Starting Out: The Novice Hamstery

When I joined the hamster club over 4 years ago I was introduced by a friend and shown round. This friend, the lovely Vectis Hamstery, had been in the club a few years before me and already knew quite a few people. This was a real help to me as I got to tap into a wealth of experience to help me choose the direction I was going to go in.

GETTING TO KNOW HAMSTERS

When you first start, if you’ve never been to a show or your friends are still very new, it helps to talk to the experienced club members. I’ve not met anyone who wasn’t happy to help in some way. But who to talk to first?

The show manager is probably the most stressful job in my opinion. Show managers are ideal to talk to about the specifics of the show itself such as if dogs are allowed in the hall, directions to the hall, information on the show schedule and if you can volunteer for a job. On the day however, unless arranged before hand, probably not the best person to bother!

The show secretary is usually busiest at the start, the middle and the end of the show day. 11am to 12pm is probably a good time depending on what’s happening but you won’t get a good long chat. Perhaps jot down a few pertinent questions so you don’t come away from a  show feeling like your questions haven’t been answered.

The sales manager is a good one to talk to if you want a colour ID, to choose a show hamster or to be pointed in the right direction towards someone you are looking to meet but don’t yet know what they look like. Again, the sales manager is most busy at the start and end of a show. After 11am is best but you might miss out on a hamster if you wait so email in advance and let them know you are looking and would like some help.

Judges are best to talk to if you’ve entered and you have any questions about your result. But best wait for judging to finish as the judge is not supposed to know which is your hamster and they’ve got to concentrate through the day. The only person who knows exactly why your hamster is in the place it’s in is the judge. Don’t guess, ask 🙂

Stewards are not best to talk to as they have pen or book stewarding to focus on and being asked questions can easily cause something to go wrong.

They are plenty of people to talk to who don’t have a job that day. If you want the best introduction to want you should choose and how to breed it’s really best to speak to members who are out of intermediate. Those who have been around for a few years have plenty of insight to give.

BENCHING

You’ll possibly need help benching for the first time. Benching is the process of placing your hamster in it’s show pen and onto the show bench. You can contact the show manager before hand so see if someone can help you. Essentially you get your hire pen from the show secretary in the morning, along with your pen labels (make sure you have asked for a hire pen when you entered). Short haired hamsters are penned on wood shavings and long haired hamsters (no matter the length of the coat, if they are classed as long haired then that is what matters) are penned on wooden cat litter or back to nature pellets. Each hamster should have a piece of veg (cucumber is most popular) and a dog biscuit obtained from the show secretary’s table. Your pen label goes on the top left usually or on either side if you have entered a pair of dwarfs. Simply place your pen on the show bench and the pen steward will order them. If you are late though, you’ll want to try and put your pen in the right place. Pens are ordered numerically with class one starting 101 down to class 23 at 2301 for Syrians and D101 to D2101 for dwarfs.
Make sure there is no other food and no tubes in the pen once you are ready to bench.

WHAT TO DO AND WHAT NOT TO DO

Here’s a little list of do’s and don’t’s that I’ve thought of. This list is just a guide.

  • DO ask, ask, ask. There is no such thing as a silly question. Members want to see other members do well as the efforts you put in will pay back into the club later in the hamsters you breed. We all have a vested interest in maintaining a quality of breeding across the board.
  • DON’T just pick up a ‘pretty’ hamster and breed it without first checking if this is a good idea. You are new and (all of us have been there) what looks cute to you is not necessarily the same as ‘show quality’.
  • DO own and show hamsters for at least a year before you start breeding. Novices often suffer from an initial rush of winning with hamsters from top hamsteries and then this can peter out as you start to pick, breed and show your own hamsters. People leave after intermediate when the novelty wears off or the rosettes dry up. Winning isn’t everything so take it slow. Enjoy it. No one is racing!
  • DO help out! Best questions are asked whilst helping the person you are asking. We always need volunteers to help set up, pack away, steward or assist on sales and in the kitchen. DO speak to the show manager about helping well in advance of the show as stewards particularly are organised in advance.
  • DON’T get into the mindset that the people volunteering for jobs are ‘staff’. They are exhibitors like you and don’t get paid to spend the whole day working so DO please be considerate of this.
  • DO ask again if the person you tried to speak to didn’t have time. Wait for a quiet moment. Often people are very busy depending on the show. We can have 300 hamsters entered in one show to deal with as well as members of the public.
  • DON’T just ask the show winner for advice. Quality show hamsters can be in the top 10 pens on the table. Not all of them can win a show. Limiting your questions to just the show winners will mean you potentially miss out as not every breeder breeds every colour. Someone who didn’t even enter that day may have won every show the previous year so don’t discount their experience just because they didn’t get a rosette that day. Some breeders take breaks too so may not even have hamsters at all at the moment but still have a wealth of knowledge.
  • DO spend time finding the colour you like to breed. Each colour has it’s own challenges. No one colour is best to win with when you are starting out. Shows have been won by creams, cinnamons, yellows, smoke pearl, black and silver grey in my time in the club. Creams tend to be a go to colour for novices because, genetically, they are easy and can be bred in conjunction with other colours like sable and mink giving a wide variety of colours with little issue. But you can still breed a bad cream so DO still seek advice. When you get into a breeding rut it’s your love of the colour that will see you through.
  • DON’T open the show pens once judges start. The only person that should be handling the pens at this point is the pen steward. If you need to leave early then let the show secretary know who will retrieve your hamsters for you.
  • DO enjoy yourself! Shows should be fun.

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