When we decided to start raising honey bees, one of the things we needed to consider was the safety of the other animals on our property. If we had a large property where we would be able to put our hives away from our other animals it would be easy, but we don’t have a large property. So, we had to figure out a way to keep our pets, chickens, and bees safe while they all shared the same area.
Raising Honey Bees with Dogs and Cats
For most of us, our pets are part of the family and we consider their safety just as we would our own. The good news about keeping bees is that with rare exception, it is perfectly safe to keep bees in an area where dogs and cats roam.
The one exception would be if you know your dog or cat is allergic to bee stings. Just like people, some dogs and cats can have a severe allergic reaction to bee stings, and that reaction can be fatal. If your pet has already been stung by a bee and had a severe reaction then it would be unwise to put a hive with thousands of bees in the pet’s area. Fortunately, fatal bee allergies are extremely rare in dogs and cats.
Most likely, if your dog or cat wanders near the hives and happens to get stung, he’ll run off, lick his wounds, and learn to stay away from the hives. Our dog used to like to snap at and try to catch bees as they were buzzing around him. It took a couple of stings before he stopped. Now, even with coaxing, he won’t go into the bee yard and won’t snap at bees.
If you have a dog, he needs to be able to run if the bees get agitated and decide to take it out on him. Bees don’t just randomly get agitated, something makes them mad. Maybe someone is mowing and blowing grass into their front door, or maybe a raccoon is trying to break in, or a strong wind topples the hives. If something happens to agitate your bees, you don’t want your dog to be the victim.
If you keep your dog chained or in an outdoor kennel, you’ll need to rethink that decision if you want to keep bees nearby. If the bees swarm him, there’s no way he’ll be able to get away if he’s confined on a chain or in a kennel.
Raising Honey Bees with Chickens
We’ve been keeping bees and chickens together for seven years and they seem to get along just fine. Originally, we had a wire fence dividing the bee yard from the chicken yard but we eventually took it down. I was worried that the chickens would snap at the bees as they were going in and out of their hives. But chickens seem to be smarter than that.
Our hens really like to scratch around the hives and eat the “trash” the worker bees remove from their hives. This helps keep pests, such as roaches, out of the hive. It’s also handy to have chickens hanging around when you have to clean wax moth worms out of an infested hive.
Bees can only sting chickens in the eyes and on the wattle, which of course, would be extremely painful. However, bees seem to tolerate chickens even when the chickens are scratching all around the hive.
The confinement issue is relevant to chickens, just like it is to dogs. If you keep your chickens in a coop instead of letting them free range, you need to have some distance between the coop and the hives. And you’ll want to make sure the hives are facing away from the coop.
Chickens do love the wax comb so don’t leave frames unattended when you’re removing frames from the hives, you’ll come back to hen-pecked honeycomb if there’s any honeycomb left at all! Beeswax is digestible so I don’t worry if the chickens eat a bit of wax, but I wouldn’t want them feasting on it.
Raising Honey Bees with Other Livestock
If you keep larger livestock, raising honey bees shouldn’t be a problem for them either. The cautions that apply to pets and chickens also apply to other livestock. The biggest concern is to make sure the animal can get away if a hive gets agitated and decides to attack.
I’ve read of cows rubbing up against hives with no ill effects, but a cow can easily knock a hive over without meaning to cause a problem. It’s probably best to keep the hives away from large livestock or put a fence around the beehives.
If you live on a small property and want to raise honey bees along with other livestock, you might consider putting the hives on the roof like some urban keepers do. This will ensure that livestock can’t get to the hives and give the bees the room they need for coming and going.
Protecting the Honey Bees
Probably the biggest danger for bees that are raised with pets and livestock is the water sources. Every animal needs water and the larger the animal the larger the water source. However, bees can easily drown in these water sources, so it’s important to keep safe water sources for the bees. You can easily make safe water sources by adding rocks to bird baths and twigs to water bowls.
About Africanized Bees
If you live in an area that has Africanized bees, you’ll want to be extra diligent in hive management. Having Africanized genetics in your bees doesn’t mean they will go bonkers and kill your pets and livestock. However, it does mean that they can be easily agitated and will strongly defend their hive. Give them extra space and keep animals away from their hives.
There are many factors to consider when deciding how to start a honey bee farm. Answering questions such as what bees should I raise, is there enough room to keep my other animals safe, and where should I put the hives, will help you make the best choices for your bees and for your other animals.
To keep your animals safe, make sure they can get away in case your bees get aggressive. To keep the bees safe, make sure their hives are safe from being toppled by large animals and that they have water sources they won’t drown in.