Ever been robbed? I have. It’s a pretty sick feeling when you realize that someone has broken in and taken your stuff. Imagine how a Montana beekeeper felt when he entered his apiary to work his bees but almost 500 colonies were gone. Man, that’s gotta hurt.
But finally some good news from the world of bee rustling. Someone was caught. A full semi-load of bees (488 colonies) were lifted from Montana beekeeper Lloyd Cunniff’s operation while his bees visited California for almond pollination. Ag agents found the bees (estimated value $170,000) in a Fresno County cow pasture and drainage ditch. His were among ten other big bee thefts reported in seven California counties this spring.
Pulling off a bee theft isn’t easy. At this scale, the thief has to be a commercial beekeeper with appropriate off-road forklifts, a flat-bed semi, and some bee knowledge. You can see what loading bees looks like – that’s me on the trailer in this picture. My bees and I were preparing to leave Florida, heading for northern clovers.
Big bee thefts take two or more people, and someone is always more willing to talk than go to prison. And the stolen property is usually easy to recognize. Although most beekeepers use similar Langstroth hives, most modify their equipment, many have unusual home-made pallets, operate 8-frame, or 10-frame, or double-deeps or triple-Illinois depths. Hives could be painted white, silver, camo, or rainbow. They are unique. Once stolen, beehives are hard to hide, even in drainage canals. Someone’s going to notice. Finally, commercial guys brand their wooden equipment with a hot wood-burning tool that engraves their name, initials, or other marks. Frames, hive bodies, maybe even lids and pallets get branded.
My oldest brother was once stopped by state troopers while he was hauling is own bees on his own rig. The cop wanted his ‘Bill of Lading’ to identify whose bees were being trucked down the highway.
“Don’t have one. There’s no sale, so no bill of lading. These are my own bees and hives.”
“Can you prove that?”
“Well, they are all branded.”
My brother meant that all the bee equipment was branded. The trooper thought he meant that all the bees were branded and the cop wasn’t going to start checking each one, so he let him go. Besides, maybe my brother looked honest.
Meanwhile, back in Choteau, Montana, a couple hundred miles south of my home in Calgary, Mr Cunniff reaquired most of his stolen hives last weekend. He put them in separate apiaries, away from his other hives, in case they came back to him with diseases or mites. But already he has lost a lot – he likely would have managed them better than the thief had. The Montana honey season is coming soon with alfalfa and sweet clover already opening. These bees, though finally back in their owner’s hands, won’t produce as well as his other colonies will.