Several individuals have expressed some interest in knowing more about how honey bees are prepared for shipping. Most new beekeepers, like myself, chose to start out with package bees. These are the easiest bees to manage for beginners. Each package contains 3 lbs. of bees, which equals 10,000 to 12,000 honey bees.
Honey Bee breeders rear bees based on several qualities, among those are honey production, temperament and resistance to certain diseases. In the spring, generally during March and April bees from these farms are prepared for shipping all across the United States as well as to Canada. It takes numerous individuals to take on this time consuming job, as thousands of packages of bees will be shipped. During peak foraging hours hired hands approach the hives and place a queen excluder on top of the brood box, and they smoke the remaining workers up into the supers (additional boxes), the older bees are out foraging for nectar and pollen. This queen excluder will hold the drones and queen into the bottom box, making it easier to remove the young bees that are left behind in the supers. A hired-hand will carry the super over to a shaking funnel and will shake 3 lbs of bees into a funnel, that will funnel the bees into packing crates. Each crate has already been supplied with a queen. Each package is then supplied with a can of sugar water or a candy board to feed them on their journey. Then the shipping boxes are sealed shut by stapling the edges of the crate.
This video shows how a queen is selected and packaged in her little container.
The worker bees that have been poured into the shipping container, are placed with an unknown queen. The queen is protected from being harmed due to the strange new bees by the separate container she is in. By the time the bees arrive to their designation, the queen now smells like the workers and they recognize her as their queen. Some suppliers plug the end of the queen cage with candy. When you receive your bees, you expose the candy plug to the workers then hang it in the hive. The workers will eat the candy and release the queen. Other suppliers simply require that you remove the queen after 3 or 4 days within the hive, which is what I had to do.
This video shows how the packages are readied for shipping.
The honey bees are stressed from being separated from their queen. Additional stresses come in the form of being poured into containers, and many hives contain up to 50,000 bees, so this means many are separated from their hive mates, since a package contains only 10,000 to 12,000 bees. Then further stresses of being shipped across country in shipping trucks, with a strange queen to new climates. It is a miracle any of them survive and remain in their new homes after going through such indignities.