When Is A Zebra, Not A Zebra? Dominant Whiteface Update

When is a zebra not a zebra? When it’s a horse. As ever I keep a very open mind about new varieties, and old but long gone varieties. I was 100% confident that my little pup was a whiteface. She is not. What appeared to be a tiny shadow on a photograph grew into a tear shaped…little…brown….spot. *sigh*

It’s there. I’d rather it wasn’t but it is.

The bottom eye is not in shadow, it’s shaded with a tiny brown spot. Now visible at 5 weeks old.

There’s still the question of dominant pied to answer in this litter but I won’t be using her for that. I suspect if I was to breed her I’d be selecting for white face pied. It does raise a very interesting question about whether previously thought to be dominant whiteface were actually pied. Who knows. Her brother sports a badger style mask with a neat white line across the eyebrow line so he looks agouti at first glance……but he’s not.

I haven’t seen overmarked faults like this in my breeding before but as I do breed eight distinct and separate colour lines I suppose it was just a matter of time. The pup that shows proper pied markings will be test bred to see if she is dominant or not.

Whatever the outcome it does show that pied (recessive or otherwise) is the worst gene to mix into your lines if you are looking for a non patterned animal. Do these faults mean it is possible to have blue pied with nothing but a blue belly? Possibly. Headspot may just be a product of selecting for a single spot. Certainly, breeding for one or two eye patches in normal pied is very easy to do once you have it. I suspect that patterns are not as random, genetically, as you might think and this type of selection (deliberate or accidental) can cause no end of confusion.

The one thing this pairing has given me is two whites across two litters so far. This is, at least, very good news for the black eyed white.

I’ll be sure to keep this blog updated with anything I find. You can read the original blog post related to this here

How To Source A Good Breeder

One thing that has changed dramatically in the last year is the way in which people are choosing to purchase their pets. Each time pet shops close, we see a huge spike in enquiries from both the ‘want it now’ customers and the more thoughtful type.

The desire to treat shopping for a pet in the same way as shopping for cheesecake has become ingrained in us through the culture of ‘I want’. It’s very hard to change the concept that if you breed you must therefore be into 1. 100% customer satisfaction and 2. be open 24/7.

Customer satisfaction in breeding only goes so far because the animal’s welfare always wins. The way in which pet shops have been selling has flown in the face of that in so far as you can pretty much just tell them what they need to know and you have a pet, there and then, no matter what.

Since lockdown one, backyard breeders have cottoned on to the idea that they can supply hamsters to people who don’t want to wait for them. To be fair, the responsible breeder market for any pet is not capable of supplying the amount of pets that our disposable animal culture thinks it needs. Last year saw many breeders with insanely long waiting lists except for those of us who bred for expected shows and got stuck with a lot of pups (like me!)

What is a backyard breeder? Joe Bloggs buys two animals of any kind of origin and breeds for the sole purchase of making pets to sell with no thought to health, wellbeing, future home suitability or the inherent dangers of breeding to the animals in question. An example of this would be breeding russian dwarf hybrids, or leaving chinese together which often results in the death of the male, or even breeding two patterned syrians together with thought for the fatal ‘whitebelly’ gene (results in significant pup death and/or deformity). In short, breeding without enough knowledge, foresight, care or responsibility.

But…..they are popular. Their pets are sometimes (not always, ironically) cheaper, readily or rather immediately available and with little or no need to know their customers. Customers represent the animal’s future home. The pets sold wrongly from this type of breeder end up in rescue as often as pet shop animals. So in reality, there’s little to differentiate the two except for a lack of premises.

I was told recently by a potential home that buying from such a place was ‘way easier’ than buying from me. I welcome this and do not view it as criticism. I felt sad that this person, who had an extremely small cage, was going to end up with a pet anyway. They were asked to wait, in the end, three days until I was available to do a collection. I rarely do same day collections because it discourages impulse buyers. The lady made it to day two. Two whole days to wait for a pet between deciding to get one and buying a cage. This is the problem with the pet trade in my opinion. A lot more education is needed but it’s an attitude change as well.

Don’t get me wrong, if people don’t want to wait three months than that’s ok. But three days shouldn’t be so much of a hassle, surely. This type of buyer usually hasn’t done their research, hasn’t thought about caring for the hamster past the first 6 months and usually doesn’t keep their pets for their lifetime. Of course this is from my experience but that’s from my rescue days, which informed the way I wanted to sell my excess pups as a breeder.

How to know then? Why should you wait?

Let’s lay it out. Animals are not commodities. You should wait for the right pet that suits your set up and has the right temperament to suit your experience or needs. You should expect, in return for waiting, for a friendly, healthy hamster that lives a long life and gives you the interaction you are looking for. It’s as simple as that.

