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If all goes according to plan, we'll soon be bringing home a pair of young rats. (These will technically be for our daughter, but obviously, I expect to be heavily involved in their care, as well, & I think my husband & I are just as excited about getting them as our daughter is!). We have all the necessary supplies -- now it's just time to get the rats themselves. I've been a bit of a maniac about online research over the past couple months in an effort to learn everything I can about our little ones before we bring them home, & have seen a lot of info about picking the right rat. One big concern I have is about so-called "backyard breeders." I know a lot of people on this forum will tear a suspected BYB to pieces, but I guess I'm a little unclear about what truly makes someone a BYB. Is anyone who doesn't carry a ARMA membership card a BYB? If they sell anything besides pedigreed animals with long known lineages, are they a BYB?? I'm looking for PET rats, & have zero intention of ever breeding my animals, so is it still a bad idea to adopt from someone who has a few pets that they occasionally breed? I mean, I would never purchase from a mill, but if these animals are well-loved, handled, & brought up in a home environment (NOT racks) to be pets (NOT feeders), isn't that better than buying from a pet shop? I've only been able to find ONE ARMA-recognized breeder in my area, & I almost purchased from her, but after a lot of back & forth communication, i guess someone else put down a deposit on the girl I most wanted the very same day I decided to seal the deal! (The breeder offered me another female that she was considering keeping, but I think I offended her when I said that I preferred the pet quality girl over one that she considered good enough to be breeding stock. I get that, but at the same time, Im looking for a PET, & the pet one had cuter markings!! Anyway, I'm pretty sure I upset her, because she suddenly became very curt instead of friendly, & when I inquired about future litters, she told me she had a very long waiting list & wouldn't have anything available.). The other breeders I've talked to are hobbiest with a few rats and/or rescues with abandoned litters, & though they don't offer pedigrees, they really seem to love their rats. Do I just ignore the pedigree snobs & go for it, or will I regret not driving 500 miles to get pets from better lines? We're thinking about visiting a couple of these "BYBs" this weekend, so any tips about what to avoid would be helpful.
 

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Anyone who breeds just for the heck of it, or because their pet is cute or sweet or whatever is bad. A BYB is someone who is breeding for profit or fun, they lack knowledge of genetics and lines, and many often sell (in the case of rats) as pets or feeders. Getting a pet from a BYB is the same, and possibly worse, then purhasing from pet store. Pet stores don't always get their rats from mills or companies. Some do buy from BYB. But in most cases they have a certain level of standard for pets they buy. Feeder bins have lower standards, as they are not expected to live long. With a BYB you have unpredictable health and tempers, they often breed for "pretty" rats, occationally for "nice" ones , but without knowing your lines who knows what temperments you'll get. And health issues like Megacolon are a bigger risk, again because you just don't know. Now, our rats have come from a variety of places. Ellie is a petsmart girl; Sips, Genie, Grizabella were adult rescues; Cricket and Darjeeling are feeder bin girls; Tiny, Chai, Pichu, Tazo, GusGus, Grey and Oolong are from Darjeeling's oops litter; and Beelzebub, Baniwi, Cubone and Sandshrew were bred as feeders and rescued by a lady who we in turn took them from. Cricket and Darjeeling are our easiest to handle and most loving. The oops litter babies are friendly, but they have taken a lot of work, the girls of that litter are terribly jumpy about being handled, regardless of daily care and a great mom. The boys are a mix of super friendly and skiddish. All that said, you can find the most amazing rats in the most horrible places. You just have to be extra careful, ask to see everything about their set up, and handle the parents. Ask questions, be picky. Especially if you intend them to be around a child a lot. And I'd suggest boys, byb and feeder bins can have an increase chance of pregnant girls, turning two rats into twenty. And gender check yourself, some people can be very blind.
 

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Byb don't care about temperment or health so you can expect problems. My byb rat also turned out to be female...she was great, but she died long before 2. The male (they were both supposed to be) won't make it to two either. The surprise litter was a gift from the byb. Neither rat was friendly to start with.

For byb they rarely have an answer about genetics, pedigree (to predict health and temperment) and what happens to "stock". A breeder has homes then breeds, every rat has a home. Any that don't are guaranteed a plush retirement as a loved pet in the breeders home. They have excuses aplenty though - please look under "adoptions" on ratforum for a sticky on their top excuses.

The biggest issue is when you look into rat rescues. All are run on the owners expense not donations, they have to deal with horrible conditions. This year alone my tristate area had three 50+ hoarding rescues. When you see this, you cant believe anyone breeds for "fun" or love - it's all money money money and the only way to make profit is maximum product minimal time and investment.
 

