The Great Breeder Debate

As someone that is generally interested in hamster care issues worldwide, I try to keep up on what is happening on various social media channels and one of the debates that I have seen crop up is the debate about how ethical it really is to actively chose to breed hamsters when there are plenty of hamsters in rescue waiting for a good home and to some people the solution to this is to ban all breeding, ethical or otherwise. I think that this would be nearly impossible to really regulate so it’s not a realistic suggestion but I believe that this also has a down side for hamsters in general.

The hamster on the right is Nero and he is a Purebred Winter White. He illustrates just what we’d be losing if all breeding were to be banned. many people know that in many countries there is no such thing as a purebred Winter White or Campbells because the only ‘Russian’ type hamsters that exist have been bred from stock originating from the rodent farms that may or may not know that the Campbells and the Winter White are an entirely different species. If it weren’t for the work of reputable breeders, the two species would eventually die out, leaving Hybrids that are known to be more prone to various health problems.

As someone who specialises primarily in Chinese Hamsters I have often been told on social media by people in the USA and Canada that they have never seen a Chinese Hamster because they are so uncommon. I think if there weren’t the breeders working with them here, the situation would be much the same. Do we really want to stop those three species from ever being kept as pets?

I don’t feel that stopping people from going to breeders is not the answer to reducing the amount of small animals in rescue, it’s the way that small animals are sold in pet shops that is the problem. At the moment hamsters and other small animals are able to be sold to pretty much anyone who sees one in a pet shop and thinks it’s cute. Some pet shops may ask a series of short questions but that still doesn’t encourage much real thought into what caring for this animal really involves on a day to day basis. When the novelty of having a new pet wears off, this small animal, that was so easy to purchase is then discarded and the animal ends up in rescue.

 

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Matthew C. Nobria – The Star of Team Metallica

Back in 2017, I wrote an article about one of my hamsters who surprised me with a trip to the top end of the table after I thought of taking him off of my show team. That article was written back in April 2017 and published in July 2017’s NHC journal. That hamster was Matthew C. Nobria, a Normal Chinese that was one of Metallica Hamstery’s first litter.
Matthew had some time off of the show team due to skin splits but despite this absence he ended up being Metallica Hamstery’s most successful show hamster.
Matthew C. Nobria showed for Metallica Hamstery 15 times between February 2017 and June 2018, taking on the Show Team Lead from Lord James in May 2017 and he did me proud. He placed in 14 shows, won 10 first placings, 2 Reserve Best in Shows and 1 Best In Show. He missed out on his Champion status by 1 Certificate of Merit.
Matthew was still placing despite his advancing age and he was due to make his final appearance on the show team in Cardiff. Unfortunately Andover was to be Matthew’s final show as he sadly passed away suddenly on 4th July 2018.
Having been from my first litter, Matthew was a particularly special hamster but he was also a strong character in my hamster room. He loved to make a noise, he loved to put everything in his wheel and take it for a run but he was also a very loving little soul.
He was buried in my garden next to his mother Victoria and was survived by his brother Oakley (who was living with Willow Tree Hamstery). Oakley joined the rest of the Nobria family at the bridge two months after Matthew.

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.

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.

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. 

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!

Victoria – The One That Never Grew Into Her Potential

Victoria was brought home in June 2016o as the betrothed of Lord James but also to give my rather limited show team a boost.

She started well, bringing home 1st placings in her very first show and was deemed to be ‘Young With Potential’ at her second show. This gave me some hope that she may one day go on to win one of the top titles in the show. Unfortunately she never grew into her potential and although she is cute and charming, she stayed as a rather small Chinesey despite my efforts to help her grow.

Because of her small size and James’s much larger one, I decided not to risk a first pairing with her and those of you that have followed us for a while will remember that I borrowed a boy from Vectis Hamstery for our first pairing instead. They were a lovely couple and in three weeks The Nobrias were born. Victoria was a good mother so I hoped to pair her with Lord James earlier this year. When it came to pairing, Victoria was having none of it and was consequently retired from breeding.

This normally would have meant that I could allow her to focus on her show career but with her small size being one of the things working against her, I didn’t hold out much hope that she’d do exceptionally well in showing although that being said, she seemed to be a fairly consistent average show hamster until she got a skin split in September 2017 that threatened her position on the show team. Whilst the split itself has now healed, the ruffling of her fur has not improved and I made the decision to retire Victoria in November 2017.

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.