This article is from the WSSF 2010 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
Breeding & Stuff
By Dale Taylor Burkhart
Q I would like to be a part and become a small breeder; been trying to see if I could buy a few males and females. We have been very unhappy with the rat breeders, as one breeder said that I could buy one of the Downunder Dumbo male and female offsprings, but I didn’t know that you had to do it online for a waiting list. That breeder was going through a hard time a few months ago and she lost her doe during labor along with her kittens so will no longer be breeding those rats.
A few of the breeders that I contacted all said that I can have pet only, no breeding stock. I want the best to see that when I breed I want all possible genetic defects to be free and that the breedings are pure without defects of any type. How can I get started?
A I am sorry you are unhappy with the breeders in the club, but you have to understand that in a litter there will be very few that will be breeding quality and the rest are to be sold as pets and are not to be used for breeding. There are various reasons for this—poor type, poor color, poor markings, poor size, possible defects in the line that must not be perpetuated, etc. There may not even be any that are show quality. Those not show quality, but okay for breeding, are usually kept or sold to other experienced breeders. Other mutations such as Tailless must ONLY go to very experienced breeders that have a full understanding of the genetics involved and are WILLING to CULL (stop a line that comes up with problems). Every mutation weakens the line. The Downunder that you mentioned is a dominant trait so you only need one to continue the marking but then you need to know genetics to work with this.
When I first joined the club, I remember the breeders would not sell to anyone who didn’t have a good background in rat genetics and a verifiable waiting list of people who would buy the babies once they were born. The breeders also had a strict contract that stated all the things the buyer must provide for the rat. Even the pet rats weren’t sold without a contract. Serious breeders don’t want any of their offspring going to pet shops—that’s why you must have the verifiable waiting list.
You said you wanted a few males and a few females, you only need ONE male and ONE female to begin with. If you had a few females and they gave birth at the same time, you could have 16–18 babies PER female to find homes for and that just isn’t possible even for an established breeder. The best females are then usually bred back to their father to achieve the desired results. You must know what is too young and what is too old to breed a female, it doesn’t matter with a male. I had to work closely with a member that was very knowledgeable in rat genetics. She guided me as I bred my first litter and then I didn’t breed rats with any mutations.
It takes time to learn all about caring for rats, their health problems, breeding, genetics, etc., before getting into actually breeding them. You need to talk to lots of breeders, learning what good type is, and reading EVERYTHING you can on the particular variety you want. I didn’t buy rats from anyone in the club for the first 2 years of my membership. I knew someone else that had rats and bought my first females from him. I started with just 2 females as pets and then spent time learning from watching and listening to the judges as they gave their comments and from other breeders. As I said, it was 2 years before I was allowed to buy a breeder female from someone in the club and then under the strictest conditions. A new breeder needs to find an established breeder to work very closely with and get advice from, have them evaluate the litters, etc. Most breeders need to get to know the new person well before they sell breeding stock to them so they know their animals will be taken care of properly and bred correctly and that the person is serious about perfecting the rat as a show animal and not someone that just wants to make rats to sell as pets. Even when working with an established breeder, getting your rats and litters evaluated on a regular basis, and working with only one variety, it takes years to become a successful, respected breeder.
When breeding rats, you open up a whole NEW realm of health and general problems associated with breeding and a new breeder must be prepared for these when they arise; example, a female that has problems delivering the litter and may require a trip to the vet for a possible c-section, or dies delivering the litter and there is no way to feed the babies that may have been born before she dies, a mom that delivers but has no milk, or a mom that eats part of the baby (are you willing to euthanize these?), or you have a litter of 18—what will you do with all of them when a mom will not care for the litter, etc., etc. You limit your breedings to one or two a year and then only when you have buyers. Most breeders only breed a female once or twice in her lifetime and some Blue rats have serious bleeding problems during delivery and often die in the process. There is much more to being a small breeder than putting a male and female together—you must learn and that only comes with time. Reading the AFRMA Breeding book www.afrma.org/sales/afrmabks.htm#breed is a good place to start to learn about breeding and all its NEW problems, and then study AFRMA’s Rat Genetics book www.afrma.org/sales/afrmabks.htm#ratgenetic and fully understand it, especially the variety/color you would like to work with. You haven’t even tried to show yet.
I don’t think you will find any experienced breeder with show-quality rats that will sell you breeding stock so early on. Don’t be discouraged and don’t be in such a hurry. I know you are excited about and love rats, but you are trying to do too much too fast. Come to the shows, read, learn, be patient, enjoy your pets, and leave breeding for some future time. I am always happy to answer questions or address your concerns.