Record Keeping - are you doing it? You should be! An old quote is "If first we can know where we are and where we are going, we can better plan on how to get there." Too often we don't know where we are or where we want to go, let alone how we should get there.
The Holstein breed of dairy cattle was developed by the cooperative effort of Friesian farmers more than three centuries ago and now accounts for over 90% of the milk that we drink in the United States. This is an example of selective breeding with record keeping where they knew where they were and had a goal of where they wanted to go.
In 1846, the potato blight in Ireland destroyed the potato crop and deepened the famine that had already begun because of economic collapse. The potato was the staple food for the poor Irish and when the blight caused a complete crop failure, many starved or were weakened by malnutrition. The average family kept a small garden with potatoes being a major crop but successive year's seed was the residue of the previous year, quite possibly the smallest of the harvest. This is an example of selective breeding through neglect.
For over eighty years, the southern package bee industry has provided bees for the northern areas of our country. These bees were productive in the south and demonstrated quick buildup to provide abundant populations for the package business. They also demonstrated rapid buildup in northern areas and could produce a crop the first year. Weather they, or their offspring, wintered well was often a subject of debate and a basis for continual change of the supplier.
With the arrival of the tracheal mite in North America, winter losses of northern areas are continuing at a very high level. Replacement with bees from southern breeders who do not have the winter stress period is continuing the dependence rather than solving the problem.
American Foulbrood (AFB) is on a rebound after a few years of decline. This disease nearly wiped out beekeeping in the United States until a burn policy was enacted and enforced. This disease has been held in check by the use of sulfur drugs and more recently Terramycine. Now there is evidence of Terramycine-resistant AFB in New York State and around the world. Breeding of hygienic bees resistant to AFB was demonstrated over 50 years ago, by a packer who had his bees regularly exposed to the disease and replaced losses with splits from those that survived. Unfortunately, he didn't select for gentleness and they were reported to be quite nasty.
There are now cooperatives working together to breed bees suited to their area, i.e., producing good honey crops from the local flora, having resistance to problem diseases and parasites, having gentle temperaments, and over-wintering without significant losses. Some large cooperatives have a single breeder producing queens from the best of the previous years as evaluated by the beekeepers that got them and used them in their apiaries. Some cooperatives have the bees professionally tested on characteristics such as disease or mite resistance. Some cooperatives are loose groups of hobbyists using an informal evaluation standard. In each case, meticulous records are required.
But what do you need? Do you know the heritage of your queens? Do you know how well each line does on wintering, production, gentleness, or disease resistance? If you don't know where you are with your current line of bees and where you need improvement to get to a better line of bees, then you surely will not know how to get there. Keep good records.
To keep good records, the first need is a permanent record. Buy yourself a bound notebook just for the bees. Record every queen purchase, swarm, supersedure, or replacement. This means you must know when these occur. Mark your queens! Check for the marked queen periodically! Know what you have!
Evaluate your bees. Generate a written evaluation form for your ideal bee. Record the grades for the progeny of each queen or genetic line in your bound notebook. This can include all of those characteristics discussed earlier and more. Know where you are going!
You may want to study evaluation techniques for some characteristics and implement some that are suitable for your operation. Record failures as well as successes. Remember Edison's words, " I now know of hundreds of things that won't work!" You will know better then to tell your breeder what you need from him. You will then be able to plan on how you are going to get there!
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