Houten Terraria 2017

I had the most amazing opportunity to visit The Netherlands over the weekend and their massive rodent and reptile exo-naag (expo or show) on Easter Sunday. I was equal parts very anxious about it and very excited. I hope to share some of that glorious weekend with you.

To give you an idea of the undertaking, this was my second time abroad and I’m nearly 40 so a new passport was needed as well as navigating currency exchange and all that. On top of that the show requires health statements for the animals you bring, plus making sure I had all the necessary pedigrees going. I had my list of animals travelling back and most of these were pre-booked. Although this is difficult sometimes, I highly recommend booking in advance as it gives you a sense of who you are dealing with before you arrive.

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4 litre ice cream tubs with holes on the top and sides. Already filled with bedding and food and labelled.
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1 litre ‘Whitefurze’ storage boxes with holes drilled on the top and sides. Already filled with bedding and food and labelled.

Boxes had been dremeled, lunches prepared, overnight bag packed, euros in purse, folder of information in hand….I was ready to go.

I travelled with Vectis Hamstery and we set off from Harwich on the overnight ferry. My word, I never knew I could feel so sea-sick. The tablets I’d taken just in case really didn’t cut the mustard. On the way back I used Sturgeon 15 which you can buy over the counter and I highly recommend those compared to my prescription ones!

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The cabin was nicer than I’d thought it would be.
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The Hook of Holland, a photograph taken whilst not looking!

We pulled up and parked the ferry at the Hook of Holland. That was bumpy going but I made it in one piece. My travelling companion was the driver and she did a very good job of navigating the wrong side of the road….

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Beautiful scenery out the Vectis Mobile window. Much of the landscape was similar to this.

I have to say, I don’t know how much the government spends on roads over there but ours could surely use some tips! A very smooth ride and not a pothole in sight.

We arrived in a wee bit too late for the exhibitors entrance and as we didn’t bring any animals to show (can you imagine the organisation skills required for that), we opted for the visitors entrance. It meant queueing up, and we got a little rained on, but it was less stressful.

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The Expo Center in Houten

I was in awe at how many people were already waiting to go in, armed with carriers. And the sheer volume of animals, toys and food for sale. I must admit, photographs weren’t that easy to take so I only took a select few:-

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The rodent hall was a lot less busy later in the day.
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I was surprised to see the owl display in the rodent hall but at least it was quite far away. The owls didn’t seem too fussed.
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Madagascan Day Gecko. One day I’ll have one of these…. They are displayed in these boxes for their safety and warmth. The reptile hall is heated and these boxes offer good insulation.
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I was amazed at the selection of small frogs, spiders, tortoises as well as snakes and lizards.

I wandered around the reptile hall in awe. It was hard not to walk with my mouth open. I have mixed emotions about what I saw. The reptiles were very well looked after. I don’t doubt that a lot of effort goes in to keeping any reptile, insect, arachnid or amphibian alive and they all looked bright and healthy.

There were rodents in there though, and those I didn’t take photographs of as they were not destined to become pets. I will say they had bedding, food and water but I’ll never be ok with the idea of snake food. That’s just my opinion.

The rodent hall was an overwhelming treat for the eyes and the urge to buy everything I could lay my hands on was strong! Like a fox in a hen house….or a small child in a sweet shop. I did buy some extras but overall I was fairly restrained. I’ve added a selection of photos for you. Its important not buy on impulse and make sure you’ve run your own eye over the animals you buy. Of course, you may be taken in my an animal that’s a little small etc but that’s different. However, none of the hamster breeders I’d dealt with gave me anything other than an accurate description of their animals. I’m very pleased with what I brought back.

New projects in cinnamon and headspot robos on the way…..

Needless to say the car was packed on the way home. There was an awkward moment when we were asked if we had any animals in the car. Luckily there aren’t any restrictions on bringing back the regular species of pet that we had on board. Always check any CITES info you need before you buy anything. We also were able to prove we were not commercial importers as those need an import/export licence. The lady at border control seemed genuinely fascinated and delighted at the idea of a hamster show!