Pedigree breeders are almost always members of a club or fancy. They should ideally have a prefix but sometimes have to be a member for a little while to gain one. Having a prefix proves to you that they are genuinely a member of their organisation. Bear in mind that organisations such as the The National Hamster Council don’t vet breeders (neither do the Kennel Club unless it’s their accredited breeder scheme) so holding a prefix is only one marker. They breed with a code of conduct in mind, primarily for show and sell excess pups to other breeders or pet homes. In short, they don’t breed what they don’t need.

The price you pay should reflect what you get. I’ve seen some greasy, small and pointy roborovski for sale for £10 with no paperwork. Or you can pay £15 or £20 for hand friendly, healthy roborovski with a full set of papers. Seems a simple choice to me.

Pedigrees, what are they? With the rise in hybrid dog breeds we have seen a lowering in the value customers lend to pedigrees. But having a family tree is extremely important. It allows you to know where you animal came from but also shows a level of basic care that the breeder has put in to tell you this information. If a breeder cannot put an even basic family history together for you then how do you know they didn’t just buy your pup from someone else and sell it on? Or that they know what they are doing at all?

Handling. Handling isn’t just picking the animal up and putting it down. It’s showing you how you can then handle them. It’s knowing when to start handling them as babies and if they understand the temperament differences between pups. This can vary in small pets in one litter, from totally bombproof to a bit more scatty. Can the breeder tell you this?

Seeing your pup before you buy. I can’t wait to get back to seeing hamsters in person as it takes so much more time to shoot a video and email it. Personally, nothing compares to getting an owner’s hands into a litter and them choosing for themselves. Never buy an animal that you haven’t already seen, whether it’s on video or in person. Covid rules just means viewing is electronic right now, it shouldn’t be none existent and photographs are not enough to judge tameness.

Health. In Russian Campbells and Russian Winter Whites diabetes is prevalent. Hybrids of the two, usually just named ‘Russians’ are even more prone to this disease. Does your breeder do diabetes checking. Ask them! Chinese hamsters are also prone although this more commonly happens in older age so it’s much harder to screen for. Ask your breeder, instead, if they have screened at least one of the parents (usually the dad) who may have been grown on for this purpose. Females have to breed before 6 months ideally to limit their danger to the male and this will mean all your breeder can say is that she wasn’t diabetic at the time of breeding. Still, this is better than ‘I don’t know’. Incidently, rescues should also be screening their animals before rehoming. Roborovski and Syrians do not commonly suffer with diabetes and are therefore not routinely screened as it’s very rare in those species.

Generally your breeder should have a good idea of how healthy their line is and stop breeding if a trend emerges. It’s hard to guarantee health so this is normally how it’s done. Again, this is why knowing the parentage and ancestry is important.

Questions. Did they ask any? Can they give you advice on cages and bedding? Do they keep financial records and give you some kind of receipt/agreement or contract? This should both satisfy HMRC and tie you in to agreeing to the animal’s welfare rights. £1000 in pet sales is declarable to HMRC and so breeders like myself will ask for you address details too. This helps us track where the animal has gone, in case of an issue or dispute later and shows we are making legitimate sales to real people. It’s best practice, yes, but as even Pets at Home ask for your address you should wonder why your breeder doesn’t care.

All in all, use common sense. Put your proposed pet first. Be prepared to wait. And wait for and support responsible breeders where possible in order to stop the breeding of unhealthy animals. And of course, check your local rescue although they should provide you with the necessary checks and paperwork too.

Long Covid and Irony

I sit here musing over my long covid journey so far. It’s now 13 months and I’m no longer hopeful of a recovery back to normal. I’ve taken up doing remote administration for a veterinary physiotherapist and whilst it’s been good to do my ‘old’ things again it’s also been a great challenge. It’s only 3 hours max a week and I think that’s my limit just now. Doing it is a bit like having my disability rubbed in my face each time it takes me forever to work something out or an email comes in that I can’t understand. I get there eventually but the idea that I can go back to an office and deal with problems on the fly is definitely a fairytale.

Some of you know that I’m an SGI-UK buddhist and chanting certainly helps me, especially when I’m feeling down. I’m also plugged in to this epic support group of like minded people as a result.

But…

Then there are the hamsters *sigh*. My big source of joy but also…yeah, wow, a big source of “What!”

Why am I a breeder of Irony? It’s so bad here that my prefix was very nearly Ironic Hamsters.

I ask for girls, I get boys. I need a boy, I get a litter of eight girls. I want agouti, I’ll get huskies. And I hope for an expected statistic of colours and get a new variety instead.

But the irony keeps things interesting. I was once told by another breeder to never, EVER, say your breeding plans outloud in earshot of your hamsters. I thoughr she was mad…oh little did I know haha!

My plan was to get better before breeding Syrians again. But oh, I got a first cage for free and have just bagged a perfect Hamster Heaven for only £25. I think the universe is telling me something!

