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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Lawrenceburg, IN
    Posts
    97

    Default Beekeeping as a living

    I know this is a very open ended question but I am interested in hearing from some beeks that make their living on beekeeping with this question.
    How many colonies would one aim for to make beekeeping a full time business? I'm not looking to make millions or anything but would like to know an average of what it would take for a small family business. I would like to get a feel for the different sides of commercial keeping from pollination, honey production, etc. Any advice would be appreciated.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Location
    franklinton,la.
    Posts
    169

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    This will not directly answer your question ,however I have been in row cropping ,chicken,beef cows and hog farming .I have never been a commercial beek, but I see very little difference in the gamble of the corp paying off. Rain ,sunshine , timing,disease, (the biggie ) management, all play a roll in each day of a farmers life . Good luck.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Snowmass, Colorado, USA
    Posts
    2,496

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    I think it would depend on how much you need to live on. If you have no mortgage payment, no car payments, etc then you would require less then someone that does. That said here are some basic factors.

    In beekeeping you will be spending lots of money up front. Hives, bees, misc equipment, trucks, swinger, etc. Thats just to get the equipment. Then you need to find productive yards. Then you need harvesting equipment. Then you will need a market for your honey. You can sell some at a farmers market but eventually you will probably be selling to packers so you will need contacts there. If you are going to do pollination then you will need contacts for that.

    To get going you can start out small and build up (advisable) or buy out someone but either way before you get started put in some time working for a commercial beek just so you have an idea of what it takes and to get some good experience so you don't suffer by making rookie mistakes. Commercial beekeeping is much different then taking care of a couple of hives especially if your lively hood depends on it.
    Life is tough, but it's tougher when you're stupid. John Wayne

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Location
    Owen, WI, USA
    Posts
    2,557

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    There was another thread on this not too long ago that might interest you.
    http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?t=221972

    Sheri

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Cleveland, Texas
    Posts
    1,378

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    It seems the "magic number" to be considered commercial is 300+ hives. The amout of income that can be generated by them varies considerably. That part of the equation was very accurately described by swabby's post. The only thing it does not really count is any regional cost differences. With the number of variables involved it is really difficult to even give you any ball park numbers. Based on my experience in my area and considering my regional costs, that magic number would probably work OK for a single person, a couple with no debt could probably "get by on it", but it would be tough for a family of 4 to survive on.
    "The UNKNOWN, huh? That would be SNORBERT ZANGOX over in Waycross."

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Bristol,MA,USA
    Posts
    728

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    Sideliners with 350 hives can do very well while teaching during the other 9 months of the year. Excellent income source for full time teachers. OMTCW

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Location
    Owen, WI, USA
    Posts
    2,557

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    I would think you would have to be debt free, work really hard on marketing, retail all your hive products and live extremely frugally to make 300 hives support a family. Most commercials I know have a minimum of 800 colonies, which is about the limit one man can reasonably run himself, with maybe some help, either hired or family, with extracting. Even that size operation often has additional spousal income. Most family run operations I know of where both partners participate have upwards of 1500. The last few years they have sized their operations in truckloads, trying for most efficient shipping to almonds.

    Sheri

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Amador County, Calif
    Posts
    3,247

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnK and Sheri View Post
    800 colonies, which is about the limit one man can reasonably run himself, with maybe some help, Sheri
    Now that's what I'm talken about.
    NUTRA-BEE feed supplements

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

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    Yeah yeah Keith, but your ego's big enough for three so it's like constantly having hired help everywhere you go.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Faulkner Manitoba, Canada
    Posts
    1,699

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    Here, I am told about 400 would sustain a family of 4 if the equipment is paid for and no loans or mortgages.
    This allows for general up keep of the hives, replacements if you have a rough year, disease contol, cost of depreciation, taxes, insurance, and then the same said for the honey house and the equipment.

    There would need to be a mind set change as well, when going from hobby to commercial. One of the changes would be bees as "pets" to bees as "livestock" and a business and handle it accordingly. A good pencil, a good eraser, to cost every move out. Cost out the expense of treating hives, or getting a sick hive healthy, cost of production, cost of expansion. Everything has to have a dollar value.
    For example, for a hobbiest, a refractometer might be seen as a "not necessary" expense. The ability to rely on the capped quality of the honey is enough. However for a commercial producer, a refractometer could mean the difference of getting a load turned away at the dock or the border, or getting a paycheck.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Location
    Lake Park, Georgia, USA
    Posts
    155

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    If I keep reading this thread I'm going to kill myself and will my bees to somebody the 3rd world where ever that is. I read somewhere you could make alot more money with alot less effort in almost anything else and that's true. But as far as hive count I would say 1000 but the hives are a small part. It's all the other things we need that is the real cost of making a living in the bees. Try adding up the cost of building and equipment for a commercial honey house and see how quickly all this adds up. I can tell you we just spent right at 100 thousand just building a 100x50 honey house. I'm also a blockmason so I did most of the work myself saving us a bundle an option lots of us wouldn't have. Then you can add up the cost of the trucks, trailers, lifts, and other odds and ends and now we are puptting a dent in Bill Gates bank account.

    lol Oh man I gotta get out of here thinking about this is too much. lol

    Good luck and think before you leap and don't quit the day job

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Location
    Owen, WI, USA
    Posts
    2,557

