Changing Plans

If there’s one thing being a breeder has taught me, it is that hamsters will throw a spanner in your carefully thought out plans to the point where you couldn’t be any further from your original plans.
In the case of Metallica Hamstery, the original plan was to breed James and Victoria, my first show hamsters. James had a lovely type and a good colour, as did Victoria who also had a beautifully soft fur. I felt she’d compliment James beautifully but Victoria did not have size on her size and I felt that the risk of mating Victoria to a male that was much larger than she was carried a large risk for her. So I changed my plans and brought Nobby in from Vectis Hamstery to be paired with Victoria and then I would pair James and Victoria at a later date. Victoria dutifully delivered six babies but when Victoria failed to accept James in a later mating, I had to change my plans again and decided that I would find a new partner for James and eventually mate a daughter of James’s to Victoria’s son Matthew. Unfortunately the events of the summer of 2017 would have a knock on effect on every single breeding plan I had in reserve.
James was paired to Luna, a sweet girl with a reasonably good type and colour. She had size on her side and fell pregnant with ease. Tragedy struck seven days after the birth of Luna’s pups and upon returning from a show in Emley found that she had passed away. Prior to her death she culled her pups. I was depending on these pups for not only the future of the show team but also for the breeding plans.
Meanwhile, Juno the other female I had brought in to be paired to James had failed to develop after an illness at a young age. In addition to her small stature, Juno also had a cough, caused by scarring due to her earlier illness. I could not breed Juno knowing that the toll of pregnancy alone could kill her.

At a similar time to this I became aware of issues with The Nobrias, the offspring of Victoria and Nobby. Three failed to reach their first birthday after dying suddenly of unknown causes. Victoria and Matthew then went on to develop skin splits that would inevitably bring an end to their days as reliable members of the show team. By January 2018, it became clear to me that there could be an issue on that line and I decided that breeding Matthew was not worth the risk it could have on future generations. By the time Victoria died in April 2018, there were only two of her six children still alive.

After the death of Luna and The Janas pups, the pressure was on to find another female to bear Lord James’s pups. James himself was getting on a bit and I wondered how much time I’d have left. Vectis Hamstery came to the rescue again and loaned me one of her females but the couple were not compatible so I was offered another female, who had been born in a colony. She would hopefully have fertility on her side and sure enough Cora Josephine did what she was brought to Metallica Hamstery to do. She produced seven pups and to start with I kept three of them whilst I decided who would be the most promising option. It took until April 2018 for me to realise that the girl, who would be next up in my breeding plans was not suited for breeding or showing. She remains at Metallica Hamstery for now whilst a new home is sought for her, where I hope she will become someone’s much loved pet.

So what now? Plans have changed again but I haven’t lost sight of what I am hoping to work towards. I will be seeking a new Female Normal to hopefully be bred in the Autumn of 2018.
The Show Team continues to be led by Matthew C. Nobria for the meantime but within the next few months, I am hopeful that Jack and Alexander Cormes will begin to show their potential and I can retire Matthew knowing that I have faith in the hamsters that I am putting on the show bench.

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Keeping Chinese In Pairs

Unlike Syrian hamsters where they have to live on their own in adulthood, conflicting information exists about keeping Chinese Hamsters in pairs. When I first started keeping Chinese six years ago, I was told by a pet shop that as brothers, my Chinese would be perfectly happy living together and because I didn’t know otherwise, I believed what they said.

My boys lived together very well for many months, not a sign of a squabble in sight. Stitch was the more dominant one out of the two but Meat didn’t seem to care and he showed no signs of being bullied.

Then all of a sudden things changed. Out of the blue, they had a fight. Blood was drawn, I was glad that someone was at home with them because I genuinely believe that without that instant separation, one of them would have died. Part of me wonders if Meat had just had enough of being the submissive one and finally stood up for himself but regardless of the cause, Meat ended up worse off. He had a nasty eye injury and he would carry the scars for the rest of his days.

After I separated the boys, I was worried because Stitch was rather out of sorts but I knew that I could not risk Meat’s life further by putting them back together. Stitch did adjust within a week or so but I was a little disappointed that the pet shop were so certain that these two would be happy living together so I wrote and told them. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it and I certainly wouldn’t have given up either of my boys but I wanted to give them the information so that they could track how often it was occurring so that they could review what they were telling customers. They actually gave me a voucher for the value of the second cage that I’d had to buy and I later found out that the branch in question would not be selling Chinese Hamsters any more.

