tracheal mites, we are already seeing significant increases in the bees ability to survive with/and cope with these parasites.

    Problem with this is, with the increased rate of introduction of new stresses on the bees, we are pushing their ability to "weather the recent storms" against them. As I see it, CCD or whatever you'd like to call it is an indication of the bee population approaching a tipping point where rate of new introductions of these stresses have begun to exceed their ability of the bees to adapt to them.

    This whole concept of allowing the bees to evolve a level of resistance hinges on the hope that we have a period of relative calm in the rate of introductions. The mid 1980s through the present have been a terrible time for worldwide bee populations.

    Globalization has been a huge contributing factor. This is both to our bees and to human populations in many, many ways. To focus on our bees:
    • The increase worldwide transportation of goods, people and organisms has lead to wave upon wave of introductions of new pathogens and pests. [/*:m:10ys70e8]
    • Increases in the percentage of hives used in "migratory beekeeping" increases the rate that these newly introduced pathogens can spread through ever larger areas. This is both as a result of the increased transportation efficiencies but also from the declines in the total number of hives. Each wave of pest/parasite introductions now occur rapidly in an increasing wider scale. (pest introductions in one region are transported on a continental scale within a season or two).[/*:m:10ys70e8]
    • The global marketing and introductions of new classes of pesticides can certainly have an impact (can of worms here!)[/*:m:10ys70e8]
    • The "advances" (good or bad) in GMO agricultural products and seed stocks can/has been shown to directly affect bees.[/*:m:10ys70e8]
    Given that these last two items are marketed on a globalized scale, our efforts toward the evaluation standards for marketing and introduction needs to be IMO MUCH MORE stringent and needs to be a more universal standard in regulatory agencies worldwide.

    One factor in this evolution of bees on a smaller, more localized scale would be the practice of commercial queen rearing in requeening hives. This practice can easily be debated either way (GOOD and BAD): On balance, this is widely accepted, widely practiced, however in terms of evolutionary fitness (in a localized population), this can be argued to subvert the natural selection process.
    I clearly see a wide number of benefits from it, as well as a good number of arguments against it (can easily be debated AD NAUSEUM). Without judgement, a few PROS and CONS are outlined below (hardly an exhaustive list!):
    PROS:
    • Commercial queen breeders ARE actively selecting their breeding stocks for a myriad of selection criteria: (Survivability, productivity, disposition, swarming potential, etc.) On a large scale, these traits are rapidly conferred to a very large number of hives aiding in the widespread introduction of resistance factors(to the full span of allowable sales and transit of these queens).[/*:m:10ys70e8]
    CONS:
    • The fitness traits used in the selection of Queens in one region (IE: Southern states, or California) may or may not be favored in the Midwest of Northeast. We have no way of knowing whether or not those genetic factors are transferable to a different set of combined local stressors.[/*:m:10ys70e8]
    • It can be argued that the practice results in a net loss of genetic diversity. With the potential for market dominance of one particular queen type or another, this could shift the population dynamics and result in a net loss in presence of genetic factors that would contribute to resistance to FUTURE pathogens.[/*:m:10ys70e8]
    Another PRO:
    • The rate of production of new queens is a limiting factor. These aren't agricultural seeds, produced by multinational corporations in quantities sufficient to wipe away the presence of any rival products. These are bees... Produced at best at a rate of 50~70 per donor hive. This means the rate of evaluation of these specific queens over wide array of areas exceeds the rate that these are introduced in any significant numbers. [/*:m:10ys70e8]
    Additional CONs:
    • Instrumental insemination and the number and diversity of drones typically used does not approach the level and diversity of drones present in drone congregation areas (DCAs) for open breed queens, local queens and feral colonies.[/*:m:10ys70e8]
    • The selective process (the chase) is directly subverted.[/*:m:10ys70e8]
    • The drones present in a given DCA have in some manner, already been through a localized selective process. The more successful a hive is in that area, the greater the number of drones it will contribute to a given DCA.[/*:m:10ys70e8]

    All we can hope for a bit of a respite in the rates of introduction of new parasites, pathogens and stresses. A bit of time allow a time for our bees to adapt to the current factors in the environment.

    Large scale operations will continue to need a benefit from the rapid response to new issues that requeening provides. Small scale beekeeping can contribute by providing a bell weather in regards to diversity and survivability. Increasing the overall number of hives and number and levels of knowledge of all beekeepers should be in everyone's best interests.

    All BEEKEEPERS, both small scale and commercial need to maintain very high standard of beekeeping to ensure the best selection of our hives (local artificial selective pressures). Reserving and selecting the best and most productive hives for splits or queen rearing nucs is an excellent husbandry practice.

    Actively intervening (requeening or actively culling) weak or substandard hives while not as pleasant as above is also part of these good husbandry practices. I would argue and emphasize that this is also part of your husbandry responsibility!

