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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Location
    Belville, NC USA
    Posts
    45

    Default Going commercial

    I run a small apiary in middle Tennessee and have been bee keeping for five years. I am entertaining growing the business and ultimately going full time with the bees. In your experiences, what is the minimum number of hives you have to have to make a go of it. I have done the math based on my average harvest, potential pollination contracts, money from splits and wax products and have a fair idea but wanted to get your opinions and thoughts.


    Thanks for the help.

    Jeff

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Location
    Manitoba Canada
    Posts
    5,952

    Default

    Like you say, it all has to do with what kindof beekeeping your doing.
    Here its 800 or so.
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog
    www.stepplerfarms.com

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Location
    Randolph County, Indiana
    Posts
    694

    Default

    Well, its not really a matter of how many hives you need to make a go of it. Its how many hives you need to replace your current income plus expenses for running those hives, and as Ian stated, it's also what kind of beekeeping you are doing. In my area I have lots of different options.

    I can just produce honey. To replace my income I need 500 hives that produce 75lbs each at current wholesale prices of 1.50 per pound in my area to other beeks. That's not including my wife's income, which is considerably higher.

    Or I can produce honey, and sell nucs. I split one hive into four in May, then each of those into four more in early July. Then sell those nucs for a profit of more than 1000. So if I could sell nucs in July from 40 hives each year, I can make a living. But that's unlikely to happen. Chances are I would still need 500 hives to make a living from nucs.

    I could also add in pollination. My estimate is that I would still need at least 400 hives that are constantly pollinating in the spring, and then produce honey.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Snowmass, Colorado, USA
    Posts
    2,496

    Default

    Just remember that it is agriculture. You will have good years, bad years, really good years and really bad years, so take that into consideration. I would go with about 20% more hives then you think you need to make a living. Honey doesn't spoil, pollen will keep a long time in the freezer, bees wax lasts a long time, and if you have a market for nucs then more hives equals more nucs so if some hives are weak or deadouts you still have hives to make up for them.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    lewisberry, Pa, usa
    Posts
    6,080

    Default

    The easiest way to figure that out is sit down and do a spreadsheet. Based on your willingness to travel, the local opportunities, and what you direction you want to go in, can mean alot.

    What I mean is something like this.....

    Local pollination is $45. And If you can get two crop fees, thats $90. Then if you sell a nuc off each hive, that $80 dollars. So the total on something like 500 hives would be $85,000

    But you must factor in not all hives will be rented and 500 nucs is alot for a single person operation. So play with the numbers. Take into account whether you will raise queens or buy them. Then there is the frame and foundation cost for nuc building. Many things go into it. I figure if you can make $150 on 500 hives, that $75,000 But knock off $25,000 for expenses. So would or could you be willing to manage 500 hives, and will your local conditions/market handle it, for you to clear $50,000?

    Are you willing to ship bees to pollination areas not local to your own? Can you take advantage of honey while still selling nucs?

    I think there is something to be said of "sidelining". Build to 100 hives and see what money can be made. Then ask yourself if you can do he same with 500.
    Last edited by BjornBee; 08-29-2008 at 05:14 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    St. Albans, Vermont
    Posts
    5,384

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by BjornBee View Post
    But you must factor in not all hives will be rented and 500 nucs is alot for a single person operation. So play with the numbers...
    Yeah, and don't forget your 20-30% loss in the winter, that will eat up a hundred of those nucs.

  7. #7

    Default going commercial

    I do teach a commercial course to students its a yr. long for 250.00 everything you need to go commercial I can give ref. on past students.
    Don

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Davis,South Dakota,USA
    Posts
    401

    Default

    Well said Michael.Make sure that your pecil is real sharp,and your spread
    sheet is plenty long.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Tulare County, CA USA
    Posts
    1,380

    Default

    What part of the business do you enjoy? I've found that less hives managed at a comfortable level is worth more than lots of hives. I am growing right now but I'm going to stop short of serious sideliner status. Any more than that and I'd be working myself to hard for less money.
    Example: I have a retail market for all of my honey as oposed to wholesale but I still have enough hives to offer some pollination.
    I can manage what I have with basic equipment and a little more work. All my bees get hauled on the back of my everyday truck.
    I can take the time to sell a nuc or two for a premium price that I wouldn't get selling in bulk.
    I can keep my real job and call the bees a hobby if things get out of whack.

    If I were to grow to "commercial" status, I'd lose quite a bit of money!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Location
    Helmetta, New Jersey, USA
    Posts
    99

    Default

    Don't forget to factor in equipment replacement, and buying the equipment/hives you need to get to your special number. If you have 20 hives, getting to 500 is going to require a pretty hefty amount of cash up front.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Location
    Randolph County, Indiana
    Posts
    694

    Default

    Yes, equipment is the biggest investment. Most brand new hives from the major suppliers cost between 150-200, not including shipping. However, if you play it smart and build some of the smaller equipment like inner-covers, BB, etc, you get a two deep and two honey super hive for less than 100 including shipping. While that's probably not the route that most commercial guys/girls go, that is because of time, which comes a premium for them. While you are small, and have more time, you can do more things to cut down on your expenses, and maximize your investment.