I think my Robos need to stay at this many lines and then I find a new ‘something’ and I have to keep it.

My recovery is uncertain but I’m a fighter and so I am fighting. Some days, like today, fighting is really hard. But yes, my hamsters keep me going. My grown up kids are amazing, my husband has had to adapt a lot this last year and he’s doing a great job.

What was the point of this blog? I dunno, have hope, keep going and always reach for the stars. Even on days when you can’t stand up, you are making it. Hope is inside you so just let it out. Today might be rubbish but there’s always tomorrow…..

Breaking News:- Dominant Whiteface

UPDATE – click here

It seems I can’t just pair one colour to another colour and produce the predictable litters. I have to have some sort of unique ‘something’ going on!

As you know from my recent blog about the BEW hamsters, Blizzard had a litter. It seems he’s given me agouti, agouti pied, white and…..whiteface!

As always, no claims are 100% concrete until it’s been bred but I have a pup that looks agouti but has a white face. This pup didn’t grow it’s overcoat in first, it grew it’s darker undercoat in. Normally, agouti pups are brown at 1 week old and darken up by 2-3 weeks as their undercolour grows in. So I knew I had an ‘odd’ pup ever since the litter was a few days old.

This now further shows that BEW is not a modifier to whiteface because any whiteface in the litter would logically have to be white. Because I have one of each it shows that, in this case, whiteface is a separate and coincidental breeding.

Of course, that’s not to say that BEW can’t be a single dominant gene modifier to dominant pied but that’s for further litters to sort out.

If this pup is dominant whiteface then it looks nothing like husky even from birth. I looked online to see if I could find any pictures to compare and all the pictures I can see are husky. On Oak Farm’s website (another UK breeder who used to breed a lot of different varieties when I got started but has since downsized the Robo side) the description is that it’s like husky but it’s agouti in colour. That certainly fits so far and it’s all I’ve really got to go on. I don’t agree with some of what’s stated, particularly about how a single gene recessive can affect phenotype (appearance) because I’ve found that it’s not the case (with one gene you cannot see a recessive colour) but this whiteface description seems spot on. Have a read of Oak Farm’s website for the origins of this variety.

I’ve been openly critical of the existence of a dominant husky type gene because the descriptions of the appearance of such a hamster are so widely varied compared with other types. The same is with dominant pied. I’m not sure if there is one purely because no one seems to really know how they look different to recessive pied.

In this case I feel more confident simply because this pup is so uniquely different to it’s siblings. It’s simply agouti, with a white face. It’s not spotty, it didn’t develop like a normal pied hamster, it doesn’t have any odd white spots anywhere like the blues sometimes have. And with all my husky and pied breeding, I’ve never seen anything like this before.

Downside:- Well, as some of you know, I’ve been test breeding Lady Marmalade as a possible dominant husky. Her litter, again, were very strange and developed as almost half agouti, half husky before finally growing out full agouti coats. Blizzard’s pup proves that her genes are not white face as this pup is heterozygous (single gene dominant) and therefore Marmalade’s pup also should have had white faces. So back to the drawing board for her.

All told I’m very excited, although some days I wish I had more boring and predictable colours! I’m hoping our poor Standard’s Committee Chair doesn’t have a heart attack when he sees my mounting stash of ‘genes to be recognised’! I’m sorry Andrew, I promise I’m not doing it on purpose!

The pup with the white face
Pied on the right, agouti underneath, then whiteface and then white on the left
He wasn’t the right colour from just a few days old. I knew he was ‘odd’

Is There Such A Thing As Ethical Breeding?

I much prefer the term ‘responsible breeding’ because ethical is actually a bit vague and some might argue that if you are truly ethical you wouldn’t breed at all.

The short answer is yes. The longer winded answer is below!

So what is responsible breeding? This question was emailed to me by a prospective owner last week. It’s a very good question that is best answered in my blog because, as you’ll see, it needs quite a long answer!

A responsible breeder, in my opinion, is someone who breeds for a different reason than just producing pets to sell. I breed to continue my show lines or to investigate new colour mutations, or to try to standardise existing colours that haven’t been yet. Additionally, my breeding makes certain varieties available in the UK that otherwise would not be.

This key point is what separates many small animal hobby breeders from those who breed cats and dogs.

Next key point is that a responsible breeder breeds with the care of the animal as first and foremost in their minds. My cages are all set up to current welfare standards such as the Five Freedoms, and my hamsters are fed the best diets for their needs and are given the best bedding for their needs too. They don’t live in cramped or overcrowded cages and if I don’t have space to breed, I don’t breed.

Moreover, health amongst litters is tracked where owners give me details so that any worrying trends can be spotted and the line stopped. An unhealthy hamster doesn’t win shows, and isn’t a good foundation for the continuation of a line so it’s in my best interest to keep their long term health a priority.

