My thoughts as I start…   Leave a comment

Well, there isn’t much here yet, and I still am a ways off from making significant plans, but I hope that this will be a place where I can post some of my thoughts, plans, findings, etc related to my rattery, rats, breeding, and anything else that seems appropriate.

For now I can start with some information. I am a new rat breeder, but not new to the rat world. I’ve had pet rats for most of the past 18 years or so. I’ve seen the hobby grow and change quite a bit in this time and have seen our care standards for these wonderful animals improve during that time, as we learn more and find better ways to provide for them.  It’s exciting to see how things have changed and continue changing, and to be a part of new, improved care for these little guys who share our lives.

I am a certified veterinary technician, with experience with exotics and wildlife. I’ve been researching genetics, talking to and getting to know other breeders, attending shows, and learning as much as I can about proper selection, care, socialization, health, etc of rats for several years now, in preparation of starting my own rattery.

I believe breeding is a huge responsibility and something that shouldn’t be done just for fun, just to see what its like, etc. There are many homeless pets out there, rats included, and bringing more into the world haphazardly adds to the problem. There are many people out there already who are breeding for the wrong reasons, and no matter how much they believe they love their pets, these people are doing nothing to help rats, and are simply adding to the overpopulation problem. It is important to breed for the whole rat, not just for making more, or for a cute marking, color, etc.

To responsibly breed, someone has to know enough about the genetics, animals in their care, selection, etc to be able to work towards overall improvement of the species. This means having pedigree information is essential – starting with unpedigreed rats (i.e. petstore rats, rescues, etc) is like re-inventing the wheel, and the breeder doing so will forever be trying to catch up to those starting from good stock.  It also means that animals need to be kept in good housing, with proper airflow (aquariums and top screened tubs should NOT be used as permanent housing for this reason!), with appropriate bedding (no pine or cedar),  a healthy diet (well formulated lab blocks, supplements of fresh fruits, veggies, grains, eggs, pasta, etc), enrichment (toys, hammocks, cagemates, foraging, free range time), and socialization (daily!).

Records need to be kept of all animals, any issues that are seen with health, temperament, development, etc, and lifespan, cause of death (preferably confirmed by necropsy for any breeding animals, or those who die unexpectedly or young), needs to be recorded. Ideally all this information should be shared publically as well, so that other breeders, as well as pet owners, are able to see what the trends are in a line as far as health, longevity, and temperament, and know what problems might occur in a line (NO line is totally healthy and problem free!), and hopefully they will be encouraged to report and share any data from their own rats as well, allowing many breeders to work together as a whole to improve rats.

It’s also important to select each pairing to try to produce a litter that improves upon the previous generation. This means that only EXCEPTIONAL animals should be bred, not just acceptable ones. Animals with temperament problems, whether fearful or aggressive, should not be considered at all, because genetics do play a big part in the temperament of rats, along side proper socialization. Health and longevity need to be considered – if many of the rats ancestors (parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc) have died at an early age, or from the same causes, this needs to be considered, and the rat may need to be removed from consideration. If the problems are something that is considered to be able to be bred around (weak lungs for instance), its important to select a mate for the rat whose family history doesn’t share a similar problems (they should have clear, strong lungs noted in necropsy and through health history to compensate for respiratory issues and weak lungs). If the rat in question is sick, they should obviously not be used for breeding until their health is recovered, and perhaps not even then depending on the nature of their illness.

When a litter is born, the best rats from the litter are the ones that should be selected for breeding in the next generation. Again, these rats should be exceptional, and not just acceptable, and ideally they should be an improvement over their parents. There are many breeders out there who will breed their rats multiple times, sometimes breeding the same male many times over, or using the same pair repeatedly. While there are some exceptional circumstances that occasionally require a second pairing of the same rats, or that a rat parent a 2nd litter with a different partner, as a general rule most rats should not need to be rebred. Either their offspring were an improvement (as desired) and should therefore be used in their place to parent the next generation, or their offspring were not an improvement, and there should be no reason to pair the same parents again to produce more rats that are not a step forward. The purpose of breeding should be to help produce rats that are a better than their ancestors, not just to produce to have them.

While EVERY rat is bred for the purpose of creating loving, healthy pets, its vital that a responsible, ethical breeder look at improving each generation, since selecting for better temperament and health, as well as conformation, markings, coloring, etc can help make progress to having pets that live longer, get sick less, and are happier and friendlier over all.

So my goals in all of this is to produce excellent pet rats with exceptionally sweet and loving temperaments, robust health, and long lifespans. There are no perfect lines out there, and any goal can take time to reach, but that will be what I strive for. To do this I will only breed rats with friendly, sweet dispositions, and I will track all health and longevity in my line to help me see trends and move towards those who show improvements in those areas. I will do necropsies of all breeding animals so that I can better understand their health and make more informed selections.

Within those goals I have specific varieties I wish to focus on as well – since focussing on only a few varieties can allow a breeder to concentrate on just a few cosmetic lines and work towards making them exceptional, rather than many lines (I’ve seen some people ‘specializing’ in more than a dozen different colors, and every coat type, marking, ear type, etc out there) that are just acceptable.

Initially, I want to work with all self (unmarked) rats, working on reducing the white markings that are often still present so that they have solid color through the feet and into the toes. For colors I plan to have a line of agouti rats, and a line of fawn (agouti with red-eye dilute added in). I can cross my agouti rats into my fawn lines as needed for outcrossing, occasionally bringing other red-eye dilute rats in as well, and bring in agouti or black rats when needed for my agouti line. However, to make a line it is important to limit outcrossing, and focus on selective inbreeding to help bring recessives and undesirable traits to the surface so that they can be selected away from.

With my agouti rats I would prefer to keep coats in standard and satin, and mainly top ears. I want agouti coloring with deep, solid black hairs and rich bright red tones. Many agoutis I’ve seen seem to be ‘washed out’ and mainly show up as random products of other focuses, but I’ve seen some with stunning coloring and would love to see this ‘classic’ color really stand out for the beauty that it is.

My fawn line I hope to really bring out the bright, saturated red/orange coloring, making them really like the color of a prized pumpkin. I hope to have dumbo ears in this line, and I am looking forward to the possibility of working on satin rex coats with these rats as well – having the sparkle of the satin and the curls of the rex making these guys into curly orange teddy bears.

These 2 lines will be my main focus for the first several years while I work to get them established and work towards improving them overall, selecting for the whole rat and overall better animals, to make wonderful pets.

During this time there are also plans to help with a test litter to help figure out a color that unexpectedly showed up in a litter, and that should be an interesting mini-project as well. We are still learning so much about these animals and there is always the chance to find new genetics out there – being a part of exploring what different and unexpected things show up is definitely exciting.

In the future we may explore adding other focuses as well – currently we are starting to explore the idea of russian silver burmese as a beautiful variety deserving attention. However, this will be several years away while we get our first lines going – and this will give us more time to watch the burmese lines of a couple of breeder friends develop, get a chance to see more examples of the variety – and do the same with the russian silvers of another breeder friend. Anything can happen over a few years, and we may see other things develop that could catch our interest as well. Exploring ideas before actually taking them on is something I prefer to do, so that I have a solid plan and know that I have the drive to work with it before I get started.

So there it is – some of my thoughts about being a responsible breeder, and what my goals are with my rats. I will hopefully be able to add to this over time, and demonstrate myself as a good, ethical breeder by what I accomplish.

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Posted March 31, 2011 by betuana in Uncategorized

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