How it works

While bee breeding can be quite complex, the ORHBS process is simple. It starts with breeders in the program selecting their top colonies based on any number of desirable traits. Any heritable trait of the honey bee can be targeted. ORHBS highlights traits that are specifically important to the wellbeing of colonies, both economic and health-wise. This includes traits such as honey production, overwintering ability, and hygienic behaviour. Breeders base their selection decisions on their personal goals and/or customer needs. Once their initial selections are complete, the OBA TTP is called to test the selected colonies.

Each colony undergoes a two-day hygienic behaviour test and adult bee samples are collected to determine Varroa mite, nosema, and tracheal mite infestation levels. Results are provided to the breeder after the samples are processed in the TTP lab. Breeders use the data to make decisions about which colonies to use for breeding. ORHBS breeders will use the most hygienic colonies from their initial selections to breed from each year, thus increasing the levels of hygienic behaviour in their stock each year. The testing must be completed each and every year to yield consistent progress.

Step 1:

Initial selections

Beekeepers going through hives

Each ORHBS breeder assesses their colonies for desirable traits prior to hygienic testing. Desired traits vary depending on the breeder and their specific goals. The ORHBS program highlights a number of important traits that can be ranked through a 5-point system. Colonies that rank the highest on their list are then selected to move on to the next step.

Step 2:

Hygienic assessment

Liquid nitrogen being poured on 4 sections of brood

In the spring and fall, members of the Technology Transfer Program (TTP) will come out and test chosen breeder queens for hygienic behaviour. This is done via the freeze kill method. Samples of adult bees are also taken to be assessed in the lab for levels of Varroa mites, nosema, and tracheal mites.

Step 3:


Mating units used for bee breeding

Results of the hygienic testing are provided to breeders, and they select their top ranked colonies to breed from. This includes setting up mating yards, ensuring high drone production, and queen rearing.