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  1. #1
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    Default Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    Its no secret that many beekeepers use systematic low-level, low tech, selective propagation measures to raise and maintain resistance to unwanted predatory organisms. The 'no-treatment' systems of management manage the varroa problem by utilizing longstanding traditional techniques; chiefly, making selection for mite resistance their highest selection criteria.

    That this works, and it what accounts for their success is well evidenced, and the mechanisms are becoming well understood.

    I'd like to be able to talk with other beekeepers about these techniques, to share and improve my understanding of how they are done and how they work; and to explore the informative parallels between natural selection and traditional animal breeding. Many non-treaters describe one of their aims as beekeeping 'naturally', so its good to understand just how nature keeps bees healthy and vigourous.

    One of the aims of gaining a better understand of the techniques available to beekeepers, and the basic reasons why they work, is to be able to predict what will be likely to work in any given circumstances.

    I would like to see discussions grounded in the well established but basic evolutionary biology and animal husbandry sources. While it will be good to look at the deeper nature of the mechanisms involved, I don't want high-level technical discussions or pet theories to drown out the simple foundations of non-treatment beekeeping.

    The idea is that anything we learn here will be accessible to all beekeepers. The focus is practical non-treatment beekeeping.

    Mike Bispham
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
    http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    I would be very interested in this. I wonder if you could start by outlining your personal approach to treatment free beekeeping. I would very much like to get a sense of the different approaches.

    Thanks,

    Adam

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam Foster Collins View Post
    I would be very interested in this. I wonder if you could start by outlining your personal approach to treatment free beekeeping. I would very much like to get a sense of the different approaches.
    Hello Adam,

    I began collecting swarms and taking cut outs 3 years ago, and hiving on a mixture of recovered comb, foundation, and starter strips. The next year I made splits from the 2 survivors, (another had died through isolation starvation), added more swarms and cut-outs, and repaired queenless hives with a frame or two of eggs and brood from the strongest. With 12 colonies, mostly nucs, I didn't feed a lot going into winter, and made a silly design error with feeding candy which allowed mice into several hives in early spring.

    I came through to this year with 4 hives, one of which subsequently failed, but 2 of the remaining built nicely. I've added more swarms and cutouts, made some splits, and tried to encouarge some serious comb building this year, after realising that comb shortage was slowing everything down. I got up to about 38 colonies, but have now tracked back down to about 28. I haven't fed this year yet, but I might help them on when it looks like ivy is over.

    I haven't treated or manipulated at all against varroa, nor any other problem. So its rather a live and let die operation at this stage, offset I hope by the policy of making splits and requeening from the strongest.

    The main objective is to get to a stage where I have plenty of bees (and comb) to work with, and enough variability to be able to locate strengths. I'll be tempted to assay for VHS using frozen brood tests next year, and setting up queen rearing on a scale sufficent to re-queen at will. I'm also mindful that if I have all similar colonies (in terms of queen age, year starting position and so on), I'll be able to make comparisons better. (This will mean tough decisions on things like stimulative feeding and nest spreading.)

    I'm hoping my stock building strategy will have included at least some mite-managing skills. I have succeeded in bringing in 6 or 7 cut-out colonies with good histories, and I suspect about half my swarms are ferals. I know of ferals nearby, and don't have too many treated hives around to mess things up - though one of the reasons for going for good numbers is to be able to swamp the drone population.

    Bought-in VSH and similar are not an option in the UK. But even if they were I'd like to try this way first. I want to raise bees that suit the locality - local ferals are first choice.

    I'm lucky in being able to make my own hives (Nationals, using 6-frame nucs quite a bit) and in having some fairly good spots to park them - I can have 15 or so medium size hives at my own holding, and can place another 20 or more at spots within a 2 or 3 mile radius. I want to get up to 60 hives next year, with, hopefull, at least a majority equipped with a full brood box of combe and a couple of supers. I want more comb!)

    So, that aside, its all been about finding suitable stock, sorting the goers from the duffers, and then bringing the apiary up to scratch. Next year will be about selecting for self-sufficient productivity, using queen raising, splits of various kinds, and seeking to maximise the route through the male side. I think I'll probably be fairly ruthless about this - perhps choose 3 or 4 lines that seem best, test for VSH, then use them to requeen half the weakest.

    I'm not sure but I think that outlines the basic approach.

    How about you Adam?

    Mike
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
    http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    My story:

    A lot of this is to be found elsewhere on this site, but things need to be repeated from time to time.

    I started with 20 3 pound packages, an ambitious lad I was at the age of 19. I intended to be the second commercial treatment-free beekeeper. Things changed, and instead I now call myself an avid hobbyist. I have never treated with substance, don't do systematic splitting, don't do brood breaks on purpose, and only used screened bottom boards on a few hives (all of which died if I remember correctly) for the first couple years. I now have something like 26 hives and I think I've figured out how to do this thing.

