How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment
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  1. #1
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    Default How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    How should a beekeeper in the south with between 10 and 100 hives select or breed bees that will survive well with no treatment, be docile, and produce a reasonable amount of honey?
    David Matlock

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Start with needing at least 3 beekeepers who can share stock. This gives a viable population to avoid inbreeding effects.

    Put together a list of traits desired and a protocol for evaluating each trait. As an example, open a colony, then bounce a leather ball on top of the frames to see how many stings it gets in a specified time period. Put that number down as the sting index. Weigh each candidate colony at harvest to determine the weight of honey harvested and the weight of honey still in the colony for summer/winter stores. Put that number down for honey index. Do this for each trait. IMO, the best way to evaluate mite resistance is to do some type of mite count over an extended period of time.

    With a list of traits and a protocol to evaluate them by, build a spreadsheet with each colony's records and start selecting for the best 3 colonies out of at least 30. Use those 3 colonies to produce queens for at least 1/3 of the colonies being evaluated. Rinse and repeat the next year.
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

  4. #3
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    IMO depending on how mite resistant your stock is, it might be better to start from scratch than look for a trait in your bees. It might be like turning a Shih Tzus into a Wolf. The whole time your selective breeding you may be fighting the genetics in your own apiary.

    The bees have already done it, find those genetics, either another TF beekeeper or feral survivors.

    http://scientificbeekeeping.com/queens-for-pennies/

    FP has a good plan but I would start with some good genetics first then go from there.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Mite tolerant
    Docile enough to handle
    Productive

    It seems like any breeding program will give you the first two. Colonies that fail the mite tolerance test will die. It is probably better if you dispatch them in the freezer when it looks like they will die off anyway. Colonies that fail the docile (enough) test will be culled, of course, by the beek.

    The only thing that isn't automatic is the productivity.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Doesn't selective breeding include flooding an area with drones you picked the mama of?

    To selective breed for me here where I keep bees I'd have to ask several nice beekeepers with their own apiaries to please go away. I get very well-bred queens because of their bees. Also have a high rate of queen breeding success. (very high)
    So many hives in this area. It's a blessing or a curse depending on perspective. I'm going with the flow and I'm betting my beekeeper neighbors are benefiting from my bees just like I do from theirs.
    Internet credibility is an oxymoron

  7. #6
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Quote Originally Posted by aunt betty View Post
    Doesn't selective breeding include flooding an area with drones you picked the mama of?

    To selective breed for me here where I keep bees I'd have to ask several nice beekeepers with their own apiaries to please go away.
    Only if they are working against you by breeding AHB or buying lots of queens without regard for mite resistance.

    If your neighbour is buying a lot of crappy queens it should be pretty easy to raise your own and turn him into your customer.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    I would take one step at a time, and when you have that fixed, add another selection to want in your bees. myself I had enough hives with mites , that I chose thru a mix of different bees to allow time to give me the resistant bee. but with that I lost around 80 hives to get 10 that survived mites without treatment. but they were hard to handle and acted like killers. Now I have over the last few years brought in different lines to freely breed to them. but also kept a area separate t keep some of my original hives. but I believe it can be done. there are several lines out there that have resistant qualities. the big thing to me is integrate management . breaking up brook cycles and such. this year I will start using essential oils if needed but staying away from chemicals. I have the resistant's bred in, they also make a lot of honey. now I am working on breeding a more gentle bee. but each time you add a new selection to your bee's you can dilute the genetics enough to create new problems. my experience is higher than my grammar experience so read carefully

  9. #8
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Quote Originally Posted by aunt betty View Post
    Doesn't selective breeding include flooding an area with drones you picked the mama of?

    To selective breed for me here where I keep bees I'd have to ask several nice beekeepers with their own apiaries to please go away. I get very well-bred queens because of their bees. Also have a high rate of queen breeding success. (very high)
    So many hives in this area. It's a blessing or a curse depending on perspective. I'm going with the flow and I'm betting my beekeeper neighbors are benefiting from my bees just like I do from theirs.
    How many evaluations have you made on their bees to determine they are crappy? If none as I suspect, how would you know?
    Everything gets darker, as it goes to where there is less light. Darrel Tank (5PM drawing instructor)

  10. #9

    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Buy pure Russians. They already have a century of bond method and so should put you 100 years ahead of of anything you are likely to do in your backyard. They come with a decade of objective scientific research to support them.
    Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. - Emerson

  11. #10
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Buy pure Russians. They already have a century of bond method and so should put you 100 years ahead of of anything you are likely to do in your backyard. They come with a decade of objective scientific research to support them.
    100 years of exposure to mites won't gain a thing for management traits. The Russian breeders have about 20 years of working on management and honey production traits which can be a significant step in the right direction. The problem with Russian bees is that they have a very strong swarm tendency which is almost impossible to stop once started.
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

  12. #11

    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion_power View Post
    The problem with Russian bees is that they have a very strong swarm tendency which is almost impossible to stop once started.
    Your opinion stated as though it was a proven fact....or do you have anything objective to support it?
    The '20 years of working' on traits has been done thoughtfully and objectively. As I said....it seems light years ahead of anybody else, in my opinion.

