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. However this is just one of those things and we’ll just bumble through it until things start to look up for us.

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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.

 

Matthew C. Nobria – The One That Surprised Me

Matthew was one of Metallica Hamstery’s first litter and I had intended to use my keeper to boost my rather limited show team numbers. I picked who I believed was the best option but after Matthew’s first two shows I was beginning to wonder if I had got it rather wrong. He was sweet and I loved him dearly but I thought that he may actually be better off joining Jess as a Pet-Only hamster as I wasn’t sure that he’d ever be anything more than an average show hamster. Then Hereford happened.

I was uncertain about entering him but thought I’d give him a couple more shows because after all, he was still quite young and he might improve.

I went over to the show bench to see how my three had done and saw that Victoria hadn’t placed but couldn’t see either of my boys at first glance. The pen steward told me that the hamster in pen number D808 was currently in the running to be Best in Show. I knew that was one of my numbers and believing that it might be James, was actually rather excited.  Later on when the entire class had been judged and D808 had been knocked down to the Reserve Best in Show position, I saw that the hamster in D808 had been entered in D16 which is the class for hamsters bred by the exhibitor. This meant that it couldn’t be James. I double checked my pen numbers just in case I’d got it wrong but it was definitely one of mine. I saw James further down the bench which meant that the current Reserve Best In Show was Matthew. For a hamster that I was contemplating retiring to a ‘Pet-Only’ status, I was rather surprised to say the least.

Matthew stayed in that Reserve Best In Show position for the rest of the show and won himself his first Certificate of Merit. I’m proud of him but also feeling a little guilty that I was prepared to write him off. I genuinely believed that he wouldn’t stand a chance against James, my normally reliable show hamster but as this experience has taught me that sometimes you just never know!

Lord James

I’ve been updating the show records of every hamster that has ever been showed and in particular Lord James’s show record is one I am particularly proud of. This hamster was Metallica’s first show hamster and still is the strongest member of my show team. When he had to sit a show out recentely due to an injury inflicted on him during an unsuccessful mating, his absence was noticed as I came away with a lot less prize cards. Thankfully, showing for me is not about prize cards (although they’re nice) it’s about what I can learn about ‘what good looks like’ to help with my breeding plans going forward. From reading the judges comments I have learnt that James is a good example of a nice head but his dorsal stripe is a bit short so I know when pairing him that colour is something we might need to work on. I also know that James is rather prone to moult lines but often that nice head has been enough to put him in line for placings. 

The one show that he didn’t place, I agreed with everything the judge said and this was the start of his midlife crisis. I was skeptical as to whether he could recover from it and retirement was on the cards. Then somehow he managed it, he recovered enough to be put back in the Show team at Bath this year and somehow managed to go on to win a RBIS and another COM at Dawlish. Rather conveniently, he got his most of his rather typically James moult lines after the show and I’m hoping that as the weather warms up that he will recover again. 

I’m uncertain as to whether or not he’ll manage that 3rd COM that he’ll need to become a Champion but even if he doesn’t he’ll still have done me proud and I hope he’ll go on to produce some nice pups when the time is right so we can continue to develop our show team. 

The Vices Pairing

 From the moment I intended to breed Chinese Hamsters I had always intended on breeding Lord James, the lovely boy that started Metallica’s showing career. I found him a nice wife-to-be and it was only a matter of time to allow her to grow up a bit. Or so I thought. She never grew enough for me to want to risk a first litter out of her with the size difference between her and James. Time was getting on and I wanted to get a first litter out of her before she was six months old so I borrowed a smaller boy to give Victoria her first litter. Nobby was a lovely lad and the pairing went well. The couple settled well, got on well until he had done what was required and I separated them. Eventually The Nobrias were born and I planned to re-breed Victoria in the new year. I chose my date to co-incinde with the show schedule and when the date came around I was hopeful.

Of course hamsters are going to do what hamsters want to do and Victoria most definitely did not want to get married again despite having flirted fairly continuously with James since her arrival. Literally as soon as they were put together, Victoria made her feelings for her betrothed rather clear. I continued supervising them and left them togather a little bit longer but things escalated. As soon as I saw blood, I knew it was time to rescue James. The spade that I was advised to keep handly for pairings proved its worth by putting a physical barrier between Victoria and James which gave me enough time to get him out.

