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  1. #1
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    Post Traits for selecting breeder colonies

    This is not an exhaustive list and its a bit dated. I'm posting it at a request on the chat forum. There is a LOT more that should be in this.

    Over the course of several years, I have wished for but never seen a good list of the various traits that can be influenced by a bee breeding program. Following is a list I have compiled of some of the traits of importance to beekeepers. Keep in mind that this is a list of genetically influenced traits, with some comparison of races of bees, not a list of management procedures.

    1. EGG LAYING RATE
    2. EGG VIABILITY RATE
    3. BROOD CYCLE TIME
    4. BROOD NURTURING
    5. FORAGING AGGRESSIVENESS
    6. TIME OF FORAGING
    7. DISEASE RESISTANCE
    8. PEST RESISTANCE
    9. DEFENSIVE BEHAVIOR
    10. SWARMING TENDENCY
    11. WINTER HARDINESS
    12. LIFE SPAN
    13. BODY SIZE
    14. SENSE OF SMELL
    15. HYGIENIC CLEANING BEHAVIOR
    16. TIME OF BROOD DEVELOPMENT
    17. THRIFT
    18. HONEY ARRANGEMENT
    19. POLLEN COLLECTION
    20. TYPE OF HONEY COLLECTED
    21. COMB BUILDING
    22. CAPPING STRUCTURE
    23. PROPOLIS COLLECTION
    24. BRACE COMB CONSTRUCTION
    25. ABDOMINAL COLOR
    26. ANTENNAE STRUCTURE

    Colony strength affects productivity because of the high level of correlation between hive strength and honey production. Egg laying rate, egg viability rate, brood care, brood development time, life span, and several other factors affect colony strength.

    A prolific Italian queen can lay about 2,000 viable eggs per day during peak brood rearing. Rates of up to 5,000 eggs per day have been reported for African queens. After watching a colony build up from just a handful of bees in the winter to occupy seven or eight deep brood chambers in the spring, one begins to appreciate just how many eggs are being laid.

    Egg viability is affected by inbreeding because of parthenogenesis and the concentration of genetic defects. Only 15 variants of the sex allele have been identified to date. Since a queen mates with 17 drones on the average, at least one or two of them will have identical sex alleles with the queen. When an egg has identical sex alleles, the result is a diploid drone egg that the bees normally destroy shortly after hatching. Genetic code defects cause otherwise normal eggs to be non-viable. This is especially detectable in drone eggs because they contain only one set of chromosomes. Genetic selection must control inbreeding so the egg viability rate does not become abnormally low.

    Brood care includes feeding and climate control in the brood nest. Most strains of bees used commercially today show good brood care characteristics. Worker brood development takes 21 days from egg laying to adult. For comparison, African bees take about 19 days. The shorter brood cycle helps explain their rapid colony buildup.

    The average worker lives about 35 days during summer. If the average life span were increased to 45 days, colony strength would rise by 20 to 30 percent. Several colonies have been found with above average life spans, but very little work has been done to select long-lived bees.

    Disease resistance to brood diseases has been found for the following; American foulbrood, European foulbrood, Sacbrood, and Chalkbrood. There are several other brood diseases caused by viral, bacterial, and fungal agents, but none have as much effect as the first four. Resistance seems to center around hive cleanliness and brood nutrition with emphasis on hygienic behavior which is a tendency to uncap and remove diseased brood. Carniolans have a high average level of resistance to brood diseases and African bees show a similar capacity. Italians show resistance to varying degrees and respond readily to genetic selection.

    Nosema, Paralysis, and Septicema are the primary diseases of adult bees. Nosema is especially bad because it affects wintering colonies causing serious damage in Canada and most of the northern United States. Factors affecting resistance include the total number of bees in the colony and the size of the hindgut of individual bees. Italians on average tend to be slightly susceptible to nosema and resistant to paralysis and septicema. Brother Adam indicates that he has found no obvious resistance to nosema except possibly in the Egyptian bee (Apis Mellifera lamarckii). Caucasians tend to be very susceptible to nosema though selected strains exhibit some resistance. Several researchers have noted that the eastern honeybee (Apis Cerana) seems to be almost immune to nosema. Regrettably, Apis Cerana and Apis Mellifera cannot crossbreed.

