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.

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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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!

Handling Roborovski Hamsters

I often get asked if people should handle their new roborovski hamster and it made me wonder if there is somewhere on the internet that suggests you shouldn’t. Goodness me I shouldn’t have looked!!

So, to right this awfully bad misinformation let me educate you 🙂

I breed and show these delightful creatures and that means I handle them, a lot. They are just like any other species of hamster. They are handled from 2 weeks old, as soon as their eyes are starting to open, and then handled every day until they go to their new homes. The ones I keep for showing have to be handled regularly to get them used to life on the show bench, just like the syrians and the chinese.

Roborovskis are clowns….on rocket fuel. A slow robo is either old or sick. Even the tame ones that we have at the show or on display stands need to be handled over a box, just in case they decide to have a run. They are not pets for small children because they need to be handled by older children or adults so that they don’t get squeezed too hard.

The idea that there are robos out there that don’t get any handling at all because the internet says not to is very sad.

Roborovskis like to be handled, they like to sit on your hand and clean themselves…the ultimate sign of a calm hamster. The best way to handle them is to get a storage box, place some of their bedding in it and ‘juggle’ your robo hand over hand until they calm down. Most do after the intial 30 seconds of ‘lift off’ as soon as they realise you aren’t going to eat them this time.

Naturally, your roborovski will run from you when you first go into the cage but will soon calm down. Handle, handle, handle! That’s the key to having your robo then turn around and inspect your fingers for treats. They are not a cuddly species but that doesn’t mean you should allow them to become feral. All that happens is they live in constant low level stress from being too nervous. You aren’t doing them any favours.

Robos do not cope with stress very well and will squawk at you when they feel unable to handle life. Just keep letting them now that handling is normal, and fine and that you going into their cage is also not a problem. Do it on a routine and they will soon realise that there is nothing to be worried about.

My best advice is to choose a hamstery page, blog or website for information directly from people who breed the species rather than cutesy pages from people who maybe own one or two and then become self professed gurus on them.  Sure, you can have robos from large chain pet stores that don’t like to be handled because they haven’t had any at all, or no positive handling, til they got to you but that is not a species characteristic just a sign of an inattentive breeder or a grumpy individual.

This is where going to a registered show breeder helps. An unhandleable hamster is disqualified from the show, especially if they bite (which robos rarely do) and are usually not then bred from.

I’m hoping to put some care articles/videos up soon to illustrate aspects of caring for these, and other species of hamsters as well as mice.

Happy handling!

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