2.2.3. Drone colonies

The main reason for keeping drone colonies is to provide an adequate number of mature drones of selected origin, in the right period, for mating. A single group of sister queens can be used to control the paternal pedigree, or several groups of sister queens each of them derived from a selected breeder colony, can be used for drone production within one mating station, depending on the breeding programme.

  • The buildup of drone colonies needs to be started in advance of the mating period.
  • Drone colonies are managed in standard hives and receive sufficient space to support an optimal population development.
  • The drone colonies are established from superior and healthy colonies and special care is taken to provide a continuously rich honey and pollen supply. Regular checks of the health status and the overall development are recommended to achieve a high quality control level.
  • Special attention has to be paid to disease treatment. Varroa and other pathogens strongly influence the fitness of drones. Chemical control measures can thus effectively increase the number off fertile drones but at the same time have negative effects on the fertility of drones (De Guzman et al., 1999). On the other hand, reduced treatment can provide a selection pressure that favours colonies with increased varroa resistance. Careful varroa management in drone colonies can thus be an important selection tool within breeding programmes for disease resistance (see Büchler et al. (2010) for further details on “tolerance mating stations”).
  • Up to 2 drone combs are placed within the brood nest of each box to enable a rich production of drones. As the development of drones from egg to maturity takes 40 days and the life expectancy of mature drones last for several weeks, drone production should be started no later than 2 months in advance of the mating period.
  • Drone brood combs from selected drone mothers may be removed after capping and placed in nurse colonies, in order to enable production of higher number of drones from the selected queen.
  • If the drone colonies are moved to the mating station, queen excluders between the bottom board and the brood box must be used to keep out any other drones. However, those excluders need to be regularly inspected and dead drones removed, which otherwise could block the entrance and ventilation. The queen excluders with all adhering drones should be removed just before moving the drone colonies to the mating station.