    A moderate level of infestation with tracheal mites results in poor wintering ability. If more than about 30 percent of the workers are infested going into winter, the colony will probably die. Resistance appears to be based on behavioral and anatomical differences. Bees with the highest level of resistance currently are from England where bee populations were decimated in the early 1920's. As the highly susceptible bees were killed, only the resistant colonies survived. The net result is that bees of English origin have a high level of genetic tolerance to tracheal mites. The typical pattern seen when a colony dies from tracheal mites is a colony with a handful of dead bees and almost all the honey stored for wintering still in the hive. What happened to the huge cluster of bees that went into winter? They flew out and died when the temperature was above about 40 degrees. It is heartbreaking to see a huge cluster on the ground in front of a hive with bees crawling slowly away, wings disjointed. After losing most of the adult bees, the few remaining start rearing brood in a desperate attempt to survive. Then comes severe cold weather and the bees won't move from the brood to food located only inches away. The result is a handful of starved bees covering a small patch of brood with a hive still nearly full of honey.

    Varroa mites are from Asia where colonies of Apis cerana were the original hosts. Varroa will kill an infested colony within a few years. Only African bees (Apis Mellifera Scutellata) show a high level of resistance. This resistance comes from a shorter brood development time and from actively seeking and killing the mites in a form of grooming behavior. Varroa causes newly emerged bees to be physically smaller than normal and to have short, abnormal wings. Other symptoms include excessive fall swarming, and brood that does not emerge from the cells.

    Tropilaelaps Clarae is an external mite that also originated in Asia where they are hosted by Apis dorsata. Though not currently in the United States, we will probably have to deal with them eventually though only in the southern states. Resistance will probably be the same as for Varroa, though this has not yet been tested.

    Wax moths can destroy the combs in a weak colony in a short time. Italians tend to be highly resistant because they maintain very strong colonies and aggressively clean the hive interior. They sting and remove wax moth larvae.

    Parasitic insects such as hornets, wasps, and members of closely related genera such as spiders actively prey on honeybees by waiting near the hive entrance and grabbing a bee on its way in or out of the hive. Most colonies that aggressively guard and defend the hive will be resistant, but tend to sting beekeepers more often. African bees have developed a unique behavior of flying straight into the hive entrance instead of landing outside and walking in. This reduces their exposure to predators waiting at the entrance. While animals such as frogs, birds, skunks, and bears prey on honeybees, the only resistance bees show is based on strong hive defensive behavior. Guard bees and soldier bees tend to sting more than younger house bees. Guard bees normally stand near the hive entrance and challenge intruders. Soldier bees forage part of the time, then wait in the hive for the unwary intruder - whether man or beast. There is a large variation in the percentage of soldier bees in different colonies and there is some correlation between the percentage of soldier bees and the amount of honey produced. The more often a bee flies outside to forage, the more honey gathered. Regular bee selection has tended to increase the percentage and quantity of active foragers in commercially available strains of bees.

    Foraging behavior shows up most in the amount of honey a colony gathers. In some colonies, the bees rush in with a load of nectar, unload, and then rush back out for another load. The bees in other colonies could best be described as lazy. They gather nectar, then return to the hive and lounge around for a while eventually getting around to another foraging trip. A good selection program can rapidly affect this level of genetic variation. African bees forage earlier in the morning, later in the evening, and more aggressively than European types.

    Swarming is the natural means of reproduction for honeybees. Crowding is a primary cause of swarming and some colonies show more tolerance to crowding than others. Swarming is also influenced to a great degree by the climate and nectar flow characteristics. In general, areas having a long warm period in early spring with intermittent nectar flows and rainy periods that confine the bees to the hive will have the most intense swarming. By contrast, those areas having a long and cool buildup period and a sudden, intense nectar flow will experience swarming to a lesser degree. Regardless of location, swarming is one of the unique activities of bees that must be controlled to produce honey. According to Brother Adam, Greek bees (Apis Mellifera Cecropia) show the least inclination to swarm.

