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:-
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:-
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.
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.
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.
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