Ethical breeding... What you should know before breeding
I've (and others have expressed the same to me) noticed here, more than any other rat fancy forum, that people believe there are not ratteries out there that are following the ethical breeding "rules", as outlined by the AFRMA in this article and supported in the standards set by the Rat Society of America. This simply isn't true. To say such things as, "all breeders got their start breeding pet store rats" and the like (which I've seen here over and over again) is an insult to respected, ethical breeders.
The well-known, respected breeders did not start as what is referred to as "backyard breeders" [which is more of a way to describe the practice, so please do not get offended at the term] (breeding because you can or for "fun", throwing together rats to make babies because babies are cute/fun, breeding pet store or rescue rats, breeding because you want another rat exactly the same as the buck/doe, etc) or "rat mills" (continuous breeding in sub-par conditions to supply pet stores and make a profit)... Rats bred by ethical breeders are not bred to make money, to bring more rats into the world, or because they think the babies are cute. They breed to *better* the species to produce healthier and better pet rats. They research for years before breeding (and never stop doing so after breeding), are members of all the major societies and clubs, and many participate in showing and events. They bring stock in from other ethical ratteries in attempts to improve their lines.
I've put just a small list together of some of these breeders and a bit about them, to give you an idea. Mind you, this list only represents a very small chunk of respected breeders. It's to illustrate that in the world of the rat fancy, there IS a "right way" to breed.
*All USA breeders (and rats of said breeders) listed are registered with the North American Rat Registry*
Tekka Maki Rodentry is probably one of the best-known breeders, who mentors other breeders. Having a "TEK rat" is considered a privilege to the biggest fanciers of rats (among those who do choose to purchase breeder rats, that is). Dan ("TEK") is very well respected in the larger rat community. Dan a has a background in veterinary studies and is a trained veterinary technician. Dan is the Co-founder and Vice President of NIRO, the Illinois chapter of the Rat Society of America. He also is the founder of ERA (The Eastern Rat Association), is an RSA sanctioned judge and sits on the RSA board of directors, as well as chairman of the standards committee. His rats have won many awards in many shows and he is active in the rat community in general.
Dazzle Me Rattery is a well-known rattery in the rat world. She is on the Board of Directors for the Northern Illinois Rat Organization, the Board of Directors for the The Eastern Rat Association, and the Standards Comittee for the Rat Society of America. She is "unofficially" mentored and aided by Tekka Maki Rodentry [confirmed to me by Dan]. Her rats have won awards in rat shows as well and she is active in the rat community in general.
Odyssey Design Rattery is a personal friend of mine, who is currently re-locating to my state (!). She is mentored under Tekka Maki Rodentry and is a member of NIRO. She has been studying genetics and researching for years. She has a nice reputation in the rat community despite taking her breeding slow. She advocates rescue and supports my own rescue in many ways.
NEO Rattery is currently mentoring under Tekka Maki Rodentry. They are a newer rattery, who recently had their second litter.
The FarStar Rattery owner is President of the Rat Fanciers of the Lakes and member of Northern Illinois Rat Organization. They breed to the standards set by the RSA. I am unsure who their mentor is, but I believe it's Bao Varakhii Rattery.
Lavender Haven Rattery is mentored by Spoiled Ratten Rattery and Landmark Rattery. They are members of member of the Northern Illinois Rat Organization and Midwest Rat Enthusiasts.
Gulf Breeze Rattery is mentored by Phoneix Gate Rattery. She got into rat breeding after seeing pet store rats suffer as a rescue of bad breeding.
The practice of ethical breeding is NOT limited to just the States. The following are just 2 of the ratteries in the UK that follow the same "rules" of mentoring and educating before breeding. There are more that do the same.
Tenaran Stud mentored under Alpha Centauri Stud, and members (and regional co-ordinators for Wales) of UK's National Fancy Rat Society and Midlands Rat Club. They also judge rat shows.
Bongo Fury Rats also mentored under Alpha Centauri Stud. They are NFRS registered novice breeders and trainee judges. They are also active in rat rescue.
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I hope this shows a side of breeding that I'm not sure some on this forum really know about or believe exists. As i mentioned, this is a very small percent of a large group of respected, ethical breeders that are well known for breeding healthier rats with excellent temperaments. These are people who any hardcore rat fancier would reccomend to anyone who wishes to have breeder rats.
They all loose money breeding (there is NO money to be made in the hobby of ethical breeding of rats), are all active in the community at large (especially with rat groups and shows), and would never breed pet store rats or sell to pet stores. They breed to better the pet rats, which many rat fanciers believe is the ONLY reason to breed. However, they do not start off by themselves... they spend years researching and understanding the ins and outs of rat genetics, they study under respected breeders, and only then do they breed (and ONLY established lines from an ethical breeder). Also, I've noticed that a good deal of breeders have backgrounds in animal medicine, which can only help their education and resources.
There is no reason to be anti-breeder when there are breeders out there that are trying to improve the lines. When many rat enthusiasts say don't breed, they are referring to the practice of "backyard breeding" or "rat mills" as outlined above. In this day and age, there is no excuse not to follow the respected breeders and be mentored and research BEFORE breeding. Many respected breeders are willing to mentor those who are both local and not. When the option is available, and you feel you really want to breed, please, PLEASE considering doing what many in the rat fancy consider the only "right" way to breed.