    A few examples, I'm a very small sideliner (less than 40 hives). I build inner covers for 4.00, Outer covers for 6.00, and BB's for 5.00 each, no shipping costs.

    I have been using starter strips to maximize my investment in foundation, but plan a switch to popcycle sticks next year.

    Mite treatments: You can get rid of this with small cell/natural cell (again, popcycle sticks), or you treat with powdered sugar.

    Buy used equipment.

    Raise your own queens.

    Learn how to overwinter nucs to replace your winter losses.

    Use cement blocks as your stand. They are cheap, I get them for under a $1 each.

    Buy cheap paint that was mixed to the wrong color.

    Learn to repair old equipment that isn't in too bad of shape and you can get a couple more years out of them.

    Repair broken frames.

    Maybe we should start a thread where others can give ideas about how to save money.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Hudson, WI USA
    Posts
    2,202

    Default Healthcare

    A practical consideration. Does your current job provide healthcare? If not then going fulltime versus sideline could mean going without healthcare or becoming a pauper by the time you've paid for the premiums. If you're single you might risk it, but a family man has more at stake. One way round it is to make sure the wife is working and has a family policy with you on it. Adrian

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Erin, NY /Florence SC
    Posts
    3,361

    Default

    I think Cow Pollinator makes the critical point in looking at what part of the business you like to do. We found we did not like moving bees for pollination and honey production and retail sales was our forte. We do move bees south in the fall and back in the spring but It's the one part of this I don't look forward to. If you're doing something you don't enjoy you may as well keep the day job. When beekeeping becomes a business there will be stress and "job" factors just like what you're doing now. I think I liked beekeeping best when I ran about 50 hives.

    Next learn to streamline and lighten your operation any way you can. Fixing old frames and cinderblocks are methods we used early on as well. Loading, hauling and unloading 200 cinderblocks to set up 2 new yards of 25 hives ea. will become cumbersome pretty fast. Soft ground, there small footprint and trying to keep hives level will present problems during honey season. Spending 10 minutes to repair a 50 cent frame, when you set a price on your time won't pan out in the long run either. Copy success, check with other commercial beekeepers and see what they are using for foundation, set up and transporting hives, processing and selling honey (retail or wholesale). Do what you do best, if you're good at raising queens and enjoy it focus on that but don't put all your eggs in one basket. Have other income options available or in use as well. Always save for the rainy day because it will come. Two of the best moves we made were a chain uncapper and a clarifying tank with a honey pump and a couple of large capacity bottling tanks (keeping in mind we sell all our honey retail and someone doing pollination and selling honey wholesale may have different needs). Think about your yard work and what "signs" would cause you to stop and check a hive for problems and what "signs' tell you a hive is doing OK. You will have less time to manage in the hives on an individual basis. I think gettin more production from less hives is a better plan, at least it has been for us. We use 2 queen management, collect pollen and propolis and actually have a market for both dead bees and wax moth larve. Involve your family. We have developed a large product base and specialize in distinctive tastes, aroma's and product effectiveness with everything being produced within the family. My wife has spent years working on perfecting recipies for hand creme's, lip balms, tinctures, soaps, and herb infused honeys. She enjoys the fact her products have become so popular and it has doubled our average sale from when we started. Pay attention to details, customers will notice sticky jars, crooked labels and crystals in honey. My kids grew up in the business and my youngest son is now an exceptional beekeeper @ 17 and is extremely proud he now manages our highest producing market oulet. He likes his paycheck every week as well. My oldest daughter (27) is out of the Air Force in January and coming home to come "back" into the business after 8 years away. Her husband of 7 years said it's all she has talked about since they were married. The family connection is a huge reward and makes the job that much better. It is one of the major rewards that makes me push on.

    Find ways to save money within your operation. We drive over 2500 miles a month so we spent about $2000 converting our 1 ton diesel to waste Vegtable Oil (includes processing and collection equipment) and appreicate a huge savings. The system will be paid for 3-4 months and we'll be cutting around a $1000 off our monthly expenses. I love the fact we're virutally oil indendant, green and saving money. On a busy Friday when we're getting ready for markets it isn't fun though when I'm behind, trying to heat oil and push it through filtering, covered with with goo and chasing the dog off. Our next project is going to be an energy efficient designed for use honey house using thermal mass to offset most of the heating costs. Ben Franklin was right when he said a penny saved is a penny earned, save pennies everywhere you can.

    Insurance is extremely important. I gave my notice last week at a $50,000+ a year job with full benefits to finally do what I want with who I want to do it with. Our replacement insurance will be over $1000 a month. I have spent years planning, learning and saving to get to this point. I'm glad I waited because if I had made many of the mistakes and miscalculations (and I've made some whoppers) I had over the past 10 years of wanting to make the jump I'd be back at work for someone else by now and my bees would be a back yard hobby.

