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.

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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.

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.

 

Jessie’s Caging Issues

For some time I’ve had to keep my Chinese in smaller cages as they’ve refused to settle in the larger ones and I actually became quite good at noticing the signs of a hamster that is unhappy in a larger cage. In light of this, I tend to start them small and with a hamster that has had trouble adjusting to being separated from his siblings, this has been the most effective method. Just recently though, we’ve had a few problems with the behaviour of Jessie Jaye, the cheeky little Dom Spot that arrived at Metallica just under a year ago. She’s a tiny bundle of mischief but is a generally a happy hamster.

To start with Jessie seemed to be more hyper than normal so I made sure she had enough to keep her occupied in her cage as well as ensuring I varied her playtimes. I also tested her for diabetes which can cause changes in behaviour. Thankfully she came back negative for diabetes so I thought that in a day or so, she’d settle down again. She didn’t…she got worse and began bar chewing. I checked her wheel, ensured that she had sufficient chews and that her teeth looked as they were supposed to. No change so I consulted a friend for advice and she gave me another tip to try but unfortunately Jessie’s behaviour began to take a dramatic turn for the worst. Instead of being just hyper, she was frantic. My poor little girl seemed stressed in her body language and was obsessively bar chewing so I decided that I’d put her in one of my larger bin cages. It  had very little potential for chewing, which would at least help to stop her from hurting herself. The transformation in Jessie was apparent almost straight away. She was no longer frantic and was happily running on her wheel and doing her housekeeping. I’m relieved that things have improved for her but I also think that it’s a reminder that every hamster is different in what they want out of their living environment and as responsible owners we have to pay attention to our hamsters behaviour and body language to ensure that we are providing them with the cage they need.

Chinese Hamsters – difficult to find. 

I’d always known Chinese Hamsters were harder to find than their more common cousins, after all the first I’d heard of them when I went to buy a pair of Russian Hamsters and saw them in the shop. I’d fallen for them and came away with a pair of brothers. It wasn’t long after that when that particular store stopped selling them but other stores seemed to follow the same pattern.

Three years after that I came across one in a rehoming section of that particular store, that was the last time I’d see a Chinese Hamster in that store. I realised that I might need to go elsewhere to find a Chinese Hamster in the future.

On two occasions I had known of Chinese Hamsters being available in a smaller pet shop chain but later on, even they stopped selling them. In fact that company have stopped selling Dwarf Hamsters too and are focusing on Syrian Hamsters instead.

From reading discussions on a hamster forum it would appear that others are having the same issues with finding this endearing species and it often makes you wonder why. I was once told that it was because they just don’t sell very well as people want the more stereotypically cute, rounder other species. After all, any sensible retailer is going to stock what sells but I think there is a lack of knowledge of these species, meaning they are being sold as pairs and inevitably most pairs seem to fall out. Chinese Hamsters can be vicious towards each other and can inflict serious injury or worse on their opponent. If they’re lucky and survive a fight with minor injury then they will need to be caged separately and some people are reluctant to pay out for another cage, particularly when pet shops are pretty insistent that this species would be fine as a pair. I’ve heard stories of hamsters being returned to the store or given away free to whoever asks for it as a result of the fight. Maybe the pet shops think that this species presents more problems than their worth which is a shame because housed correctly this species can make a wonderful and loving pet.

So where do people turn? For those lucky enough to be able to travel for a breeder or to a show, that represents the next option and for most, the last resort. Whilst this option should ensure that healthy and tame pets are going to new homes with the additional support a breeder can offer, it is not an option for everybody and unfortunately those people have had to go without.

Jessie Jaye was my last Pet Shop Chinesey and she’s probably going to be our last. Obviously it will be beneficial for our show team if we were to source all of our Chinese from breeders but it has made me reflect on what pet shop Chineseys have done for me too. They have been such a huge part of Metallica Hamstery’s history and without them, I wouldn’t even have known the joy of owning the species let alone got involved in breeding and showing them.

Victoria’s Secrets – The Result

I said that Victoria couldn’t keep her pups secret for long but because they were so quiet, I assumed that there was only one or two in the nest. I later saw two escapees and I assumed that would be that.

However they weren’t nicknamed Victoria’s Secrets for nothing and when it came to first handling, I was rather surprised to see six pups in the nest. She had four sons and two daughters.

Considering that there were that many, I was even more amazed at how she had managed to keep them so quiet.

Victoria was an amazing mother, she was attentive but I think she enjoyed her playtimes away from them during handling. She was calm about me handling them and all six have been handled every day from that point onwards.

Eventually I made the decision to split Victoria from her daughters a couple of days after her sons had moved out and I think she was ready for it. After a quick look around her own cage again she settled down with her food and went back to flirting with James.

The Nobrias (Victoria’s Secrets) have all been provisionally reserved and will be going to their new homes shortly. One boy will be staying here to further our show lines. Victoria will be returning to the show team but we will be considering her suitability for a second litter with Lord James lined up as the possible father.

