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Author Topic: Can you make a living in bee keeping  (Read 3509 times)
boomer
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« on: December 03, 2011, 12:04:02 PM »

Hello, 

New to bee keeping and new to this forum.  I live in AL and own 40 acres, 20 acres is woods and 20 acres are open land.  Not looking for a full-time job, but additional income.  If possible, can someone please help answer the following questions.

1.  How many bees can I have based upon the type of acreage I have?  It is all flat land with two creeks.  There are 60 small fruit trees and a lot of wild flowers growing on the property.
2.  I have friend who knows a friend who makes good money moving his bees from AL to other western states to help pollinate their farms.  Is there a market for this?  Is it hard to make contacts for these type of business?
3.  Is there a lot of risk in getting started. 
4.  What do a typical bee farmer make based upon the size of their operation?
5.  Anyone on this forum have a bee operation in Northern AL?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!
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LoriMNnice
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« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2011, 01:03:59 PM »

From what I have been reading here on the forum it seems that most hobby beekeepers break even or lose some $. Commercial beekeepers can make a profit because they have thousands of hives and tend to do things differently then hobby beekeepers.

As far as what beekeepers make that is going to be hard because different areas have differnt demands etc.

I think it would take years and lots of $ to get started in a big operation and then there are regulations the commercial beekeepers have to follow.

There is risk to everything.
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kathyp
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« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2011, 01:21:41 PM »

+ it's like any other kind of farming.  some years are good.  some are bad.  i could probably cover expenses in a good year with 1/2 a dozen hives, by selling honey, but we eat it and give it away  Smiley  1 in 3  years have been good years.  depends on how many hives you want to keep, where you are, and how hard you want to work.
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« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2011, 05:34:28 PM »

I addition, it takes lots of experience to be successful on a large scale. My advice would be to ramp up slowly while getting experience. How is the acreage surrounding your property used?


Good Luck,

Steve
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« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2011, 07:53:50 PM »

I sell what honey the bees make at a roadside stand. In a few years I'll probably break even at dollar investment, but I don't expect to gain a profit for time invested. I grew up and later helped run a small family dairy farm. It's a way of life, not a get rich quick scheme. As Kathy pointed out beekeeping is an agricultural quest and there are many variables, especially weather. One thing I have found is when I discover a "dead out" it's not as disheartening as going to the barn at 4 in the morning and finding a dead cow.
 
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AllenF
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« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2011, 08:18:01 PM »

Can you make a living?   Depends on how much of a living you need, how much are you to put into beekeeping?
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divemaster1963
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« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2011, 08:56:27 PM »

My uncle who was a beekeeper for over 50 years in Va. had 1000 hives on his farm and 4000 more on several farms in the region. He stated that the cost of beekeeping and the profit are based on what your willing to spend money on equipment and what your personal time is worth to you. there are variables like if you handy and can build and make equipment your self that can handle the number of hive you have. he stated that the profit for him was a increase in his crop output and fees from other farms. ( he was never a millionare) but he loved the bees. he was quiet comfortably financially. but as he said." if you love the work you never really are working "

John
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rdy-b
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« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2011, 09:12:39 PM »

  ASK this guy--- cheesy RDY-B

 
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #8 on: December 03, 2011, 09:29:54 PM »

>1.  How many bees can I have based upon the type of acreage I have?  It is all flat land with two creeks.  There are 60 small fruit trees and a lot of wild flowers growing on the property.

It really doesn't matter what you have, the bees don't know where the property line is and will forage the 8,000 acres around you regardless of if you own 1 acre or 4,000.  Local forage makes a difference which is hard to predict, but the general rule is about 20 hives in one place don't usually compete too much with each other.

>2.  I have friend who knows a friend who makes good money moving his bees from AL to other western states to help pollinate their farms.  Is there a market for this?  Is it hard to make contacts for these type of business?

I've never looked for them on purpose, but have had orchard owners come to me.  I'm sure there is a market and I suppose you could use the online yellow pages to look for orchards to call and ask.

>3.  Is there a lot of risk in getting started.

Beekeeping is farming.  There is always a lot of risk.  One year you get a bumper crop and the next you feed a lot and get nothing.  Some winters are devastating and others the bees do better than you expect.

>4.  What do a typical bee farmer make based upon the size of their operation?

