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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Central IL
    Posts
    261

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    I now have 4 hives, and consider myself a hobbyist, but after reading some of your stories I am very tempted to move into a more commercial role. My father is interested in this and is near retirement age and looking for something to occupy him when he retires. If we were looking to make say $10-20 thousand per year, roughly how many hives would this take for the average honey production year? I realize that this is in no way a question with a definite answer and I really don't need anyone to tell me that. I just really have no idea how big an operation would have to be and am looking for a ballpark. Thanks in advance for all input.
    Central IL... where there are more hogs than people and more soybeans than hogs and people put together.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Central IL
    Posts
    261

    Post

    Another question I thought of. Is there generally more money in pollination (local farmer type, not shipping them to california or anything like that) or in honey production, or is the balance somewhere in between? A lot of pumpkins are raised around here and I hear that the going rate is around $50 per hive for a season and that each farmer usually wants 3 or 4 hives on a pumpkin patch. Also a lot of soybeans, but I'm not sure how willing farmers are to put bees on them.
    Central IL... where there are more hogs than people and more soybeans than hogs and people put together.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    North Georgia mountains
    Posts
    923

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    This is a general answer and there are a lot of things that can change the example, weather for example. Beekeeping is, after all, agriculture, and any farmer can tell you how much can go wrong, but the following is what I have found to be AVERAGE here in the north GA mountains.

    I run deeps as brood chambers, with a medium for bee's stores, and mediums as honey supers. I harvest as supers are filled rather than 1-2 times a year. When the first super above stores is 2/3 full, I add another super. When it is 2/3 full, and the first is full, I pull the full one, drop the next down to the top of the stores, and add an empty. Where I am that is usually every two weeks, which means a hive produces 30 lbs of honey twice a month for a 10-12 week season. This is average weather, but optimal conditions otherwise...good pest/disease control success, good overwintering, queens laying good, etc. Nothing is ever optimal, and beekeeping is no different. Reality means instead of the 300 lbs a year the above would give, I average 200 lbs a year per hive. At an average retail of $4.00/lb that is $800.00/hive per season. To do that I move my hives 8-10 times a year to follow the flow. I only move from just south of Atlanta to the GA TN border, but moving many hives that many times is a lot of work, and expense.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Central IL
    Posts
    261

    Post

    Does anyone have any insight as to whether or not it's feasible to try to pollinate and produce some honey at the same time? It seems the $50 bucks for less than optimal real estate for the bees would be counterproductive. Sounds to me like I want to keep them here on our 6 1/2 acres in the afternoon shade and where I can keep an eye on them and medicate/feed easily, etc.
    Central IL... where there are more hogs than people and more soybeans than hogs and people put together.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    North Georgia mountains
    Posts
    923

    Post

    <<Sounds to me like I want to keep them here on our 6 1/2 acres in the afternoon shade and where I can keep an eye on them and medicate/feed easily, etc.>>

    If you want to make a living in ANYTHING in agriculture you ought to get that word "easily" out of your vocabulary.

    BubbaBob

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Central IL
    Posts
    261

    Post

    I'm not looking to make a living. Just supplement the income.
    Central IL... where there are more hogs than people and more soybeans than hogs and people put together.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Alpine, NY (near Cayuga Lake)
    Posts
    107

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    I'm hoping to start by getting the girls to pay for themselves. So I have a DBA (doing-business-as) and the bees have their own checking account now. The idea being to keep track of the money, prove to the IRS that this is a business, and keep myself motivated to earn some money.

    The flow of cash will be outwards for a while, I realize. Good thing I have a full time job! I want to focus on a few of things at a time, to keep it manageable: extracted, chunk, propolis, pollen, candles, for instance. Work up to adding nucs, queen rearing, creamed honey, pollination, etc. That will give me time to build up my skills and the number of hives I run.

    Too bad the seasons are so short in Upstate NY!
    Lesli<br /> <a href=\"http://beeyard.blogspot.com/\" target=\"_blank\">http://beeyard.blogspot.com/</a>

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Farmington, New Mexico
    Posts
    6,759

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    FWIW...
    In evaluating businesses for sale, I've noticed a particular aspect I call the "killing zone". It's a point beyond "small" where the resources required to sustain the business are more costly than the revenues they generate can support. Some folks tend to think that costs and expenses and the resulting revenue/profit can be expressed in a nice smooth upward curve. They really can't. They're actually step-variable in most cases, and the result for the unsuspecting is a situation wherein your business, even if it's a sideline, demands resources and expensive expertise that won't generate sufficient revenue yet must be provided given the size and complexity of your growth.
    Think of an extractor as an example. A two-frame hand cranked model will handle a given number of frames in a day. At some point you're either working 24/7 to keep up, or perhaps you're not keeping up and other tasks needing attention go begging. So you upgrade to a model that will do the same job in an hour. But now you've got money tied up in equipment that's only being utilized at maybe 20% of it's capacity, so next year you increase your hives and production to keep the extractor busy, which creates a mismatch between output and your other physical facilities. It just keeps multiplying in the "killing zone" until you reach a point where you're either a full-blown big-time operation that can support the various imbalanced and mismatched resource requirements or the whole thing tanks for lack of money.
    I don't know where the cutoff is in terms of investment, size, revenue etc. for honey production but I'll guarantee it exists and people need to be aware of it.
    Nobody ruins my day without my permission, and I refuse to grant it...