This does mean that less people will experience the joy of owning Chinese Hamsters but also that those that do want one are having to source their pets from breeders who will have experience with them and will be better placed to advise prospective owners.

As a breeder myself, I do intentionally put my Chinese in a pair for mating but I do so knowing the risks. My former show team lead suffered nasty cuts from run ins with his first and third wives. I knew this could happen and this is why my males are often older and at the end of their show careers before they are mated. It’s because of my experiences, both with my early pet Chinese and from witnessing pairing for mating that I will not let my Chinese be rehomed in pairs to anyone that I don’t know personally and is not experienced in keeping the species.

Two Years of Showing

Last week saw Metallica Hamstery’s second ‘Showniversary’ and during those two years I have embarked on a journey that has seen my knowledge and understanding grow. It has seen me take on new roles. It has enabled me to meet some fantastic people who I am honoured to call friends.

During the 2016 Show Season, I was finding my feet in the hamster fancy. I was still learning about what showing involved and my show team, although limited were doing me proud bringing home and when Metallica’s first litter was born, I hoped that they would help me build up the show team to an even stronger level. Unfortunately my optimism didn’t pay off because although Matthew was doing well and better than I imagined, I also had to deal with the retirement of my former Show Team Lead, Lord James, the death of Luna Lovegood and her pups who were meant to help boost the show team and Juno, the little girl that came over from Denmark failed to reach any kind of potential at all.

I had hoped that it would end there but a week before a show in September, the usually reliable show team member Victoria developed a skin split. Her fur which was once her best feature never recovered its former glory and Victoria was retired leaving her son Matthew to carry the show team on his own. That was also short lived as Matthew also got a skin split and he went on to develop complications that required antibiotics and anti-inflammatory painkillers and the threat of surgery. Matthew would not be able to finish the show season for Metallica Hamstery and as new arrival Cora Josephine was pregnant, it meant that none of my main show team were able to attend the last show of the season.

On the plus side, there has been plenty to keep me involved with the hamster clubs and the showing world even when my hamsters weren’t at their best. I carried on Stewarding as often as I could and in May I was accepted as a Trainee judge. Those earlier Stewardings really paid off as I not only had an idea on the judging process but also it gave me the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of many fantastic judges. At the end of the 2017 show season I had completed both the Pen and Book Stewarding sections of my judge training and had passed one of my assessed judging sessions. With the show team not being at their best at the moment, it will mean that I don’t mind missing out on entering a show to be able to judge it!

There’s also my work with the Committees. At the end of 2016, I was elected as the new webmaster for the Southern Hamster Club, a role that I have started to settle into and I enjoy and I was also a Committee Member for the Midland Hamster Club but during 2017, I was encouraged to take on the Public Relations Officer role for them instead. This will not only involve taking care of the website but also arranging the advertising at shows and providing publicity materials on hamster care for the public to take away. As this is a new role for me, I am looking forward to the opportunities it will bring to develop my skills. Finally in 2017, and rather surprisingly I was approached to find out if I would be willing to take on the role of National Webmaster. This was something I thought I’d like to do at some point in the future but wasn’t expecting to step into the role so soon. So far I’ve rebuilt the site and the feedback has been good but there are things that still need work so there’s lots to keep me busy.

Skin Split Updates

In my last post I mentioned that Victoria, one of my show team Chinese had been affected by the dreaded skin split and whilst I hoped that Victoria would recover enough to return to the show bench to finish the year off, her fur remained ruffled a couple of months on and I made the decision to retire her. She was getting on for 18 months old and it would only have been a matter of time anyway.

A few days after I made the decision to retire Victoria, I had the shock that I really could have done without… the curse of the skin split had struck again and this time it was affecting my show team lead… Matthew was on two COMs and I had been hoping that he’d be in with a chance of becoming Metallica’s first champion but if he followed his mother’s footsteps with recovery then that was looking less likely. To start with things didn’t look too bad but a week on he took for the worse. This was not a normal skin split… his skin looked sore, the wound was raw and bleeding. It was a trip up to the vet for Matthew and he came out with antibiotics and metacam to help him heal. The chances of Matthew showing again were looking slim.