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Any hobby that is easy to get started in and sounds flashy has a tendency to be dominated by people who have no idea what they are doing. In cases where good real training is hard to come by, like rat breeding, you get "Yahoo answers syndrome" - people ask stupid questions that get answered by stupid people for stupid reason ("well wild rats live in gutters and eat trash no of course u don't need to cleen theyre cage or give them good food lol") and this propagates like wildfire ("i herd u should feed them trash and its bad to clean there cage bcuz its not natural"). Perhaps worse are the self-taught who refuse to look up anything because they feel good about "figuring it out" themselves, nevermind if what they figured out is right or not. If it's a hobby that can turn a quick profit, you'll also get people who express their morals in dollar bills who will cut any corner for better profit.

Breeding sounds fancy and is one of the damned easiest hobbies you can take up. Throw some mixed gender rats into an enclosure and they will make plenty of babies for you. All you have to do is shovel in food and pick up corpses occasionally, and you can call yourself a BYB.

If you do go to a BYB, act like you don't know a single thing about rats, be super impressed about what they are doing, and then ask to see how they are bred because you are curious. If you play dumb enough, they might show you the behind-the-scenes that they would hide from a discerning rat enthusiast who would complain about keeping 25 live rats and 5 dead ones in a filthy cage that's barely big enough for 6 rats. Hobbyists, especially really amateur ones, love to brag and show off and feel like a real pro, so play your cards right and they'll tell you everything. The less they know about what they're doing, the more they'll tell you about how they do it.

Lastly, a breeder who will turn you away when you say you want the "pet" rat because she has "cuter markings" is probably a good breeder.
 

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To be very clear, great rats do come from anywhere. Good hobby breeders usually try to work with healthier rats but with rats it's always a craps shoot. To my knowledge no one has got perfectly healthy long lived rats down to a science. Nor can anyone guarantee personality. Although some strains can be particularly bad in general, there's no perfect ones so don't let anyone mislead you into believing that they breed only perfect rats.

The best breeders and rescues pre-socialize your rat pups for you. But no matter where you get your rats, spend some time with them and select your rats based on their personality and temperament. Great rats can and do come from anywhere.

Best luck.
 

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Hard to know what went wrong with your interaction with the breeder--sounds like a personality conflict of some kind.

I would want to feel confident I was getting rats from known healthy and sociable ancestors. I would be put off by over-emphasis on novel/rare traits--some breeders appear to prioritize chasing these physical traits, which MUST get in the way of optimizing for other facets sometimes. I would want to get a good vibe from the breeder. I would value being able to pick the rat in person, rather than based on a picture -- it's the disposition that will ultimately matter most, not markings.

The links above are great--I had not seen them. I think Rat Dad makes good points also--though my first two rescue rats ran up some vet bills that well-bred rats would likely not have.
 

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I accidentally ended up buying three rats from a byb, it wasn't until I got there that I realised. The rats were mostly bred to be feeders, they were kept in racks and were picked up by the tail. Horrible conditions. One of them also turned out to be a girl and not a boy! However, they are such lovely rats now, I did have to put a lot of work into them but they are the sweetest most crazy rats ever now. I've had no health issues in the past 6 months and I don't know how long they're going to last but I managed to get lucky and all of mine have great temperaments. I did feel bad for paying the guy money and feeding his greed, but after I'd seen the conditions and actually met the rats there was no way I was leaving them there. You can usually tell the bad ones straight away, just start asking a few basic questions and ask if you can come and meet the rats before you make a decision. That way you can see for yourself what both the rats and the breeder are like.
 

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I'm going to put my two cents in, even if it will make me unpopular here...
That said, if you can find a breeder that keeps their animals well (clean cages, good food / water, toys, etc.), interacts with them (socializes their babies, handles the adults and does not keep aggressive animals), uses healthy animals (no visible signs of disease and not from parents with known issues like cancer, breathing issues, etc.). Then I wouldn't have an issues buying from them.

The key here, is THE PERSON breeding the rats. Some will be good, others not-so-good, it is best if you judge based on the condition of the animals, how they select for breeding, health, etc. If you feel that the animals are kept in conditions that are not healthy, that the breeder just "throws two animals together", or over breeds their animals, then don't buy from them.

Remember folks.... Buying from a pet store is basically buying an animal raised in a puppy mill type environment. Think feeder breeder, but on a much larger scale with probably worse conditions. Not to mention unsocialized... I'd take buying from a hobby breeder any day over that (if they met the requirements above).

There are NO show breeders in my area and unfortunately, I had no other option other than to get mine from a petstore.. I think "lucked up" and get 4 rescue babies as well. The rescues that were handled as pups are MUCH better pets now. The petstore boys are ok, but don't really love interaction with people; whereas all of the ones handled as pups like interaction with me. And these animals just came from pet store stock parents... If you can find anyone that breeds for health and temperament and socializes their rats, I'd buy from them vs. the pet store.

