Syrian Hamster Conformation – A Judges Point of View

I’ve been judging for two years and as a qualified judge now for a year so I’m not the clubs most experienced voice by a long shot but as I have been trained, I feel able to write about something I enjoy. Judging is both fun and difficult at the same time. There are lots of different factors to focus on. You have to keep an eye on the points you have awarded through the day and on how much time it’s taking you to get through.

One question that comes up a lot is ‘Why did my hamster get those marks’? And a fan of the Facebook page has also asked that I cover this topic. All the official information on conformation can be found in the handbook but here is my interpretation.

This article is rather long, I do apologise! I don’t speak for all judges here, just what I’ve had experience of either judging or being judged.
Colour


The highest mark available. Your hamster may gain or drop marks from show to show depending on the quality of light, the opinion of the judge, the hamsters condition which can affect colour and whether it’s moulting. And its age of course. Different colours are affected differently by age. Creams mature into their colour, blacks and greys brown out of their colour.

It’s also important to check the pedigrees of any hamster you purchase. Some colours, when bred together, muddy the quality of each one so the colours you produce are poor quality. This can’t be helped when breeding for certain colours that require a combination but if you want to exhibit a particular colour then it’s worth checking what’s in the make up.

I won’t go into each colour here, safe to say that the best option for you is to talk to other exhibitors who show the colour you are interested in, or talk to judges on the day, to find out the various benefits or pitfalls to your chosen hamster. For almost any colour you can name, someone has bred that at some point in the past. Again, don’t always just talk to whomever is winning that day. There is a wealth of information to be had from many different exhibitors.

Patterned hamsters are judged on both colour and pattern so you need to consider that a hamster with exceptional colour may lose out on points because the pattern isn’t good or vice versa. Read the description of the pattern carefully. Does it ask for even spotting? A white animal with coloured spots means the colour isn’t too heavy. Do you need to avoid brindling?

I was taught to look at the top coat, blow through the fur to see the undercoat, check all the coloured areas of an agouti and to factor in the effects of satin, rex and long haired hamsters on colour quality. These things all contribute to the overall score.

‘Patchy colour’ refers to the hamster having areas of good colour and areas of pale colour and is usually found in animals that are moulting but can be a general fault in the overall coat colour.

‘Wide open, wide, narrow or no chest band’ is a common complaint for agouti hamsters. Don’t forget that hair’s width! Chest bands run around from the cheek flashes under the hamster’s chest.

‘Pale’ is what it is. Pale and patchy is particularly bad and means the hamster starts as pale in it’s good areas and gets paler in places.

‘Pale/dark undercolour’ is just specifically that the undercolour is either pale or too dark.

‘Lacks ticking’ refers to the ticking on the top coat of the hamster and indicates that there should be more of it.