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Location
    Manitoba Canada
    Posts
    6,596

    Post

    If your father is willing to help, then you are set. Work him in the honey house as you make your honey rounds. You will not need to hire an employee.
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog
    www.stepplerfarms.com

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Lincolnton, NC, USA
    Posts
    71

    Post

    I am just a hobbyist with 6 hives, and only going into my 3rd year of beekeeping. So far, I would be really happy to break even. I am hoping, this is the year. But then, 10 hives is getting closer all of the time.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Location
    Kiel WI, USA
    Posts
    2,368

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    &lt;&lt;In evaluating businesses for sale, I've noticed a particular aspect I call the "killing zone". &gt;&gt;

    I would also suggest that the "killing zone" is going to vary wildly between businesses, particularly in beekeeping. I've seen it many times on dairy farms.

    Two operations, essentially the same on paper, one will be a sheriff's auction soon, the other is raking it in hand over fist. There seem to be as many consultants as farmers these days, and every one that walks through my family's barn says the same thing: "You're too small to make it. Get big or get out." Then they go and sit down with their accountant, the only one who sees their bottom line, and he smiles and says "Don't change a thing."

    Two rules I've learned from their experience on making it in a business that eats hopes and dreams for breakfast:

    1 "Sweat equity" Buying expensive equipment to get done fast just means a longer wait before bedtime.

    2 Deduct everything possible.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Central IL
    Posts
    261

    Post

    We're also looking to get big enough that we can deduct things that would not be used solely for beekeeping. Dad's wanted a skid loader w/ a trailer for stuff around the farm forever. I suggested that if we strapped 4 hives to a pallet and found a few farmers who wanted pollination, we might be able to write off the $15k or whatever we'd end up paying for the loader and trailer. Any comments/thoughts/suggestions on this?
    Central IL... where there are more hogs than people and more soybeans than hogs and people put together.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Alabama
    Posts
    21

    Post

    I use double pallets to advoid the need of a tractor, I have a L4330 Kubota with forks, but I would not want to haul it around to move hives. The quads are to heavy for a custom hand truck. I don't move mine yet, but I already have a one ton truck, 30' flat deck trailer etc. Those will take a long time to pay for with honey, but I use them for other things too.

    The local guys tell me it takes 30 to 40 colonies to make more than you put in. For most people it takes at least three years to break even with 30 if you start from scratch. Selling Nucs to locals and packages are a way to make money if you don't have the equipment to bottle large quanities.

    Plus, if you buy used decappers, tanks, pumps, sumps, extractors, heat exchangers, filters and such you can spend about a third of the cost of new equipment. It depends on what your going to put in the honey house and how you move the hives. How many colonies per yard, distance between them, hive equipment cost too. Will you make your own boxes, buy in bulk, have your own wood shop? Lots of varibles. You can spend 20K on honey house equipment very quick if you want the automated stuff. I know I do.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Harpers Ferry, WV USA EEUU
    Posts
    47

    Post

    From reading this forum, I can't help but conclude that the profit potential from keeping bees varies tremendously from region to region in North America. Before jumping from the ranks of hobbyists to a commercial operation, I would do a lot of homework on what other big operators are doing in your own area.

    For example, where I live the guys with more than hobbyist-level numbers of hives all focus on pollination contracts. Lots of apple orchard operations in this region. One oldtimer told us at Class 1 for Beginning Beekeepers "Nobody 'round here can put their kids through college on honey money, so get that idea outta your heads." So recon the "competition" in your area.

    A friend of mine who is a high-level business consultant once told me "you can only forecast — at best — about 2/3rds of what will come to pass, so plan with that kind of margin for resources and manpower."

    A word about your dad — my own dad retired about 7 years ago, and his health then was superb. Dad's main retirement income comes from three rental houses he bought and fixed up when he was in his 50s & 60s. His assumption was that he could continue to stay ahead of the routine plumbing, painting, and other minor maintenance in his retirement years. If he has to pay somebody else to do those tasks, the profit margin melts away. As the years roll by, it is more and more difficult for him to accomplish the physical tasks he once considered a snap. Then he had a fall off a ladder and messed up a shoulder, and the whole universe of what he could realistically handle shifted. I have frankly been surprised by how fast the downhill slide has become. In my dad's case, it isn't loss of mental power or demoralization; in those departments, he's as positive and as sharp as he ever was.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Location
    Kiel WI, USA
    Posts
    2,368

    Post

    &lt;&lt;Dad's wanted a skid loader w/ a trailer for stuff around the farm forever. I suggested that if we strapped 4 hives to a pallet and found a few farmers who wanted pollination, we might be able to write off the $15k or whatever we'd end up paying for the loader and trailer. Any comments/thoughts/suggestions on this?&gt;&gt;

    This is pretty much what I'm talking about with "sweat equity". He's "wanted" it forever, but hasn't really NEEDED it. But at the same time, a skid loader is one of the few things versatile enough to justify planning a farm around. I'm not sure how well that will transfer to a bee operation though.