    Winter hardiness is required in all areas of the United States and Canada but is of less importance in the southern United States. Carniolans show a good wintering ability as also does the intermissa race group. Brother Adam reports that Anatolian and cyprian bees show the best winter hardiness which is surprising because of their mediterranean origin. Italians have a less developed wintering ability which has prevented them from being imported into areas that experience extremes of cold in winter. Bees of the intermissa race group range up to the Arctic Circle which indicates that crossbreeding and selection with these hardy bees could dramatically improve wintering ability.

    Body size and anatomical structure varies among different race groups. Currently, the largest bee is from the Rif Mountains of Morocco (Apis Mellifera major nova). Some of the African races tend to be the smallest. Tongue length, leg length, abdominal size, wing size, and virtually all anatomical features show some variation.

    Tongue length and wing size have a significant effect on the honey crop. Antennae structure affects the sense of smell and touch and possibly other senses that we do not fully understand. This affects the bee's sense of orientation in finding the right hive, and affects foraging behavior because the bee can smell nectar at a greater distance. Drone antennae are much more sensitive than worker antennae. Most other anatomical features are of little importance because they do not significantly influence the honey crop.

    The time of brood development is genetically determined with races such as carniolans having an abrupt spring buildup and caucasians having a long slow summer buildup. This is of importance because a strain that reaches peak development at the beginning of the major nectar flow gathers the most honey.

    Thrift is the tendency to raise brood at the right time to gather honey and to slow down or stop brood rearing when there is no nectar flow. Most parts of the United States experience a major spring nectar flow followed later by a fall flow. This requires a corresponding spring peak of brood rearing and another peak in the fall. Italians show a tendency to such a development cycle but are unthrifty because they continue to raise large amounts of brood through the summer between flows. Bees adapt rapidly to an area when selection is used, or adapt more slowly when natural selection occurs. By one estimate, about 50 to 100 years of living and surviving in a given area results in an adapted strain. Maximum thrift is obtained when bees are genetically adapted to the local nectar flow conditions.

    Honey arrangement and type of honey collected vary considerably with Italians tending to collect light colored honey and to store it above and out of the brood nest. In one instance, I had a colony of Italians beside a colony of german descent. The Italians gathered three shallow supers of beautiful golden honey while the germans gathered two supers of dark bad tasting honey. Carniolans also tend to collect lighter colored honey.


    Some races of bees hoard pollen more aggressively. This is of importance where bees are used for pollination. The previously mentioned german bees collected and stored twice as much pollen as the Italians. They crowded the brood nest with pollen and stored pollen in every super of honey rendering it unfit for use as chunk comb honey. If pollination were of primary importance, then these bees would have been excellent. This trait can be selected for fairly rapidly by simply measuring the amount of pollen collected by a colony relative to the amount of brood in the colony and comparing with other similar colonies.

    Comb and capping structure vary considerably. Size and length and cell angle from horizontal all vary by race and by strain. Cappings range in color from gray to white and in shape from flat to ridged to domed. Italian cappings are generally flat and white with raised ridges over the surface of the comb. Brother Adam's buckfast bees build white slightly dome shaped cells which improves the appearance of comb and chunk comb honey. White cappings are a result of an air gap between the cell cap and the honey in the cell. Dark cappings result when there is no air gap. Brood cappings and drone cell cappings for most races are dome shaped although there is considerable variation on this point. Some members of the intermissa race group add propolis to the wax used for cappings. This gives a dirty gray capping which ruins comb honey.

    Calmness is the ability to stay fast on a comb during examination without nervous motion. Carniolans tend to be very calm with Italians less so. German black bees tend to be very nervous and jittery. I have opened hives that no amount of smoke would calm and I have opened others so calm that smoke was not even needed. Selection work for good temper shows conclusively that bees can be gentle and outstandingly productive. Note that the buckfast strain currently available in the United States is more aggressive than the strain Brother Adam was propagating 30 years ago. This appears to be the result of a greater focus on breeding for productivity and disease resistance.