One common misconception is that breeders contribute to the rescue population. Small animal hobby breeders don’t, with the odd exception. I know this first hand from my years running my own rescue that it is pet shops or those breeding rodents as reptile food that account for 99% of all small animals in rescue. Suffice to say I offer lifetime back up for everything I breed so that none of my hamsters have any need to go into the rescue system.

As a responsible breeder I also educate new owners on the care, bonding, feeding and health of their pets.

I don’t rehome to people who I don’t think will care for my hamsters properly. To help me achieve this aim I have a form to initially screen new enquiries and I ask a lot of questions if I spot any red flags. I have only had a problem with a hamster rehoming once, thanks to this system of checks.

I don’t breed for profit. So my hamsters have two litters in their whole lives (rarely three) and then they are free to live out their lives in retirement. If a hamster chooses not to breed (yes they can choose), then they just retire early. Sometimes, if they are young enough, I’ll rehome a retired hamster to be properly spoiled in a pet home.

By far the biggest plus point to any responsible breeding is that there is no culling. I didn’t cull when I bred mice and I don’t cull now. Instead, I sell any extra pups I get in order to fund their care and help with future plans.

So……

What’s the difference between me and a commercial scale outfit? That’s like asking what the difference is between a family with a chicken coop and a battery hen farm.

The people who supply large chain pet shops breed in huge proportions. To put some perspective on things, I had 100 pups (ish) in 2020. A commercial facility produces 1000 roborovski hamsters a week. A WEEK. If you google some of these breeders you can see the stats. This report here from 2014 gives the annual number of animals bred by a southern breeding facility at 160,000.

2000 syrian hamsters a week. The following picture is over a generic breeding cage racking system. That’s a mouse for size comparison. It’s easy to see why it’s important for commercial breeders to keep their animal’s small. There are no photos of the actual cages by the facility I mention, you can probably see why.

Laboratory Animal Equipment - Tecniplast UK

Thinking logically then we can assume that, while they may cull any unhealthy animals, the trait they are selectively breeding for is fertility. Fertility is governed by hormones and so commercially produced animals will have higher levels of testosterone and oestrogen than smaller breeder produced animals, who are not specifically selected for fertility. These higher hormone levels are thought to be responsible for the higher energy levels (near ADHD levels), and various behavioural issues found in pet shop versions of nearly all small animal species.

Additionally, to breed 2000 syrians a week means you have to have an extremely large population of hamsters or that you are breeding the same individuals constantly. A syrian’s gestation is the shortest of all hamsters at 16 days (on average). Unlike other species they cannot live together but mums are fertile again the same day they give birth. Syrians often cull a litter if you disturb them before the pups are at least a week old, ideally two weeks. Lets assume then that one mum can have one litter every four weeks.

Syrian litters are anywhere from 1 to 20 pups, but if you are breeding for optimum yield (keeping mums who give the biggest litters) then you could have an average of 15 each time. That’s 133 litters in the first week. From 133 mums. The second week you have to have another 133 mums giving you litters, and so on until you start again after week four. So that’s a potential minimum of 532 syrian mums to give you 2000 pups a week. Conservatively you’ll need, say 100 males to sire all those pups, so 632 total syrian hamsters.

Let’s digest that. 632 syrian hamsters, breeding pretty much back to back to produce 2000 pups a week. If they don’t breed them back to back then that number is even higher. So these hamsters have to be kept in racking. Racking lab cages are a minimum size of 1800 square cm by law. For a large hamster having pups all the time that’s not enough space at all. You can imagine they don’t keep older females who can’t breed anymore. There’d be no room and a business is there to make money. You therefore wouldn’t know if there are older age health conditions occurring as well as the limited feedback you’d get from sold hamsters.

We’ll stop there lest my rant continues on into a dissertation! But I hope you can already see the clear differences and clear benefits to purchasing your pet from a small hobby breeder!

Obviously, of course, adopt don’t shop where you can but there aren’t normally a lot of hamsters in rescue so if you can’t find a rescue hamster then people like me are a best alternative.

Points to look out for in a genuine hobby breeder – You’ll get knowledgeable care information and a family tree, ideally your breeder will have a prefix with the National Hamster Council, they will know what colour and species they are giving you, your animal will be sexed correctly and you’ll be able to see them before you buy (by video during covid). Good breeders won’t overcharge you or charge more for ‘rare’ colours or coat types and will ask you lots of questions about your set up and how you plan to care for your pet.

Watch out for backyard breeders who just purchased two pet shop hamsters and then try to sell the pups for upwards of £20 each. Not to say we don’t sometimes need to use animals from a smaller chain pet store that sources from a smaller breeder but the origins of your hamster should be clearly stated to you

Not all breeders will be a part of the NHC but if they are they have to follow a code of conduct which is available on the National Hamster Council’s website

If you have further questions for me please email me and I’ll do my best to answer you.

