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I've been wondering for a while now about the whole survivor stock question.
Often there are posts on here that say "I haven't treated my bees for years"
I have a couple of questions I hope someone can answer for me.
Is this something that can be done when you are running thousands of hives? Is anyone doing it on a large scale?
If you are how where you able to make a living and honour pollination contracts while your bees where dying from PMS and other nasties?
last of all are these survivor stock a particular breed of bee, Italian? Russian? or is it just any bee.?
Any feed back on this would be great as it's not something I've come across yet and have absolutley no clue about any of it!
kiwi
 

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I guess we all wonder about this. As someone who gets around, I have yet to come across anyone who has been able to do this over a period of time, and that is the real question.

In my experience, beekeepers can reduce their reliance on treatments if they monitor their bees and in some cases, in some localities, they may go an extended time without need for treatments.

Nonetheless, it seems that in most commercial situations if the economic threshold is estimated too high, unacceptable losses result.

In commercial beekeeping, the goal is to maximize profit and minimize losses and risk in the present, so when getting close to the line or where that line is indistinct, the tendency is to treat if there is a cost effective solution at hand.

In recent years, the threshold for varroa treatment has actually been reduced in Alberta due to escalating losses in recent years. Maintaining varroa at lower levels has apparently reduced the losses back to normal.

Are the bees in use commercially "survivor" bees? Yes and no. Over time, such stock has been increasingly incorporated into the commercial stocks, but I know of no one who is running exclusively a pure survivor stock on a large scale.

I'd like to see that happen, but it seems that most commercials prefer other stock. Additionally it seems that just because a stock of bees does not succumb to AFB or mites or show overt symptoms does not mean that the stock flourishes under challenge.

I have noticed that HYG stock under challenge from AFB has spotty brood and smells of AFB, even though not a cell can be seen. This burden surely reduces productivity.
 

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It comes down to money for commercial producers. Their stock is bred to make honey. That comes first. Also, as Allen said, it is easier to treat than to keep your eyes on them and micro-manage. That said I know a few producers with 2500+ hives that keep bees without treatments (or at least say they do.) The added burden comes from the addition of pollination. Guys with 20,000+ hives take the large checks, suffer the losses (5,000+ per year) and just buy more bees/split. I will not buy their honey, but Sue Bee will. Treatment free beekeeping involves not cutting corners, and this costs money -- This means A LOT of money in a large volume operation.
 

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Mythomane:

So are you saying 20 000 hives and losses 5000 every year b/c he does not treat for mites? If that's the case I figure he's doing pretty good. I figure a person losses 40% a year alone if you don't requeen or make splits to make up that loss you are going downhill.

I agree with pollination being a burden. We spend our time feeding bees to get their strength up so we can make nucs , the we make nucs, then pollination season starts and we still have nucs to make and the time required to moves bees into pollination prevents us from feeding bees at a critical time. Maybe a couple of extra guys would help.

I suppose if one really wanted to go the "survivor" route the most sensible approach would be to try it on a limited scale say 10 % of the outfit. With the pollination though it would get complicated to keep track of things. However the "survivor stock" has to be put thru it's paces to see if it has any value. What's the point of having bees if you can't collect a pollination check, assuming you are in a marginal honey producing area?


Jean-Marc
 

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In commercial beekeeping, the goal is to maximize profit and minimize losses and risk in the present, so when getting close to the line or where that line is indistinct, the tendency is to treat if there is a cost effective solution at hand.
The problem is the fact that treating causes future generations to be more vulnerable to whatever it was that caused the need for treatment (generally in beekeeping these days we're talking about varroa). Treating today almost inevitably means increased treament tomorrow. It amounts to the opposite of selecting for health, vitality, resistance. The origins of the stock (survivor or bred resistant) is only part of the story - husbanding the genes through the generations is what really counts.

There will always be beekeepers who keep bees in such ways in order to maximise their profits, and the rest will continue to have to try to mop up their mess.

Mike
 

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Commercial producers are not the enemy here. We need to eat, and many commercial pollinators provide a necessary service. To keep the wheels rolling, however, with the bees in endless summer, stressed, sprayed on, supersized, and starved, heavy treatments are used to close the gap. Given the choice, I eat organic.
 

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Well Mr. Bispham; just how many 100's of thousands of years are you willing to wait for bees to evolve varroa resistance? Sure, it can happen faster with selective breeding, but you won't see totally resistant bees in your lifetime. In the meantime, people who have chosen beekeeping as their occupation have to make a living. Maybe you don't have to do that in the UK. :rolleyes:
 

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I think it depends on what your goals as a commercial operator are.