    Propolis collection and use varies considerably with Caucasians being heavy users and Egyptian bees using none. The average Italian or carniolan colony collects much more propolis than beekeepers would like. There is some conjecture that propolis collection may be connected to wintering ability. One of the greatest improvements we could make in bees today would be to reduce the amount of propolis collected. Unfortunately, very few selection programs have emphasized this much-needed trait.

    Brace and bridge comb is built between combs and causes headaches for beekeepers because moveable combs become almost unmovable. This can be especially messy during spring inspection when brood combs have to be scraped and pried out of position. There is enough variation in this tendency that selection results in significant reduction in these structures. Brother Adam records that cyprian bees build very little bridge and brace comb.


    Bee color varies from very light yellow to orange to brown to black. Bee hair color ranges from white to gray to yellow to black. Bees that are selected with color being a major emphasis invariably lose characteristics of greater importance such as honey gathering ability. A strain descended from Italians and known as golden Italians was developed several years ago but never achieved commercial importance because they didn't produce enough honey and didn't winter well. I have a much greater preference for productive bees than for pretty bees.

    This list is by no means complete. According to one reference, the honeybee genome contains over 30,000 genes and each gene could have innumerable variations. Almost all the items I have listed are controlled by large numbers of genes. Bees adapt genetically to an area over a period of years based on survival of the fittest. The amount of genetic variation in honeybees shows that nature is a very harsh taskmaster. There is no absolute best bee, just a better adapted bee.
    Last edited by Barry; 11-05-2011 at 06:09 AM. Reason: added sub title

  2. #2
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    Fusion-Power,
    Interesting list. Bet you spent many hours work putting together the list.
    Bee Breeding is not an exact science. In fact programs using only open mating in areas of other beekeepers or other lines of bees produce poor results many times.
    The situation would be easier if you could place a queen & a drone in a mason jar and get a mating. Even a picture of a mating was a long time coming!
    My point is that control over the mating is key. Why in livestock each animal is registered (pedigree) and each mating documented. You can't have the shaggy dog from across the fence breeding your show poodles!
    Bob Harrison

  3. #3
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    I've always wondered about some of these topics in bee breeding. Thanks for posting the list. I have a question though.

    Suppose you have a hive that has 6 good qualities and 2 bad ones. In a way you would want to cull them, or not select your breeder from this hive, as it has the 2 bad traits. However, in so doing, you lose the 6 good traits. Is there a way to selectively propigate those 6 good traits, while simultaneously eliminating the 2 bad traits?

    Also, as one who is getting ready to dabble is this "black art" known as breeding, Is there any way to control this trait selectivness with open mating, or are those solutions only available to AI?

  4. #4
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    Jon,
    My opinion is you concentrate at first on the breeders with the good qualities you are breeding for and then keep selecting until you can eliminate the bad traits.
    I see no other way.
    Almost all qee breeding is done by open mating around the world. Do not be afraid to raise queens from your breeder hive and open mate. At least you control part of the genetics in your program.
    You can also use drone colonies to try and control a higher percent of the matings. Remote breeding yards are another option.

    With instrumental insemination(II) you control all the genetics. People which want to be sure the queen they are grafting from has the mating they want insist on an II queen *to graft from*.

    Reason Glenn Apiaries is always busy selling II queens.
    Bob Harrison

  5. #5
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    For me, I look to tailor my queens, ultimately the bees they produce, to thrive in my area. Pa mountain winters are different every year. Thus a bee that survives the winter is a start. Second, I don't live in the south, so I have a shorter season, so I will need a fast starter, and one that works into cooler temps. After that, I like bees to not chase me down and try to kill me, are fairly calm on the combs, build comb fairly well, and produce a honey crop. Anything after that, is a luxury!