    Or the op can start from scratch.
    Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. - Emerson

  13. #12
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    I would start with local survivors and propagate those until you have the number you want. I would try to get cutouts or swarms if you can, to get some of the microbes that are in the survivor colonies. I would try to get them on clean combs with natural sized cells. It's better to work your way up than work your way down. If you can start with some that are surviving and propagate those rather than start with 100 colonies and then have to work with what survived. The local survivors have already taken the losses. No need for you to.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 42y 40h 39yTF

  14. #13
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    your right on what you said, but when I started no one ever gave good advice like that so I had to learn the hard way .
    Last edited by Barry; 02-26-2017 at 07:38 PM. Reason: quoting

  15. #14
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Good luck with that.

  16. #15
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Perhaps the most effective mite tolerant / resistant trait is mite mauling, where the bees actually bite the ectopic mites in half and drop them through the screened bottom board. To identify the trait, look for mite pieces in the sticky board. Combining the mauling trait with a brood break should give high overwintering success. Combining that with a limited hygenic trait expression should really keep the mites in check. Too much hygenic trait expression often means low production.

    Russian bees have the mite mauling trait, and a Winter brood break, so they survive mites quite effectively, but they build up too slow for almond pollination. So add some Russians to breed with your apiary and with locally-adapted feral stocks. Breed lots of colonies from the resulting mutts, however bad, that express the mite mauling trait in a high percentage of mite load-to-mite-halves-in-the-sticky-board ratio. Kill the drones of the lowest performing colonies, and re-queen them from the better-performing bloodlines. Probably looking at 3 to 5 years getting a stock started.

    Then, after you have established the mite mauling trait, as your colony numbers come up, get even more selective until you have an acceptable overwintering rate. Then start breeding for other traits - reduced swarming tendency, honey and pollen production, buildup rate appropriate for your area, docile behavior, etc.

    Just make sure you get the mite mauling trait well-established first, and be ready to accept a host of undesirable traits to get there, then eliminate them later when you have a good clutch of breeder queens with that as a base bloodline stock. You can't start selection without the necessary traits present. The rest is selection, "rinse, refine, repeat".
    Last edited by kilocharlie; 02-23-2017 at 06:02 PM.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Bush View Post
    I would start with local survivors and propagate those until you have the number you want. I would try to get cutouts or swarms if you can, to get some of the microbes that are in the survivor colonies. I would try to get them on clean combs with natural sized cells. It's better to work your way up than work your way down. If you can start with some that are surviving and propagate those rather than start with 100 colonies and then have to work with what survived. The local survivors have already taken the losses. No need for you to.

  18. #17
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Quote Originally Posted by bentonkb View Post
    Only if they are working against you by breeding AHB or buying lots of queens without regard for mite resistance.

    If your neighbour is buying a lot of crappy queens it should be pretty easy to raise your own and turn him into your customer.
    Not really because your virgin queens are going to mate with his drones and you'll produce crappy queens too.
    The more I learn about bees, the less I know.

  19. #18
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    1. I'm grateful for the responses, even the less helpful but humorous response in the case of Eastside.
    2. I would welcome input on this question from folks with a background in genetics, such as JSL and JRG13, regardless of whether they treat.
    David Matlock

  20. #19
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    To select for a trait, there is an underlying assumption that trait already exists in the population of bees you are starting with. Once you have determined the trait, you need a way to measure it objectively for comparison amongst colonies. Using our own case, we have determined over time which traits are important to us, and which are not. Objectively measuring them is a different matter, but without measurements, you cant really see if there is any result coming from the selection process.

    For us, one of the keys was identifying how things can be measured efficiently. If I want to start measuring things relative to mites, that's a lot of extra work, over and above what we already do in normal day to day management of the bees. A few years ago I was intrigued by the concept of freeze tests to evaluate hygenic traits, but after participating in a round of tests and counts, my conclusion was, it's far more work to do the freeze test on 20 colonies than it is to just go out and apply a mite treatment to that same group. A freeze test tells me if they are hygenic, but, it doesn't tell me if they will make honey or survive the winter.