dougal-5

Type
When judging type, two main areas are looked at. That is the head and the body. Both are described in the handbook. A Syrian with good type is very clear to see. I tend to lengthen the hamster out to see it’s true proportions. A long, thin hamster can still be seen even If it’s carrying extra weight. Adding too much weight to your hamster doesn’t win it type marks, only loses it condition marks. A Syrian should be cobby, not too overweight. Cobby means a body that is short and stocky rather than long and thin.
Ear size can really throw off an otherwise nice head and points can either not be awarded for type here or taken off Eyes and Ears. I prefer to judge the type and deduct marks in the other section for overly large ears. Particularly pointy ears have the effect of making a hamster look rather elvish!
Sometimes a hamster won’t put up it’s ears and that can be a trait that is bred into the line rather than being a sign of distress. I had an issue with this personally. A line of lovely laid back Syrians and none of them put their ears up, ever. Again, something for a breeder to breed out if possible.
There are a lot of marks to be had here and I’ve seen lovely coloured hamsters miss out on placings because of poor type and vice versa.
‘Narrow head’ is obvious but it is the space between the ears that is looked at primarily. There are degrees of narrow head that may be recorded.
‘Chunky’ is usually a good term. Very chunky is often not.
‘Long face’ is sometimes referred to as ‘horsey head’ and means the head is too long from the base of the ear to the nose and is particularly noticeable when the hamster reaches forward to sniff.
Perzik 1
Fur
Fur is judged by its condition, whether the hamster has enough of it and how it feels. So a woolly, open coat is to be avoided and a thick plush coat is desirable. Fur marks are deducted for the prevalent ‘TBF’ or thin belly fur. Fur can be affected by weight, age and hormones. A very heavy hamster carrying too much body fat will have thinner fur as the skin is stretched. Equally, a hamster that is out of condition may have areas of loose or baggy skin that affect how the fur looks or feels.
Long haired hamsters may lose points for ‘lacking skirt’ as males should have a nice full coat all over.
‘TBF’ is thin belly fur as above. There are varying degrees of this. I’d argue that a hamster with almost no belly fur really ought to stay at home.
‘WU’ is the dreaded white under and mostly afflicts creams, blacks, chocolates and doves. It’s important to notice the colour of your hamster’s belly as if you have a golden or a cinnamon, for example, with a white belly then this is potentially a ‘white bellied golden’ or ‘white bellied cinnamon’ and a different colour entirely that belongs, in my opinion, in non-standard class. These are hamsters that carry and show the white bellied gene. General splodgey bellies are just mismarkings and should be bred out.
‘Woolly coat’ is a texture of coat that feels rough. Similar to a rex coat but on a hamster that should be smooth coated. A rex hamster has curly whiskers, if yours doesn’t but has a textured coat then it should be bred to one with a good coat to try to take this out of your lines.
‘Open coat’ is when the hair doesn’t lie entirely flat and can be because the hamster is warm, or older, moulting, or may be not in the best condition. It’s most noticeable on an agouti hamster as the under colour will show through.
wigley-1
Condition
One of my pet peeves is a hamster that is overweight. One whose natural type is long and thin so is fed suet to bulk it up. Judges can see this difference. When you pick a hamster up under it’s armpits, if your thumb is totally covered by the animal’s fur then it is overweight.  Overweight hamsters don’t win shows. You need to work on size to get near the big hamsters that get best in show and you can’t short cut that with the aid of too much suet (some suet in the diet can be useful but owners should keep a close eye on the condition of the hamster).
One problem some breeders encounter, usually new breeders from what I’ve seen, is over feeding baby hamsters. Your cute splatty hamster will soon turn into an adult with baggy, loose skin. Those nearly out of or just out of young stock can lose marks for looking terribly out of condition as they have all this extra skin hanging down.
Make sure your hamster is firm, chunky and the right shape for its natural type. Its natural type may not be what you are after but that’s how you know what to breed for and hiding it won’t help you in the long run.
Older hamsters most often lose marks here and sometimes marks can be lost from either fur or condition depending on the judge’s discretion.
‘Pin bones’ refers to the hip bones jutting up as the layer of good fat over this area has been lost. Usually found on older hamsters.
‘Old?’ is often noted on animals the judge feels have justifiable loss of condition. They’ll still lose marks but don’t need a ‘please see judge’ marked on the label.
‘Saggy’ is referring to the loose skin as above.
‘Please see judge’ should never be ignored by exhibitors. This could be anything from very poor condition to a lump felt or a chipped tooth. Southern and Midland club judges don’t tend to write the reason on the label as it’s potentially embarrassing for an exhibitor who may have genuinely not noticed an issue or that has arisen during that day. The public may misinterpret the label to mean the hamster is very ill. Sick hamsters are not put back on the show bench but disqualified and should be given back to the owner.
Size
Size overlaps somewhat with condition in the case of weight. I don’t tend to award marks for weight in this section, I go by look and feel. I award marks on what the animal’s true size is and deduct condition marks if the hamster is overweight. Have I belaboured that point yet!
Size marks vary across judges and is sometimes influenced by what’s on the table as there is no visible cue to a ‘perfect hamster size’ although all species have parameters into which the hamster must fall. Babies may miss out on size marks so this is a consideration for anyone entering young stock. If your hamster is very young but within the guidelines set for showing, is it worth entering them if they are very small?
Overall all though, this tends not to be a big deciding factor on who wins as it’s only ten points. Size tends to influence the results most when the size of the hamster is very small.
Eyes and Ears
Here a judge is looking for discharge from the eyes and deducting marks for nicks in the ears. Small eyes are penalised too. A sticky eye may not be penalised if the hamster opens it within a minute or two of coming out of the show pen. A true sticky eye may be helped by the judge or left for the owner as appropriate.
‘Sticky eye’ refers to an eye that won’t open and may or may not have some dry discharge around it usually from sleep.
‘Small eyes’ is definitely something to breed away from. Ignoring small eyes simply cause the issue to worsen down the line.
‘Nick in the ear’ is usually from a pairing or historically from pups fighting.
Plus and Minus Marks