    I have mixed SMR, carniolian, and italian. The carnys build really fast, italians build comb very well, and the SMR had a very nice brood pattern. After open mating with the ferals in the area, I have pretty much what I want. Now with II, I should be able to retain the luxuries!
    Dale Richards<br />Dal-Col Apiaries<br />

  6. #6
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    I am surprised the SMR had a very nice brood pattern. We had two Glenn apiaries II SMR breeder queens from which we grafted many larva and raised many queens. *All* daughters had spotty brood patterns. Too inbred we figured. Although we were not pleased with the bees from our Glenn Apiaries SMR breeder queens we were pleased with the varroa count from these hives. I kept both lines (red & yellow) around for about three years before requeening with better stock.
    The SMR breeder queens became drone layers within a year.
    We introduced the trait into our bees but saw little use for raising queens directly from the SMR breeder queens.
    Maybe others will share better results as the above is only mine.
    Bob Harrison

  7. #7
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    Dale,

    You mention that now you "have pretty much what I want", as far as traits and qualities in a breed of bees. Then you say "Now with II, I should be able to retain these luxuries".

    Do you Instrumentally Inseminate yourself? Or is there some way of sending off a drone you like, with a virgin queen to be II, and sent back?

    Also, as far a acquiring the traits you found useful. How did you organize your program? Was it like this...

    1) Look for hives with the best winter survival.
    After gaining that trait,

    2) From those hives, look for hives that start faster. After gaining that trait, etc...

    So if I'm reading it right, you have a small population of hives (say 5), from which you continue to select breeders that exhibit your desired traits, culling the rest. And each successive season you look for one trait at at time, until you've finished the list. Then you just try to maintain purity in the line, using II or whatever? How long does a program like that take? 10 yrs.? 12 yrs.?

  8. #8
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    I have used a SMR Carn. as a breeder since 2000 & a SMR Minn. Hyg. since 2001. The actual breeders last average 1 season and die before the next queen rearing season. The open mated daughters of these breeders have alway exhibited very full brood patterns. This is the first year that last years breeders have lasted this long. They are still alive and laying good patterns.(even though I am using them for drone mothers)
    The first year 1999 I did lose one within 3 months and had to reorder, but it has not happened since. I have changed since the first year and only keep them in 8 framers and restrict their laying by adding foundation and removing bees.
    Frank

  9. #9
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    Fusion_power:

    Thanks for the countless hours spent preparing that post, very informative. I plan on "dabbling" with a little queen breeding, and this will help with that activity.

    peggjam
    "I reject your reality, and substitute my own." Adam Savage

  10. #10
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    Frank - sent a pm to you.

    Fusion - thanks for the informative post.
    Rob Koss

  11. #11
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    Thanks Fusion-power for sharing all your work.
    "Younz" have a great day, I will.

  12. #12
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    --&gt;How long does a program like that take? 10 yrs.? 12 yrs.?

    Reply--&gt; Actually, it will take about seven years. The purpose of what I am trying to accomplish, does not include any race to a finish line. I take alot of pride in raising my queens, and I'm searching for results that might benifit others. I am not concerned with production at this time, but I have made stides in honey production, mite tolerance, wintering, gentleness....the list goes on. Further, combination breeding takes time, results are not shown in a month, it takes about a year to see results. Anything under a year, does not mean anything to me, because I want to see the bees throughout an entire season. Sometimes bees perform very well in the beginning, and basically fizzle out later on, or they kill themselves, because they starve, ect.


    --&gt; *All* daughters had spotty brood patterns. Too inbred we figured. Although we were not pleased with the bees from our Glenn Apiaries SMR breeder queens we were pleased with the varroa count from these hives.

    Reply--&gt; I purchased 2 SMR queens from Drapers, about 5 years ago. I have been told over and over on this forum, how they suck, and how they do not retain any traits. I have heard all of the studies, ect. All I can say, is I get full frames of brood, that are very tight, mite counts, using sugar shake method, that are acceptable through the Penn State bee program that I am involved in, and haven't treated. I use IPM management techniques that are mostly standard. I am on small cell right now, but am experimenting with a few hives on regular cells.

    The feral swarms that I remove, that have gone untreated, have shown some results, but have not made it through an entire year.I pay attention to details, and have learned a few things from the feral bee removal, that may explain mite tolerance.