2021 Update – Blue and BEW Genes

It’s been three years since blue arrived here in Roborovski form. It’s still causing much debate among the robo breeding world.

It’s clear that it’s a simple recessive inheritance. That much we do know. It’s becoming evident that all the self blues have white bellies. How do I know this? Well, Casanova Hamstery in The Netherlands has a lovely photo of a red eye blue which has proven to be a lot more helpful than you might think. Breeding is a game of logic sometimes so we must look at every phenotype with a logical mind.

What do we know, for certain about the red eyed variety (cinnamon) of roborovski? Patterned red eyed hamsters have much brighter red eyes than non patterned animals. This is true of cinnamon Syrians and red eye variations of Campbells. I’m not the person to talk to if you need to know why, I just know that it is always true of the Roborovski.

Her red eyed blue, with a white belly, had dark eyes. Ergo, it is not patterned.

What a spanner in the works! We have a hamster that has self fur, no agouti markings on top but with a white belly. The only time this happens in other species is with the addition of the ‘fox’ or ‘otter’ genes, depending on which species you are discussing. Some species, like rats and gerbils, do not have this gene at all. I find it highly unlikely that we would find a fox gene (the white bellied version of a tan mouse) at the same time as a dilute gene.

I don’t think the UK standards committee will accept that theory. As right they should be skeptical, we have a robust system in place here that requires breeders to answer these questions.

The next problem is that blue is a dilution gene. It dilutes any black pigmentation in the coat to blue. For this coat to be SELF, it HAS to be diluting a self colour underneath. This would normally be black, as in every other domesticated species. However, we have not yet been able to get black back out, despite my having started with a black spotted robo, Jauffre.

SO…..we still need to breed an agouti blue. We still need to find out what’s under that diluted self coat. and we still need to explain why the white belly is there.. Worse case would be that the blue we see today (pictured below) is the base colour and there is no black in there. With no other animal behaving this way it will be utterly impossible to have this gene even recognised, never mind made standard.

Now to the BEW.

Exciting progress has been made with this line here. Let’s recap:-

Wikipedia, and other breeders, have made claims that black eyed white is 2x dominant white face OR 2x dominant pied or (in some cases) all four genes at once. To be clear to those of you who are new to genetics, heterozygous is a single dominant and homozygous is a double dominant.

I have managed to disprove that any of that applies to this black eyed white.

For a nice change I have had a pretty linear breeding with this and have been rather lucky I feel.

Mum Ida (BEW) paired with Bernhard (recessive pied) produced white, pied, possible dominant husky and recessive husky. This pairing on it’s own disproved the double dominant theory as Blizzard could only be white if his father was either dominant pied or dominant white face, or dominant husky as well as his mum.

Each parent gives one of each colour gene to their pups. If both parents were dominant anything, every pup in the litter would HAVE to be dominant. The presence of the recessive husky pup is enough to say this is not the case.

Blizzard’s litter, born on the 27th March 2021, further cements this. Bred to Ysabel (Agouti carrying recessive pied and blue) they produced white, pied and agouti (pictured below).

The fact that he produced white when bred to an agouti proves that this white has a single dominant or heterozygous inheritance. Further breeding is needed to establish if the gene is lethal, if it has to accompany any other heterozygous colour or if it could even be a patterned animal such as heterozygous dominant pied, selected to have no pattern.

Problems:- There are about three or four different theories circulating as to how to breed a white Roborovski. This could prove troublesome when approaching the Standards Committee to recognise the gene. What do they recognise it as? The upside to this is that we have no other white genes listed as recognised so this will be the first here.

Additionally, a red eyed white has been bred and, like the above red eyed blue, this has thrown a new spanner in the works. This red eyed white has bright red eyes. Is it hiding a cinnamon pattern or is it something new? To cover the possibility I will breed my whites to my cinnamons to see what colour the eyes are.

Notes:– It’s entirely possible that there are multiple ways to make a white Roborovski. I’ve always viewed theories about dominant colour genes in this species with a healthy dose of skepticism because I’ve never seen any at shows, and no one online has been able to adequately explain the difference between dominant pied or husky with recessive pied or husky. This has lead me to believe there are no dominant versions of these genes, rather a misunderstanding of how they got pied or husky in their litter. Recessives are sticky, and can reappear up to ten generations later having dropped off the end of a pedigree. Just because a gene is not on a pedigree doesn’t been it’s not in the animal.

To this end, I’ll be breeding to my agouti show line which definitely only carries husky to make sure I still see white before I put my stamp on my single dominant inheritance theory. As a breeder, you shouldn’t breed to prove yourself right, you should breed to prove yourself wrong. If you can’t prove yourself wrong then your theory is robust.

Happy New Year!

