Protein Bee Feeds and their economic use
By Peter Stace
The use of supplementary protein feeds for commercial bee keeping is not recommended unless there is a defined economic reason to have high performance hives. The margin of increase production is possibly 20-40% for honey production. Although, some strategic feeding when a high valued, high volume, but low pollen crop such as grey ironbark, or yellow box may give a higher return.

A number of commercially available products are suitable as protein bee feeds. These products may be used by beekeepers to supplement the naturally collected pollen coming through the bee hive entrance. The feed products recommended are: defat and expeller press soy flour, brewers and torula yeast, irradiated pollen, pollard, white sugar, malt, irradiated honey, vegetable oil and vitamin additives.

Each circumstance, due to floral sources and seasonal conditions will change the reason and the ingredients in a particular feeding situation.

The particular feeds, their uses, and the effect on the hive is as follows.

Torula or Brewers yeast are useful non floral protein for honey bees. These two yeasts are commercially available in either the dry form or in the case of Brewers yeast in a malt slurry. The crude protein content is 48-56%. Yeasts are good brood feed and stimulate breeding to occur. They are ideal in early spring or when the main task required of the bees is breeding, especially after a heavy honey flow or when package bees have been harvested. Yeasts have a problem in that they are expensive being $2-3 per kg.

Due to this cost problem, yeast should only make up to 10% of the ration fed to bees.

Soy flour – Soy flour is the main non floral protein supplement for honey bees rations.

It comes in two forms, either Expeller press which has 6% soy oil, or Defat soy flour (chemically extracted) which has only 2% soy oil. The crude protein level is 48% 50%. Soy flour is more of an adult bee feed and appears to assist in making adult bees more active while on a honey flow.

Expeller press soy flour is more palatable to the bees than defat soy flour. This was demonstrated in trials conducted on the preference or palatability of protein feed for bees, Expeller press soy flour is good when there is limited pollen available. Defat soy flour is satisfactory when reasonable volumes of low quality ground flora pollen is being collected by the bees.

Most Australian pollens have low levels of the essential amino acid iso leucine. Soy flour has reasonably high quantities of this amino acid, which makes it a useful supplement in supplying additional total protein and iso-leucine.

Soy flour is reasonably cheap being around 80¢/kg. For this reason in any ration it can be used up to ¾ by weight of the total ration.

Pollard - Pollard is a useful additive to bee rations. It contains various vitamins and oils that the bees need. It also acts as a ration conditioner, allowing the feed to be friable and easily chewed by the bees. Because bees find high protein feeds (over 30%) difficult to digest and pollard is low in crude protein, pollard can help to dilute the high levels of protein in soy flour and yeast. There is only a need to put 10% by weight pollard in any bee ration.

Irradiated pollen

Pollen is the natural bee collected protein utilised by honey bees. Pollen contains most of the minerals and vitamins required by honey bees and is an essential part of any supplementary bee ration when the bees have little or no natural pollen coming through the hive’s entrance.

Pollen, although bees natural source of protein does have some nutritional problems. A general separation into two main forms of pollen of:-

  1. Ground flora and 
  2. Eucalypt pollen 
can be a guide to supplementary feeding (i) Ground flora, (except clover, salvation Jane and turnip weed) is often low in total crude protein. Ground flora is usually low in the amino acids, iso-leucine and valine.

However, most ground flora ( except salvation Jane) is usually high in vitamins and natural oils that the bees require.

(ii) Eucalypt pollen - Eucalypt pollens are usually good for bees and most have a satisfactory crude protein content (over 20%). (There are a few exceptions such as Pilliga Box and White Box) Eucalypt pollens, do have some nutritional deficiencies in that they have low natural oil levels and possibly low vitamin levels. They usually have low iso-leucine content.

Many beekeepers have observed their hives breed well when there is a mixture of ground flora and eucalypt pollen being collected. This is because these two types of pollen complement each other in supplying the protein vitamins and oil requirements of the bees.

Disease and pollen

Honey bee collected pollen is an ideal medium for the spread of bee diseases like American brood disease and chalk brood. Any pollen used in a supplementary bee feed should be irradiated before use.

Vegetable oil

The use of small quantities of vegetable oil like soy oil and cotton seed oil, has been found to increase the palatability of supplementary bee feeds. The total content of oil in the feed needs to be 6% by weight. The vegetable oil is important as a carrier for oil soluble vitamins, and also to keep the feed friable. If bees are feeding on ground flora the oil content in the feeds may be reduced, but if large volumes of eucalypt pollen are being obtained or no pollen at all, the vegetable oil content of the feed needs to be manipulated to be about 6%.