    BEEKS need to be well informed and actively monitoring their hives in order to rapidly identify and prevent the harboring and spread of pathogens and parasites (IE: AFB). The internet and beekeeping forums like this are a tremendous resource for the rapid dissemination of this type of information (observations, alerts and news of useful treatments and techniques).

    (I need to quit now... ...my fingers are getting tired!)
    EDIT: clarification "commercial queen rearing..."
     
  7. pturley

    pturley New Member

    Messages:
    419
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I didn't mean to type so long or didn't mean to preach (on reading it, sorry, it does) but you sort of hit the nail on the head with a topic I have been looking at for an article for my local BEEK association publications. The goal being to "raise the bar" with regards to seeking information and use of internet forums such as this one.

    I am amazed by apparently how few members of my local group are active online. Perhaps I am not finding all of the sites they might be on, or am underestimating the numbers of lurkers vs. posting "active" members... who knows...
     
  8. Zookeep

    Zookeep Active Member

    Messages:
    1,252
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    36
    :goodpost: I agree 150%, but would like to add how important feral bees are that have already survived humans stupidity, I bought 2 queens but from now on going to go just feral hunting and working with the best that I have already and build up more hives, yes it is a numbers game and for me the number is (I hope) going to grow very fast every year.
     
  9. Zulu

    Zulu Member

    Messages:
    973
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    An interesting observation.....

    I do think hobbiest beekeepers have often been of the more earthy folk, self sustaining etc. Not a bad thing !

    As the press have broadcast more and more about the issues bees face, more people have come into the hobby, and a higher percentage are the nature loving folk, who by their very nature are anti chemical / treatment. Thus we have more hobbiests who are idealists. No disrespect intended as I too fall into this category.

    I started this way, my reasoning was , that there should be a way to keep bees without all the drugs and chemicals, natural and organic must work, sadly one crash and you learn this is not true.

    If we kept our pet dogs and cats the same way , refusing to treat them when there is obviously something wrong, we would get into trouble with authority pretty quickly.

    Thus many just fall to the notion that the bees will take care of themselves and if not next year we get more and try again as there has to be a way to do this right.

    Those few do that practice chemical free beekeeping with success, are advanced in their operation and certainly don't do treatment free bees, they use natural cycles to keep mites and beetles at managed levels and constantly check hive strength, never letting things get out of hand.

    So yes we have become a numbers game, probably through lack of education more than anything else.
     
  10. PerryBee

    PerryBee New Member

    Messages:
    5,829
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    pturley:

    Great response, it's contributions like that that add value to forums like this one so preach away until your fingers ache. :D
    When I started I watched a lot of videos (VHS :oops: ) and read lots, and I was also lucky to find a mentor of sorts, but some of the best information and most timely answers to urgent questions have come from online members. Maybe it's the fear of losing ones anonymity by posting that holds some back.
     
  11. Zookeep

    Zookeep Active Member

    Messages:
    1,252
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    36
    lol Im too loud to be anonymous :yahoo:
     
  12. Crofter

    Crofter New Member

    Messages:
    967
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    With nearly three times the hive mortality and a fairly stagnant wholesale price for honey it surely must have changed the numbers. I think it would be a tough sell to make a business plan that would satisfy any financier of a new startup.
     
  13. brooksbeefarm

    brooksbeefarm New Member

    Messages:
    3,276
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Treatment free was brought up at our last bee club meeting, some members treated with chemicals, some went with the live and let die, i ask if essential oils were considered as chemicals they said no and also omitted fumiagilin-B as a chemical. I had 72 hives this summer and with two that were robbed out and two that i combined i'm going through the winter with 68 hives. This makes 6 years with using essential oils with little losses (3 to 5 hives). I do keep a close eye on there strength and queen patterns on the frames. I work them heavy in early spring and don't bother them when the flow is on. After taking honey off (mid Aug.) i raise queens and requeen the ones that have become weak. 72 hives is the most i ever had at one time,it is alot of work but i would still call myself a hobby bee keeper. Jack
     
  14. tecumseh

    tecumseh New Member

    Messages:
    6,487
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    well Perry it appears your 'stirring the pot' produced some very excellent response. so go ahead and do keep stirring.

    great post pturley and crofter. hats off to you there :hi: .

    jack writes:
    some members treated with chemicals, some went with the live and let die

    tecumseh:
    certainly there 'must be' ('is' as far as how I do thing here) that represents the intermediate path. I like to structure how I do things here as treat with soft chemical/intervention for those hives that will die anyway and use these to produce the next generation of bees that you hope will not need even these soft chemicals or intervention.

    I think Perry (based on what I have seen and read over about 50 years) that bee keeping has always been a numbers game. I also think that folks have little historical information on prior losses or problems (many of which are now resolved). So the current problem may seem extreme but often time really is quite minor when reflect against the historical record.

    The numbers game is very much a part of the equation if you are trying to select for traits relative to the bees. So it is much easier for BWeaver (with thousands of hives to choose from) to select for some possible benefit while the average hobby beekeeper with 2 hives really can never participate in this form of game. in addition any selection on a world wide scale is never going to be presented to some hobby person (with limited bees and limited experience) but invariable is offered to folks like BWeaver (actually I think at the time Brother Adam offered to bring the Buckfast bee to the US is was just 'the weavers'... anyway the weavers were not in their current business configuration at that point in time).
     
  15. brooksbeefarm

    brooksbeefarm New Member

    Messages:
    3,276
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    With the farm, farmers market,(5 acres of produce) and 72 bee hives is becoming a heavy load for a soon to be 74 yr. old man. It was my intention to keep 15 to 20 hives, but with the spring splits, swarm and cutout calls, and our 92 yr. old honeyman at the farmers market passing away, they ask me to start selling honey at the farmers market. The demand for local honey has grown so that i can't produce enough with 72 hives :confused: this year, many club members have been buying honey from me because there bees didn't make any surplus honey. To me it's not a numbers game, it's the demand that's going to make an old man out of me. :lol: Jack
    PS. i have 9 quarts and a few bears left to sell, and a 5 gallon bucket for family and close friends. :thumbsup:
     
  16. pturley

    pturley New Member

    Messages:
    419
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    All agricultural pursuits are a numbers game. It is just that it is much easier to diagnose, isolate and treat 1 animal out of 100 or even 1 out of 10,000 than it is to treat one hive out of ??? where each hive has some ~30-50K individuals.

    Cattle, sheep, chickens, corn, beans, bees, whatever... ...when dealing with a livestock, you will always face challenges...

    What makes this more challenging with bees is that: isolation is pretty much impossible, diagnosis is difficult at best (pushes the need for education and experience) and the proper dosing of treatments (where available) are more challenging to administer on any controllable or effective basis.
    Compare even the most extreme chemical interventions in beekeeping with vaccinating any other form of agricultural livestock. The comparison simply cannot be made! The closest parallel you could make would be aquaculture. But even then in many cases, either the individual animals are large enough to tracked or directly observed (open aquaculture), or the entire environment in which the animals exists is contained (closed pond aquaculture).

    If you read bee keeping publications going back a few years. Tec is spot on in that historically, there have always been outbreaks of diseases, parasites or pesticides (some known at the time, some not)... Most of these have become of limited concern today. Either the bees have evolved to cope or our understand has increased and procedures have changed to limit the conditions favorable (IE: chalkbrood).

    The key point now is that over the past two or three decades, the rate of introduction and scale of these introductions of new stresses are unprecedented when compared to any period of time in the past.

    I do believe that bees and beekeeping will survive the current challenges. But it will take informed beeks and a bit of time for the selection processes (both natural and artificial) to work to allow the bees to adapt to these new conditions and hopefully also significant increases in investment into research to try to forecast "next storm" before it arrives.

    I started back into this as a hobby as a relatively newbie (I would argue a fairly well read newbie...) with the preconceived notion that I would fall into the purist "live and let die" camp. However, the more I read of recent challenges (online resources are much more current and informative!) the more I see that many forms of interventions on the part of the beekeeper are clearly warranted. IMO: this provided these interventions do not interfere with the basic concept of "survival of the fittest" in our stocks (some colonies must fall, some lines allowed to fail for the selection processes to work).

    I love the fact we can still find "survivor stock" feral colonies. (I really regret not being able to catch my trap-out queen from this past fall).
    I encourage more beekeepers to raise their own "open bred" queens and select the best of these to found further colonies (even if it means a split resulting in foregoing a honey harvest from that particular hive).
    I also hold the view that loosing the occasional swarm is not necessarily a bad thing (statistically would be most likely from our best hives).
     
  17. PerryBee

    PerryBee New Member

    Messages:
    5,829
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    pturley writes:
    "I also hold the view that losing the occasional swarm is not necessarily a bad thing (statistically would be most likely from our best hives)."

    Whew, glad to know that I was doing my part this last summer! :oops: :roll: :lol:

    I know I've mentioned this before but there is a keep where I used to live that has 7 hives. He puts excluders on them and makes absolutely no effort to prevent swarming. If he sees one he will try to catch it (gives em away) but with his advanced years he doesn't try too hard. In four or five years I have only known him to lose one hive overwintering that I am aware of.
     
  18. tecumseh

    tecumseh New Member

    Messages:
    6,487
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    to pturley :goodpost:

    I myself also suspect one primary and often overlooked item is.... even the best of bee keepers has to have good information to act upon. this in itself seems to be more and more difficult as more and more bee labs are closed due to funding limitations.

    then Perry writes:
    I know I've mentioned this before but there is a keep where I used to live that has 7 hives.

    tecumseh:
    for a part of the world where a 'good' bee keepers winter losses might average 30% I would be actively looking over the old fellow's shoulder.