Here’s hoping 2021 is brighter for everyone!

A few changes are coming to the breeding line up including new lines in red eye blue and husky blue, both of which are currently being bred for in The Netherlands but not in the UK. Hopefully by branching out into these two lines I have doubled my chances of getting both non patterned blue, agouti blue and black.

Syrian hamster Olly (short of Olympus) arrived on the 17th December after collecting him from Tristar. He’s a long haired sable banded and I’m hoping to feel well enough to restart my syrian hamster breeding. It really does hinge on my feeling better though as my syrians will be in Ferprlast Mary cages which are heavier to move around and clean out than the robo’s underbed boxes.

I’ve very much missed having syrians around! Bear in mind it’s unlikely that I’ll have more than one or two litters a year as my focus will remain on the roborovski

In other news, I’ve had confirmation that I have no lasting pulmonary hypertension and that the Hammersmith hospital will continue to investigate my long covid and lasting blood clots.

This is very good news but as I approach month 10 post covid I do wonder if I’ll ever recover. I read that someone did recover recently but there again a six year old and a couple of marathon runners still have theirs at month 10 and 12 respectively so I’m cautious of being too optimistic

I think I may have found a way to make the garden more accessible which will allow me to grow my own fruit and veg, something I was looking to do this year before everything went a bit pear shaped. I’m really looking forward to finding a way to be able to enjoy being outside again and the hamsters will really benefit from fresh organically homegrown treats!

Lastly, I’ll not be returning to showing until at least July when the summer show in Bath is on. Whether I go there will again completely depend on my health and the health of my show buddy Vectis Hamstery who usually does the driving.

I’ve got my fingers crossed and the plans all drawn up, 2021 can’t be worse than 2020 can it?…..

Roborovski Update- Looking into 2021

This year has certainly been challenging! I’ve had covid, got long covid and now a condition where my pulmonary blood vessels are diseased (complication of covid clots). The hamstery has been keeping my morale afloat and I’ve had some excellent successes including breeding my first BEW boy, finding possible dominant husky, breeding a beautiful typey cinnamon (pictured) and a litter of gorgeous agouti.

Of course I’ve also suffered from husky-itis. That is, managing to get a husky out of half of all my litters this year haha!

It’s about now that I look ahead to spring pairs. I’ve still got active pairs together and a lot of next year’s plans will hinge on what they do or don’t give me. Here’s a breakdown of what I’m breeding for right now:-

Blizzard x Cairness – If I get white I can then say the gene involved is dominant. Cairness is nothing to do with BEW lines so shouldn’t be able to make one at the first mating. This result will also confirm that BEW is not a double dominant phenomenon i.e. not homozygous dominant pied. If I just get a litter of all pied (as one continental breeder suggested) it will tell me that the white is related to double dominant (homozygous) pied (daddy can only give pied genes to the litter). If I get just all agouti it could suggest, but not prove, that BEW needs a recessive gene.

Elijah x Raey – Solidifying my agouti show lines with these two very high quality hamsters. Both bred here. I’m so proud!

Moss x Trigger – Reinforcing my agouti pied line with an excellent class winning agouti. Hopefully he’s not too old!

Irvine x Marmalade – Test breeding to see if I’m playing with dominant husky. If all the huskies born are the same apricot colour as their mum was from just a week old then I’ll know I’ve got something. Recessive husky is usually pale, like cream syrians, and matures as the pups reach 2 months old.

Rueben x Sabine and Lucien x Julienne will/have been both working towards the goal of proving or disproving the phenotype of self blue and agouti blue.

So what’s on the cards for 20201??

Agouti – I’d like to get a nice boy out of this pair and grow him on til summer when shows start again and I can get in some agouti from elsewhere.

Agouti Pied – I’ll be picking the nicest carrier from my out cross and breeding back to a lovely looking uncle to keep all those nice traits in my line. If Moss doesn’t produce then I’ll be pairing Trigger again and this next step will delay until Autumn 2021. I’m hoping for a nice large litter of pied when I do this.

Husky – I’ll be pairing up my very nice girl this year with my gorgeous agouti boy for some more carriers. I’ll pick the nicest of these to breed to the wonderful, smooshy, Colorado.

Cinnamon – I’ve got plans to breed out to my agouti line as there’s been a fair bit of inbreeding to get the cinnamons without the pied. This will also improve size with any luck. Love the temperaments on my red eyes.

Cinnamon Pied – Crossing out to agouti pied (Trigger’s sister) to get some variety in the gene pool. Both lines are gorgeous right now so I’m not too worried about needing to breed back to daddy Papaya later

Blue – Several goals here. I’ll be breeding my nice blue boy Azzan to keep the blue going. I’m hoping for agouti out of Rueben this year so I can put another pair of agouti carriers together to try to lose the pied on the blues themselves. At the moment I either get agouti or blue with too much white on. In time that in itself might prove that blues will be white under, but as this doesn’t happen in other mammals unless you have the ‘fox’ gene then we need to still chase the more ordinary theory first.