    Measuring honey production is a different story, we already do most of the required work already. The method we settled on, all of our supers are numbered, and we keep track of which colony each super is placed on, it's not a lot of extra work. The other thing we added to our workflow, every super gets weighed and that number recorded before the frames come out for extraction. I work on the premise that empty extracted supers are all fairly consistent in weight. When we are finished extracting, I have a rough number for the all up tally of empty weights, and I have a number for each super when it had the honey still in it, simple math to estimate how much honey came from each super, so now I can relate this back to how much from each colony. This gives me an objective number for comparing colonies in terms of honey production, and does so without adding a huge amount of extra effort into the process, just a little record keeping at two steps. First, when placing supers we write down where, and when extracting we cross a scale just before frames come out for uncapping.

    The other spot in our flow where we keep detailed records is during the spring. In February we pop lids to put in first round of feed supplements. At that point, we write down a count of how many frames the cluster is on. In March we do the first inspection that involves pulling up frames, and we write down how much brood is in each colony. Again, it's not a lot of extra work added to the regular workflow, just involves taking notes when we do these two things we are already doing. The important part here is to be consistent in the method. If we are counting how many frames of bees, do it the exact same way on every colony so the records are directly comparable across the board.

    When I step back and look at the bigger picture, these points of measurement are directly related to 'what matters' to us. The larger spring frame counts are likely the colonies that will be able to produce surplus brood for nucs to be sold in in the spring. The colonies with the larger honey production are responsible for the bottles of honey that end up for sale at the farm stand. As for dealing with mites, my thought is that is incidental. If a colony survives with a higher mite count, and produces a large honey crop, it's a more productive colony than one with a very low mite count, but a very low honey crop.

    The other trait that's important to us, survival of our winters here at 50N on the ocean. Measuring this trait is trivially simple, and doesn't require much in the way of record keeping. A dead colony in February is a dead colony which has selected itself out of our pool of available stock. Honey production records from last year dont really mean a lot if it's dead in February. We do pay attention to the lineage of the deadouts, and watch for a parental trend. This year as an example we had 4 dead colonies at the first Feb feeding. 2 of them were import queens, and 2 of them were smaller clusters that I was already questioning in October. The two imports had reasonably large clusters in October, but the NZ queens have a reputation here for not surviving the first winter, and those two indeed didn't survive. Boxes with dead colonies, plenty of feed still in the frames, but they have self selected already.

    As for some of the more esoteric traits, I'll use the example of mite biters mentioned earlier in the thread. To figure out if I have any, first I would have to buy screened bottom boards for all of my colonies, then spend an inordinate amount of time counting things on those sticky boards with a magnifying glass. To what end ? If I found a colony with a high tendancy to bite mites, I can then say I have mite biters. Does it matter ? To figure that out, I look at my honey production records. If it turns out I have mite biters, but they aren't efficient honey producers, then yes, I have a trait in the apiary, but that trait doesn't have an economic value to me unless I start raising queens from that line and selling them as 'special queens' to folks that value the trait. Even so, it'll probably be a hard sell of a few queens because I dont have the 'name brand pedigree'. If I was really interested in selling queens into that market, I would start by purchasing stock with the name brand pedigree, then propogate from it. But that's a whole different revenue vector and business model, has nothing to do with honey production.

    Then there is 'gentleness'. Our experience, and it may just be the bees we have, all of the colonies are gentle on a flow. During a dearth, they all get somewhat testy, and the farther we get into August and September, the testier they get. But we have noticed a bit of a trend, the really testy ones seem to have fewer stores. Maybe they dont store well, maybe they get robbed out more, I dunno. What I do know, the testy ones tend to have less honey in the supers, so they have less value to us anyways. I think it's a side effect that gets selected away by the honey records. Only once have I popped a lid on a colony and by the time I'm done, put a big X on the lid to mark it as 'never propogate from this one'.

    I know that the methods we have settled on tend to 'urinate upwind' against what a lot of folks hype online, but, after doing this for some years and homing in on what matters, and what doesn't, we now have a method that works for us. We have records of the items that matter, and pay no attention to the rest, it's just distracting noise. If there is a specific trait that we decide is a 'must have', then I'll happily pay up the 500 or so to get a breeder highly selected for that trait and raise some F1's myself, or, I'll pay up the 40 bucks a pop to get the F1's from somebody already producing them. It would cost me a lot more than that in terms of time and effort to try identify it in our existing stock, and it's likely a wasted effort because the trait may or may not already be there. It's just more efficient to pay up and buy something that is known to have it at the get go.

    ofc, having these records is just part of the process. How to use them, another issue. But the short version is, 2016 honey records will drive part of the selection process in 2017, and we dont expect to be measuring results from that till 2018. This is NOT a short term project, and it's a big mistake to think one will see 'results next quarter'. If you aren't working on a 5 year plan, but focussed entirely on 'results right away', this wont work.

  21. #20
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    Default Re: How to select or breed bees that survive without treatment

    Grozzie2, wow. Thank you.

    From Grozzie2: "We do pay attention to the lineage of the deadouts, and watch for a parental trend."
    That is a particularly helpful comment.
    David Matlock

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