It was definitely a very long day, stressful in places making sure everyone on the list had been spoken to etc. We’d packed the car through the day as it was nice and cool outside which made it easier. Five cucumbers later…..

We’d met with two lovely people whom I’d been organising a lot of the hamster ‘trade’ with prior to the visit who were both welcoming and very helpful. Wellington Hams and Lilliput Hams had also gone the same way as us and we spent the day around their table. North Star hams and Brambleberries Hamstery were also there as familiar UK faces.

Whether we can go again remains to be seen as I’m not sure what Brexit will mean in terms of UK customs laws. Nevertheless I’m glad I went, I’ve made a lot of new contacts and I had an amazing and wonderful experience.

The breeders I met and their animals who came home with me can all be seen on the Facebook page. Eventually I will have updated the website too.

For anyone thinking of going, here is my list of things to take:-

1. Roll of labels. I found this invaluable for re-labelling boxes, especially those that had gotten wet on the way in. You never know when you need a new label and you can’t afford not to mark each box with what’s in there and where it’s from. As I found out with a pair of gerbils!

2. There’s no such thing as too much cucumber. If it’s a hot day those boxes may get cucumber more than once in a day and overnight so pack a lot. We took five and had two left in the end but better too many than not enough.

3. Pre-pack boxes with dry food and bedding. Less to pack in the car and each box is ready to go.

4. Take extra toilet rolls. A few of these don’t take up too much space and one roll was enough for 28 boxes. That’s cheap toilet roll as I find the expensive stuff is a little dusty.

5. Make your own lunch. Take a cool bag. It’s cheaper and you have the food you want rather than what’s on offer at the time of day you eventually manage to sit down!

6. Put your European headlight stickers on before boarding the ferry. That’s a tip stolen from Vectis as I don’t have a car but trust me, it will save you a lot of effort. They are quite fiddly to fix on I’m told.

7. Take small boxes in crates. Plenty of ventilation and the animals are safe and warm. They want to be snug, not in a lot of space. Some of the animals we collected had already travelled from France, or Finland for example. Crates stack securely in the car and can be seatbelted in. We left the seats up to make the stacks more secure.

8. Take larger containers for Syrians, gerbils, mice but transfer them in the car. Don’t lug your big boxes around the show. A 4 litre is plenty big enough for a couple of hours. But not for overnight.

9. Pack the car with all tanks and tubs set up. Don’t flat pack on the way there, you need to know if it will all fit before you leave.

10. Take plenty of ‘walking around money’. No matter how much you pre reserve, you’ll see plenty of animals you want while you are there. Don’t miss out, but be sensible about it too.

I hope that’s been informative! If you try this trip I hope you have as much fun as I did.

Waiting For Spring – Planning The Spring Clean

The blog has been quiet recently as I’m spending much of my time pairing up hamsters!

I’m still suffering the fallout from cutting back in 2015 and then being elsewhere in 2016. I’m largely trying to breed older animals to limited effect. Despite having had three litters in September, none of those were for my black Syrian lines, my last litter for them being April 2016. Luckily I kept a male!
My line still run back to Dougal, my first black, luckily. I do also still have a boy whose father was another hamster I’d bred, Lorne. Thanks to another breeder, Roma Hamstery, I have a black boy here who came from my Engineers litter. So all is not lost! However, when faced with an in season female, none of these boys were interested. Perhaps she wasn’t really in season…they would know haha.

Despite some action a couple of weeks ago, no Syrians have produced pups yet although, annoyingly, spring has sprung in other hamsteries! I’m sure it won’t be long for us. I’ve been off my game for a while and it’s going to take a while to get things back on track.

