If we have two genetically identical rats, but I handle mine gently, playfully, and regularly, and yours are handled infrequently, and when they are they’re handled purposefully to do temperament testing such as scruffing, or exposure to loud noises etc, the rats remain genetically the same, but the expressions of those genes will differ. Saying one is showing “true genetic temperament” and one is “trust trained” or “a ticking time bomb” is totally misunderstanding that both ways of raising a rat involve the environment that they’re being raised in working with the genetics to result in the end product.
The process of rehoming rat kittens, from the beginning interaction with potential new owners, vetting them, allocating rats, arranging visits – it’s the worst. I find it really difficult, overly time consuming, and it is without a doubt my least favourite part of rat breeding. At the moment I have shut my facebook page down because the huge amount of unanswered messages on it, which I know will never get responses [update – it’s back!]. It is overwhelming for someone who is not good at communication.
The disconnect to a large degree is that really, even though at the end of it you’re wanting to buy something from me, I don’t consider you my customer and I’m not running a business. I have no desire to court your business, I have no need to impress you, and I don’t do what I do to create a product for sale. It just so happens that I sometimes have more rats than I need, and you have fewer than you want, so it is mutually agreeable for me to let you buy those rats.
I am lucky in that I could home out every kitten I want to ten times over without a problem. Especially more over recent years, I try to only home rats to people I feel will “get” me, and not be offended or upset if I am shite at regular communication, or set out to character assassinate me online should their rats get ill at any point. But I still feel worried and nervous about selling rats to people because you never know how it will work out.
Realistically, what I need is a rattery secretary. Someone to act as the “public face” of my rattery, who enjoys speaking to people, writing lovely emails, vetting new owners, organising waiting lists, allocating kittens to people, dealing with follow-up enquiries, all that sort of stuff, so I can get on with the thing I do best, which is sitting in my shed on my own cleaning hutches, playing with my rats, and raising litters of baby rats.
Maintaining and improving quality in an established and existing line is just as hard – if not harder – than increasing quality on a line from very poor origins. It takes very little real work to take a line from poor quality to acceptable quality (to a large degree, just feeding, raising, and housing them in better conditions for a few generations will make them much better, nevermind any selection you do). But moving a rat from being acceptable quality to very good quality is harder, and actually maintaining a top quality line is very difficult.
Rat breeding is about spinning lots of plates in the air at once, not about checking things off a list. You can’t breed to get one aspect right, tick it off as “done”, then move on to something else. You need to constantly be spinning each plate enough to ensure that it’s not going to fall down, carefully watching to ensure none of the other plates are wobbling too much.
Many breeders say they do not cull, and the meaning of this is always that they do not kill rats that are healthy and can live good lives. So they would never reduce a large litter down, they would never kill a rat that they had finished breeding with that was still healthy and happy, they would seek veterinary treatment for ailments rather than just kill rats that were ill.
When people jump on them saying ‘aaah but that means you allow rats to SUFFER because you won’t cull SICK RATS’ it just becomes nonsensical because they’re not using the language in the same way as the breeder they’re ranting about. No breeder I have interacted with would consider the killing of a rat who is sick or suffering to be culling – it is for the benefit of the rat, not the benefit of the breeder or the ‘greater good’.
I wouldn’t tend to use the term soft cull as I don’t think it’s a particularly useful term – the majority of rats are soft culled as the majority of rats are not bred from. If I am pet homing I tend to just say they have been petted out. Sometimes I keep a rat and just don’t breed from it for whatever reason, but as it’s never been part of my breeding program there is never a point where I need to announce it as not in my breeding program anymore.
So my terminology would be:
Euthanised or PTS – killing a rat for the express benefit of preventing or stopping suffering of that rat.
(hard) culling – killing a rat because the breeder does not wish to own it, for example it’s the 9th in a litter and you only wish to keep 8, or it has white toes, or it doesn’t have your preferred temperament, or it has been used for breeding and now you have no further use for it.