    We've oft heard the idea in treatment free beekeeping of 'breeding from the survivors. But how to get there?

    We've oft heard the idea in treatment free beekeeping of 'breeding from the survivors. But how to get there? I actually really started splitting only a couple years ago. I started off so ambitiously that I quickly ran out of equipment and so never split, instead letting hives die off so I would have enough equipment for the remainders. I think I did one split the first year to make up a lost package, but that was about it until 2009. That winter, I lost all but two hives, and then commenced to buying more nucs and doing walk away splits. In 2011, I did a bunch of them, but I quickly realized that it was very inefficient, finding a handful of dead virgin queens collectively in front of the new hives. Also, several failed due to various reasons.

    This year, I made a plan, researched some methods, and carried it through. I found what I consider the most efficient method of increase and which fits right straight into the Bond method. I kept track of which hives were performing well, had no obvious signs of mite issues, came through winter and built up quickly, and were sufficiently gentle. In one, I did a regular queenless cell builder/finisher. In the other, I did a queenright cell builder/finisher. The ones from the queenright hive were of better quality, finished more, and performed better.

    So here's what happened. I robbed all but one frame of brood from seven hives to make queen castles in which were placed ripe queen cells. Those that came out well graduated into five frame or ten frame nucs. Some were sold, some were used to requeen, and some headed their own hives. I went from ten hives to 28 after selling seven. Naturally, I expect to be down to 20 after this first winter of testing for many of them.

    The important philosophy and method behind the idea is to create a whole bunch of hives with the minimum amount of resources necessary from the best stock you have and evaluate the results. I think I have found the combination to that lock: grafting, queenright cell builder/finisher, queen castles, rob your middling hives for brood and stores, combine the dinks, requeen with the result.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    solid plans for sure.

    since the workers carry only half of the queen's genes, have ya'll thought about pushing for drones in your
    strong hives?

    i'm in an area with a good feral population, i'm hoping that some of the survivor traits from the feral drones are being passed into my yard via mating.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    since the workers carry only half of the queen's genes, have ya'll thought about pushing for drones in your strong hives?
    I'm planning to keep large hives (unlimited nests, spread for population and maybe drone foundation) scattered around my apiary. Headed by evaluated queens.

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    i'm in an area with a good feral population, i'm hoping that some of the survivor traits from the feral drones are being passed into my yard via mating.
    No reason why not. To my mind its one of the best strategies.

    Mike
    Last edited by mike bispham; 10-01-2012 at 09:57 AM.
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
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  7. #7
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    I started two top bar hives three seasons ago. I treated with oxalic acid the first Fall, and my bees made it through with a tiny cluster.

    Second season, I tried drone culling and oxalic acid and my bees made it through winter with bigger clusters.

    This spring, I pulled an early drone comb to find it teeming with mites, and I just felt like giving up - on treating for mites. The bees seemed healthy, but there were tons of mites. After reading what seems like a million conflicting ideas and opinions from people more experienced than I, I have decided that there is no single human authority on how to effectively deal with mites, and no one really knows all the ways the bees deal with them on their own.

    So I made a resolution to quit treating, Because I don't know the total effect of my actions, and that worries me. I feel like my effort to 'help' might be doing more harm than good. I've decided it's better to take that variable out of play in my operation - minimize my manipulations and let the bees do what they do as much as I can.

    So I'm not treating. I caught a swarm, bought two local nucs and created spilts. Added 8 frame langstroth hives to my top bars, and now have 13 colonies going into winter.

    I'm looking at threads like this to help me to map out my management plan going forward.

    Adam

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    sorry adam, looks like you and i hit reply at the same time. good plan there too.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    Hi Solomon.

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    I robbed all but one frame of brood from seven hives to make queen castles in which were placed ripe queen cells.
    All but one frame seems a lot to take. What was the thinking behind that - just the objective of multiplying hard? Part of what I mean is: the ones left behind must have had a pretty hard time of rebuilding. Do you seed syrup in this situation to help with comb building?

    Also, do you know where we can find drawings for queen castles?

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    The important philosophy and method behind the idea is to create a whole bunch of hives with the minimum amount of resources necessary from the best stock you have and evaluate the results.
    I agree - for people in our position anyway. Some people won't have the space, or will want to learn more slowly, but start out right, and make the right learning moves and investment in gear ready for a deeper go the following year. But before long, yes, dead right. Ruttner makes the link to nature:

    "Breeding is by no means a human invention. Nature, which in millions of years
    has bought forth this immense diversity of wonderfully adapted creatures, is the
    greatest breeder. It is from her that the present day breeder learnt how it must
    be done, excessive production and then ruthless selection, permitting only the
    most suitable to survive and eliminating the inferior." Friedrich Ruttner,
    Breeding Techniques and Selection for Breeding of the Honeybee, pg 45

    There's a term for excessive production in nature - 'overfecundity'. Its a precondition for natural selection - there must be more than just replacement needs in order that the weak can be removed.