One thing on my list is a full Spring Clean. It’s not something any hamster owner looks forward to but it’s time. It involves pulling out cages and cleaning in the crannies. Getting rid of any cobwebs and dust in the corners. There is a surprising build up of dust over time from skin, bedding and food. Even dust extracted  bedding leaves a layer behind once it’s been chewed and sat on.

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I normally  do partial cleans. It’s impossible to do the whole room at once anymore, not without help. So a section of cages get done at each feed so that all the cages are fully cleaned each month with part cleans done through the week to keep everything fresh. This time I will be moving each section to one side of the room, hovering behind and underneath and washing the wall. Yup, hamsters pee on the walls from time to time! I also get Indian Moths sleeping up where the wall meets the ceiling and this silk nests need removing to avoid a build up. Indian Meal Moths like hamster food, a lot. Then each cage in the section gets fully cleaned, both inside and out, before being put back. This is sort of a deep clean. As I have a lot of hamsters I don’t get a chance to fuss over cleaning the cages on an every week basis like I used to. So I revel in the opportunity to clear space in my schedule for this purpose.

With my back the way it is, I can’t get this done in a weekend like I used to, even with hubby’s help but we’ll make good progress. It’s a great feeling 🙂

I also take this opportunity to photograph hamsters as I put them back. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth the effort. There’s nothing worse than a smelly hamster room. Last year, with going back and forth the hospital to visit Mum and various appointments with my own doctors, that hamster room got the basic treatment and it showed. I’m looking forward to sprucing the place up a bit.

What I am also hoping to achieve is redoing my rosette holders and I’ll definitely be posting photos of these.

I have to also remember I have other rooms in my house that need a spring clean too…..

 

*featured image courtesy of Pinterest.

**embedded picture courtesy of wallpaper safari (click pic for link)

 

Famous Pedigrees

I recently asked fans of my page…what do you want to see me blog about? One of the answers was ‘famous lines’. Here’s my take on this, not so simple, topic.

Many of us don’t ‘line breed’, in the strictest sense of the word, anymore. With hamster breeding there is a lot of line mixing, for want of a better phrase. Depending the species of course. So to pinpoint a famous ‘line’ is quite tricky. Line breeding refers, in its simplest terms, a degree of inbreeding involving parents or grandparents down the generations of bloodline. Said to cement certain features into the line, it’s losing it’s popularity among some fancies. Many newer breeders prefer to outcross (breed to something unrelated) and then incross (breed back to a relative), or keep outcrossing each generation. So you can’t really pinpoint a line that is famous as hamsters from either method might win a certificate of merit or a show.

The easier thing to do would be to name a famous hamster perhaps? Well I’d rather use the term ‘well known’ as we aren’t talking about celebrities 😉

In any species of hamster, a well known animal would be a champion or grand champion. With six certificates of merit, that can’t be awarded by the same judge, a grand champion really is a worthy representative of his species and variety.

Some of the nicest things about the hamster club are the following:-

1. A lot of breeders have a champion or grand champion.

2. Because nice hamsters and their offspring are readily shared, a lot more breeders have champions and grand champions in their lines.

3. Because we have pedigrees that we regularly give out to people, you’ll see the names of champions or grand champions on there. Sometimes marked with a *** for a champion or perhaps ‘GC’ etc. A breeder is also more than likely to point it out to you as a matter of pride.

These things mean that, instead of one famous hamstery or a few famous lines, there are many more opportunities for newcomers to the fancy to obtain nice animals with good pedigrees behind them.

Unfortunately, in addition to these champions and grand champions being rather too numerous to list, unscrupulus breeders or back yard breeders might use such a list to fabricate a pedigree. So it’s not something I could, or would want to, publish.

Lastly, there are no shortcuts to coming to a show, speaking to people and learning from experience. There really isn’t. Information is readily available for those serious about showing and breeding.

Alas, whilst I’ve had a few ‘nearly champions’ and a lot of other peoples champions in my own pedigrees, I’ve yet to get there with one of my own. A champion black would be the best achievement for me. One day!