Matthew is recovering steadily but he will not be finishing off the show season for Metallica this year. His future will be re-evaluated next year.

The Curse of the Skin Split

Those who have kept several Chinese may have come across these at least once or will have at least heard of them but for those that don’t know much about them I thought I’d explain. They will appear on the back of the neck or shoulders of the affected hamster and they will be a clean cut, almost appearing like the hamster’s skin has been cut with a knife. What seems to differentiate these cuts in appearance from scratches that have been caused by toys or nails that are too long is the fur loss around it. The fur loss often extends several millimetres beyond the edges of the cut and will also have a defined edge rather than patchy as you might see with some other skin complaints. It’s also worth mentioning that the hamster is not itchy and will seem well in themselves.

So what causes them? Not a great deal is known about these splits but some people have suggested that collagen may play a part but they have been observed in hamsters from a variety of backgrounds and does not appear to be a genetic condition (or at least a straightforward one). What is interesting is that it seems to affect more females than males which makes me wonder if hormones can play a part.

Most hamsters are only affected once or twice in their entire lifetime however Jessie Jaye, the Dominant Spot Pet Only Chinese has been affected on six separate occassions. I was hoping that we’d get away with them not affecting the show team but today I discovered one on Miss Lilli-Victoria who is usually one of Metallica Hamstery’s main show hamsters. Victoria is 17 months old and has never been affected by them before so it was a bit of a shock to see one on her. She couldn’t have timed this one at any worse time as we’re a week before a show after they’ve had almost two months off. Not only that but my show team is rather lacking at the best of times after James was retired and to be honest this is something we could have done without.

My first judging

Yesterday I went to a show but the Metallica show team had to sit this one out as it was my first assessed judging which formed part of my Dwarf Judge Training.

I was excited but also quite nervous as there’s so much that you need to take into account and even though you do your best to learn your standards, it’s different when you’re sat there with 50 hamsters to judge. Thankfully I had an experienced judge guiding me through the day and I really enjoyed it. I was able to get some feedback which will help going forward and have an idea on the areas that I need to work on.

There were some lovely hamsters in the show but I struggled a little bit with handling the Winter Whites. As someone who has kept Chinese fairly exclusively for the past five and a half years, it’s now that I am finding the downsides to this but I have some more stewardings scheduled in before the end of the year where I hope that I will be able to address this.

I am exceptionally grateful to Jean from Tristar who was my Book Steward and Assessor, to Hannah from Willow Tree who was my Pen Steward, to the club for inviting me to give it a go and to everyone that entrusted their hamsters to me to judge.

Metallica travels North

I’ve been involved with hamster clubs now for over two years and until recently had only ever been to Southern or Midland shows but knew that one day I’d like to go to a Northern show too. I joined the club a couple of months ago and when Vectis asked me if I’d like to join her on a trip up to the Emley Show in August, I didn’t need much convincing. 

We made plans and it was decided that it’d be easier for me to stay with her rather than do all that travelling on one day so on Friday 4th August, I packed myself and two of the Metallica Hamstery show team off on a train to Southampton. They attracted a few curious looks but I’d opted to sit in the vestibule of the train where it was quieter and there was more space for me to keep the hamsters with me. Vectis picked me up at the station and then we headed back to hers for pizza (she’d kindly got a gluten free one in for me) and a good chat. 

It was an early start on the Saturday to make sure that we got there in time for benching and the drive up was pretty straightforward thanks to a clever satnav that diverted us away from a road closure. We had time to stop for a breakfast cup of coffee and made it to Emley before 10am. I was immediately taken aback by the stunning views from the car park. I’ve only ever been to Yorkshire once before and had forgotten what a beautiful area of the country it is. 

We thought it best to bench the hamsters first so upon arrival, we headed straight for the hamster tent. I recognised some faces that I’d seen before at a couple of Southern/Midland shows but I received such a warm welcome from Custard Hamstery that I instantly felt like I was amongst a new set of friends. I benched Matthew and Victoria and then we went for a little walk around the show. There was lots to see! 

After a little look around and having watched Vectis take part in a fun obedience class with her chihuahua, we had a look to see how our craft entries had done. I was surprised to see that my photo of Benny (one of the Metallica Guinea Pigs) came in third. I’ve never won anything for my photos before so that was a nice surprise and after lunch, when we returned to the hamster tent, there was another nice surprise as Matthew C. Nobria, the boy I kept from my first litter was in the Best In Show position. 

