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On Breeding

We all start somewhere, and we all end somewhere. How much you grow during that period is personal choice.
There are so, so many things to consider when it comes to breeding rats.
Consider first.. why are you interested in breeding? Because you love rats? Because you want to see the miracle of life? Because you have a sweet rat and want to have a litter out of it to carry on the line? Because you want to make money? Because you’re interested in genetics? To make more cute rats in general?
None of those alone is a good enough reason, and some are downright bad reasons, at least in my opinion.

Of course any rat breeder should love rats, but it takes a lot more than loving them to be a good breeder. Seeing the miracle of life can be accomplished by offering to foster a rescued or unplanned litter, rather than intentionally breeding your own. A rat being especially sweet is NOT enough to warrant breeding it.. there are untold numbers of sweet rats, but they may also come with untold health issues you would not want to pass on. The money making aspect of breeding rats is laughable.. any good breeder will put much more money into their animals than they will get back out of them. The only breeders who make money are selling to petshops or to similar situations, and mass breeding without much thought to health and temperament of the animals. An interest is genetics is definitely good for any breeder to have, but not reason enough alone to breed. And I don’t think I need to expand on why breeding rats just to make more is a bad idea, considering the number of rats already out there needing homes.

A rat being a Blue Dumbo, pedigreed or not, is also not enough reason to breed it. I see far too many rats of unknown backgrounds bred simply because they are a unique marking (often with genetic problems in the lines passed on to their litters), a pretty color such as an American Blue, or simply being a Dumbo or Hairless rat. I will readily admit I made these mistakes myself in the beginning, and learned a lot from them. I am now trying to pass that knowledge on to others, so that they do not make these same mistakes. When I started out, none of my rats had pedigrees. At that time pedigreed rats were few and far between, especially in my area, and I worked with what I had. This problem was made worse by the fact that my goals were not what they should of been, and almost ALL of the original rats and lines I worked with were completely scrapped as a result, in favor of all around better rats with known backgrounds and something much more to offer.

A good breeder will learn to recognize the value of a nicely bred Black Berkshire over that of your average Blue Dumbo any day. When you look at a rat, consider what it has to offer in breeding. What’s the line like? Are there health issues? Genetic problems that may be passed on? How’s the temperament in the rat’s parents, grandparents, etc? Sweet and laid back, playful? Aggression issues? What’s the rat’s type like? Is it robust and well built, is it too thin, is the nose too long or pointy, eyes not big and round enough? What’s the coat like? What are the other physical aspects on the rat like, the color and markings? What faults do you notice that may physically be passed on?
Consider a pair together. Think about how the offspring should be an improvement over the parents. You should always avoid breeding two rats with the same faults together, as this will further set these faults in. Think about your goals as a breeder and how this pair will work towards those goals. Breeding because a color or type is popular isn’t doing much good if it isn’t working towards a goal you have.

Inbreeding and line breeding are useful tools in breeding rats. They can be used to show you what problems are in the line, because those problems are more likely to show when you breed two related rats together. They can also further set positive traits in a line, such as a sweet, mushy personality, or beautiful, round eyes and a nice, short nose.
Then there’s the aspect that some types of rats can come with genetic problems. Are you prepared for that? Have you researched the varieties you’re interested in working with? Dominant high white rats often produce babies with megacolon, which is more or less always fatal, and very heartbreaking. Yet, many people, especially new breeders, want to work with such rats, only to come across problems later. Even with a “megacolon free” pedigree, these rats can produce it, it only takes the ‘right’ pairing. Breeders are often determined to ‘breed out the megacolon’, despite the fact that countless others before them have tried. It would seem best, especially in the beginning, to work with rats not prone to genetic problems, to save yourself countless heartbreak and pain from enduring the various problems. Make sure to do as much research as possible and try to learn from other’s experiences. It will save so much time in the end. (I used megacolon as an example simply because it is one of the most common things I see, not to single any breeders out. I made the megacolon mistakes myself years ago.)
What about when a line has issues? When more negative than positive occurs in the litters? You don’t want to work backwards, you need to move forward. You must learn to recognize when it’s not worth it anymore. Over the years breeders will end many lines, favoring those with the most potential to offer to the rat fancy as a whole. Ending a line does not mean failure as a breeder, but rather it should mean learning from your mistakes, knowing what to look for down the road, and a future knowledge of what is worth continuing and what is not. Your rats will be better for it.

You should be willing to be open minded, consider the opinions of others even when you don’t agree (because there is almost always something to be learned), and always strive to continue to gain knowledge on the entire rat fancy in general.
Think about placing the babies. There can be 1-20 babies in a litter. You may get all or mostly one gender, or an equal mix. You may get colors or markings you didn’t expect, although a good pedigree will greatly increase the chances of getting what you expect. Do you have a waiting list? How many babies are you planning on, or willing to keep yourself? What will you do with ‘extra’ babies? Can you handle keeping an entire litter should something fall through? Many new breeders can have trouble placing babies, especially when they start out with unknown lines to begin with. Doing your research and sounding knowledgeable and serious will help established breeders to take you seriously, which will make getting solid breeding rats easier for you. You want to give yourself as much of a ‘head start’ as possible, starting from the bottom isn’t necessary anymore when so many established, dedicated breeders are located around the world.
On pedigrees.. they are only as useful as the information put into them. This is one reason the NARR is such a useful tool, it not only tracks the physical aspect of rats, such as type, color, and markings, but also tracks health and temperament issues as well. In my opinion it’s pretty much a must-have in rat breeding these days.
The money.. oh, the money. Keeping rats isn’t cheap. The money you make on adopting out baby rats will NOT cover the costs of your rattery in general. You must keep in mind cages, litter, toys, accessories, bedding, medical costs.. the list goes on. Be prepared for it.
On a final note, many, possibly most, new breeders don’t last for more than a year or two. They usually start with good intentions, but without the research required and are not fully prepared, and so burn out and fade off as quickly as they’ve appeared.
I put together this article to express my personal thoughts on the subject, and maybe to help a possible new breeder or two down the road to decide if breeding really is for them. Remember, your rats will only be as good as the effort you put into them.