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Is higher protein necessarily better in a bee diet?  Not necessarily.  What matters is what you pay for what protein you get. What may be more important than protein content is knowing what else is in the diet and whether those other ingredients are actually good for bees.  Here is some comment from BeeSource and  the BEE-L discussion group.

The mention below of non-nutrient and anti-nutrient content of some feeds is of special interest since so much discussion tends to emphasize the positive -- protein content -- compared to potential negatives -- non-protein components.

Feed store yeast motioned in a previous message will IMO not be a good yeast for bees no matter what you do. It has a very low protein level and consequently can be assumed to have -- in all likelihood -- a high level of non-nutrients or even anti-nutrients and toxins. Best to buy the yeast from a beekeeper or bee supply, not an animal feed store. Farm animals and chickens have entirely different needs from insects.

Suitable yeasts have typical protein levels well over 40%. Make sure the supplies are fresh. Do not use flours more than a few months old.

The reason for seeking high protein levels in yeasts and flours is that protein is the major ingredient required and a high protein level simply means less of all the other things we do not need, and which can depending on amount, be harmful or just useless filer like fibre, ash, esters, non-digestible sugars, starches, etc.

Protein level in the finished product is not particularly meaningful if we use high protein ingredients, since the dilutents are ones we add and which we know to be necessary and important bee nutrients like sucrose or glucose/fructose and water.

Note: Oils, including essential ones can be toxic when fed in more than low amounts. One important oil popularly used has been shown to be toxic when present in amounts over 2%. Oils also become rancid quickly and become toxic if the supplement is not used immediately.

The idea that 20% protein levels in supplements are better than lower levels comes from pollen studies where lower protein pollens were found to be much less effective bee food than higher protein pollens. This stands to reason in pollens, since the lower the protein percentage, the more non-protein (and probably non-nutrient or anti-nutrient) components need be consumed to get the required absolute amount of protein. These non-protein components may, worst case, be toxic and best case, a filler.

This reasoning does not apply to supplements, though.  In supplements, the non-protein ingredients (beyond whatever rides along in the yeasts or flours) is sugar or water and we know these are nutrients which bees will be consuming anyhow, not junk in the diet.

Therefore, in supplements, the percentage of protein in the final mix is more an indication of value for money than anything else. Example: A 20% mix at $ 2.00 per pound should compare to a 15% mix at $1.50 per pound in efficacy, assuming that each has the same profile of non-protein ingredients and the water and sugar levels account for the difference. Keep in mind though that sugar is not free, so maybe the 15% mix should be valued up at $1.75, say.

In Florida, I spent time recently with several beekeepers and a bee nutrition expert of note. Interestingly, they are using a high sugar patty to encourage fast consumption due to hive beetle. The mix is 80% sugar and 20% yeast, plus whatever water is needed. They are quite happy with this.

I also spoke to Hack last summer at EAS and he sent me his formula with permission to post it. For those not on BEE-L, here it is. This is not a recommendation.

Hack's Protein Patty Recipe

1. 125 lbs. Sugar (Add water and keep wet.
Should be a little thicker than pancake batter.)
2. Add either 3 cups citric acid or 4 quarts of lemon
juice, (this is to put the ph at 4 ½ to 5)
3. Add 1 cup Honey Bee Healthy (optional , but we prefer)
4. Add ½ bag Vitamins & Electrolytes (we use Russell’s)
(2 oz. worth)
5. Add 10 lbs. pollen (optional)
(keep the mix wet)
6. Mix in 25 lbs. of Inedible Dries eggs
7. Add 3 ½ cups Canola Oil
8. Mix in 24 lbs. (2 gallons) Honey
9. Finish by adding 50 lbs. Brewtech Brewers Yeast and water until it has the consistency you desire.

Having had some nutrient analyses done, I have to wonder if they are much more than a marketing tool. We get the numbers for nutrients we ask for, but what the numbers really mean is a good question, since what we do not get is probably much more meaningful. For example, the protein numbers don't tell us how they break down and bioavailability, and carbohydrate numbers don't give detail unless we ask. Of course the more items and detail in an analysis, the more it costs.

Other than worries about potential honey contaminants, I suppose the proof is in the pudding, i.e.. how the bees do in the short run, and long run. Comparisons are helpful, but very difficult to do.

Using unnamed and non-food components, salts, or essential oil-type ingredients in patties can have unintended consequences due to potential contamination of honey. Some time back, I heard talk of a situation where a beekeeper or beekeepers were thought by a packer to have been using a prohibited repellent due to traces in the honey of compounds from the breakdown of some supplement ingredients. (One of the largest, best-known proprietary feeds was involved. It has since changed).

I don't know how it was resolved, and I don't think the honey was condemned, but we are now entering times where increased scrutiny of foods is routine and unthinkably tiny amounts of contaminants can be detected. Even if detection does not result in condemnation of honey, it reduces the potential market and price.

Some beekeepers have tended to be very cavalier about what they put into beehives, but the days of flying under the radar may be over soon.

...Not sure what you are saying here.  If you are saying comparisons are easy, I suppose you are right.

I'll agree that it is usually not too hard to prove what people want to believe, especially to an uncritical audience.

What I was trying to say was that honest, valid comparisons are very difficult unless there are huge and obvious and repeatable differences, and no outside influences, which usually there are not.  

I have observed scientific comparisons of feed formulas and seen how many confounding factors can skew the results.  I have run a few studies myself and found every time that many unexpected things can intervene, potentially influencing the results.

Some of us have considered how best to do independent tests to compare the many products on the market and concluded that getting fresh, typical samples and applying them to comparable hives under a variety of conditions is no small task.

Most subs work now, even some which were pretty poor in the past.  The questions now are

* which ones give best value for the money and
* which ones are safe to use in honey producing hives

Further Reading: