The Birds and the Bees

March 3, 2012

One of the biggest questions that I had prior starting out on my honey bee keeping journey had to do with how the chickens and the bees will coexist in my yard.  I was nervous because I knew nothing about keeping bees. Yet I knew a lot about keeping chickens.  I wondered to myself?  Will the bees sting the chickens?  Will the chickens bother the beehives?  What will happen if the bees swarm?  Can my chickens still free range in the yard with beehives present? Do chickens and bees get along?

I have read beekeeping books cover to cover multiple times and I’ve been busy browsing the internet for videos and resources. This Winter, I have had the pleasure of taking a beekeeping class though our local Beekeeping Association.   The learning curve has been huge.  I feel as though I have learned so much yet have only touched the tip of the iceberg.  I look forward to attending each new class.  When I’m there, my mind is not focusing on kids’ homework, laundry and dinner plans, but on the intricacies of colony life and the hive.

Apparently, bees and chickens can get along famously.

Chickens happily free range even with bee hives present.  Sometimes, they hang out in front of the hive. They snack on bees that are fully loaded with pollen and coming in for a landing. If this is the case, chickens can be deterred with temporary fencing.

People who live in areas with bears keep their hives inside of the chicken’s run for safety. Chickens will hop on top and roost on the hives, happily coexisting.  Flock keepers, as a precaution, will lock the chickens into the coop when the hives need to be opened or manipulated.

Chickens will pick clean the areas under the hives, cleaning up hive debris and dead bees.  In addition, they will also eat live bugs and beetles that prey on the hives.

Chickens will pick honey comb clean of unwanted and unnecessary debris.

Some people place their hives on the roofs of their chicken coops.

Sometimes chickens will get stung, but not often.

Swarming bees will not bother chickens.  Apparently, swarming honey bees are rather docile.

My two hives are completely built.  They sit in the garage waiting for the warmth of Spring to receive a fresh coat of paint and to be located outside in a sweet sunny spot.  In the beginning of May, I will pick up my bees from a beekeeper in New York State.  Consequently our adventures are certainly about to become much more interesting for us and for our chickens.

Click here to read more on my beekeeping adventure.

 

 chickens and bees
A clever homeowner constructs a coop with hives on top.

Disclaimer:  In certain parts of the United States, Africanized bees exist.  We do not have these bees anywhere near Cape Cod.  Keeping honey bees in an area where Africanized bees exist, will require additional safe guards that I have not researched and are necessary for keeping your honey bees and chicken healthy in your area.  I would strongly advise you to investigate if you live in an area with Africanized bees.

Photo Credits: noah.w, jordan

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Melissa

Sharing adventures with backyard chickens, beekeeping, gardening, crafting, cooking and more.

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25 thoughts on “The Birds and the Bees”

  1. We actually just experienced the worst case scenario of bees vs chickens. After two years of peaceful coexistence, we opened the hives for the first post-winter inspection last weekend to discover that one hive had requeened and become extremely aggressive (note: we're in Texas, so Africanization is a possibility). We normally let the hens out for supervised free range time during inspections, so the hens were already outside the coop when the bees began zealously defending the hive. The beekeepers closed the hive and retreated inside. We expected the hens to be fine (never before had we had any problems whatsoever, and they were about 120 ft away from the hive), but we were horrified to look outside and see that the bees were pinging and chasing the hens, who finally ended up hiding under a shrub for two hours until the bees calmed down. While I couldn't find any stingers, the hens were very distraught and lethargic the next day from the stress and/or stings, and our barred rock dropped dead a day later. It's been a week and the other three have yet to resume laying. Anyway, I think that 99% of the time, bees & chickens go together wonderfully, but it's definitely worth being aware that if the bees get aggressive, they can cause some problems for the hens. We're planning on moving the chickens out of the area for the next few hive inspections and requeening with a known-docile queen ASAP.

    Reply
    • Oh Brenna, how terrible for you and your flock. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I really appreciate your input, as I am learn so much from everyone. When I was reading about bees, I recall someone saying that in Mexico, when they are unsure if bees are Africanized they do a "chicken test". It's just terrible. The bees end up attacking and stinging the poor chicken to death.
      I think you might be right about having a some Africanization in the hive. Can you send a bee off to your state for testing? I remember living in Southern California and hearing the Emergency Broadcast System come on, telling us to get inside as an Africanized swarm was in the area. So I know that they can be aggressive and vicious.
      I hope that your henny girls make a full recovery soon and I am so sorry to hear that you lost one. Please keep us posted with what you learn and how your flock recovers. You will all be in my thoughts.

      Reply
    • Thanks for the sympathy – for better or worse, we're dealing with the grief by picking out the next breed to add to our flock. (I suppose this is our poultry retail version of the circle of life…)

      The main agricultural university (Texas A&M) in Texas recently discontinued testing for Africanized honey bees. I assume that it's because, in Star Trek terms, Texas is now fully assimilated, but that's just a guess.

      I think the main issue for us was just that we'd been assuming that we could let the bees naturally requeen and things wouldn't change; we didn't realize that our reluctance to smoosh our existing queens regularly would lead to us getting an intolerably aggressive hive. On a larger property, it wouldn't be a big deal, but for a suburban lot with other critters nearby, it seems better to be safe than sorry. And truly, I suspect this is specifically a Texas problem, but since it was so fresh on my mind, I felt compelled to comment.

      And on a much happier note, I'm looking forward to reading about your birds + bees adventures! Our friends maintain the hives in our yard, so I'm just a beekeeping observer/photographer, but it's still been absolutely amazing to watch and learn about this hobby. Even with last week's incident, I couldn't imagine not having honey bees in the yard (just maybe not these particular honey bees! :-).