Victoria’s Secrets 

Several weeks ago I paired Miss Victoria to Nobby, a lovely lad that was here on loan from Vectis Hamstery. The couple settled in nicely but the next day Vicky decided marriage wasn’t for her any more and began telling Nobby off. The second night she decided to go for him if he even dared to cross her path so to prevent him from getting too injured, I separated them and tried again in the morning. They squabbled more and in the end they were separated before the four days were up. I didn’t know if it had worked and had heard that the girls can get cross with the boys once they have no use for them and a quick message to Vectis confirmed this. As I had no idea on what the outcome might be, I had to assume that Vicky was pregnant and began feeding her additional nutrients.

She began to look a little bit more round on 2nd October but I didn’t know if this was due to the additional nutrients or whether she was pregnant. She was moved to a maternity tank anyway on 2nd and by the 7th, she was looking rounder still. I knew I wouldn’t have long to wait – or so I thought!

I kept hoping to hear the baby squeaks or some sign that Victoria had got through delivery without any problems but Victoria had built herself a super-secure nest and was tending to those babies so that there was no chance of me finding out either way. The only thing I had to go on was her sudden slim-ness and a change in her behaviour. I had to go on the assumption that she’d had pups so as not to put them at risk until she let me know that she’d had none. I kept this up until the pups were almost two weeks old. I thought a couple of times that I might have heard rustling but it was so quiet that I couldn’t be sure and I didn’t want to get too excited just in case something had gone wrong.

Victoria tried her best to keep those babies a secret but eventually their curiosity got the better of them and on 21st October, whilst I had been preparing the pens for the show, Victoria came out for some food and was followed by a baby. She promptly chased it back inside but later on the pup appeared again and had a little wander round the tank. I didn’t see its sibling until later on whilst Victoria and the first pup were out. The second pup seemed more cautious and returned back to the nest when chased back in by Mum.

Victoria is still trying to keep those pups in the nest but I’m wondering if she’s going to be fighting a losing battle with that from now on. You’ve got to admire these mothers from the animal kingdom for raising their young without any support or intervention and to have kept it quiet for so long must have taken some work.

The litter’s official name is The Nobrias, which is a combination of both parents names, however they’re going to be nicknamed Victoria’s Secrets because, after all that effort, how could you not.

My Introduction to Showing

It was about a year ago that I first visited a hamster show and even though I wasn’t showing, it was still pretty scary to make that first move. When I went into the hall everyone seemed to be busy or chatting with fellow exhibitors. It was difficult for a newbie to make the first move but once I did, it was well worth it and left having met some lovely people. At the time though, the hamsters we had wouldn’t have been suitable for showing but it was nice to have a rough idea on the set up for when we would be able to enter shows. The first show we entered was Wootten Bassett later that year where we entered with Lord James and Lady May. I knew that they were adorable but I wasn’t expecting huge things out of either of them, I was just looking forward to the experience. Both placed bottom of their classes but for Lady May in particular, the fact that she was able to be judged was the sign of how much progress she had made since I bought her home. It ended up being the only show she entered as she crossed the bridge just two months later.

It wasn’t until Ferndown that I began to play a more active role in showing. Not long after I arrived, the show sec asked me if I wanted to have a go at Pen Stewarding. I’d never done it before but someone gave me a run down of what was involved. It was great to be able to get a closer view on how the hamsters were judged. It was here that I really began to understand the standards that I’d previously read. Since then I’ve stewarded at pretty much every show I’ve attended which is a great way to get to know people that I probably wouldn’t have spoken to otherwise. I’ve also been learning to look at hamsters in a more objective way rather than just looking at them all and being dazzle by their cuteness, hopefully the experience will pay off when selecting suitable hamsters for breeding purposes.

There’s a couple of people in particular who have helped me on my journey into showing and hopefully they’ll know who they are. I’m very grateful to them for the warm welcomes that they have extended to me and without them things would have seemed a lot more daunting. I hope that one day I’ll return the favour and help another new member on their journey into hamster showing because after all, who knows what that new member could have to offer?

How weight loss led to a sad discovery

Following a routine weight check on Lady May, I noticed that she had lost 5g and without any logical explanation such as increased exercise or loss of appetite, I increased the health checks I was doing on her and eventually an explanation became apparent. I hoped it was nothing serious but took her to the vet anyway. She was given antibiotics but her ability to eat reduced and I had to feed her the same soft foods that we’d fed to Meat. In less than a week, a tiny bump that was barely noticeable grew enough to stop my girl from eating the food she loved and in the latter stages, stopped her from being able to close her mouth. We went back to the vets and I was shocked at how much the wretched thing had grown and I knew then that this would be my last few moments with her. I said goodbye and Lady May, Dowager Countess of Metallica was put to sleep on 1st February 2016.