Starting a Quality Hamstery
By Linda Price
I often get asked how to build a quality hamstery.  Many people are doing the research before diving in, and this is always a great idea.  Build up slowly.  Purchase and develop your lines wisely.

Others ask me after they've acquired a bunch of mis-matched hamsters and don't know what to do.  All too often, they send me a laundry list of all of their hamsters and all of those they intend to buy and ask me to pair them all up to produce quality (and ask me to give them the predicted results of each of the dozens of pairings which can take hours).  These people's focus is often on producing as many "rare" hamsters as possible so that they can become well known in hamster circles.  Doing that will gain you a reputation -- but not for having a quality hamstery.

I had one such question last week.  This article was written based on my response.

There is a lot involved in starting a quality hamstery.  People dramatically underestimate the time, effort, and money necessary for such an endeavor.  It will not be a money maker.  If you properly feed, house, and care for your hamsters, you can't make any money.  You must do it for the love of the animals.

The first thing many people want to do is acquire hamsters in the latest fad colors and/or patterns.  Increasing the number of your animals is really one of the last things to do.  I am going to assume you have a thorough understanding of how to properly care for your animals.  If not, please refer to the many other articles addressing that topic.  Once you can properly care for them, here are some of the steps I would recommend.

First, most people start with some hamsters theyíve had and been breeding.   Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your current animals. Until you really know your animals, you can't hope to buy animals to compliment them and  build a strong hamstery. So you need to create a list of everything your animals excel in and everything that needs improvement.  This would include everything from size to fur density to health.  This analysis will become critical when deciding which animals to buy to compliment your lines.  Although you may not be worried about your hamstersí showability, the show qualities will point you in the direction of quality hamsters.  Start with those criteria when evaluating your animals and add any qualities which you feel are important to you.

Second, you need to set a goal for your hamstery. What do you want to specialize in? The reputable breeders all have a niche that they do best.  I can give you some examples.  There are a couple of us who have spent a lot of time documenting the new genes here in the US. We are adding to the international body of information on hamsters. We have also focused on documenting and correcting problems and misnomers in US hamsters. They're rampant, and we want to lift the US up a notch.  I have another friend who has focused on pure, single gene Campbells. That's a huge undertaking here in the US since so many breeders breed mutts. It's also relatively thankless except among serious breeders.  Another friend focuses on rescues.

Even within our hamsteries, we have key colors and patterns that we focus on.  I have focused on the black dominant spot. I probably have the best in the US and have won repeated awards with my animals. I don't breed bandeds or roans (although I have in the past and will again in the future). I don't breed short haireds. I don't breed most colors. I focus on a handful of complimentary colors revolving mostly around black, yellow black, and dominant spot.  Lately I have moved more into working with yellow blacks since they have become such a problem in the US. My colors, though, are limited. If anyone wants another color, I suggest they go to another breeder who specializes in that. I don't want to be all things to all people.  Iím not afraid to tell people I donít have what they are looking for since I know that what I do have is quality.

So the good breeders stay focused. If you have not told me your goals, it is impossible for me to suggest pairs.  I have no idea where you are headed.  If you don't have any goals, you can mate any two hamsters and see what you get. It's only if you have a clear focus that you really care about color.

Next youíll want to find a good hamster vet in your area Ė which is easier said than done in many areas.   Every hamstery has sick hamsters off and on. This should be done before they ever get sick. I made an appointment with my vet for an insignificant problem to check him out before I actually needed him. I discussed his policies regarding my involvement in any care.  (I insist on being present for all treatment except anesthesia which is against his insurance policy.)  Once I was satisfied, I made an agreement with him for all of my hamster care.  He responds promptly when I need care (even coming to my house) and always includes me in the diagnosis and treatment.

I would also suggest you take some time to evaluate your feed.  To maintain a healthy colony of quality hamsters, you will need a top notch feed.  Pet stores sell a wide variety, and I canít tell you which are best for breeding animals (nor can they, I suspect).  I switched to lab blocks for my breeding animals and only use the seed mixes for treats (along with fruits and veggies).  Lab blocks have a number of advantages.  The main key I wanted for my breeding animals was a well balanced diet which would support the rigors of breeding.  Personally I have chosen a lab diet which is especially designed for breeding animals.  They arenít easy to get in small quantities, but I use the lab supplier for all of my food and bedding needs allowing me to bypass the retail chain entirely along with all of its possible contaminants along the way.

