By B. F. DETROYAgricultural engineer, Science and Education Administration, Bee Management and Entomology Research, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis. 53706.

Revised October 1980
Pages 78 – 81

Bees are moved so that they will be near various honey plants or to pollinate orchard and field crops. Some beekeepers also move colonies from northern areas of the United States to the Southern States for overwintering so that colonies may be divided and strong populations will develop early. Sometimes, a honey crop is obtained before the return move north. These moves require equipment for loading the hives to save time and to reduce lifting.

To use labor-saving devices efficiently, certain changes in methods of operation and types of equipment may be needed. The hives should be easily accessible by truck and arranged so that several can be manipulated as a unit. Some type of hive hoist or lift is needed so that the beekeeper can handle heavy colonies alone. Many mechanical devices can be used in loading and unloading colonies. The choice of the appropriate one will depend on the number of colonies to be moved and the frequency and distance of the moves.

The least-expensive lifting device is a crane or hand winch and boom attached to the rear corner of a truck. Many types are built for industrial use. Some can be converted to floor cranes for use in the shop or honey house. These cranes have a reach of about 4 feet, and their length of reach is not changeable. Where they are used, a handcart or similar device is needed to take the hive to them and to move it after it is on the truck. With the lift, one person can place a hive on or off the truck. For the small beekeeper with infrequent moves, this may be satisfactory.

A hydraulic tailgate will lift several hives at one time. Tailgates are made to fit all sizes of trucks. The tailgate is useful for loading hives and supers of honey (fig. 1) and also serves as a platform on which to stand when working with tall hives. The hydraulic system is powered by belt from the truck engine or power takeoff from the transmission.

Many migratory beekeepers now use either forklifts or hoists. They use cleats on the ends of the hive, and they nail the bottom board underneath. Hives usually are loaded at night, hauled to the new location, and unloaded before dawn. If the hives are loaded with open entrances, a plastic screen covering the entire load should be used.

Boom Loaders

Boom loaders are used in all parts of the country and with a wide range of truck sizes and truck-trailer combinations. With them, a hive can be picked up and placed in position on the truck. The boom loader is mounted on the truck frame, usually between the cab and the truck bed. Two types of drives are used, electrical and hydraulic. An electrically powered hoist operates from the truck battery or from a gasoline-driven generator. Today, most hoists are battery-powered. To keep the battery charged, the truck motor is kept running while the boom is being operated. Battery operated hoists usually are more dependable than those powered by gasoline engines. The hydrualic hoist operates like the tailgate, but it has electrical valves to control the movement of the boom.

The boom loaders have boom lengths of 12 to 22 feet. The simplest hoist only raises the load, and the operator moves it by hand. Others level automatically and can move the load along the boom. The choice depends largely on how much it will be used. A good hoist should support a 300-pound load.

A fork on the end of the boom is used to pick up the hive. The following three methods are employed: Fork prongs are inserted under the bottom board, fingers are dropped into the hand holes, or fingers are inserted under a 1-1/2-inch cleat nailed on each end of the hive. The cleats usually are the most satisfactory. Hives may be handled singly or two at a time stacked vertically.

On special order, a boom loader can be obtained that will lift a pallet bearing two or four hives with a total maximum weight of 1,000 pounds (fig. 2). A short truck and trailer can be used if the hoist is placed on the rear of the truck or the front of the trailer where it can service both (fig. 3). Booms are difficult to use when colonies are located near trees and cannot be used when colonies are to be placed within an orchard.

The hoist also can be used to lift off the supers for inspection of the colony brood nest. One commercial cart for hand-moving hives is designed to lift the supers and tip them back out of the way, so the brood nest can be inspected. There also is a stationary unit that clamps to the hive, then lifts and swings the supers aside so the brood nest can be inspected.

The most common machine used to load hives on pallets is the four-wheel-drive, skid-steer tractor loader with 1,500-pound lifting capacity (fig. 4). Forklifts mounted on tractors also are frequently used. Some beekeepers build forklift units from four-wheel-drive vehicles. Their advantage over regular forklifts is higher ground speed. Some tractors on which forklifts are mounted have the driver controls reversed so that the operator can observe the loading operation better. Some forklift units have either one or both of the loader forks equipped so that side movement can be hydraulically controlled from the operator's seat to aid in alignment of the loader with the pallets.

The tractor also can haul hives to places difficult to reach by truck. If the tractor is equipped with a blade, it can level the area before the hives are unloaded.

Towed Loaders

Generally, where wheel-type loaders are used, they are towed behind the truck on a trailer. A loader that is built on a 4-wheel-drive vehicle chassis usually is towed without a trailer.

The most commonly used trailer is the tandem-wheel type built with little ground clearance. These have hinged loading ramps that can be folded up for towing (fig. 5). Other trailer types have two wheels and are built much heavier than the tandem-wheel type. The wheels are quite large, and the loader is carried much higher above the ground. Hinged ramps also are used for loading. Before a trailer is towed behind the truck, regulations

should be checked to see that the combined length does not exceed the permissible limit allowed by the State in which the rig is being operated.

Trucks used for hauling colonies range from the 3/4-ton flatbed to the semi tractor trailer with a 4-wheel trailer (fig. 6). Most trucks are the straight-flatbed type with beds 16- to 20-feet long and sometimes pull flatbed trailers behind them. Trailers used may be 2-wheel, tandem-wheel, or 4-wheel type. A versatile combination is a small flatbed truck and a 5-wheel type trailer. The bed is removed from the truck when it is used for pulling the trailer. The combination can be used for hauling colonies, and the small truck can be used for other needs.

Beekeepers moving between Northern and Southern States frequently use semitractor-trailer combinations. The trailer may be either the flatbed type or enclosed. Enclosed trailers often serve as on-site storage space. Commercial haulers sometimes are employed to haul colonies, but the beekeeper is responsible for loading and unloading the trucks.

Colonies on pallets can be loaded and unloaded from trucks much faster than can single colonies. Usually, four or six colonies are placed back to back on the pallet, with their entrances facing the outside. Some four-colony-per-pallet arrangements have the colonies all facing one direction in pairs of two. Other arrangements are a three-colony pallet, with the colonies in line and all entrances in the same direction, and a seven-colony-per-pallet, with colonies facing out in three directions (fig. 7).

Location of the entrances, especially with the large pallets, can cause management problems. Some six-colony pallets have been replaced with four-colony pallets because the center colonies of six-colony pallets could not be worked.

Some beekeepers use the top of the pallet as the bottom board. Cleats are nailed on the pallet, and a piece of channel-shaped sheet metal is fastened to the pallet to hold the bottom hive body in place. Other pallets are made so that the hives with bottom boards are placed on and held by metal or wood strips or simply strapped to the pallet. In humid areas, the hives are spaced 1 to 2 inches apart on the pallet to reduce wood rot.

Some beekeepers have designed pallets the width of the truck. These are pulled on or off the truck by special drag chains.




1975. MOVING COLONIES OF HONEY BEES. American Bee Journal 115:268-271.

OWENS, C. D., and B. F. DETROY.
1977. SELECTING AND OPERATING BEEKEEPING EQUIPMENT. 24 p. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farmers' Bulletin 2204, revised.