Pet homed / soft culled – a rat that is not being used for breeding. A cage warmer 🙂
There is no substitute for getting your hands on rats. Ask at shows to handle rats that have done well, or rats that have done poorly, bring your whole litter to shows and ask people for opinions. Also, the more experience breeding you have, the easier it is too as you learn how your line matures.
I come at this from the point of view of someone who wants to breed rats that are good pet animals but also good show animals. Some varieties are easier than others and there are different reasons for it.
Some varieties have health issues, which may or may not make them less suitable for owning and selling as pets. For example – British blues based varieties are prone to having poor immune systems, topaz/buff are more likely to have bleeding/clotting disorders, chinchilla based rats if not carefully bred can produce kittens with megacolon. Most of these can be minimised through careful breeding, but it’s another selection pressure, and the more plates that need kept spinning then the more likely one of them will fall down (or that they’ll all stay up there, but wobbly and ready to collapse with little prior warning).
Most marked varieties are not particularly difficult to breed, but difficult to produce an excellent example for show (I would consider a show rat to be one that wins stars and will be a contender for the supreme challenge in a show, not one that just wins a class rosette and nothing else), and lots of the rats you keep for breeding will not be show suitable. If you’re only intent on breeding a very small number of litters then having a variety that may only give you a quality show rat every couple of years isn’t very encouraging. Some marked are easier than others – Essex tend to produce well marked animals fairly easily, and roans (although they don’t show well for long) often are nicely marked and will win as young rats at least.
Most of the AOV varieties are easy enough to breed good examples of. Things like silver fawn, agouti, cinnamon – agouti based rats tend to have a good long show life, there’s a lot of them about to find crosses of, and so they tend to do well in shows. There is a lot of competition in those classes, so you need a decent one to win, but finding the right starter rats to get to that point isn’t ever going to be difficult either.
Every variety has their own challenges – different shades to get right, nuances of how that particular colour or marking works, what you need to breed to. Realistically, it’s not rocket science, and although some are more difficult than others, the most important part is that you are breeding something you love. It’s much easier to put your heart into it if it’s something you want to do to start with, and much easier to get past the inevitable obstacles if you have more motivation to climb over them.
The pink eye dilute gene (which gives champagne) turns a rat into a much paler version of itself. If you have a black rat, then add PED, you get a diluted black. Black is a cold colour, you add PED, you get a paler but cold colour. Chocolate is a warm colour, and a bit paler than black. If you add PED to chocolate, you get a paler and warmer colour than a version based on black. It’s not that black is making it darker – it’s that the chocolate gene is making it paler.
I’ve seen people advise adding black to a Siamese line to darken up the points, but it doesn’t make any sense and it doesn’t work. Adding black can be useful because you can see that blacks have dark feet, so you can use it to help to eliminate white feet from the line. But it won’t make the points any darker, it will just help you to breed white toes out of it.
The depth of colour of the Siamese shading is dependent on hundreds of other little modifier genes. You want to breed in as many of those as possible to your Siamese line to get good dark points. If you have a black outcross from a dark Siamese line he might carry lots of these modifiers so be useful for darkening the Siamese, but his Siamese brother would be just as useful
It depends what you mean by your line. If you just mean rats you’ve bred then sure, the first time you mate a buck and a doe together and they successfully produce kittens, you have a line.
To me, someone has a line when they’re producing litters of rats that strongly resemble each other, that have a recognisable look and consistency to them. To do this involves a few generations of careful breeding – maybe you start with rats from one breeders line, maybe you are mixing rats from different backgrounds. But you’re selecting hard for something in particular, and you are producing results – then you have a line, before that you’re breeding rats that are from someone else’s lines.
Some people can breed for two or three generations and have a real line of rats. Some people can breed for many years and just have a hodge podge of rubbish that I wouldn’t consider a line.
Runts often catch up, or develop normally after a rocky start but behind their siblings – so eyes open later, fur grows in later, they look younger – but they tend to be perfectly healthy and happy. I don’t give runts any special extra feeding or attention, I feel that if they make it, they’ll make it. If they don’t – then maybe there was something more wrong with them than just the bad luck of a poor position in the womb. Obviously if a young kitten looked to be suffering, then it should be humanely euthanised.