New Genes: The Black and Blue Roborovski

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.

Hamstery Management: Parasite Control

It’s been awhile since my last blog post! Back at the beginning of the year I handled a major crisis surrounding an outbreak of Ornithonyssus sylviarum, the Northern Fowl Mite, that normally prefers chickens and other birds but is readily zoonotic to other animals. I detailed my, somewhat despairing, journey towards their identification and ultimately finding they were resistant to Ivermectin. I’ve decided to update my advice as below.

I’ve been mite free since April following three doses of Stronghold (salamectin). There’s a stigma about these things but by being honest about what is happening to your hamsters, you can save others a lot of grief.

Sadly, I find myself again under siege. It seems these mites, or similar mites and fleas, are rampant amongst keepers and needless to say it will take us all treating them with something stronger than Ivermectin before they will truly disappear. Thankfully I’ve only lost a couple of elderly hamsters this time, as I would have expected to due to their age.

As a pet owner you may find yourself encountering fur mites, fleas, lice or the more visible mites of other species. If you visit shows (main class or pet class, or socially) your first step is to stop. For the benefit of containing any outbreak, whether its an illness or a parasite, you have to assume you could pass it around on your clothes, on hamsters that look clear but who live in the same house etc.

The next step is to identify and get to know what you have. You can do this via your vet and mine were sent to the lab for an ID. Knowing this is invaluable when it comes to judging treatment and isolation. These mites, for example, can spend 3 weeks without eating and often travel, especially once their host has been removed. This makes them highly contagious. It also means that when an animal dies, their entire burden of mites immediately travels to the nearest cage and this is what causes the outbreak of deaths as each infested animal becomes overwhelmed by an exponential increase in mite load.

This can happen in the space of a week.

They are also likely to be found more in the bedding than on the animal, making them hard to spot early on. In chicken houses they have been known to readily infest small mammals and can complete their lifecycle on mammals (but not on humans although they do cause a lot of irritation when they bite us). Moreover, it means that these mites, unlike lice or hamster fur mites, will readily move into the bedding off the animal and so will be in the show pen, for example, and then kicked out on to the show table, onto clothes or shoes and they have three weeks to find a new host. The early life stages are almost invisible to the naked eye, becoming visible and black as adults and red once they’ve fed. You won’t see just one, or a few if they are young. Easy, and scary, when you think about it.

NorthernFowlMitesonChickenFeathershaftwithnitsviaTheChickenChick

Chicken farmers have long found these, and similar mites, to be resistant to Ivermectin. Your next step is to treat your animals with a prescription strength treatment that is ovicidal. As detailed above, you want your treatment to kick in as quickly as possible. Most of the hamsters I lost died in the first week of treatment. Biting the hamster will kill the bug but they’ve still taken blood. Anaemia kills small animals very quickly.

The identifiable difference between these and Ornithonyssus bacoti, the Rat Mite, is that these do not cause itching to the hamsters (according to the lab). So you don’t see them scratching, they don’t get scabs and they don’t lose fur. Again, this makes them very hard to spot. If you have the Rat Mite, please read up carefully on it’s lifecycle and, most importantly, how long it can go between feeds. This is the minimum amount of time you will have to dose your hamsters for to make sure you get them all. Some mites (such as the red mite, Dermanyssus gallinae) can survive for up to 9 months……..The nice thing is they will be within a close range of the ‘nest’ so are unlikely to occupy your bedding storage or food bins. Again, this will be different for each parasite so do check.

If they are zoonotic for Syrians, they will be for dwarfs. I found these things on the gerbils, the Chinese, the robos and the Syrians. Thankfully none made it to the pygmy mice who were in complete lock down bar me feeding and watering them using fully disinfected hands/arms and rolled up sleeves!

Next is the length of treatment. Initially, Stronghold requires three treatments spaced 2 weeks apart (according to vet advice). It’s really important that you follow this regime, even if the cages and animals start looking clear. It’s very hard to spot just one mite, or flea or louse but you only need to miss one.