Once we were able to pick up our craft entries (and my prize money) it was time to go and collect the hamsters. Unfortunately we missed the main Dwarf presentation but those that were in the tent applauded us as we were given our rosettes and following the Syrian presentation, it was time to go home. 

I’d had a lovely day at my first Northern show and I’d like to thank everyone for making me feel so welcome and it was wonderful to have spent the weekend in the company of Vectis Hamstery, who I am grateful to for not only giving me the opportunity to go to a Northern show but also for her wonderful hospitality over the weekend. 

The Retirement of Lord James

Andover last month was a rather strange day for Metallica Hamstery as it was one of the very few shows that I had done since starting  showing in 2015 where Lord James was not part of the show team. 

James was Metallica Hamstery’s first and for quite a while, was my only show hamster and he has usually been a reliable show hamster, coming home with at least one placing at most shows. 

He brought home Metallica Hamstery’s first Best In Show in July 2016, an achievement I didn’t think the hamstery would see so early in my showing career. Holder of two Certificates of Merit and an NHC Diploma, he didn’t quite make that third Certificate needed to make him a Champion before an incident with his teeth led to his retirement in May. Although it was originally thought that his teeth would grow back this looks less promising as time goes on and I decided that it would be for the best to retire him rather than hope for something that becomes increasingly unlikely. 

James was paired recentely to a new arrival at Metallica and I’m now hoping that the couple have made some nice pups to help continue on with James’s showing legacy. 

Megazorb

Just recently, with the increase in hamsters at Metallica, I have found that I have had to order Fitch more frequently so I decided that I’d have a shop around to see if there were other options that may work out better for us. I came across Megazorb when I was in an equine shop and decided to give it a go. I tried it with James and Matthew first who accepted the change without batting an eyelid and noticed that it held up to Matthew’s burrowing attempts fairly well so thought I’d give it a go with Victoria who is Metallica’s best nest builder and she loved all of the landscaping opportunities it gave her and it actually seemed to hold out better than the Fitch did. 

After two weeks, I usually notice that the cages need a clean but with Megazorb, there just wasn’t that same telltale odour that there would be after two weeks on Fitch so I ended up getting longer out of it which helped towards its cost effectiveness. For what I was paying for a 20kg bag of Fitch, that would usually last us two months, I was getting two 15kg bags of Megazorb that would last us three months. 

I was a bit concerned about the reports that some bags of Megazorb have had a funny smell but I have yet to notice this in the bags I have bought. From speaking to other members from the hamster fancy, I understand this is to do with how it is stored at the suppliers rather than it being due to the substrate itself. The other issue that some people have mentioned is that it can be dusty however I do have allergies to other substrate types and have not found Megazorb to make these worse.

New Roles

The past 12 months has held a couple of new roles for me to try and the chance for me to give something back to the hamster-y community as well as giving me the opportunity to further my knowledge.

Those that have met me at shows will probably know that I have done both Pen and Book Stewarding before and these were invaluable when learning about the standards and what they looked like in real life. I tried to apply this when choosing my keeper from The Nobrias and whilst at one point I thought I might have got it wrong, my ‘keeper’ ended up as RBIS at Hereford so as you can imagine, I was mighty proud of him and grateful to the judges that have passed their knowledge on to me whilst I have stewarded for them.

October saw the AGM’s for both Southern and Midland Hamster Clubs and I intended to stand as a Committee Member for both, however I came home as the new Southern Webmaster which gave me the opportunity to use the skills I have developed in another hobby for the benefit of someone else. We had a few teething problems with the domain but all is now up and running and I have plans to build on what we have to increase the club’s online presence.

In Dawlish, I took on yet another new role as I’d volunteered to be the Show Secretary. It can be a busy role but Dawlish is one of the smaller shows and a good place to start. I think I did reasonably well although a little frazzled when the Pet Class was coming in at the same time as the duplicates from the Main Show. From speaking to several others who have done the job, this can happen from time to time and I hope that I will get more efficient with practice. I’ve asked the Show Manager to put me down for the same role next year so I guess it couldn’t have been that horrific.