New Genes: The Black Roborovski

Well, thought to be black.

I’m so proud to have imported agouti pied and possibly blue agouti pied roborovski from Holland and Germany via Houten towards the end of last year. As soon as possible I shared one of these hamsters with Vectis Hamstery for the purposes of exploring the new colours black and blue. Excited because, if it’s the same blue as with other species, you cannot have that without black (blue colour is usually dilute + black).

I’m even more proud to have bred black pieds out of two of these robos. Something that was possible thanks to Tebbe Bonder of Bonder Exotics and Daniella Ringling or Piccoli Amici for letting me import these and thanks to Vectis Hamstery for getting on board with breeding them. I’ve handled breeding new colours by myself and it’s no fun!

So far it looks to be behaving as expected but with new genes it’s important to keep an open mind. I’ve bred mine to make more of the genes available to us. The plan is for one of us to breed unpatterned agouti’s carrying the genes. These agouti hamsters will, hopefully, produce black, or blue (or both) and this will prove it’s recessive. If both parents do not show the colour (the phenotype) but produce it in their offspring then the gene cannot be dominant.

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The Carab litter born here, with mum S’krivva

Unpatterned blue agouti hamsters will suggest it’s a dilute gene and we will also like to see what a self colour looks like without a pattern as no one knows for sure what markings a self roborovski would have. Close examination of the fur would be needed to ensure it’s the same colour to the roots. If it isn’t it will raise more questions that can be answered with more sensible breeding.

Once recognised by the standards committee, then further breeding can be done with other varieties. What does a husky black look like? A husky blue? A dilute husky? But it’s important to take things a step at a time and only use the wild colour (agouti) to prove your case. You can’t have a black agouti, for example. If you don’t produce a blue agouti (the expected phenotype for the dilute gene), it suggests the blue is something else. Like a gene that is only a modifier that affects black.

In any case, it’s very pretty. I’ve been in total love with roborovski since I first started breeding in 2013 and, indeed, they were my very first litter of hamsters. I’m extremely excited to be working with this and it seems far more robust than the blue I have been working with in Syrians. Health can be improved but when the health is good to start with, it makes any project like this much better to work with.

We’re not jumping to many conclusions with this. We’ve only produced a couple of litters so far and there’s a long way to go yet. I’m enjoying the journey though!

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The Carab litter the day they were split up. Two brothers and one sister. One agouti pied and two black pieds.

Photo credits:

All mine! Please do share but do credit me if you do.

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.

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.

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Multiple litters are here!

All three girls gave birth as expected. Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to do a sort of breeders diary to give people an idea of what’s actually involved in raising these guys. My aim is to bridge the gap between those who think that multiple litters are horrendously time consuming and those who think they are very easy.
The reality is in between the two. Assuming the timing is right you can raise multiple litters without too much extra hassle. There’s not a lot of difference between one, two or three at the same time. But when you put in a degree of effort for one litter then you do have to plan in advance how to achieve this times two or three extras.
The hardest part, for syrians, is anticipating how many temporary cages you need for the youngsters when they get old enough to split up. The point at which they fall out with their siblings is hard to predict, as is the size of any litter. But the nice thing about hamsters is that they usually aren’t too difficult to rehome, especially when they are quality animals that are tame, healthy and good looking. This is why it’s worth putting in the extra time.

Contrary to popular opinion, mostly expressed online, a good breeder can breed multiple litters and across different species, assuming that they put the time in. I am not expecting to do much but eat, sleep and breathe baby hamsters for the next 6-8 weeks. In terms of profit. There are easier ways to make this small amount of money. The money we make is really more of a token towards the cost of raising them and to discourage those looking for a freebie. I like the idea of being the same price, or cheaper that major pet store chains as you get so much more for your money.

Fillongley show 2015

I had a really great time at this last show. I took only three pens of roborovski with me as I’ve not taken any in to a show for a while. My job this time was to book steward for Susan Washbrook (Lilliput Hamstery) while she judged and I enjoyed every minute of it. With pen steward Julie Young (Dragonfly Hamstery) it was good fun. I have no poker face when I book steward and my own hamsters come up so I prefer not to enter syrians on a day when I steward for them.

My back survived pretty well, only causing me an issue right at the end which was really good and I even got a chance to give back Thor the robo and pick up Odin and Princess Leia to bring home. Thor and Odin are husky boys so very important to breeding of these in the UK.

My own robos did very well and brought home 1st, 2nd and 3rd out of a class of four (normals). Not many but still, Dalmeny won his class fair and square 🙂 Pied girl Ursula didn’t do as well in non standard but this is more to do with her being a bit too small ideally.

Looking forward to Real London which is on the 12th September 2015 in Bracknell. Hoping to enter some mice there too. Before that the hams and mice will be going to a display that I and Vectis Hams Rachel will be holding at St Francis Animal Welfare on the 30th August near Fairoak. Do pop along if you are in the area!

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!

Denchlet 13-04-15 - Day 21 a