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Honey Bees and Chicken Feed

By: James Elam

You’ve probably heard the idiom “just chicken feed” referring to a small amount of something.

You also might have heard the saying “just peanuts” with literally the same meaning.

Do honey bees feed on or collect either of these?

Maybe surprisingly, the answer is yes for chicken feed and mostly no for peanuts! Ironically, we refer to a honey bee queen cell as a peanut… go figure! Interestingly, peanut flowers are one of the least attractive sources of nectar and pollen to honey bees.

As for chicken feed, honey bees do appear to feed on the dust created as a by-product of chicken feed and other grains. These grains are collected as a pollen replacement as they are high in protein. This feeding activity typically occurs during periods of dearth when rich bee flora is unavailable. Obviously honey bees are not very picky when they're hungry.

What other improvised food sources might honey bees visit?

We do know this, hungry honey bees that are starving for protein will dig into most anything that looks like protein, including chicken feed, dog food, bid seed and even sawdust.                      

You may ask, is chicken feed an acceptable protein source for honey bees? The same can be asked about sawdust. Here we should look at the science when answering questions about protein sources for honey bees. Science says it’s best to look at the amino-acid content of the food source rather than solely the protein content. Proteins are made up of strings of amino acids. When in need of a specific protein, honey bees can take the amino acids they ate and string them together to build the needed 

proteins. One thing for sure, chicken feed is made for chickens, dog food is made for dogs and sawdust is made for… who knows? As written in many articles, contaminants are found in animal feed as well as other products. Additives such as antibiotics, preservatives, intended and unintended bacteria are commonly present in many grains and prepared foods.

Should we worry about our honey bees consuming these foods? How about chicken feed specifically? Chicken feed does not contain antibiotics. The question remains, can we feed honey bees chicken feed? Short answer – No. But, as we see in this graph, chickens and bees are similar in their amino acid requirements… only 2 additional amino acids than bees. For 2 completely different animals, they are remarkably analogous!   

Consider this: Many chicken feeds also contain fish meal, meat meal and some even contain blood meal. While not a suggested feed for our bees, emergency “dust” consumption during dearth will provide an emergency pollen source and only the chickens need be concerned.

Rest assured once the natural pollen flow resumes and/or the beekeeper intercedes providing appropriate pollen substitutes, honey bees will quickly leave the chicken feed alone.

Conclusion:

DO we see a LOT of commonalities in honey bee and chicken nutritional requirements? Surprisingly we do!

Does this mean chicken feed is a preferred feed for bees? NO!

An acceptable emergency snack? YES

 

 

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