    I'll be doing the same next spring. I tried to do it this year, but didn't have the resources in terms of worker numbers or comb. I tried queen raising and half a dozen small mating nucs, but they were not successful. If I'd known more about queen raising I'd have come to now with another 20 or 30 6-frame nucs. With that said just building hives and collecting swarms rushed me off my feet, as I have other stuff that must be done. Collecting swarms and cut outs achieved this first stage anyway.

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    I think I have found the combination to that lock: grafting, queenright cell builder/finisher, queen castles, rob your middling hives for brood and stores, combine the dinks, requeen with the result.
    That sounds like gold to me.

    Mike
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
    http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    This year, I made a plan, researched some methods, and carried it through....
    So here's what happened. I robbed all but one frame of brood from seven hives to make queen castles in which were placed ripe queen cells. Those that came out well graduated into five frame or ten frame nucs. Some were sold, some were used to requeen, and some headed their own hives. I went from ten hives to 28 after selling seven....
    I think I have found the combination to that lock: grafting, queenright cell builder/finisher, queen castles, rob your middling hives for brood and stores, combine the dinks, requeen with the result.
    I have been very pleased Sol to see you getting some success now you are using more traditional methods. Not just for you, but for other treatment free beekeepers who follow you. As a queen breeder, what really irked me when I first started reading the treatment free stuff on Beesource, was that, back then, there was a strong rejection of "traditional methods", and even quite a bit of derision of "old beekeepers, stuck in their ways".
    As a result of this mindset, I saw many struggling and not making any headway with their bees, sometimes for years. Problem being, just being treatment free, became such an all consuming mindset, that all else was thrown out the window by many, to their cost.

    To me, queen breeding (and doing it well), is one of the foundations of good beekeeping, and success. It is one of the pinnacles of the art of beekeeping. I'm glad to see that you have opened up to using grafting, cell builders and all else that goes with solid, traditional, beekeeping skills. And the success that this is finally bringing to your operation.

    I guess my main point is that when I first joined Beesource, there was disagreement between treaters, and non treaters. There still is of course. But one of the negative effects was that anything a treater had to say, was rejected. I feel it's very necessary, if beekeeping without chemicals is to advance, for those doing it to be open minded to the wisdom of the past, and reap the benefits, as you obviously have this last year.

    Remember too, you have not found anything new. All you have done can be found in books written more than 50 years ago.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    Quote Originally Posted by mike bispham View Post
    Hello Adam,

    With 12 colonies, mostly nucs, I didn't feed a lot going into winter, and made a silly design error with feeding candy which allowed mice into several hives in early spring.

    I came through to this year with 4 hives, one of which subsequently failed, but 2 of the remaining built nicely. I've added more swarms and cutouts, made some splits, and tried to encouarge some serious comb building this year, after realising that comb shortage was slowing everything down. I got up to about 38 colonies, but have now tracked back down to about 28. I haven't fed this year yet, but I might help them on when it looks like ivy is over. I haven't treated or manipulated at all against varroa, nor any other problem. So its rather a live and let die operation at this stage, offset I hope by the policy of making splits and requeening from the strongest.



    Mike

    Breed the best to the best???

    How are you going to know who your best feral survivors colonies are if you are feeding and splitting?


    You are not following your own advice regards

    Don

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    Quote Originally Posted by D Semple View Post
    Breed the best to the best???

    How are you going to know who your best feral survivors colonies are if you are feeding...?


    You are not following your own advice regards

    Don
    Well, up to this point I haven't fed - for that sort of reason. But I'm thinking its silly to lose colonies that have not been able to build and store, because:

    a) it might just be that they're late swarms (and I'm not yet convinced that's a good reason to die in breeding terms)

    b) it might be that they've been robbed badly (same)

    c) if I keep them going through the winter I can re-evaluate in spring and, if I decide it's best, re-queen from the best.

    Quote Originally Posted by D Semple View Post
    ... and splitting?
    I've split only from strong colonies, and these, despite being heavily robbed of brood, have done well. They remain earmarked at this time as candidates for multiplying in the spring.

    (I've taken multiple combs for trap-outs as well as splits. I like to raise several new queens on site - hopefully getting some patrilines from the nest's drones. I've taken up to three strong nucs from feral colonies this way)

    So you see I am tracking strength and thinking about these things, but also trying to arrange the best strategy for getting off to a flying start in the spring.

