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.

 

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!

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

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.

Proving you can’t know it all with hamsters

With hamsters, sometimes the only way to truly know what other colours they carry is to mate them with a hamster who is a different colour. To illustrate my point, I mated my black girl Nessie to a cinnamon boy Gadwin. Cinnamon is recessive, so is black. If I get doves, it means that boy parents carry each others colours. i.e. Gadwin carries black and Nessie carries cinnamon as you need two of both of these genes in one hamster to produce this colour.

I was expecting goldens but suspecting cinnamons as Nessies dad Dougal had thrown some funny honey babies before. Lo and behold I got this:-

Nesgad Litter 20-06-15 - Day 25 g

Hmmm, very orange for a golden? I jest, this is a cinnamon girl. This mating proves Nessie does carry cinnamon. Sometimes pedigrees can’t tell you everything and this is why we test mate to prove purity in lines that shouldn’t have anything in them. Recessives can carry a loooong way 😉

Blue – The latest colour on the block

Hopefully due to grow up big and strong, the survivor from my latest litter is a blue. Out of two black parents carrying this new ‘dilute’ gene, this little girl is very special to me. Ideally I would have like a boy that could have more than a couple of litters, but I’m happy to take this.
Her mum and dad will be paired again at some point to see if I can get more blues out and possibly males too. I’m very excited as this colour is lovely.
Not standardised just yet, the gene is being experimented with by a couple of hamsteries. Namely Norwood Hamstery, Laura Lovatt and now Tuftyfluff Hamstery here in the UK that I know of. They are possibly more. The dilute gene seems to have different effects on different colours so this process may take a while.
In the meantime, I’m happy to work with it’s effect on blacks and it would be very interesting to see it’s effect in chocolates too. I’m currently working towards a few different goals although ultimately a good black is still my most important aim.

Just a little over 2 weeks old now, I hope you enjoy the photo spam you will be forced to see over the coming weeks.

Protula Litter 07-08-2015 Day 12 a Protula Litter 07-08-2015 Day 13 a Protula Litter 07-08-2015 Day 13 b