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Starting Out

Author: Pamela Milward

From Issue 33 Apr 2000

Perhaps you are just considering starting to breed and exhibit hamsters and now is an excellent time, as there is a real shortage of good quality pure bred hamsters available. I am often rung up by people asking for a source of reliable stock and I have difficulty suggesting where the colour or coat they want can be obtained.

Your first consideration is which colour you want to specialise in. I would advise you to get a good book and look at the illustrations, then read your standards booklet before deciding. Don't be tempted to choose several colours. The really good breeders of the past specialised and that is what we are short of today. I would suggest that you decide on one of the older basic colours such as golden, cinnamon, cream, white, dark grey or yellow. In years to come you'll have the chance to branch out further. Next, consider the coat - short, long, rex or satin. Again, I would advise back to basic and decide on short as you can introduce satin, rex or long later when your line is well established.

Now comes the difficult part - buying your initial animals. Again, read the standard very carefully so that you know what you're looking for. Good type is vital so you need a youngster with a wide head and a solid body. Go to a show if you can, look at the winners in the colour that you want and ask people who the best breeders are. Don't worry if they live some way off as it is usually possible to find some way to overcome this. For example, at the moment I have a baby that has to get from South Devon to Yorkshire and it is going from a show here via a member up to Weston-super-Mare, from there to a show in Birmingham the following week and then on to Sheffield where the new owner will collect him.

Before you buy, look at the pedigree with care. To start your line you must see that the initial stock has no other colours in the line for at least three or four generations. This can be of particular importance in the case of goldens as so many today can be carrying black and as golden is the original colour of the Syrian hamster and they are used to improve stock, or to test new mutations, it is important that they don't carry other colours. I would advise you to start with one unrelated pair or one male and two females. Having got your starting pair and bred your first litter, if possible keep several until they are at least seven weeks and then keep the best male and the best female. You now breed the daughter back to the father and the son to the mother. This is the start of your two lines (A and B) and you continue to cross from one line to the other. This is known as line breeding. After some time, you may find it necessary to introduce new stock in order to improve some particular aspect. For example, you may feel that yours have narrow heads, so you will need to get a new animal with a really wide head or the undercolour may not be deep enough so you might decide to breed out to a good golden - this is particularly likely in the case of cinnamons.

Don't expect instant success - good breeding can take years but when you start to win and produce really good hamsters again and again it will be worth it. If you feel you really want to experiment with colours, get one or two other females and use these but keep them separate. There is a good market for really friendly, healthy hamsters for pets in most areas but again only sell good stock. Don't allow your hamsters to go to shops which will only give a very low price for them. Point out that your stock come with pedigrees, are of high quality and people are prepared to pay more for these. Obviously areas differ but in the South West we expect £5.00 for hamsters sold privately and at a minimum £2.00 from shops for our hamsters and I always have a waiting list for mine. Good Luck and remember to study the standards. Once your pure line is established, let the BHA and your clubs know what you are specialising in so that others can buy stock from you. Remember the well-known breeders of the past such as Bob Parlett who only bred goldens and cinnamons but everyone knew he could be relied upon as a source of stock.