Blue varieties – I’m hoping to pair up for cinnamon blue and husky blue next year. It may go some may to further illuminating what the blue gene is and how it works. Continental breeders are already working on these so I’m not the first but no doubt the more people who breed this, the wider the variety of results. Or, if there is no variety, the quicker the consensus!

Black eyed white – I’ll continue to breed Blizzard. I’ve got another breeder in the fancy interested in dabbling in BEW that will prove useful. It all hinges on this current pairing

Lastly, Dom husky? Well I’ll have to see if it is a thing first. It may just be that Marmalade was really well coloured. You’ve got to do the breeding before you start assuming.

All in all, I’m hoping for less litters next year as a lot of these pairs are simply to keep lines moving. As ever, it will be the blues that give me the most pups as I’ve got to keep pairing if I don’t see the colours we need to get this recognised in the UK. But this means you lovely people have more chances to nab one as a pet so it’s not all bad.

My last word is that, plans are great but it all depends on the following:
1) What I get from these pairings
2) What my health is like going forwards. I may not be able to breed all these lines and may have to cut back.
3) Space. My biggest constraint. Remember I do this from home as a hobby and there’s only so many hamsters you can comfortably look after. I don’t cull so some of these plans may need to wait until older hamsters naturally pass away. But that’s ok, I love all my robos as pets too and I do breed for health and lifespan also. I don’t want them departing too soon. If I don’t have space I just keep boys and grow them on a bit longer.

Here’s hoping, with the vaccine as well, that 2021 is more positive!

New Genes – Red Eyed Roborovski

Not exactly new, I just haven’t posted about them yet! Back in early 2017 I imported red eyed pied roborovski from Double Special hamstery in Holland. I’ve been working on this line very hard and now have unpatterned ‘cinnamon’ robos and even a red eyed husky.

How does it work? Well, pretty much the same as cinnamon in Syrians. As it’s natural basic phenotype it is an agouti hamster with dark red eyes. Pied robos have brighter red eyes. The colour is a diluted agouti, with both all aspects of the coat colour being diluted as I believe this largely affects the ‘red’ pigment in the coat.

I initially wondered if I’d stumbled across ‘rust’ as we already have the brown eye gene recognised although everyone in the fancy I spoke to has never seen one. However, it soon became obvious that my cinnamon hamsters were exactly the same as those being bred by Casanova hamstery, again in Holland, and we compared notes. The redness of the eyes is harder to see in unspotted animals but the difference in coat colour is very clear. The pictured husky is a good few shades lighter than any black eyed husky I have bred. And the cinnamon, again, is a good few shades lighter than even a pale normal agouti

The gene is recessive so it did take quite a lot of work but I think it’s well worth it for such a pretty roborovski. I’ll be breeding them in both agouti and pied for the moment. I actually nearly lost all of these genes in 2018 due to a virus that wiped out an entire litter and their parents. However, with the remaining ‘carriers’, a lot of luck and the import of a lovely girl called Cindy from Piccoli Amici hamstery in Germany early this year (pictured below with my boy Avocado) I’ve been able to save this gene from extinction in this country.

The application for recognition along with a provisional standard was submitted for discussion in August, awaiting a meeting of our standards committee. Fingers crossed!

Mixing My Own Hamster Food

By popular demand I have decided to write about the mix that I feed my Roborovski hamsters. Disclaimer: there are no ‘secret’ ingredients! What you read below is what I feed, I’ve left nothing out. Have fun experimenting!

First some basic principles:- You need a base mix that’s at least 60% commercial food or you have to supplement with lots of added vitamins and minerals, especially copper, calcium and D3. This mix is based on the Shunamite diet that many rat owners and breeders use and is not intended to be a purely ‘straights’ mix.

To this mix you add seeds, fibre and protein depending on what you base mix is lacking and what sort of variety you want.

The base mix I use is a rabbit muesli that used to be made and sold by GJW Titmuss and is now available from Time For Paws. It’s available in 20kg or 4kg. The amount you buy doesn’t matter it’s the amount you use! If you can store 20kg and will use it within a few months then that will likely be the cheaper option for you.

I recommend storing all food in suitable containers and not just leaving them in the bag. Look for containers designed for dog food storage. This will protect you from weevils, moths and the food itself going stale. The food comes dried but it may be affected by your household humidity and can still ‘go off’ over time.