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    LOL, Keith, I am assuming this family business wants to spend a little quality family time together, not work like crazy people, not naming any names, of course.....
    Yeah, John had about 1500 before he actually hired extra help other than for extracting, but that is a recipe for burnout for sure. At some point, and it would vary by location and type of business, loss of efficiency exceeds any gain you might see from additional colonies.
    Everything is local, what works for one might not for another. People have different expectations of what is an acceptable standard of living. A good spreadsheet can go along way towards figuring out the numbers but I certainly wouldn't quit the day job without quite a bit of experience as a serious sideliner and/or working in a commercial operation. As honeyshack points out, the commercial mindset is entirely different than the hobbyist mindset.
    Sheri

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Amador County, Calif
    Posts
    3,247

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnK and Sheri View Post
    one man can reasonably run himself,
    Sheri
    Key word being REASONABLY,..... But remember, were talking about Beekeepers. lol


    CP, lol
    NUTRA-BEE feed supplements

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Location
    franklinton,la.
    Posts
    169

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    I'll just add a couple things . First and foremost if you are getting family involved with any type farming you have to motorvate and keep motorvating them or they will come to hate you for the work they have to do when other kids are having fun. Just ask my daughter or son . Second you must have some additional income to carry you thur the lean years and there will be lean years in any farming .You also must think about self empolyment taxes, cost of accounting, and most of all insurance medical and liabitily . That brings me to the point you must be in for the long haul ,thru good and bad times. If you invest into it you either have to stick with it the rest of your life or find some other fool to buy you out. I almost went in the dairy business until I realized 7 days a week 2-3 times a day milking without counting other little chores like haying when needed .A few things to think about .Have fun

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    Lancaster, Ky. / Frostproof Fl.
    Posts
    989

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    I agree with about all said in above post. I could have 2000 colonies and would have struggled here in KY. Crops can vary alot and almonds along with going to Wi the last two yrs have kept me going. Here in Ky we have had 5 bad years where my yards are. Four bad droughts(03,05,07,08) along with a 100 yr freeze 07 have made my bees ave ONE yrs total production in the last five yrs. ( 95 lbs production over 5 yrs). Where in the preceeding 20 yrs I averaged 80lbs/yr. In 1982 my average was 300lbs. In 2009 and 2007 about 7 lbs. THe droughts were 100 yr droughts so I shouldnt have anymore for 200 yrs (lol)!! Honey crops can vary so dont depend on one location and you need experience so you can predict what lies ahead some what.(with 2007 and 2008 drought that went through fall I knew there would be no clover in 2009 so I moved bees to Wi.) I would say you need 500-700 if migratory, 800 plus if not migratory.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Limestone, Alabama
    Posts
    577

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    What if one wanted to sell queens and nucs rather than honey? I'm not in a great honey area and have thought about selling only bees. Any thoughts? Besides, I enjoy this aspect of beekeeping more than honey production and sales.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Menomonee Falls, Wis.
    Posts
    2,774

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    You can figure all you want, Buy a package for X dollars. they make Y dollars honey, fuel costs, free labor(yours), truck and building... ....untill CCD(the REAL thing, meets ALL the criteria). You buy new bees, put them in old equipment, work them all summer, they make NO honey, you feed them, and then they die.... How many hives like that can you support??? "Aunt Em, we ain't in Kansas anymore"
    Cumm' on, Join in, but to quote Dirty Harry, "A man has gottsta know his limitations".

    Roland
    5th generation Beekeeper.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Jackson, MO
    Posts
    1,858

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    I guess one way is to start expanding and see where it takes you. I've expanded by making splits rather than borrowing money to buy existing hives, raising my own queens, selling honey, plowing the proceeds back into the company. I've made a bunch of hives out of scrap wood, bought a trailer of used hives, made some money and bought new.

    The learning curve is what will get you. Twenty-five hives is more difficult than four, and getting to one hundred hives takes a different mindset as well. Then when you start keeping bees in different locations, I can guarantee you it will test your time management and your fuel usage.

    Somewhere along the way, you'll find out if you have the heart for it. I can't imagine a life without bees. You'll also find out how much money you can actually make, where your markets are and where you assumed they would be, how many bees live/die under your management style, how much honey is produced for your area, etc, etc.

    As I've expanded, still keeping my family intact and showing up at my day job, I've run into the time constraint of selling/marketing honey against managing my hives. There are still only 24 hours per day in my world. Hired help is reliably unreliable and so I gave up and run a solo operation. I still think a bad day in the bee yard is better than a good day in the office. I still dream of retiring early and spending each day with the bees.

    And then you have your lifestyle. Thank God I have a working spouse.

    Grant
    Jackson, MO
    Beekeeping With Twenty-five Hives: https://www.createspace.com/4152725

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    lake geneva wi
    Posts
    458

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    If you are thinking about getting bigger up to comm. size you should buy Grants
    25 hives book. I have not found anything else out there with so many good insights about scaling up and what that really involves. Even if you bought out a comm. operation I think you would still want to read the 25 hives e-book.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Madison, Alabama
    Posts
    356

    Default Re: Beekeeping as a living

    Sounds like winning the lottery would be a good first step.
    Rohe Bee Ranch "Free Range Bees"
    http://www.rohebeeranch.com

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