You need to follow the same process for bedding.  As you acquire more hamsters, you will want to buy your bedding by the bale.  Shop around.  Avoid cedar and pine.  Aspen seems to be the most economical option for a safe bedding in most hamsteries.

Then you need to consider the housing arrangements.  How large do you want your cages to be and what type of cage is best?  What do you have the space for?  Do you need shelving units to house the animals?  Do you have enough extra cages to separate the animals (dwarves) if they start fighting?  Do you have enough cages to accommodate a litter or two if they donít sell for a couple of months (especially important with syrian litters since they must be kept one to a cage)?  Always overestimate your cage needs since I promise you that they will be full periodically due to unforeseen circumstances.

So now you have fully evaluated the following:

1. The strengths and weaknesses of your current animals.
2. The goals of your hamstery.
3. The best hamster vet.
4. The food and bedding best suited to your needs.
5. The housing accommodations for your animals.

Only now are you ready to start shopping around for animals.  Start talking to breeders.  Ask them some of the above questions.   Reputable breeders will have already done the above process.  Also find out about their breeding plan.  See if they overbreed their females or breed them too young.  This will produce sub-par animals, and you would never want to start your hamstery with such animals.

Find out from them what the strengths and weaknesses of both the father's and mother's lines are for any litter from which you might accept a baby. Compare those to the strengths and weaknesses you have outlined for each of your hamsters. If their hamsters can't improve your lines, go to another breeder. If you have any hesitation, go to another breeder.  If they pressure you to buy, go to another breeder.  Don't be afraid to shop around, but please don't reserve animals until you know you want them.  Many people have soured me on them by reserving an animal and then canceling when they find something better.

Once you know that their animals compliment yours, then you can start asking them about colors and patterns. You'll already know what you want to reach your goals. You can let them know what you have and allow them to suggest what they have which will allow you to achieve your goals. I've often done that for people. I suggest pairings, tell them what they are likely to get, and tell them the possible weaknesses if they do choose that pairing. That is part of being a reputable breeder. They are the ones who can tell you what colors you will get if you pair your hamsters to theirs. They are the only ones who know what genes their animals carry. With the information you have given me, I am more likely to be wrong than right -- or I will have to create so many possible scenarios that it becomes useless to you and extremely time consuming to me.

Of course there are a host of other things you need to do to become a reputable hamstery. You certainly need to know your animals well. You need to make sure you protect your animals by creating a quarantine room for ALL animals that enter your hamstery (even returns from any pet stores you service). The new ones must be thoroughly watched, and you must give them a transition time to adjust to your food, bedding, environment, etc. before ever considering breeding them.

In reality, since the hamsters you are buying will be the foundation of your hamstery (and garbage in equals garbage out), you should seek the highest quality animals you can find.  Color should be far less important than quality.  You can add genes later.  It is far more difficult to build up strong animals from weak animals.  And remember that the quality of the color plays a large role too.  If you want to breed quality black hamsters, don't consider buying a black with a lot of browning.  Buy the blackest black that you can find.  The same with a golden.  Buy the golden with the best color and markings that you can find.  The quality of the color is as important as the color itself.

Use the questions already discussed above to start a dialogue with each of the hamsteries you are considering buying from. You need to understand if they are quality breeders plus you need to know how to transition the animals to you should you choose to buy them. The overwhelming majority of hamster breeders in the US are mediocre or marginal.

Also, find out how many unexplained deaths they have had in recent years. Ask about any diseases which were treated, whether they do inbreeding and if so how they deal with genetic or other problems which crop up from inbreeding (ie do they know when to stop). There are dozens of questions you should be asking before making any of their animals the foundation of your new hamstery.

So maybe you can now see the work involved in being a well-known and reputable hamstery. Good ones in the US are too few and too far between. Make sure you are dealing with them if you intend to join that group.

So I've taken the time to give you a very good start to answering your questions. This hour has been far better spent in helping you than having me list the dozens of possibilities with the insufficient genetics info you could give me. Again, work that out with the people you buy from. They should know their animals. They should provide the good and bad to help you make the proper decision on whether or not to buy.

And of course you have access to an excellent syrian genetics site -
The River Road Hamstery site. Using that in conjunction with all of the help people have already given you should get you on the right track in the genetics. It will take time, though, to fully understand your animals - both their quality and their genetics. Building a reputable hamstery is not easy. It takes constant work.
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