    But as far as writing it off, you'll have to find someone familiar with the tax code and your unique situation to answer that.

    &lt;&lt;From reading this forum, I can't help but conclude that the profit potential from keeping bees varies tremendously from region to region in North America.&gt;&gt;

    I don't think it's regional at all. Pick any region, from desert to mountains to swamp to near-tundra, and you can probably find someone keeping bees there profitably. Then look at what would be considered an "ideal" area, and you can probably find someone going bankrupt in a hurry there, too. I think it mostly boils down to the person running the show.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Hamilton, Alabama
    Posts
    1,232

    Post

    1. Put your foot on your expenses and keep it there. Never let up.

    2. Anticipate the requirements and the workload you are willing to to work with.

    3. Whatever profit you figure you can make, cut it in half and you will be much closer to reality.


    The minimum number of colonies that can be made to pay is 1 but the time and effort you put in doesn't become economical until you have at least 50 colonies.

    The cost of the bees will be approximately the same as the cost of the handling equipment until you have at least 100 colonies. If you figure you can get 100 colonies of bees for $100 each including supers, bees, tops, bottoms, frames, foundation, etc, you will have invested $10,000. You will need extracting equipment, a small truck, and possibly a loader to go with that. If you are lucky thats another $10,000. From personal experience, the only way you can get this cheap is to build your own boxes and buy cheap used equipment. There is a BIG tradeoff there.

    A good beekeeper can almost always make $100 per colony per year. This infers using some for pollination and some to produce honey. Your best profit potential is to do some of each.

    A careful answer to your question is that 75 to 100 colonies is about enough to make a semi-paying enterprise. As noted above, you will find many disparities between the capacity of your processing equipment and the number of colonies you can care for.

    Fusion

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Central IL
    Posts
    261

    Post

    Well, for the most part, what I have read here is what I expected and certainly not what I wanted. Looks like I'll be sticking with 4 hives and a frown. If you know some way to end up with a whole hive for $100 bucks you're already a few steps ahead of me. I can't find anywhere to buy lumber except lowes and menards here and it's twice as cheap to just buy them from dadant at those prices. On top of that, I can't find any beeyards that ship cheap enough to make those numbers realistic. I've done a really good job so far getting ahold of used equipment cheap. I got an older 4 frame extractor for 10 bucks because the valve was "broken". Turned out the bolt was just on too tight. Anyway, thanks for all the time you all put into this post. You probably all saved me what would have turned into one enormous headache.
    Central IL... where there are more hogs than people and more soybeans than hogs and people put together.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Farmington, New Mexico
    Posts
    6,759

    Post

    You probably all saved me what would have turned into one enormous headache
    Shoot. I hope we weren't too discouraging. I don't think anyone intended to suggest that you not move forward, just that a person needs to be aware of the pitfalls. Heaven knows we've all made a few mistakes, and if we can spare someone else a bit of headache we'd like to. (And there's always the possibility we're wrong.) As Oat Willie used to say "Onward thru the fog".
    Nobody ruins my day without my permission, and I refuse to grant it...

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Central IL
    Posts
    261

    Post

    Thanks coyote, but the fact that I'll be out of med school and a practicing doctor by the time I even break even (if that ever happens) makes the idea of trying to make any money at this seem a bit foolish. I love my bees and maybe all those exterminators I gave my number to will pay off, but the startup cost is just too great and the pitfalls too many. I probably sound so disappointed because I'm an optimist by nature and I really wanted to believe I could make it work. I wish I could find someone getting out, because that looks to be the only way I can reasonably do this. If any of you hear about cheap equipment in the central Illinois area please tell me.
    Central IL... where there are more hogs than people and more soybeans than hogs and people put together.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Location
    Manitoba Canada
    Posts
    6,596

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    &gt;&gt;skid loader is one of the few things versatile enough to justify planning a farm around. I'm not sure how well that will transfer to a bee operation though.

    are you kidding?? :confused: :confused:

    &gt;&gt;I'm an optimist by nature and I really wanted to believe I could make it work
    &gt;&gt;but the startup cost is just too great and the pitfalls too many

    If you are giving up that easy, then I guess you'd be better not to get big into beekeeping. Getting into it for huge returns is not the reason to get into beekeeping. It more less holds a way of life, and that more or less is what keeps all beekeeper keeping bees. Nobody get rich at this game,...
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog
    www.stepplerfarms.com

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