    All of these things are a factor in my breeding program, and it might just take 12 years.
    Dale Richards<br />Dal-Col Apiaries<br />

  13. #13
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    The "Pure SMR Breeders" that Mr. Harrison is referring to is not the same bee as the SMR's purchased from Drapers or any other open mated queen rearer. So both of you fellas are correct!!Same goes with Sue Cobey's NWC's, The USDA's Russians or Marla Spivak's MHI. A $15 queen that is open mated is most likely a hybrid no question about it!. If you desire a "pure breeder" it will cost you, if you want a guaranteed tested breeder get your pocket book out. Either way, unless you rear queens, you probably don't want a breeder as the production of the F1 cross of any of the above bees will more than likely exceed that of the Queen moms. However most beekeepers simply dont understand that traits such as hygienic behavior, and groomoing behavior are controlled by several double recessive genes and the likely hood of every queen bee produced having all of these triats are minute. Thats why we use I.I. and then its not 100%. Truth is there are alot of unanswered questions. Raising queens from your open mated stock, survivor stock is desirable but will still yield some mixed results, as will any thing that is raised from hybrid stock. Why do you think farmers no longer save their seed corn from the hybrid varieties that is now raised.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Traits for selecting breeder colonies

    I thought carefully before resurrecting this thread. It has several topics that are worth re-reading.... and contributions from several members who don't seem to show up very much if at all any more.

    Apis Mellifera Lamarckii should be on our target screen to try to get some pure stock back in the U.S. because of its inherent hygienic behavior and lack of propolis collection. This ecotype happens to have two very desirable traits but also one very undesirable trait of not properly forming a winter cluster.

    DarJones
    DarJones - 44 years, 10 colonies (max 40), sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 11 frame broodnest, small cell

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Traits for selecting breeder colonies

    This is a question not at all a jibe - Why not just use one or two metrics - productivity, and perhaps gentleness? Aren't those the only things that really matter? It seems to me that we need bees that make honey and are gentle enough to safely keep and manage.

    It seems to me that breeding for individual traits other than those two could result in unforeseen consequences. For some reason English bull dogs come to mind.

    I suspect that open mating may be a blessing that saves us from our own good intentions.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Traits for selecting breeder colonies

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    Why not just use one or two metrics - productivity, and perhaps gentleness? Aren't those the only things that really matter?
    Well, maybe this doesn't apply as strongly in TN, but I think the most important trait to select for in the ability to winter.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Traits for selecting breeder colonies

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Palmer View Post
    ...I think the most important trait to select for in the ability to winter.
    That's the primary consideration in my yard. I don't do anything with a stock unless it survives the first winter at the very least. Next year, we'll talk about increasing with them.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Traits for selecting breeder colonies

    I would agree with that - I guess I should have said productivity under cultural practices. For most of us that would include survival. Bees that don't survive don't produce. On the other hand if your cultural practice includes starting over every spring with packages - then it isn't an issue for you. I don't think that would ever be my choice, but it isn't unheard of. Same would apply to feeding or treatments, or screened bottom boards for that matter. There's probably never going to be one line of super bees that does everything for everyone.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Traits for selecting breeder colonies

    I started a notebook at the beginning of this year and made special notes on each hives queen. The two traits that I made special notes on to breed from next year was how early and how strong of a buildup and honey production. Then next year, I will add more traits to my selective breeding criteria. Call me crazy, but gentleness is way down on my list. I wear a kevlar vest at work everyday, might as well wear the full battle gear to work my bees too.

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    Default Re: Traits for selecting breeder colonies

    Interested in your comment Bob re the spotty brood from the II queens. I've bought in some queens produced by II, to select for some trait, normally VSH, and they've all had spotty brood, it's a lack of alleles causing some eggs to be removed by the bees. Kind of a two edged sword, in order to combine recessive genes you need to line breed. Some of these bees are also prone to a lot of sack brood, in the ones I got, anyway. I open mate and outcross these bees, which eventually solves the spotty brood, but also lose the VSH. Catch 22.

    As far as what traits I look for, some will dissagree but the primary thing I go for is gentleness. If I'm going to be working bees all day it might as well be pleasant. After that, non swarming. Nothing that tried to swarm will get bred from. Reason, swarm control and management is one of the most time consuming sides of beekeeping plus if they do swarm it's a big waste of resources.

    Course I want more good traits than that, but if those two aren't there, they are not even considered.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

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