Can't say for sure.  But the real commercial guys seem to have between a thousand and three thousand hives... there are a few running only a few hundred more intensively and making it.
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Michael Bush
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lenape13
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« Reply #9 on: December 04, 2011, 02:24:56 AM »

I'll let you know in a couple of years... grin  After much thought, I've decided to make the plunge, and have set in motion my five year plan.  If all goes as planned, I'll be so broke that I'll be on welfare and have no worries......  rolleyes
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JackM
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« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2011, 08:50:10 AM »

Being totally uneducated, but reading much, I would think you would be better to just keep them there, spread them out, and utilize any "profits" as additional farm income, I assume you sell fruit?  Farmers (especially the small type) rarely make all their money on one individual crop.  Diversification. 

This is like asking can I put forty cows in the pasture and make a living off them?  Well a whole living?  Probably not, but addition to the general fund it does participate in.

I would think unless you are a young person, making a living at it is really tough.  Then you also get to the point of having more than one person can handle and you have to hire help and that means you need more hives to pay their wages....get it?
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beee farmer
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« Reply #11 on: December 05, 2011, 12:36:20 AM »

You can make a small fortune beekeeping..... just start with a large fortune.  After a few years and a lot of hard work, Voila!  You got a small fortune!
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BjornBee
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« Reply #12 on: December 05, 2011, 07:39:45 AM »

Can you make a living?

Of course you can. I can not think of one business that would not allow you to make a living. Restauranteur, worm farmer, ditch digger, candy maker, and anything else, I could probably very quickly be able to show you an exampe of a successful business owner in anything you could think.

Now, does that mean all businesses will succeed? By some estimates, 90% of all start-up businesses fail within 3-5 years. And that spans across the spectrum of all businesses, including the bee industry.

So the question really is not "Can you make a living?" It is, "do YOU have what it takes to be successful?" Do you have a financial plan, 3-5 year working plan, the resources, are you in the right market area, and a host of other questions will need to be answered. Are YOU willing to do what is needed to ensure success?

And you really need to seek guidance and expertise of others who are actually doing it. That may involve driving to another state, working a season for another person, and doing what you need to do to ensure the best chances for your own business. If you are going to consider this as a future career, you better be prepared to invest yourself into it. It's kind of similar to opening up a restaurant. It certainly helps if you actually worked in the profession for a period of time. "Making contact" is not as hard as you state. In fact, most are always looking for people to hire. I certainly hope you don't think you will be able to call up and ask "How do I do what you are doing?", and expect to have someone tell you everything they know. It does not work like that. And if you do think that, you already are on the wrong path.

And have some management skills, accounting, marketing, etc. We don't have a Chef Ramsey to come in and clean up things. Successful business owners know more, and invest more, than a person who thinks something (like bees) are cool, and dream of turning it into a business. In a book called "Millionaire Women Next Door" ISBN 0-7407-453208, it details the failure of many small businesses started by women because they based a business on a passion they had, and thought if they had enough passion, they could turn it into a successful business. Many pop-up "stamping" stores have come and gone on this idea. Bees are no different. 

Asking a generic question on a forum I'm sure is helpful. But I'm not sure most responses are going to be from those that actually own, run, and are successful in a bee operation. So I would dig much deeper than this. An ols saying in business is "Copy a successful person. If one other person can do it, so can you." You just need to find that other successful person and learn from someone who actually is doing it.
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T Beek
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« Reply #13 on: December 05, 2011, 08:37:23 AM »

As is usual BjornBee points out some details many miss when inquiring on these issues.  Thanks!

My own introduction to beekeeping (1974) was with a big commercial (over a thousand hives was considered big back then Wink spending an entire season (well, 7 months) traveling around from California to the Dakotas and back.  The experience left me so weary (for the bees and myself) that I didn't even think about getting back into it for another twenty years, and as it stands it took another ten before I finally got some bees, and that's only talking about a few colonies in our garden, much less going commercial.  

As with any endeavor of risk (life?) there are pros and cons.  In my own 'limited' experience w/ commercial beekeeping the cons far outweighed the pros.   I've run businesses before, my own and those belonging to others.  I've also truck-farmed our land for a number of years.  When you're the one making all the decisions you have to be willing to 'live' these kinds of occupations. Its not an 8 hour a day deal, go home and watch TV until bed Wink

Maybe that's what it means to 'make a living', hey?  These days I just have bees for the pure enjoyment. Much better than TV.

