Breeding Methods in Syrian Hamsters
Author: Andrew Overton
From Issue 42 Jul 2002
Breeding Syrian Hamsters is not always an easy proposition when gearing towards quality. Although Standards of specific colour types are issued, breeding to a guide standard is often a challenge and difficult to achieve a desired result. Many people think when pairing up two animals all will be fine, hoping for hamsters in 16-18 days time? Let's start from scratch choosing the two desirable animals and considering the first step. Before any mating begins choose two animals the same colour. This makes the exercise easier. The body shape should be cobby, the head large as possible with ears set well apart (2 finger span on 12 -16 week+ animals). The eyes should be bright and bold and with tulip shaped ears with a blunt un-rat like face. Providing the two chosen animals carry the above qualities you are on to a good start. Now let's move onto the various breeding methods.
Line breeding or inbreeding
If you are organised and keep records you hopefully should know the animal's background. To fix in a good feature the best way is line breeding - a term relating to closely related animals. In my opinion the best way to try and breed and produce the most lustiest and well proportioned animals. Close observation is a must with rejection a key factor to eliminate faults. The main faults to observe are narrow heads, pointed ears, bent ears, pouchy muzzles, small narrow eyes, poor quality of fur, uneven colour, long toenails that are sharp, defective/deformed teeth, kinked tail - usually the following colours dark grey, lilac, lilac pearl, beige, smoke pearl; black eyed ivory.
When you have chosen two desirable hamsters mate them together. From this litter choose a pair out of the parental litter possessing the same qualities if not better.
The first generation is called the F1 - filial first generation. The F1 son mates back to the mother, daughter F1 back to the father. At this point do not mate together brother to sister. You are trying to establish a line. Although no real theory has proved brother to sister to produce and fix desirable traits, it can also work the opposite way. Possibilities of producing undesirable hamsters bearing no quality characteristics - the main fault being snipey heads with too closely set ears. You can carry on breeding following the line breeding method reaching F3 generation and grandparent. Possibilities of using a male out of an F1 generation can yield an excellent stud. At this moment in time I have an old yellow faithful male now 2 years old. I still use him to be able to sire more future generations. With years of experience and careful observation, the joy of breeding can bring enormous amounts of pleasure. Stud males who produce the lusty well typed and furred offspring need looking after with a high vitamin E and protein diet. You should really only use them for mating purposes every 6 days, otherwise you will age them too quickly.
Once your lines are well established - depending upon how many you started with, you may outcross from one line to another. If you decide to bring in a new trait of fresh blood you must be keenly observant, eliminating any undesirable straight away. With any breeding program you can get genetic deterioration and this can be prevented by outcrossing a line to a normal golden hamster - preferably carrying no other colour or hidden recessive. The old idea was to outcross to another line - every 4th generation, I find this is only necessary when you are getting a deterioration in size and quality with litter sizes. Drastically going down to bare minimal.
Fixing Good Qualities
To fix any desirable quality - close observations are a necessity. Animals of merit should possess as many qualities as you can achieve. Well furred animals with wide heads are becoming in short supply. To fix this feature mate a stud male of outstanding merits to female of lesser qualities to the male. At this point under no circumstances use narrow headed animals. You are simply wasting a valuable stud mating, best leave well alone even if colour or pattern is alright. this unpleasant feature of narrow head is likely to fix and spread throughout the stock, and can be extremely difficult to eradicate. In theory and practice don't mate any animals together showing the same faults. The ultimate goal is to try to fix the wide head feature. This is the difficult part. You may have a male with a good wide head but a bit smaller on body size than you would like. Pair him up to a female with a wide head and a good cobby body (not fat there is a difference). You will be fixing two things together. You won't necessarily achieve this in one generation. If you pair up brother to sister - keep back the best of their offspring if all desired qualities are there. With these chose pairs, mate together and once again choose the best and reject the ones with poor heads and body. Remember at all times breeding consists of the the following terms valuable terms that ring in my ears to this day. Selection, observation, rejection, illumination, finally keeping quality at its best.
May I wish all of you successful happy breeding.