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The Hidden Cost of Not Feeding Enough Protein
-- A word to the wise --

In the last ten years, most successful commercial beekeepers in North America have learned the importance of feeding protein patties in spring.  The details and reasons for feeding are covered in other articles accessible from the feeding articles index page

My point in writing this note is to express my concern and disappointment that many -- if not most -- beekeepers are not feeding enough protein for a long enough period to obtain the maximum bang for their buck or to protect their bees from wintering losses.  Many beekeepers are only feeding a patty or two, and some have decided not to feed at all. Some feed too early.

A year or two back, some very good beekeepers I know and who had fed patties for years quit feeding patties because they figured they had enough -- or even too many -- bees and did not think they needed to stimulate the colonies.  Since they had been feeding patties for years, they had become used to great wintering success and good spring build-up and got to taking that for granted. 

HOWEVER, this year, for the first time in a while, they had late winter losses and bad build-up that affected their honey crop very significantly.  Sad, but entirely predictable.  The patty feeding had given their bees an edge, but the charm wore off after they quit feeding.

Frankly, I feed as much as a colony will take until mid-June at least, and for a very simple reason.  In my early beekeeping years, we had variable and unpredictable wintering success, and also variable spring build-up. When we began feeding patties, we immediately noticed that the bees were more robust-looking, BUT the huge bonus was that our wintering loss the following winters stabilized at around 12% - 15%, meaning that 85% of the previous year's colony count was viable in mid-April.  (We don't cull in the fall.  We just winter everything that is alive) and the surviving colonies thrived better in the spring.

We subsequently noticed this consistently excellent survival rate over a period of many years.  Previous to feeding patties, we had had losses ranging up to 40%, or even 50% on occasion.  Small, predicable... (Cont'd above right)

(cont'd from left column) ...losses were a huge relief after the catastrophic losses we formerly experienced and convinced us that feeding patties was good, cheap insurance.

Packages are expensive.  Feeding patties to your existing hives is the cheapest way to get more bees, and also simplify hive management

Granted, some years, the results of feeding are less obvious and it almost seems that feeding was not necessary, if you look at only the immediate results, BUT, if you consider the reduced probability loss the next winter, the patties pay for themselves many times over.  Feeding is cheap insurance.

Losing even one hive means a cash loss in the order of $100 or more.  That $100 would feed 4 patties each to more than 20 hives and make some hives survive that wouldn't, and make more hives splitable.  Each extra surviving overwintered hive, or additional split pays for many, many patties. Plus, finding weak hives in spring means far more work, less honey income and less pollination bonus.

What kind of patty is best?  I suppose it depends on your intent.  If you want to feed lots of patties and keep the hive loaded with patties, as they do in some areas of the US, then fast consumption is desirable, and extra pollen might be advisable, but many beekeepers just put on a patty or two and that is it.  In my opinion, they are not getting the full benefit of feeding and maybe even doing some damage on occasion.  If they are only planning on feeding a patty or two, it would be better if the patties were consumed more slowly, so the cheaper, no-pollen patties would be my choice.

My advice?  Feed as many patties as the hive will consume during build-up and until the weather is settled or the main flow is approaching.  I think you get a bigger bang for the buck from patties without pollen, or maybe 4% at most.  I realise that the higher pollen levels may increase consumption and be a little more nutritious, but as far as nutrition per dollar, I think the plain patties are the best deal.

Allen Dick

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