      Reply
    • Thank you everyone for sharing all of your experiences. Your site is the one of the first that came up when I googled (do bees sting chickens). So far we've been in luck with stings. Our two hives are about 100 feet from the chicken coop/paddock. However, because we give fruit scraps (melon, pears, etc. to the chickens, the fruit is covered with bees within minutes. We've been doing this for many years, but this summer it struck me, "are the chickens getting stung by the bees"? I probably didn't worry about it as I've never seen then being chased by them. After reading some of everyone's experiences, I will start watching more closely now. Thanks everyone, for any feedback. We definitely don't want to keep putting our hens in harms way.. Tara

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    • I just might be done for now 🙂 My hubby would like to have goats someday in the future. I guess time will tell. Thanks for stopping in and I hope you have a wonderful weekend too!

      Reply
  2. When I got my chickens and goats, I wanted my husband to get bees. He has no appreciation for me picking his hobbies. But my brother and sister have bees and share some honey with me. It is wonderful. Glad to know they co-exist well.

    Reply
    • Well if you keep and share about the goats, I'll do the bees:) We can share stories! I would love to learn more about the goats. My hubby just thinks the Nigerian Dwarf goats are the cutest things.

      Reply
    • I'm not sure if we will have honey this first year, but hopefully the second. I have learned that bees fly a 2 mile radius from their hive to collect pollen and we do have a few bogs in that area, I wonder what my honey will look like? Now I am so excited!

      Reply
    • This will be my 5th year with bees in Central WI. Cranberry bog country. I would like to get Orpington chickens this coming year and I was wondering how they will interact with bees. It looks like they could stand at the entrance to the hive and eat them all.
      To: From Beyond my kitchen window. There is no such thing as cranberry honey because cranberries have absolutely zero nectar, and very little pollen. These bees must have found something else to go on, even if they were placed on the bog. (They can fly 4 miles and still make a go of it. During the 3 weeks that a hive stays on the marshes, they can *lose* 20 Lbs of honey easy.
      If I get chicken that I want to roam free, I might instead place 3 panels in front of the hive to force the bees to climb up out of reach. That is also the better procedure if you have close human neighbors who do not appreciate honey bees. A medium super of honey can weigh as much as 60 Lbs. I would not want to bring one down a ladder.

      Reply
  3. How exciting! I had no idea that chickens and bees could co-exist.. Good luck on your new adventures with the two! I'll be reading along to see how it goes so lots of honey bee updates please 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Charlotte, I plan to do some postings on bees now and then so I will try and share, just like I did when I started out with chickens, things that I am learning too. Thank you for the encouragement, as with anything new, I am nervous and excited at the same time 🙂

      Reply
  4. You bee-keepers are really a courageous group of people! I love honey and I do buy locally as I've been told it's best to eat honey that is from local colonies. I wish you all the best and I'll be anticipating reading about your new 'adventures' with bees.
    BTW, I'm with Mr.Tilly'sNest – I'd love to see some cute little goats running around there too 🙂

    Reply
  5. This is great to hear. We're getting our first chickens next week and I'm already looking into bees.

    Perhaps elevating the hive 2-3 feet off the ground with cinder blocks would prevent the chickens from picking off live bees…yet still allow them to eat dead bees that fall to the ground.

    Reply
    • How exciting Chris! Elevating the hives with cinder blocks is exactly what our local beekeeping club recommends too. I think it is a great idea. I will definitely share some photos with everyone once I get things painted and set up outside! Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  6. I've been facinated with beekeeping for about 8-9 years, but have since then added 3 little (human) babies to our home. Needless to say, beekeeping was put on the backburner (or bucket list). Well, last Friday a swarm landed in my backyard on one of my bushes! (I'm in Tennessee so it is swarm season here) It was a sign from above that it was time to begin beekeeping!!! So, in a rush on Saturday I located a local hive maker/seller and set up my bottom hive (10 frame). My hubs dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and a turkey hunting mesh face cover and clipped the branch and shook off the bees into the hive. ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING! They are happy and getting settled now. They have a lot of work to do to build their combs. The hive is very near my chicken run (and we have possible africanization…so I will be watching them closely). As these are my 1st chickens and they are only a couple months old, I have a LOT to learn about chickens & bees! I am so Thrilled! Can't wait to read and learn from your experiences!

    Reply
  7. Hi Tilly,

    Lovely blog. I do not want to be negative, and just want to offer some advice. I also may not know what I'm talking about, but putting bee hives up above the coop as pictured would not be very practical. Better to have them lower to the ground, as they get very heavy when full, and it could prove challenging when harvest time comes, what with transporting your supers/frames to your extractor, etc… We began beekeeping last April, and have had two successful harvests. It is fun, and strenuous work.

    Reply
    • Hi there. Thank you for your comment and your advice. I know, it seems crazy to place beehives up in high places that are difficult to reach and make for a less than optimal situation to harvest heavy honey. Yet, many folks chose to do so. Sometimes, when you want to keep bees but are limited on space you resort to high up places such as rooftops and in this case scaffolding. As you know, bees develop distinct flight paths when returning to their hives loaded down with honey and pollen. It is not good to have folks in these flight paths. It is upsetting to both the bees and people. Therefore, folks place them up high where all can co-exist happily. Sometimes, folks also "hide" them on the rooftops when it is against the law to keep bees in their location. I hope this explains why some folks chose this route. You can read more about my hives and where I have them located here.~Melissa
      https://www.tillysnest.com/p/beekeeping.html

      Reply

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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.