    But I see too the importance of the point you make. I think its easy to spot the best when you have many hives that are similar in size and well established. It can be harder when they're a big mix of 2 year olds, this year's earlies middles and lates, and cut-outs. I have a small cut-out from a tree made only about 3 weeks ago, still parked on the stump. It didn't have much honey, and I haven't fed it - till now the forage has been good, but it will dwindle as soon as the weather gets colder. What to do? I think preserve it and see how it does in the spring. Even then, I shouldn't compare too soon it with established hives with drawn comb.

    This is the sort of complication I think people in my position face. There aren't any across-the-board strategies - its a case of what's best for this hive in my apiary? Actually telling which is 'weaker' and which' stronger' is not as straightforward as it is when you can assume the same starting position for all and simply take stored weight as the top guide.

    I draw the line at treating. To me mite-managers is what I want above all at this stage and if they fail from varroa problems I don't want them. However - technically, that's just as silly. I should treat then and mark for early re-queening - and be able to count another hive.

    For me just now building numbers (and comb) is important, and everything is geared to that end. Next year, hopefully, I'll be in a position to raise pretty much as many as I want (60+) and do so fairly early in the season. Then the strategy will change toward equalising circumstances so that strength shows through more clearly. And then management will be simple and methodical. I hope!

    Does all that make sense Don?

    Mike
    Last edited by mike bispham; 10-01-2012 at 09:56 AM.
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
    http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    Quote Originally Posted by mike bispham View Post
    I think its easy to spot the best when you have many hives that are similar in size and well established. It can be harder when they're a big mix of 2 year olds, this year's earlies middles and lates, and cut-outs.


    This is the sort of complication I think people in my position face. There aren't any across-the-board strategies - its a case of what's best for this hive in my apiary? Actually telling which is 'weaker' and which' stronger' is not as straightforward as it is when you can assume the same starting position for all and simply take stored weight as the top guide.

    I draw the line at treating. To me mite-managers is what I want above all at this stage and if they fail from varroa problems I don't want them. However - technically, that's just as silly. I should treat then and mark for early re-queening - and be able to count another hive.


    Mike

    Counting mites in treatment free hives has showed me brood breaks here are the most important eliment as to why our local feral population is handling varroa and thriving, not VSH.

    Couple of points of how management undermines being able to keep bees treatments free in a commercial enviroment

    - Spring time swarming period provides a brood break and natural split, swarm prevention measures undermine this. Better to let them swarm or make splits, but this hurts honey prodution.

    - Late summer dearth period with brood breaks are important to keeping varroa population in check. Feeding during dearths, keeps the bees producing young and the varroa population keeps exploding.

    - Type of bee is also very important, bees that produce young continuously succumb to varroa quickly untreated.

    - Local survivors are the way to go for treatment free, BUT you have to manage them, like they manage themselve in the wild and not interfere with their ability to deal with the mites. Once you start managing them for prodution, their ability to cope goes right out the window.

    - One other point - swapping drawn comb amongst hives spreads desease and should be avoided in a treatment free enviroment.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Don

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    This all sounds great. However none of you guys are truly breeding treatment free bees. I don't say that to be defeatist or mean spirited. Follow if you will and answer these questions.

    1. Are you really breeding or just letting your surviving hive reproduce? There is a difference.

    2. If you are breeding, how are you deciding what to breed from? Are you are basing your decisions on hive strength, populations, apparent ability to survive? If so since the queen has mated wit say 15 or so drones, the drone mix has as much to do with overall hive performance as the queen does.

    3. How are you managing drones? Drone flooding is not a dependable method of attaining the desired genetics. If you really intend to breed, you almost have to use ai on the queen with selected drone semen.

    4. How do you limit outside genetics? Once again the only way is to select larva from a desired queen and AI. Otherwise you have very little chance to avoid cross breeding with less than favorable drones.

    5. How do you access your new queens for selection? This take time(years) ro verify resistance and the propagate.

    If you are not using AI or are not completely isolated then you are not in control of your breeding program. If you are not checking for mites and other pathogens/diseases then you really don't know what you are selecting for.
    I believe you are making the best choices you can bases on limited information and time. But if you really want to breed to treatment free you have to do more than put hives out there and let them live or die. Open mating in a non isolated area is not a viable method of breeding. Introduction of outside genetics must be controlled and evaluated. But once again the only real way to do this dependably is through II.

  15. #15
    Dorothy P Guest

    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    My sister is working on beekeeping, she want to involve me in, but I am totally a fresher in this region, I appreciate your ideas that combine avaliable techniques and natrual ways together, I will follow your post, hope you will post more experience on it.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Systematic breeding in non-treatment management systems

    Solomon, are you keeping track of honey production also, or just breeding what survived??

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