Vitamins and minerals

The addition of vitamin and minerals to bee feeds is a desirable management practice. There are two multi vitamin/mineral products on the market. "Solaminovite" and "Kelatovit". These two products have been tried by a number of beekeepers at the rate of 1% with satisfactory results. Do not overfeed as this could cause some toxic effects.

Sugar

Sugar is a very valuable bee feed, and is possibly the most profitable supplementary feed available to the bee farmer.

Sugar fed as a syrup will stimulate the bees to breed, collect nectar and pollen, and enable bees to throw off low levels of European foul brood . However, the over use, or poor seasonal use of sugar can cause severe nutritional problems.

Only feed sugar when reasonable to good volumes of pollen are being collected by the bees. Otherwise severe nutritional will arise; and diseases such as EBD and Chalk Brood will occur.

Bee feed recipes

These recipes are given for a convenient 8½ kg mix. This is about the maximum mix for a dough mixer or to mix by hand.

If smaller quantities are required reduce each ingredient by the same proportion.

1 (High pollen)

A general purpose feed - use in early spring build up, low pollen honey flows or as a maintenance diet.

Per 8.5 kg mix

Ingredients

2.5 kg Soy flour

1 kg Torula yeast

800 g Irradiated pollen

500 g Pollard

100 g Vegetable oil (cotton seed or soy bean oil)

50 g Multi vitamin mix

3.5 kgs Irradiated honey or malt (at 50o C)

Mix thoroughly the dry ingredients and oil. Slowly add 3½ kgs pre heated (50oC) irradiated honey or malt. Mix thoroughly. If still dry add a little extra irradiated honey until just slightly sticky.

Form quickly into flat biscuits 10 mm thick and 100-200 grams before the mixture cools. Allow to cool and set while on a flat surface. Pack the biscuits between grease proof paper, or dust with soy flour, store in dry boxes. The use of deep freezer to store the biscuits is recommended. The use of a dough mixer is beneficial to mix this feed. Small quantities can be mixed in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. If bees will collect dry feed in the open, do not add honey, but feed to the bees in open feeders.

When feeding supplementary feeds, place the biscuit or patty under the queen excluder or as close to the brood nest as possible.

Bee feed recipe 2 (No pollen)

Use when bees are on a heavy honey flow with good volumes of low grade ground flora pollen (ie. Yellow box, with scotch thistle or flat weed. Grey Ironbark and flatweed or fire weed and sunflower crops).

3.3 kgs Soy flour

1 kg Torula yeast or brewers yeast

½ kg Pollard

100 g Vegetable oil (eg. Cotton seed)

50 g Vitamin mix

3.5 kgs Irradiated honey or malt

Prepare as bee feed 1.

Feed 4-5 weeks before and during the honey flow. Feed as a biscuit or patty in the hive.

Bee feed recipe 3 (no pollen)

Use for heavy honey flows which have large volumes of low grade eucalypt pollen. (eg. White box, Pilliga box, white mahogany/grey ironbark honey flows).

4.2 kg Expeller press Soy flour

500 g Pollard

200 g Vegetable oil (cotton seed)

50 g Vitamin mix

3.5 kgs Irradiated honey or malt

Prepare as recipe 1 and feed inside the hive as a biscuit or patty. Feed 4-5 weeks before, during and (if the pollen has stopped) after the flow.

During heavy honey flows or when continuos breeding is required, the protein supplementary feed should be available to the bees all the time. Feed regularly a minimum of 300 grams of protein supplement every two weeks.

The use of a slurry or paste for protein bee feeds

Some bee farmers have found by adding extra irradiated honey, malt or concentrated sugar syrup to the protein mix and mixing into a thick paste or slurry, and stored in a 20 litre plastic bucket with a push on lid, is convenient. A big handful of feed is pushed between the frames of the brood nest. This method is effective as the bees feed quickly on the protein, but a little messy.

To purchase or to make a protein bee feed.

A present there are some very good supplementary protein bee feeds on the market. These may be purchased at about $6 per kg. This is a reasonable price when the cost of wages and overheads are taken into account. There are advantages in purchasing bee feeds, the main being the convenience of the shop bought product, the even mixing of the product, and the proven quality. 

Some apiarists are making their own bee feed, and are producing a reasonable product at some where between $2-4 per kg. However, this is not taking into account the value of their own time.

Conclusion

The feeding of commercial bees, has to be done for a profit. A crop of honey, a pollination contract or queen bee breeding must be carefully targeted. To use supplementary bee foods to produce strong hives, without a target crop is poor management bad economics, and will only lead to disappointment and a disbelief in the value of supplementary feeding.
 

click here to return to the Honeybee Australis front page