Used to differentiate between too very close hamsters where the score is the same but one may be marginally better than the other. Minus marks are used in the same way but not every judge uses them. Some of us prefer to use a + or a ++ if more than one hamster needs to be ‘split’.
Show Pens
Marks are deducted for shabby pens but not if they are hire pens.
Syrian Pen 1
Duplicates
After the main judging, the judge and book steward go around the front of the table and judge the duplicates. Essentially this is based on the overall scores and can be quickly ascertained. A hamster in young stock with an overall score of 75 beats one with a score of 50 with no need to look at the hamsters as they have been judged already.
However, hamsters on the same marks need to be looked at again to see who beats who IF they have not ‘met’ before i.e. they weren’t entered in the same class so haven’t been judged next to each other. This is true even if one hamster has a plus mark already as this plus was achieved against a different hamster (s).
Effectively the winner wins their plus mark as if they were in the main class but this is not always noted on the pens. I like to mark a tiny + next to the duplicate class number and always put the pens back in the order I want them.
When judging for neck and neck hamsters in duplicates, again, you are looking for the better overall hamster. One may have amazing colour but lacks condition and type therefore the other hamster might win.
Lastly a little word on temperament. A hamster that is too grumpy or nervous does not show well. A judge will only spend so much time looking for a hamster’s best side, especially on a table with 150 other hamsters to judge. Do your best to breed well tempered hamsters and handle them as much as possible. Make their first show somewhere quiet or close to home.
Hamsters that bite can be disqualified. Although there’s no section for ‘temperament’ it does play a crucial role in the show.

 

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.

When To Safely Handle Baby Hamsters

Note this is when to SAFELY handle them rather than when you can. You can handle from any age but should you?

Peering into any hamster’s nest is risky enough. And if you are happy to take the risk then that’s fine, in a way. I’m sure the pups wouldn’t be too pleased about it.

If you really want to see your pups early you can take a photo with a zoom and crop it. You can do this when you feed them. See the photo below. This mum was given a box to nest under but chose not to. I would never lift a box up to see underneath at this age. This mum voluntarily got off her pups to come and eat the food I’m pouring in with one hand while clicking a pic with the other. If she were to become agitated by my merely putting food in, I’d retreat quickly but calmly and let her settle back down before feeding again. This is why I bulk feed all my mums the day before they are due so that I can leave them in peace for the first few days.

J-Lo 02-09-16 Day 4.JPG

At 2 weeks old, or thereabouts, you can get them out for the first time. Although they start wandering as early as 10 days old, I still wouldn’t risk it. I know from other breeders experiences that litters can be culled by mum as late as 12-14 days old and, in my view, it’s not worth it when all you need to do is hang on a few days.

Once their eyes are open, I’ll take mum out before I touch the nest. A playbox with some toys and treats in is usually a welcome break for a nursing mum who is still feeding her pups at this age. I don’t tend to remove the litter from the cage at this age, rather I handle them in situ and add mum back along with chopped cucumber and high protein wet food.

After the first couple of days, mum should be used to the routine and pups come fully out into a handling tank. This is the first time I can go fully through all the bedding and make sure I have an accurate head count. Exploring babies are adept at tunnelling away through the bedding! At this point it is about quality handling rather than quantity. Mum shouldn’t be away from her pups for too long.

The right amount of effort put into handling at this age builds the foundation of a trust in humans that ensures a tame hamster for the rest of it’s life. But it’s important not to risk it’s like in the first place for want of a bit of patience 🙂

Angus.JPG

 

Finally!!

Goodness me, good things come to those with an awful lot of patience! I know I bang on about it but being ‘ethical’ comes with its own painful niggles. With Chinese hamsters, the biggest pain is the systematic screening of the hamsters to try to breed away from diabetes.
In addition, the process of pairing up without the relative ease of colony breeding whilst retaining a higher minimum age for breeding (4 months) makes everything slower and riskier. You swap the risk of overly inbreeding with the risk of physical injury as males and females can fight spectacularly during their time together often needing to be split up after just a few days to prevent fatal injury.

All things considered, it’s easy to see why this litter is so precious. It’s been 2 years and 2 months since my last Chinese hamster litter and grandad to these pups passed away just a month before they were born. Although I’d love to breed some black eyed whites, I’m just happy to have any pups at all at this point!

Without further ado, let me introduce the Frenwins. Of course, irony dictates Frenee only gives me two babies so I can give one to the owner of dad, Winford, and keep one. But Chinese are not in short supply right now so I suspect the vast majority of my waiting list has been able to find a ham by now. I’m just happy to benefit from some breeding success of my own.

One normal boy, and one dom spot girl with their eyes just opening at 12 days old. I’m unbelievably proud of these two!

Frenwin Litter - 06-06-16 - Day 12 a

Handling and Taming Roborovski

I recently came across an interesting topic and an alternative opinion that is apparently widespread amongst Robo keepers. That is handling, taming and the idea that you..well…shouldn’t. I must admit to being confused about this and also to not watching various videos linked to me as, quite frankly, I think it’s rather harmful.

I’ll explain and also add a very important exception to this. Firstly, baby Robos should be handled if you want a tame animal that enjoys life in a stress free world that it’s used to. If you want a wild (feral) animal that hides away in its cage all day then by all means don’t handle it. The worst in my opinion is the half and half approach. Interact with them to the point of picking them up but then not doing it. In my mind, you are interacting because you want a pet to interact with. This assumes that your pet will visit the vet at some point. Imagine the terror an animal goes through when not taught to accept life and then taken to a busy, noisy vets probably in pain and definitely unwell to boot.

A feral exotic pet may be expected to pass away without treatment, likely because ill-health was not noticed. It’s hard to spot these things in a pet you can’t look at. So in a way, a natural environment and 100% hands off isn’t so bad. You will literally never need to handle your pet.

You should go one way, or the other. Handling is not forcing per se. You don’t force your children to go outside exactly, but they don’t have a choice do they? You teach your children to accept life’s challenges and that’s what you do with your pets. Your hamster should allow you to pick it up, scruff it, turn it over and anything else you need to do to check it’s healthy or anything it may experience in its life. Place the cage in a busy-ish part of the house so it gets used to noises, strange smells or people and it will learn these are not threats.

Frod litter - 29-04-2016 - Day 24c
In the wild, an animal learns from experience. Repeated exposure to a stimulus (like a hoover noise) that doesn’t result in a negative experience (you wouldn’t want to be putting the hoover in the cage or banging the cage with it) means the animal becomes accustomed and comfortable with it.

To this end, my babies are brought downstairs into the living room when they are 3 weeks old and gradually exposed to the hoover noise, dogs barking, loud children etc because I’d like to rehome animals that aren’t neurotic bags of anxiety. I advise new owners how to handle them confidently and I’ve only experienced a problem where an owner messed about too much with handling and the hamster became nervous. I rectified this with a short holiday and, seeing the results, the owner changed her handling and had a long and happy relationship with her hamster.

Now the exception! Rescued and pet shop hamsters, particularly Robos and Chinese, may not have had any handling as youngsters at all. It’s incredibly important that they are worked with in terms of rehab as just because they’ve always been scared doesn’t mean they always have to be. But it isn’t always possible. Some are just too nervous. Genetically under confident and then left to their own devices. These guys just flat-out don’t cope with anything and owning one if you wanted a cuddly ham can be demoralising.
If this is you, you are not a failure. You’ve given an animal a wonderful chance at life that it wouldn’t otherwise have had and it’s important you remember this. Taming should still be firm and gentle. You are their guide and they look to you to tell them if they need to be afraid or not. But sometimes a less direct approach produces better results in these circumstances.

However, it shouldn’t be the ‘normal’ advice handed out to owners of babies that have been handled already. I’m surprised that it is although everyone is entitled to their opinion. See below my fool-proof method of handling and I hope to film it at some point too.

Herfen Pied 3

The Scoop!

Using two hands, scoop your Robo. You achieve this simply by moving your left hand towards your right with the robo in between. Don’t squeeze. Your robo may run or even jump out so do this over a box. Be prepared for your robo to try to run up your arm!

Scoop then open your hands. The Robo should stand still and look around, deciding what to do. Let it do what it needs to do at this point.

Rinse and repeat – repeat this move for a few times a night, or even every other night until the Robo panics less. ROBOS WILL ALWAYS RUN AWAY. They are Robos. It’s what they do. It’s not horrendous fear, panic etc it’s just what they do. They don’t do things in slow motion.

Once your Robo stops flying off your hand the minute you scoop it you can start lifting your hand up. Not far though.

Robo Juggling

The next step is hand over hand juggling. This allows your Robo to run without allowing it to run away. They quickly stop running and may even sit and wash themselves in your palm. Robos rarely nip, if you do get nipped then that’s very concerning and there may be something wrong with your hamster that isn’t obvious. A sprained leg, feeling under the weather etc. Return it to its cage and keep an eye on it.

Once confident you can move to holding the hamster under the armpits so that you can check underneath. This is important so you can see the scent gland, nipples and legs/feet as well as under the chin for any abscesses or other problems.
I don’t like scruffing but sometimes it’s necessary. It’s optional if you want to get your hamster used to it or not. They usually cope with it quite well even if they haven’t been scruffed before. They will have been scruffed by mum as babies and it’s almost as if they remember.

I hope that helps people having issues with handling. Please don’t hesitate to email me  at doric_hamsters@live.com if you want specific advice.

Brucelets 17-04-15 Day 17 a

Surprise!

My husky robo girl Frigg showed me an excellent reason not to use cardboard boxes as nesting boxes without first removing the base!

Having paired her up during the first two weeks of April, I’d diligently checked her tub regularly to carefully see if pups had appeared. I’d seen nothing, heard nothing. I’d assumed the pairing had failed and was even feeling quite miserable about it!

Imagine my face when I fed everyone today and did my usual checks *poke* *poke* still alive? Still in one piece? Still one in there, still two in there? Hang on….two? That’s Frigg’s cage. She lives on her own. It took me a second. PUPPY!! But wait. That’s a big puppy…now there’s another one..and another. SIX puppies. Six! All look somewhere around 3-3 and a half weeks old. All husky or possibly husky pied. As you can see from the photo below, Frigg is not a big girl herself and hadn’t looked pregnant at all. It didn’t surprise me when I didn’t find any babies in her nest. I mean, what has she been feeding them!

She’s a bit skinny and a couple of the pups need fattening up which is what they’ll get now. I’ve got to sex them and check their colouring properly (once I’m over the shock!) but yay to her! I’ve not had a secret litter before and been surprised like that so I need a sit down and a strong drink I reckon.

Frod litter - 29-04-2016 - Day 21a

First Babies of 2016 and Black Breeding Plans

Hooray! Lilliput Jocasta and Doric Donnan have had a litter. He’s a short haired golden carrying black and she’s a short haired black rex. She’s had one black pup and the rest look to be golden. Still only around a week old, I’ll have photos soon.

I was asked ‘why don’t you breed black to black and have a whole litter of blacks?’

Well, the first answer to that question is always going to be because I breed for me. I choose my pairs based on what I need and what I’d like to see improved in my lines. Or, like this pairing, there are other motivations. I’ve got a few goldens in the lines now who are unrelated. I’m mating each one to a black partner. Some will already carry black and some only have a chance as I’ve introduced some size and type from cinnamon last year. I’ll be left with keepers that are either black or golden definitely carrying black. Later this year or next year all my litters will capable of producing blacks and then I’ll have a year of solely black to black pairings.

The reason that I’ve not done this yet is due to type. I’ve got nice colour and my blacks are placing or winning classes when entered because of this but I’m not far enough up the table for certificates of merit because they fall down on size and type. Size is something I’ve worked on enough but type is sacrificed with each black to black pairing because of the effect the gene seems to have on head shape. Even nice, broad, chunky headed parents produce narrow, long heads at the moment and those are the genes I’m looking to get rid of.

Have no fear, there is planning here!

Next up are Doric Grenouille and Doric Nebbiolo who are both goldens and will be paired with Doric Mr Black who has come back from Roxy Hams. As both girls are a generation down from blacks it’s anyone’s guess if there’ll be any in these two litters. Watch this space!

You Fall Down, You Get Back Up

Ughh, 2016 is a challenging year so far for sure. Mainly with regards to the curse of the Chinese hamsters that seems to still be plaguing the hamstery. Out of my recent planned pairings I’ve had two boys die, had some disappointing diabetic results and my last black eyed white girl also passed away shortly after she tested positive for the horrible disease.

None of the Roborovski are breeding yet and my first attempt at a Syrian litter also failed after mum got rid of her litter.

It’s been 18 months or more since I last had a Chinese litter of my own. 18 months! So my boys all went off for breeding holidays. I’m pleased to say they were very productive!

Doric Bardane has brought home two little spotty girls and a normal girl from Vectis hams and has now made some lovely boys for Willow Tree hamstery. A white girl too who will be staying with her breeder.

Sadly, Astere passed away with his girlfriend but before he died he managed to pass on his genes and I’m so happy I get to have a spotty back from him too.

Hopefully, some of these hamsters will breed for me!  There are no whites here now, only spotty carriers but with a change of luck I’m hoping that will also change. I’m determined to break this run.

All the robos I own that are of breeding age are now paired up so if I get no babies soon then I’ve done everything I can haha. You can introduce the hamsters but it’s down to them if they are feeling romantic.

Syrians are a whole other kettle of fish. I’m going to have to accept that I need to mate up multiple females again. Otherwise the girls I need will be too old, especially if they don’t take first time around. With the fresh spring in the air, with any luck, I’ll get three for three like I did in November last year.

Easter is generally the time I tend to look forward for the year and my main aim is to knit together my Syrian lines, and not lose any more of my Robo or Chinese lines.

Watch this space!

 

Why Do I Breed?

Goodness me that’s a hard one. I’ve been asked a few questions recently but this was the hardest. Especially as it was asked by a rescue fanatic who was mid rant about the greed involved with breeding, and the evil and the greed some more and something else. I tuned out, it’s hard to listen to people who rant at you 😀

I went away and thought about it. How do I answer that. I mean, I know why I breed but it’s actually difficult to put into words. Not because I’m a shameful and greedy person and all that but because it’s genuinely a hard concept to frame. I’ll give it a go.

Achievement.

This whole blog focuses on the frustrations and hard ships of breeding as well as the good. It’s that moment when your beautiful, friendly, healthy hamster produces an amazing litter in their own likeness that you feel, not like god, not like a money-maker, but like a parent I guess. Proud. You did something good. You chose the right ones, the dice rolled the right way and look. Amazing. There’s nothing like that feeling. And you get to share it, with every owner of the babies you can’t keep and at every show you visit where you can show them off.

A sense of the everlasting.

We are getting a little more abstract now. Bear with me. Each hamster is precious to me. Every one is a pet, first and foremost and I love them all. When my beautiful Dougal died recently in his old age, I mourned him. But I have his daughters, granddaughters and grandsons. There are nieces and nephews. He lives on. His cute little droopy ears, that are not really standard but I like them anyway. His way (temperament). You can see it in them. And that is special.

Even when I breed a ‘rare’ variety. I’m not choosing it because I want some sort of fame from it. I like it and I don’t want it to die out. So I breed it, I give it to other breeders and it becomes more popular and widespread. So, if I were to breed it for the glory of it being rare then I’m doing myself out of the glory there.

What about the reasons I’m told I am breeding really. Here is a list of ‘not why I’m breeding’.

Money
HA. That’s all really. HA. £180 on 6 months of bedding, £100 a month on food. Not to mention cages, time, travel, paper and ink and so on. For £10 a baby? Maybe 10 babies every 3-4 months. There’s no profit in that. There may be times when it’s not a total loss but over the year you lose money. Definitely not greed. I’m actually laughing at that idea. Can you imagine how many hamsters my husband would let me have if they actually made money?

Glory.
HAHAHAHA. *cough* When you are a breeder who generally does not win shows and generally does not even achieve the first five places, where exactly is this glory? Even the ones who do…well. You tell me who is the premier hamster breeder in the country right now? Exactly. We breed hamsters people, not racehorses!

Enjoying the selfish suffering of animals .. or something…?

Breaks between litters, two litters max each, eat better than me, sleep better than me, have more toys than I do. Really. I mean they are selfish I grant you but it’s not their fault 😀
And believe me, although they should have a choice, you see what happens if your male and female are placed somewhere they can choose to get away and she happens to be in season. My putting them together intentionally is nothing short of what they would ‘choose’ to do. All I’m doing to stacking the deck, so to speak, by picking the parents. Hamsters don’t tend to hold hands or buy each other valentines if they can help it.

In all seriousness, rescue related ranting only serves to alienate people. They don’t listen. And the only ones hurt are the animals that miss out on homes because people want to go to a sane person. Target all the angst towards the people who really cause a problem, not the nearest easy target.

I’m totally, 100%, fine with what I do. I know my guys are healthy because they rarely need the vet. I know they are happy because they show well, or those that prefer to stay at home are not neurotic, or skinny, or even obese. That’s more than enough for me.

Saying that, I do enjoy answering your questions. I’m not all offended by being asked. I’ve a few more to answer in the coming days and I’ll try my best!

From Birth to Rehoming. A Baby’s Journey

As an ethical breeder your challenge is to put as much effort into a litter as possible. Not just in terms of their care but also in terms of engaging with prospective homes. Some breeders prefer not to rehome privately and I have to say I can completely understand that point of view. Here’s a peek into what goes into a litter.

Even before birth you’ve spent a week of late nights introducing hamsters and hoping that tonight is ‘the night’ and then waiting a surprisingly agonising 16 days hoping for signs of pregnancy and nest building.

Your first clue is a mum that looks very round. Some build nests, some don’t. I harp on about that in a previous post.

Then you have another agonising 14 day wait before you can get in there and see what you have. Before that, you can sneak a peek if you feel it’s safe. I’ve posted these before but have a look now.