Fresh young queens will lay more brood than older queens that are wearing out. That costs you honey if you are a honey producer. If you want to run run fresh young queens, but also run survivor stock, then you need to raise your own queens too. However, queen rearing and honey production schedules can be conflicting. (But is it really survivor stock if you are requeening, even with your own stock?) Also, what good is a survivor hive if it doesn't produce honey?

If you are a commercial queen producer, I think you have a reasonable chance of producing survivor stock.

If you produce nucs, I think it is possible to use commercial stock.

With nucs and queens, even if you have losses, it should be possible to produce enough surplus to replace those losses, and still have surplus left to sell. Also, due to the faster hive reproduction, resistance should breed in faster. (Supposedly, ****roaches could survive nuclear fallout because they reproduce fast enough to adapt to it. You can develop resistance if you can breed faster than the problem slows you down.)

It all boils down to $$ for a commercial operator, and it all boils down to philosophy for survivor stock. It can be difficult to do both at the same time.
 

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Well Mr. Bispham; just how many 100's of thousands of years are you willing to wait for bees to evolve varroa resistance? Sure, it can happen faster with selective breeding, but you won't see totally resistant bees in your lifetime. In the meantime, people who have chosen beekeeping as their occupation have to make a living. Maybe you don't have to do that in the UK.
The resistance of any bee population can be raised to the point where treatments are unnecessary after just a few generations (see the work of, i.e. Marla Spivak and others for my links page) That is, a few years, not several thousands - your notion of the timescale involved is misconceived. I don't think 'totally resistant' bees have ever existed - nor has any other living organism ever been 'totally reistant. So that is another misconcenption.

Those beekeepers who understand that the resistance of their bee stock can be raised by selective methods, and that treatments will always be addictive and a dead-end will tend to flourish commercially - they already are. Imagine you needed no treatments. But those who choose to go on treating will - as long as they survive - make things a lot harder every time their bees come into contact. That is just a fact. Imagine you were a pedigree dog breeder, and your neighbours kept on cutting holes into your fences and letting in mongrels.

Medicating means the pests and diseases will alway be with you. Every time you treat a hive, it sends its unfit genes into your own future stock. No other form of organic husbandry does this, for the simple reason that it is economic suicide.

Mike
 

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The BWeaver's in Texas say they are treatment free. I'd call them a fairly large operation.
 

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Diseases are always around, and yes treatments can and do offer both relief and can even permanantly erase them.

However: in all areas of organic husbandry it is well understood that if you replicate sickly stock what you get is... more sickly stock. Like makes like, if you like.

Now; if you buy (or find) what you describe as 'survivor stock' (which is not I think what you really mean, but I understand you) you have choices. You can treat this stock carefully, to preserve the qualities that you want (mostly resistance to varroa and other pests and diseases); or you can treat it as you treat non-resistant stock (i.e. medicate regularly, and fail to be selective about reproduction) In the first case you can have stock that doesn't need treating for as long as you like. In the second case you'll be back where you started in just a couple of generations.

I wonder if that has helped?

Mike
 

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Mike

For the most part you are providing a philosophical perspective. This is a good starting point that now needs to be substantiated with anecdotal and empirical evidence. Anecdotal accounts appear to support your thesis but empirical evidence from controlled experiments have not been conclusive IMHO. You need to move from the theoretical to the practical. I'm looking forward to following your journey using real bees in the real world.

A realistic look at a no treatment approach leads to two possibilities. Stronger, healthier bees that can withstand the new diseases and parasites they have been exposed to. OR extinction. Throughout evolutionary history by far the most common outcome has been extinction.
 

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Yeah. I recall Danny Weaver mentioning that back as early as Apimondia in 2000. I was quite impressed. A lot of people did not believe him, but he recounted a story about a drone hive loaded with mites recovering after being requeened as I recall. Sounds as if they have some good stock. So we have one report. Is Weavers a typical commercial operation? I don't know. Do they never treat for anything? I don't know. Are their bees considered 'survivor' stock? I don't know.