If there is something you’d like to read about specifically, comment below and I’ll see what I can do!

2017 – Looking Forward

Wow 2016 sucked! I have to say that’s the nicest phrase I feel is appropriate for here. Two family bereavements last year along with a few other life stresses means that I’m in danger of losing even more bloodlines as hamsters seem ‘suddenly’ too old. I’m facing somewhat of a crisis. I start January with an urgent need to review all my breeding.

The trouble is I have back surgery looming and although I still don’t have a date yet, it’s looking to be for Feb/Mar or possibly April. With Houten coming around in April I’d better be back on my feet by then!

In the meantime, I’m grounded from almost all shows as I’m struggling to even sit in a car for the journey, not being able to lie down all day. Without going into too much personal detail about my particular condition, suffice to say that I need to be able to stand, sit or lie down as I need to through the day with most day ending with the use of hefty painkillers that really put a dampener on social conversation!

I’ve stepped away from my role as Sales Manager, despite being nominated for both clubs, to minimise stress. I’ve stepped away from the committees for now for the same reason. I’m still enjoying my time as PRO for the council.

So, what to do? I’ve temporarily shut my waiting lists for dwarfs. I have maybe half as many dwarf pups in any year compared to Syrians and I’m now down to only a handful of breakable adults. Most of those are Roborovski. I have lost nearly all of my Chinese lines to old age or diabetes. My Winter Whites haven’t bred and my Robos have been largely unreliable, despite being paired for some time. I’m currently looking at reviewing their diet and adding more fresh veg to entice breeding outside of the seasons.

Most recently I lost Fraxinelle, my last black eyed white. Although he hadn’t yet been tested as he was still under a year, he’s been draining his water bottle and I had suspicions. On the day I went to take him out to test him, he’d already gone. I’ve taken the decision to focus on my normal as I have two males and two females of breeding age that I’d like to use. The dominant spots I’ve got will either go into those lines or go out on loan as they are all from black eyed whites.

Robo wise I’ve done a lot of soul searching about whether I’m spreading myself too thin. I think probably yes, to a degree but I’ve had a lot of bad luck in sourcing breeding adults that has set me back quite a bit. What I need is agouti Robos and to get my agouti line back on track. This gives me breeding animals to cross out into pied and husky. I’m planning on quite a few robo litters this year.

The Winter Whites have so far been a bit tricky but I’ve got a pair of normal paired at the moment and a breedable sapphire female to pair up. I’m breeding for just normals, but I may get sapphires out.

Syrians are…..a challenge. I’ve dropped my chocolate plans as I’ve had to review space in the hamster. The Ivories are doing very well, the blues are on track, more or less, but the blacks need work. I only had one litter in 2016 towards my blacks but thankfully I kept a lot of boys from 2015 so I haven’t lost too much. If my blue girl, Brizo doesn’t give me anything this month then all I have left here are blue carriers. Proteus proved that blue carriers are just as handy at giving a whole litter of blues so I’m not too concerned at this stage. It just means that I’m making blues again, then crossing to goldens to eventually produce the elusive ‘dilute golden’. I had to choose a line to stop and I have too much invested in the blues now as well as the blacks so those will stay. The ivories keep me going when I feel like jacking it all in so they stay. The rusts and chocolates were very new and I’d already suffered a lack of successful litters and I have had plenty of those elsewhere!

Mongolian gerbils are here and waiting for suitable girlfriends. I’m unlikely to have more than one or two litters each year so very similar to the mice.

All in all, the knock on effect from last year’s lull is still very much being felt here. The dwarfs of course date back to 2015 when they slowed down. But, and despite the planned hospital visit, these hamster lines will not all be lost.

Breeding can have significant ups and downs at times I’ve found. I’m still determined to win another best/reserve best in show with a black! I’ve been down but I’m not out! The only way is up

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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.

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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.
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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