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.
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!
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
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.
I’ve had to go all out and pair up everything I have to avoid losing lines as females get older. I’m hoping that I’ve got enough litters on the way to take my various bloodlines into 2016.
My own fault, in a way. I’ve had a crisis of career over the previous couple of months, so haven’t been 100% focused. I mean, if I were to get a full time job outside of the house then how would I have time for my breeding.
In any case, I’m happy with my two part time jobs that fit in quite nicely but it means I’ve looked at my list and had a bit of a panic. It’s the wrong time of year for prolific amounts of babies.
But if I wait til spring then half my girls will be retired so here I go. My list of expected litter on the website is the longest it’s ever been! I’ve got spare baby boxes coming out of my ears and disappearing under an increasing stack of baby food/kitten food/kitten milk.
I’m ready! Hopefully they are too. And, if I’m lucky, I’ll have time to make some videos although I’m not promising anything.
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.