Someone else said, I think it was AllenF "Depends on how much of a living you need"  I certainly can agree with that. After all, as beekeepers we could 'live off honey' for quite a while, heh? cool

thomas
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Larry Bees
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« Reply #14 on: December 05, 2011, 08:53:59 AM »

Thanks for posting that video RDY-B ! I got all excited from watching it!  grin

I would love to do that operation but I'm too old and don't have the money and skill to do it.  Cry

Larry
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boomer
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« Reply #15 on: December 05, 2011, 02:44:11 PM »

Thanks everyone for all the good answers.  This site is very educational!  I think I'll start off with a couple hive and go from there.  We do have about 60 fruit trees and wanted some bees to help with pollinating anyways.  Shoot it has been over 30 years before I've been stung, so perhaps I should experience it again before making any real decisions. 
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caticind
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« Reply #16 on: December 05, 2011, 04:44:51 PM »

Definitely go get yourself stung again before making the call.

I have a micro-business.  Looks like I'll break even early next year and turn a small profit thereafter, but the amount is not anything like a "living".  On the other hand, I can do it alongside my day job and generate that tiny profit while doing something I love.  I'd say that a hobby which mostly pays for itself is a good hobby to have.

I would say it is pretty hard to "make a living" in beekeeping such that you can support a family just off bees.  But it's a good way to add another small-scale income stream to what you are already doing, so that you can make a *better* living.
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specialkayme
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« Reply #17 on: December 05, 2011, 09:40:28 PM »

If every business made it, I'd be out of a job. I deal in bankruptcies (business and individual), dissolutions, and business litigation. Seeing the end game gives you a different perspective. I can tell you 1,000 ways to fail. Some of them involve how you start up, some involve how you grow, and most involve how you deal with regular expenses and issues. With most businesses, the bottom line is the balance sheet. What are your expenses in relation to your income. You can't always predict your income, but you should be able to account for most of your expenses.

Agriculture is a different beast though, as it takes an enormous amount of capital to start one up but you don't get much revenue as a result. The thing you hope to hold on to is the livestock, as that's your most valuable item (here it's bees, but it could be chickens or cows). They are expensive to acquire, easy to lose, difficult to transfer, and impossible to use as collateral on a loan. It's like acquiring an invisible asset.

Take a lesson from the agricultural epidemic hitting central North Carolina: the chicken farmers. A big plant moved out of town, and now hundreds of former chicken farmers are out of an income stream. They have the land, the feed, the buildings (some have the chickens), but it makes no money because there is no processing plant. And no one is willing to buy into it because it's so expensive. You have farmers that bought a set up for $5 million, they have no income, and now they have to sell it for $1 million, or even less, because the livestock that you are relying on so much isn't as liquid as most other businesses, and usually when you need to get out, that's when you can't. I guess one could say the same thing happened to beekeepers 5 or so years ago with CCD.

So while I think you can make a living, it requires a ton of capital, which would probably be easier and better to slowly build with. On top of that, there is no guarantee it will pay for itself, let alone pay you, and you could lose it all one day.
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« Reply #18 on: December 05, 2011, 10:15:55 PM »

Thanks everyone for all the good answers.  This site is very educational!  I think I'll start off with a couple hive and go from there.  We do have about 60 fruit trees and wanted some bees to help with pollinating anyways.  Shoot it has been over 30 years before I've been stung, so perhaps I should experience it again before making any real decisions. 

That's a great way to get started.  I started because of my cherry trees - they went from flowers/no fruit to flowers/tons of fruit/breaking branches!  Thanks to the bees I've only got 1/2 a tree left... rolleyes

Depending on your location and your dedication, the bees can pay themselves off pretty quickly and turn a small profit.  Going from 5 to 15 hives is actually a pretty big leap investment wise. (honey handling, mostly)

But start out because it sounds like fun!  I've known several people now that get into it because it sounds interesting and they think that they can make a profit.  Well...when the profit doesn't materialize in the first couple of years, the interest wanes very quickly.
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« Reply #19 on: December 09, 2011, 03:13:36 PM »

I like having the honey around and selling it.  But I have to sell 18 bears to make $90.  If I pull 3 frames out of a hive and let them start a queen, in about 6 weeks time I can sell that nuc for $90.  Next year nucs will be close to $100.  I only have 3 producing hives, but I've been able to make and sell up to 15 nuc's in a year.  As previously stated, diversify.  Honey, nucs, packages, pollen, propolis, pollination....

Mike
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