Unfortunately, then you have to evaluate your whole hamstery plan. If you regularly attend shows it’s not enough to just treat those that go there. If the parasites you encounter are like these, they can come in on your clothes, show pen carriers etc. If you treat the hamsters that have been, the mites on them may choose to wander (quite far) to find a new food source and still infect your hamstery. Therefore, you would need to treat your entire room/shed monthly like you would for your cat or dog. This can be done relatively cheaply using a prescription and taking advantage of online prices. Vets are starting to come around to the idea that small furries need medication marketed for bigger animals and it is possible to get a 1ml vial of stronghold for your hamsters (assuming you need that much!) and dilute it as needed depending on whether you are treating dwarfs or Syrians.

Think about yourself during treatment. These mites will be all over your hands, clothes and shoes/socks so consider stripping down and washing after each treatment, or even while feeding/handling the hamsters during the initial treatment phase. These things are not fun when they bite you and as you haven’t treated yourself, every mite that picks you isn’t getting killed by the treatment!

Lastly, be vigilant not complacent. Treat everyone, not just the one or two you’ve seen. Assume everyone has it, whatever ‘it’ is or at least has been in contact with it. Assume, if it’s bugs, that they are on your shoes, clothes, other pets, carpet etc and treat accordingly. If you have to flea spray areas, use something like Indorex. Rethink your procedures. I now use Poultry Shield regularly to clean my cages as this kills most things and as it affects the outer coating of the mite, they can’t become resistant to it.

This time I spotted these little buggers a lot quicker, before I became infested, and treatment has already started. Stronghold is so effective that most of them will have died by now but I’m not complacent and I’ll follow the full plan.

You may read this and think that you’ve only got a couple of hamsters that go to pet class and you need not worry. Please bear in mind that other exhibitors, with many more hamsters, judge your pets and so are at risk of bringing these back to their hamsteries. All of us need to treat these things when they appear, and treat them seriously.

The same can be said about a virus or bacterial infection. Isolate, identify, treat, complete the course, prevent.

It only takes one. One bug, one shaving, one sneeze.

My preferred method of treatment, if hamsters weren’t so flammable of course –

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**references

http://eol.org/pages/4318169/overview

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/ornithonyssus

Photo credit:-

www.the-chicken-chick.com

www.petprescription.co.uk

www.xproducts.com

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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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.

Frod litter - 29-04-2016 - Day 21a

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!

You Fall Down, You Get Back Up

Ughh, 2016 is a challenging year so far for sure. Mainly with regards to the curse of the Chinese hamsters that seems to still be plaguing the hamstery. Out of my recent planned pairings I’ve had two boys die, had some disappointing diabetic results and my last black eyed white girl also passed away shortly after she tested positive for the horrible disease.

None of the Roborovski are breeding yet and my first attempt at a Syrian litter also failed after mum got rid of her litter.

It’s been 18 months or more since I last had a Chinese litter of my own. 18 months! So my boys all went off for breeding holidays. I’m pleased to say they were very productive!

Doric Bardane has brought home two little spotty girls and a normal girl from Vectis hams and has now made some lovely boys for Willow Tree hamstery. A white girl too who will be staying with her breeder.

Sadly, Astere passed away with his girlfriend but before he died he managed to pass on his genes and I’m so happy I get to have a spotty back from him too.

Hopefully, some of these hamsters will breed for me!  There are no whites here now, only spotty carriers but with a change of luck I’m hoping that will also change. I’m determined to break this run.

All the robos I own that are of breeding age are now paired up so if I get no babies soon then I’ve done everything I can haha. You can introduce the hamsters but it’s down to them if they are feeling romantic.

Syrians are a whole other kettle of fish. I’m going to have to accept that I need to mate up multiple females again. Otherwise the girls I need will be too old, especially if they don’t take first time around. With the fresh spring in the air, with any luck, I’ll get three for three like I did in November last year.