Now for the extras. The following information is taken from the Rat Rations website

Seeds vary but my mix usually consists of the following:
Buckwheat – For protein and fibre
Dari – Protein and oils, good for weight gain
Hemp – Contains essential fatty and amino acids
Millet – Good protein, carb and iron levels. Can be added as puffs for variety
Paddy Rice – A different way of feeding rice. For variety.
Pumpkin – Phosphorous, magnesium, tryptophan, vitamin K, iron, copper, zinc and unsaturated fatty acids. Also good for protein and fibre
Safflower – Iron and vitamin B6
Sunflower – Linoleic acid, tryptophan, vitamin E, B1 and B5, folate, copper, manganese, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, selenium, calcium and zinc.

Why add seeds? In addition to the benefits listed above, roborovski really do enjoy husking their seeds and is an essential enrichment activity for them. This is one big reason why I don’t feed pellets. If you can, get some puffed rice, puffed millet and even puffed spelt or puffed quinoa as this is a different texture for them.

Quinoa is a good source of many vitamins and amino acids but is, in my experience, easier to feed cooked (and cooled).

A word on linseed (flax). Linseed contains linoleic, linolenic and oleic acids,  vitamins A, B, D and E, minerals, fatty and amino acids. But….it’s a very small seed that can easily get missed if you scatter feed. So I either buy linseed enriched dog biscuits available from Rat Rations or I mix flax oil into their weekly porridge. You can also give barley rings, which have flax oil in them.

Protein:
I add dried mealworms and dried silkworm pupae, again from Rat Rations. You can add dog kibble but if you want to give them something different to munch other than biscuits or kibble, the dried insects are good for this.

Fibre:
All my roborovski are offered, and eat, barley straw. I used to offer hay but unfortunately I am very allergic. I’ve also previously had hay mites in a commercial bag I bought so I’m very wary these days. Because I’ve seen them readily accepting this fibre, especially so when pregnant and on a young litter, I now add alfalfa pellets. These can be hard to find now so I’ve bought a very large bag of pellets for horse, made by Dengie. Just make sure there’s nothing added and it’s just 100% alfalfa. You can, of course feed this as dried grass or dried alfalfa.

‘Other’:-
Flowers – My lot all universally love dried flowers. Rose petals, marigold and hibiscus although this last one can stain! These are roughage but do also add vitamins to the diet.
Echinacea – For immune support
Tiger Nuts – High in protein, calcium, iron, thiamine, and phosphorus
Berries – I currently add cranberries but you could add rosehips instead. It just depends on what you fancy. Be careful of wet or sticky ‘dried’ fruit that may make your food go mouldy if it’s not eaten quickly
Nuts – you can add chopped, shelled or in shell nuts over winter if you feel you’d like to. Just watch your hamster’s weight!
Dried veg – I give dried green beans at the moment so that I know they are getting veg throughout the week. I don’t add anything that I give them as fresh food.

That’s the food, what about the quantities?

It’s all about proportion. Weight has nothing to do with it. Let me explain. Most of your order will be seeds (including puffs). Add in some protein and fibre as well as your ‘others’ selection. I order 3.2kg of seeds with safflower and hemp making up a kg each and then smaller amounts of the others, especially those that can be fatty such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds. I then add 500g of dried insects between mealies and silkworm pupae, and roughly 800g-1kg of ‘other’ foods including the flowers.

What I order exactly and in what quantity varies each time depending on the weights of my hamsters in general. If they start to drop off or as the weather gets colder I’ll add foods with higher fat content and more protein. In the warmer weather, after April, I’ll cut down on this and bulk out with more fibre and veg as I’ll usually need to cut down on excessive weight gain by then.

Your Rat Rations order has arrived. Cut open all the bags and mix it all up in one box. So you have now one tub of ‘extras’ and one of ‘base mix’.

Get a scoop. The scoop can be any size as long as you use the same one all the way through. In a third tub, add 6 scoops of base mix and four scoops of extras.

Keep going until you have used up all of your extras. You may have base mix leftover and you can save this for next time. Take a note of how much you used so you know when you need to order more muesli.

And that’s it. Simples. If there are ingredients that your roborovski definitely don’t like and always leave then just try something else. Browse through the whole site and try not to spend all your money!

Some people have had problems with weevils and moth eggs in their rat rations orders. Personally the only problems I ever had was with pre packed commercial bird seed and I’ve not had any issues with rat rations food myself. Nothing is guaranteed though so you can, if you wish, put the unopened food bags in the freezer for 24 hours and then defrost it before mixing it up. This should kill any eggs or larva of any food pests that may be in there.

If you have any questions please ask them below or email me. I’m not a nutritionist I’m sharing my knowledge and experience. If you experience any doubts about the diet you are feeding or if your hamster develops any health concerns please speak to your vet.

Lastly, I do not recommend feeding any foods that alter body chemistry (medicinal herbs) such as fenugreek which lowers blood sugar, valerian which causes drowsiness or dandelion which is a diuretic, as this could harm your pet. Don’t forget your robo is tiny so even small amounts of medicinal herbs can be harmful.