    Keep in mind the law of diminishing returns highlights the fact the more you do the less you will get from your effort per unit. Focus on doing as much of the work as you can within your family as the same law clearly shows no (or at least few) paid employees will be as productive as you and they seldom will work for the wage you sometimes will since they may not get the personal reward. Realize that a gross income of $10,000 a month is not YOUR income and someone will always have a hand out for money. You'll be amazed at how much it really costs to be an independant farmer.

    Finally concentrate on running a good good bee business, not getting rich, and the money end will come in it's own time. I've had a hundred "good ideas" that didn't pan out but led me to experiance, places and contacts that did.

    We only get one chance at life. Some friends raise all kinds of ugly scenario's when I counseled with them. When talking about this with a friend who does hospice, her advice was to go for it. She stated the most common regret she heard from people who's time was up that that what they regretted most was not going for something in life they really wanted to because of fear. Be smart, plan, and be prepared to accept whatever comes. For me I've found my dream and am going it with every thing I've got..

    Good Luck!
    Last edited by Joel; 08-31-2008 at 10:12 AM.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Salem, Oregon
    Posts
    952

    Wink I work half days.

    One thing that I never see mentioned is the part about HARD PHYSICAL LABOR!
    One of my design objectives of my outfit is having no employees.
    I want to have as many hives as I can manage properly but not pay for labor.
    This has penciled out very well, but often equals hard, hard work.
    Do you enjoy hard physical labor?
    You will be pulling honey supers all day long in the hot sun, day after day.
    You will be lifting and setting aside 80# boxes to install medication and then lifting them back on. ALL DAY LONG. DAY AFTER DAY!
    6 and 7 days most weeks during summer and fall.
    Full time beekeeping, run lean & mean is very hard physical work.
    Someone put it really well:

    "When you start you own small business, the first thing you realize is that you now will be working half-days.....

    ......the trick therein, is deciding WHICH 12 hours of each day you want to work!!!"
    I have exactly ONE hive more than you.
    That makes my opinion beyond question.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Fresno California USA
    Posts
    2,479

    Default Harry vanderpool

    U Gotta Love it1

    Harry I couldn't agree more. After a few weeks it's a long way down to that line between the two brood chambers.
    I am making a lot of noises I didn't use to make.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Salem, Oregon
    Posts
    952

    Question How well do you get along with yourself?

    Well then, here is another thought for those considering full time commercial beekeeping:
    Do you enjoy your own company?
    I went from people surrounding me all day in my previous job, to almost total isolation as a beekeeper.
    For me; I have always been about an 85% loner anyway, so I do O.K.
    But for the last 3 years, I have had the daily association with the 3 stooges: me, myself & I.
    You finish each day by loading the truck for the next day.
    You get up in the A.M. and head out to the bees BY YOURSELF and go to work.
    Thank heavens for radio! I listen to the radio all day long to keep company as I work.
    I'm not trying to be a downer. I love what I do.
    But I just want to bring up what I see that could be a surprise for those that want to go full time.
    Beekeeping is a job. It is a job that I love.
    And it is a hard job.
    It is not a "Get Rich Sceme", or utopia. Its a job.
    And as Tom Laury stated, "You got to love it".
    Otherwise forget the whole idea.
    Last edited by HarryVanderpool; 09-01-2008 at 12:16 AM. Reason: I always wanted to be an editor.
    I have exactly ONE hive more than you.
    That makes my opinion beyond question.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    St. Albans, Vermont
    Posts
    5,384

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by HarryVanderpool View Post
    You will be lifting and setting aside 80# boxes to install medication and then lifting them back on. ALL DAY LONG. DAY AFTER DAY!
    Hey Harry...rather than lift them down off the hive, and then back up...tip them up and stand them on end on the hive body below, add your medication, and set the box back down. Don't lift it twice, there's no need.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Location
    Manitoba Canada
    Posts
    5,952

    Default

    >>part about HARD PHYSICAL LABOR!


    Ya, also try to find a good worker, who doesnt mind getting stung, who is capable of lifting heavey boxes and hives, and will work long hours and weekends during peak times,
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog
    www.stepplerfarms.com

  19. #19
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Fresno California USA
    Posts
    2,479

    Default Going commercial

    It really helps if you think you are Gods' gift to bees. That way you are willing to work for nothing when called for.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Damascus, Maryland
    Posts
    376

    Default

    Joel;
    I have been using starter strips to maximize my investment in foundation, but plan a switch to popcycle sticks next year.


    I have a full box of popcycle sticks, will sell them to ya for $3,500.00 plus shipping they are listed in the Beckett at $35.00 a set, a set is 26 sticks.

    JB:}

    forgot to ad this: there are maby 350 sets and they are from Good Humor / Breyers ice cream Co. With auto's of 26 major league players from 1989
    Last edited by J-Bees; 09-01-2008 at 04:52 PM. Reason: forgot to ad this:
    "Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil - it has no point."

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