Easter is generally the time I tend to look forward for the year and my main aim is to knit together my Syrian lines, and not lose any more of my Robo or Chinese lines.

Watch this space!

 

A Typical Show Day.

*sigh* The last show of the year! Well, for an exhibitor who attends both sets of club shows. Sadly, for a lot of exhibitors the last show was the Wootton Bassett Christmas show last week held by the Southern Hamster Club.
Barnt Green is a new venue for the Midland Hamster Club and replaces the previous Kingswinford show. As the last show of the year, this is also a Christmas show for the Midland members.
I always hitch a lift to shows with fellow exhibitor Vectis and we try to get there fairly early. That usually means getting up on or before 6am but as we had relatively few things to pack and few hamsters to take, it was a much more relaxed affair this weekend.

I only brought Astere, my black eyed white hamster that was born at Vectis. I’ve had a whole week of being woken at 5am by my neighbours new cockerel so I didn’t feel confident that my usually scatty brain could manage too many things this time. It’s funny how I can be very organised when it comes to other people’s lives or needs but so very forgetful when it comes to myself!

This is Astere in his show pen. The pen is designed for dwarf hamsters and is notably different to those used for syrians or roborovski hamsters. All dwarfs and short haired syrians are penned on woodshavings even if it isn’t the substrate you would use at home. I know of a few hamsters (not many but a few nonetheless) who can’t go to shows as the wood shavings cause eye irritations even over the course of just one day. This is one reason I use paper bedding from Fitch.

Barnt Green 2015 a

In addition to the bedding, every hamster needs a piece of veg for moisture and a dog biscuit for food. I use cucumber as it stays wetter for longer and Biscroks are recommended by the clubs as being the lowest in salt out of the dog biscuits generally available. You can buy your own or the club provides them at the show. The veg should be added at home to account for having enough water during the car journey there. We always take extra too. The additions of extras is not allowed, the toilet roll tube was for the journey up and back only. The pens look quite small to newcomers but the hamsters feel safe enough in them to sleep the day away.

Transported in special show pen carriers, the hamsters are quite safe and guarded against injury during the car journey as they could fall and hurt themselves in a cage or carriers could topple over if we brought too many of them. Many exhibitors paint their carriers according to their hamstery colours. Mine are red but Astere is travelling in these as I’ve only him and it saves on car space. The carriers are made to hold either four or six pens and even hold mouse pens. They have a special, removable, wooden ‘divider’ that sits between the two levels so that the hamsters can’t chew the pens above.

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Close to Birmingham, Barnt Green is slightly closer than Kingswinford but we still weren’t sure how much we could rely on the directions so we left little to chance and set off just after 7am. We knew there were 183 syrians entered and over 80 dwarfs so we needed to be there on time. I was hoping to be able to see how the sales were set up in the morning  and collect the paperwork as I’ll be the official sales manager next year.

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The syrians were split between two judges and we all managed to get out of the hall before 6pm. The syrian pens are shown below. As you can see the hamsters are all happily asleep. These guys were judged first and still sleeping come the end of the day. I even got to book steward for judge Andrew Bryan. I thoroughly recommend book or pen stewarding for judges when you first start as you learn a lot about colours and standards that all helps towards breeding.

Barnt Green 2015 c

And the trophies and prize cards set out for the end of the day presentation. We went a bit quick today so we could all leave on time. Prize cards are generally collected straight from the table as you go, trophies, medals and rosettes are handed out by the judge.

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In addition to bringing home second place black eyed white chinese and third place in the ‘members points’ class, I also brought these lovely hamsters back:-

At the top is a sable boy called Assam from Bourne Valley Hamsters, the black and the cream are Ceana and Perzik from Wyeside Hamstery. I also have a black girl called Jocasta from Lilliput Hams who is a fidget so I couldn’t grab any non blurry pics of her just yet.

I look forward to 2016 and the Ferndown show. You can find all the details of shows on the National Hamster Council show page.

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.

The coming tidal wave?

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.