Before considering to breed, I suggest reading each of the articles below that outline the basics, costs and ethics of breeding.
http://www.dazzlemerats.com/breed_rats.html (contains a breakdown of all expenses... a MUST read)
Also, before breeding, please consider becoming involved in rat rescue. You will experience just how much time, effort and money is put into raising babies, and you will be doing the rat world a large favor. If you then decide you do want to breed, at least you'll have the experience and you'll know you've done something wonderful for rats who were in need.
You'd be amazed at the amount of homeless rats EVERYWHERE. While I researched and found a demand for pet rats in my area before starting my own rescue, I had no idea the amount of rats that would be surrendered into my care. You may think you don't know of any rats in need in your area, but trust me... You'd be surprised if you opened your doors to them once word got around.
In closing, I not bashing, preaching, or pointing fingers with this post. I honestly am in love with all rats and wish only the best for them. I've devoted my life (or lack there of since opening Rattie Love Rescue), time and money into what I think are one of the best pets in the world. I wouldn't spend time making posts like this if I didn't care for the all the little critters and what happens to them in their already too short lives.
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I emailed a wonderful breeder friend of mine asking her how she got into breeding, and the ethics of the whole matter. I got this reply back which is very revealing and shows how improving the lines for the future of our rats is paramount.
Prior to breeding rats, I had always been interested in genetics, so even before I thought about breeding rats, I had a pretty good handle on genetics, not just simple color genetics, but the more complicated bits as well. I had kept rats as pets for ten years prior, and started to consider breeding rats. My previous experiences were pretty good, with my rats being fairly healthy and living to around two years of age. So I started to do more research about breeding rats. I wanted to make sure I was up-to-date on proper care, but also to make sure I started breeding for the right reasons and knew what I was doing.
When I started breeding rats, I was not aware of the number of breeders across the country. The Internet communities I was a part of just did not make any mention of breeders. I did not know how to find them, or how I would get rats from them. Since my previous experiences with the rats from a small local pet store were not horrendous, I decided to start with those rats. As luck would have it, the small numbers I kept as pets were healthy, but as you increase numbers your odds also increase. In my situation, the odds of something going wrong increased as I kept more rats and started producing rats as a breeder. Although some were healthy, others were not. Several rats came down with pneumonia, and one rat passed away from respiratory disease without even showing symptoms. A number of rats developed tumors, including two males. One rat died from an abdominal cancer that could not be treated. Three other rats died before three months of age from unknown causes. Several of my litters were unsuccessful as well, only one to three babies surviving out of a litter of nine that were born. I was selective about the rats I bred, and I DID know about genetics and how to select those rats, but even the best of knowledge can only get you so far if the animals you have possess genes for detrimental conditions. To breed good animals, you need to start with something good, you can't create something from nothing. I was finding this out the hard way.
So after producing eight litters in three years, I started over. By this time my visits to Internet communities expanded to include those in which breeders were present, and when it came into existence I joined the North American Rat Registry. I was able to find out about the breeders that are out there, not just throughout the country, but in my area as well. I brought several rats from other breeders into my rattery, and started to work with those rats, and became more selective about those litters I would produce. Some of the animals I adopted came from a well-known and well-reputed breeder. Unfortunately my dealings with this breeder turned sour, and I became very disenchanted with breeders in general. Due to my experience, I seriously considered stopping all together, and my last litter at the time was born July 12, 2005. Those rats were kept to live out their natural lives in my rattery. Being descended from documented lines (as opposed to the pet store rats I started with), they did end up being healthier. They had no respiratory issues, and the incidences of tumors were lower. Instead of just making it to two years, many lived to two and a half years, and the oldest died two months shy of her third birthday.
Towards the end of 2006, as the rats from my last litter started growing older, I decided I missed my rats too much. I stayed on the Internet communities, though not nearly as active as before. I decided to come back cautiously. I still had the same goal of producing "better" rats, but I now had a better knowledge and base for which to achieve that goal. My first litter since 2005 was born March 18, 2007. I am currently a member of AFRMA, NARR, NIRO, and CARE (California Association of Rat Enthusiasts, a new club in California, of which I am currently president of). My first priorities are always health and temperament. My rats are first and foremost bred to be good pets, and as such they should be healthy and friendly. Only the friendliest rats are to be bred. To produce healthier rats, it is my responsibility to keep track of each and every animal I produce. My adopters are selected carefully, and are required to keep in touch. I contact them periodically to make sure everything is ok and to see how my babies are doing. All of my rats and all of my litters are registered and kept up-to-date with the NARR. To better monitor health, I do have my deceased rats autopsied to determine the cause of death beyond "old age" or "respiratory disease". My next priority is type (referring to how an animal is built and "put together", also called "conformation", especially as it is related to health. I don't care if my rats are top-winning show rats, as long as they are well built, and that their build betters their health. It is slow going, but I try for improvement with each generation. I take the time to make sure my babies are well adjusted, and I only breed litters who will have homes, or that I can keep myself. For now, I am working with the lines I have, which do come from other established breeders, getting to know them well and to improve on them. In the future, I hope to bring in rats from other ratteries to further improve on what I have accomplished so far.