My poor sweet boy had a cut on his nose that looked sore but I wasn’t going to give up on the pairing in case Victoria’s refusal to accept him was related to her heat cycle so every day I tried re-pairing them, however the outcome was never a particularly positive one.

I have decided that it was for the best that Victoria be retired from breeding and I would find a new female to be paired with James. As yet, I don’t know who that might be or where she will come from but I have to remain hopeful for now that Metallica Hamstery will be graced with another litter at some point during the year. 

Entering Shows – The Classes

So I’ve been doing my preparations for the start of Southern Hamster Club’s show season and it’s all very well getting things like show pens ready but it would be rather silly to do so without actually remembering to send off entries to the Show Secretary before the deadline and so I thought, as I was doing my entry for the show on Saturday I’d write a little bit for those who are new to showing on the things you need to know when entering the show. Now there’s a great blog post on Vectis Hamstery’s blog about how to write the perfect email to enter and it would be silly to re-write that as she’s done a great job so I thought I’d explain about the classes which is something that bewildered me slightly when I entered my first show.

This is an explanation of the classes used in the Southern and Midland Hamster Clubs. It varies slightly with Northern shows.

Straight Classes: This refers to your hamster’s species, colour and coat type and when submitting, the coat type takes priority over colour so if you’ve got a satin coated hamster then you will need to enter them in this class rather than in the class for their colour. If you’re not sure on the official name for your hamster’s colouring and coat type then it should be on their pedigree or you can check the colour guides on the club website or you can ask the Show Sec for help (it’s easier to send a photo if you’re not sure on how best to describe their colour). However, if you are thinking of entering a pet shop Russian Hamster, then these are unlikely to be a pure Campbell’s or Winter White and will not be able to be entered in the main show.

Duplicate Classes: These tend to refer more to the type of exhibitor you are rather than the hamster itself and after your hamster has been judged against those of their Straight Class, they will go up against the others from either the Syrian or Dwarf Section who have also been entered in that class. The points that they are allocated when being judged for their straight class will be used to determine placings and the highest pointed hamster entered in each class will win. Sometimes a judge may find that there are two hamsters on the same score and in that incidence, they will look at each hamster again and rank one above the other depending how good of an example of their species they are. The one that the judge determines to be slightly better will receive a plus for that particular class and will be placed higher than the other.

Junior: This is a class for our younger exhibitors and any hamster entered in this class must belong to someone under the age of 16.

Novice: To enter the Novice class you must still be in your first year of membership with an NHC affiliated club. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been showing since you’ve joined or whether you only shown once during that time, it refers to your date of joining rather than the anniversary of your first show. Members showing in this class will not have Prefixes as Members are only eligible to register Prefixes after one year of club membership.

Intermediate: As with the Novice class, this depends on how long you have been a member of the club and is only open to those in their second year of membership. Members who enter this class may have prefixes but this is not compulsory. 

Small Hamstery: This class is only open to members that have 10 or less hamsters in either section however if you have a litter of baby hamsters still with their mother then these don’t count towards this total.

Breeders: Although many exhibitors will breed litters of hamsters from time to time, members may only enter this class with a hamster they have bred themselves.

Young Stock: If you have a young hamster that is between 6-16 weeks old then you can enter them into this class but if you have a Chinese or a Roborovski then you will need to wait until they are 8 weeks old before you can enter them. Sometimes if a judge is suspicious about a hamster’s eligibility into this class then they will ask the Show Secretary to confirm with the exhibitor as to the hamster’s age.

Members Points Class/Free Membership Class: This class tends to be entered by regular exhibitors as the points obtained for each placing in this class will count towards an annual award which is decided by each club. Hamsters that do not place in this class will not receive any points. If you don’t go to all the shows but don’t mind the additional 5p entry fee, then you may still decide to enter because after all, you never know. 

Grand Challenge: If there’s one duplicate class that all exhibitors should consider entering then it’s this one because without it, your hamster will not be eligible to receive a Certificate of Merit and Certificates of Merit can later lead to your hamster being crowned a Champion.

Diploma: This special class is only offered when the judge for that section is a National Hamster Council judge (as opposed to a club judge) and winners of this class will be given a special NHC Diploma Certificate. No rosettes or trophies are awarded for this class.

Special Class – Non Standard: If your hamster is a recognised breed but no colour standard exists for them then they may be entered into this class. Hamsters entered into this category are not eligible for entry to any duplicate classes and are usually judged at the end of the day after the duplicates have been determined.