Rat Health Care & Information
In recent years, it has become fairly standard practice for new breeders to be mentored or given guidance by several experienced existing breeders in their ventures. Even if you only fancy doing one or two litters, working with more knowledgeable people can help prevent the silly mistakes we all probably made when we first started out in breeding and help to do things right and find loving homes for our rat babies. It can also help save a lot of heartache along the way.
A good mentor or guide is someone who has learned and understood the basic principles of breeding quality rats (probably over a fair number of years) and is prepared to share this information and also potentially their rats and lines to assist the new breeder into getting started with the right breeding animals. From a mentor's point of view, they will be protecting their own lines, their reputation and also probably to an extent treating the mentored person as an extension of their own breeding plans so this needs to be a relationship built on trust and understanding.
What is mentoring about?
When it comes to breeding, there are a lot of aspects that need to be looked at and advice in these areas needs to be sought. Initially you need to have a reasonable idea which varieties interest you most as that will define some of the people you will probably have to work with. Unless you have already been doing some networking by visiting rat shows and asking around, you will need to find out who breeds these varieties and the easiest way to obtain a simple listing of contact details is to drop an e-mail to email@example.com and ask for a copy of the NFRS Breeders Register.
On receipt of this list, ideally you need to get in contact with you local breeders and also any breeders who specifically breed the variety or varieties you wish to breed. Even if your local breeders do not breed any varieties of interest, they can be useful help and backup if something goes wrong and are well worth getting to know well.
When looking to other breeders to mentor or guide you, you should look for people breeding practices you admire and breeders you can respect to obtain your initial breeding rats from. As the mentored and new owner of a breeders rats, you would be expected to share similar breeding ethics and breeding philosophy for at least the initial 2-3 generations while you establish yourself. Also consideration on culling - usually if a breeder chooses not to cull, they may expect a new breeder wanting to specifically breed with their lines to not cull either.
By being mentored, you are relying on other experienced people’s reputation to get your foot on the ladder in the rat fancy, therefore complete honesty and integrity is important.
The most important thing is to lay down the ground rules at the start so both mentored and mentor know where they stand and there is less chance of anything backfiring or going wrong. This may be in the form of a contract or informal chats/e-mails to understand each other better.
At least one of the people you ask to help give guidance on breeding will ideally be someone you share an interest in the same variety with, but this is not critical as other breeders you take mentorship and guidance from would have easier access to finding the right breeder(s) to obtain the best breeding rats from and should be able to help with the genetics.
A mentor will give plenty of help and assistance in selecting the right rats to breed with in the first place and the right pairing to get the best possible choice of kittens to continue the lines with.
While the kittens are growing in the nest, talk to other breeders and they will generally be only too happy to advise and assist on choosing which kittens are most likely to be the best ones to keep to continue working on the lines with.
During this time, basic explanations on genetics are given so the mentored gains understanding and knowledge on how to plan future generations.
Using stud bucks belonging to other breeders is a good way of working on your initial lines with the best well known bucks without increasing your numbers too quickly. Talk to the people giving you guidance and they can usually help advise on who to contact or whether they have something suitable themselves.
When a new breeder is communicating well with other breeders and taking guidance or mentorship, they can rely on their reputation to an extent and will find they often send referrals for people wanting kittens to them who may be local or on their waiting list anyway and also because a new breeder is seen to be part of the ‘breeder network’ and hence to people who already have good reputations, the kittens do home pretty easily anyway.
All rats homed by the new breeder are usually subject to approval of the breeder or breeders of the parents of the litter, so gaining understanding on what constitutes a good potential pet home and the processes involved will help for later on. If these breeders use questionnaires or application forms and/or contracts for their kittens, it is usually accepted that the new breeder will use modified copies of these.
The usual rule of thumb is the first couple of litters are strongly guided and usually by then the new breeder is starting to get known in their own right and can start to build their own reputation so can start to move a little more out on their own with their plans and thinking, but knows they still have the support from a number of good breeders when they need it. As time goes on, the new breeder will gradually get known within the fancy and will find it easier to find homes for their kittens and earn respect in their own right as a breeder.
Article written by Estelle
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Last modified: January 03, 2008