As far as the original question is concerned, though, here it is again:

I've been wondering for a while now about the whole survivor stock question.
Often there are posts on here that say "I haven't treated my bees for years"
I have a couple of questions I hope someone can answer for me.
Is this something that can be done when you are running thousands of hives? Is anyone doing it on a large scale?
If you are how where you able to make a living and honour pollination contracts while your bees where dying from PMS and other nasties?
last of all are these survivor stock a particular breed of bee, Italian? Russian? or is it just any bee.?
I understand it as being strictly about the practicality of running a commercial operation on a reasonable scale with normal commercial activities, only using survivor stock, posed to anyone with knowledge of such an operation. There was no request for hypothetical discussion of theory, philosophy, rumour or the usual distractions. Just verifiable and believable facts about a commercial-scale operation.

It seems we got sidetracked again into hypothesizing and possible libel.

I'm interested in an answer to those exact question, too, since I think that some are getting close to doing so, so I hope we don't get too far off on a tangent.

So far we have one well-known operation suggested. Does it qualify? Come close?
 

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The BWeaver's in Texas say they are treatment free.
Yes, and I have one of their queens, she is one of the few from last year that has not swarmed and is currently working on medium honey super #3 although the first one is only about 1/2 capped and the 2nd one is only starting to cap. This colony is producing almost as much as my double strength colony [2 colonies combined].

I'd call them a fairly large operation.
Nah, just a small operation here in Texas. I have read they are only running about 8,000 colonies :lpf:, just ask any Texan, everything is bigger and better in Texas.:rolleyes:

Kindest Regards
Danny
 

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By the way Danny, at the risk of hijacking this poor thread further, when did BWeavers go small cell?
 

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Allen, if you are going to start listing, you are going to have to qualify what you mean by commercial. 500+ hives? Pollination? Bee sales only? Honey producer? Also: Another vote for BWeaver stock. The SMRT bees were pretty good, and what happened I think was enough were open-mating and surviving/Buckfast went downhill, and they just combined everything into their new breed, which is pretty good, at least in my area (just about the same as theirs)...I used to think their prices were high, but you get what you pay for. Having to buy junk bees this Spring to make up for losses I realize the extra money you pay for them is probably worth it. I guess I should know this, but how much (if any) of Weaver stock goes to the almonds? Is it kept separate from their breeding stock? Splitting is a big tool against both disease and varroa. Their two frame splits don't stand much of a chance of becoming infested with varroa.
 

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In answer to the original post.
I consider myself a small commercial producer. It is part of our Ag farm. We sell honey bulk, mostly.
Here is my experience on survivor stock

We treat, I will be open about that. We treat, but we also monitor the bees for levels of nosema and varroa

That said...
We bought bees from a friend. In the same area as us. We bought him out due to financial trouble.
These bees in the summer and fall of '08 were pretty much left to fend for themselves. Out of 120 hives, 40 survived, After spring 38 were total left.
Spring of '09 we took them over. In the spring, we saw mite loads high, and DWV in some of the stock that survived. Brood hatching out with the Virus. We also noted nosema levels a bit higher than normal. Since we have a small window of a flow in our area, and since we needed these bees to build, we tossed the book at them. Formic for the mites and fumagillin b for the nosema. As well, syrup and pollen patties...several pounds infact. And requeened.
Come the end of summer, honey production for those bees was well below the average for the farm. Bee population was well below the farm average aswell.
We fought with mites throughout the summer. Their levels were higher come September than the rest of the yards. The other yards at Sept 15 were at 6% and this yard was at 10% They did not take in the fall feed that the other yards took in
Fast forward to spring of 2010. Nearly all died. Out of 16, that were checked, 5 lived, three had the queens pinched and combined with another hive since there was barely a 1/2 of bees.
From the looks at the dead outs, the clusters were too small. There was still feed in the hives, Nosema present. And after some talks with "professionals" the consensus was virus overload.
As a commercial producer, if this was the norm for all my yards due to not treating...i would go broke, and i would be introuble with my banker.


There are alot of variables when it comes to business. Commercial or not. Every action has to be pencilled out to keep afloat. Even in real life we need to budget....no way i could budget for a 86% loss and still be a beekeeper. There is not a one size fits all in any business. We need to be open to other ways of doing business...this is directed at Mike Bispham


On a side note, the other hives have yet to be inspected since it got to cold...will hopefully have those results in the comming week
 

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Im starting to believe viral infection takes more hives than the mite themselves. I had alway blamed the mite outright. In turn , its the mites thats providing the vector into the bees.

It would be interesting to have some sort of a vacination we could provide the hives to counter the viral infections. Controling the viral infection might prove more useful than trying to control the mites themselves.
 
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