This is the Promaz litter at 6 days old:-

Promaz Litter - 28 Nov 2015 - Day 6

Mum didn’t think much of nests. They haven’t been uncovered, this is the aftermath of mum Mazu running out for a treat and me being sneaky enough to have a camera with the zoom already set up. Straight away I can take this photo back to my laptop and, with minimum disturbance to mum, I can count babies and have a look at emerging pigments. These babies have a very fine covering of fur but it’s the colour of the skin that will tell me the eventual colour of the hamster.

I don’t tend to count my chickens though because mums can be so fickle. 10 babies one day can be 3 the next but I do enjoy having a guess at what I have. These pics also clue me in on how mum is doing in terms of feeding but there isn’t anything that I would be able to do if she wasn’t feeding them. Hand feeding pups this young is nigh on impossible and very risky for them. You can’t give them back once you take them away so it’s best to leave them be.

So I wait. Which I don’t excel at I must admit.

Day 13 and colours are more obvious:-
Promaz Litter - 28 Nov 2015 - Day 13

It’s worth noting that sexing them at this age is pointless in my opinion. I don’t know of any hamster breeder that culls so the thing that intrigues us the most is if babies are the colours we hoped for and that they are healthy. I see sables, blues and all sorts of variations of that. Mostly I can see no baby looks bloated, lethargic, missing limbs etc. Bloat is something that is very scary as it usually spells disaster for the baby. Often caused by a bacterial infection, medicating a tiny animal is tricky. A lot of us feed diced cucumber at this stage as we’ve found good hydration really helps.

Day 14 and handling starts. Eyes are starting to open and mums are usually fine with their babies smelling weird by this point although handling sessions are best kept short to start with. Each litter, far from being a money driven venture, is precious. The effort involved to this point means it’s silly to take risks. I wipe my hands in the bedding before handling anyway.

Promaz Litter - 28 Nov 2015 - Day 14a

The trouble is often that people start clamouring for reservations. “I want one!” they all cry. Not only do you need to fit in handling, feeding dry and wet food but also answering emails, endless photos etc. For me, it means updating Twitter, Facebook, the website, the blog, Youtube……it’s all worth it but can be stressful to fit in around the job I already have. And usually it’s to say “I don’t know what is available yet”. I don’t sex, split or put reservations on hamsters before 4 weeks old.

Day 18:-

Promaz Litter - 28 Nov 2015 - Day 18b
By this point they are fully functional, tiny hamsters. They run, climb, play, eat everything they see, chew, squeak. But Mum is still feeding them. She’s teaching them skills. Even though they go on to be solitary animals they still need social skills. When they then come to raise their own litter or come into contact with another syrian for mating, they are a more well rounded animal. Keeping Mum in til 28 days strengthens the immune system to the best it can be. All of the nourishment she has to give will have been given.

Up to this point they have been fed a variety of soft foods such as porridge and wet cat or dog food. They have had veg or fruit too. The focus is much more on protein rich wet food to help Mum get back her lost condition and for the baby’s upcoming growth spurts.

Day 30:-

Babies can be split between day 28 and day 35. You can see they are similar to the three week olds but they now have undercoat and are bigger. They start into their ‘bars of soap’ phase where they become particularly hard to keep hold of and all your handling time up til now really pays off.

Usually reservations can be confirmed and individual photos taken at 5 weeks onwards. Babies go to homes from 7/8 weeks here depending on maturity. Owners email using a short rehoming questionnaire and come to visit their chosen baby. Babies leave with pedigrees, caresheets, food and lots of advice. It’s a sad time in a way as you do grow attached but it’s also a little nice to give the tiny locusts to someone else to feed!

I’ll often be sent updates and photographs of them when they are older.

The Promaz litter, however, are staying here. Part of the breeding project to get the new blue/dilute gene recognised and standardised, it’s important to closely monitor how they grow and change. So expect more blog posts about them!

You can see videos of my babies on Youtube :-DoricHM