I'm not knocking show breeders... BUT it's important to remember that there can be both good and bad show breeders too. I've read numerous accounts of rats from "show" breeders that have bad temperament or health. It's obvious that a "good" show breeder wouldn't sell such animals, but bad ones do exist. I'd say that if you can't find a good show breeder, a good byb (that fits the requirements above) is also a good option.
 

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I have seen some good discussions on what makes someone a back yard breeder, honestly though its a really personal thing. You need to decide whats important to you, your personal improtant ethics wont be the same as mine or anyone elses. You jsut need to understand what your potentially letting yourselves in for and what you are supporting and decide if your ok with that. Heres some areas to think on

Inbreeding - most breeders inbreed to some levels, however some breeders and people find it abhorant (to differeing degrees, sometimes people refuse to do brother/sister matings but are ok with uncle/neice). Inbreeding is an improtant tool in selecting for good things but done badly will also select for bad things. If you go to a breeder who inbreeds make sure oyu look at how they select there rats, if they are selecting for temprement / health etc then inbreeding is a great tool, if they arent then it carries a lot of risks. Going for a breeder who outcrosses heavily gives you a bag of unknowns not disimilar from petshop / feeder breeders

Selection - probably the most improtant for me, how does your breeder select there breeding rats, this isnt just them saying that they select for temprement and health (most breeders say this) but how. Do they keep records, how many generations do they look back on, how do they keep in contact with there pet homes to get a full lot of data. Rats who are selected based on only 1 or 2 generations and maybe only just the parents and grandparents arent going to be as well understood and selected as rats based on many generations. Rats with no selection carry the biggest risk of anything happening, they could be super healthy or constantly sick.

Diet - i care about this one quite a bit, a rat with good nutrition from birth (and even pre birth) has a head start in terms of health, look for age appropriate diets, higher protien for babies, lower for adults. The higher quality it is generally the better, though some people work magic with kitchen scraps and a basic diet. A varied diet from a young age will increase the chance of the babies trying and trusting new foods, those raised on a lab blocks only will often distrust new foods and can be hard work getting to change diet.

Cages - rats raised in a good sized cage with lots to do will be fit active young babies who are much more able to navigate your cage at home and generally be healthier. Thise given a wheel from earlier on are more likley to wheel run as adulst, and active rats do on average live longer. Rats raised in tanks from kittenhood may struggle with climbing initiatlly, though they will learn over time, they may also have resp issues if the tank wasnt well cleaned out with appropriate substrate. They will also be less used to facing the would as a tank is more protected.

Handling - very important, a breeder who handles there babies daily from a young age will have babies who are much happier initially with human touch and need less work to socialise them. If the babies are exposed to lots of new people, things, noises etc they will settle faster in there new homes. This doesnt mean other babies wont, jsut that it will take longer and more work on your part.

Substrate - babies raised on low quality soft wood shavings are more likley to have issues later on, especially if they'e not been bred for health. Some soft wood shavings arent as bad as others though so its not a simple blanket rule.

Culling - this means different things to different people. Essentially its removing rats from a gene pool which can mean not breeding from them and keeping them as pets only but in some cases it means euthanising surplus rats, either babies or adults. This reduces the amount of data you have to call on for future generations but increases the amount of nutrients the other babies get and how well they grow.

Homing age - some breeders home from when the babies can be weaned (3-4 weeks), others from when you split the sexes (4-5 weeks) and others from whne the babies seem ready to face there new world (6-8 weeks). I personally would only get rats from someone in the 6-8 weeks bracket, not just because its better for the babies to be in a stable enviroment until they get a bit of maturity but also because the babies tend to grow up less needy of you and more comfortable in themselves. They also tend to settle faster and are less nervous though its still a big change. In the UK its considered pretty awful for anyone to home out rats younger than 6 weeks yet in the US its common practice, so theres cultural things going on here too.

Homing policy - some breeders have questionairs and a process they take to get to know there future rat owners, some just add them to a list or let anyone buy rats off them. A breeder who asks lots of questions generally cares more about where the babies go and is also more likley to stay in touch and help you with the care of the babies going forward. A breeder who doesnt is seeing the sale as a transaction which is over once you have the rat and is less likley to give support. To me supporting pet homes and having a good relationship with them is really important, it gives oyu more info to work with and gives you new friends and a knowledge your babies are well looked after
 

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A really good hobby breeder invests both lots of money and time into each litter of rats. You are literally getting a hundred dollars of time and money invested into the fine well socialized hobby breeder rat that you adopt. Naturally you don't get that from a feeder bin rat or a BYB snake feeder...

Everything everyone has written is true...

But, there are truly phenomenal rats that can turn up anywhere. When you check out rats anywhere pick them up and handle them, watch them and see how they behave, if they are sickly or lethargic or aggressive or terrified, just put them down... but when you find the right rat.. it will be active and friendly and inquisitive and it will charm you... no matter where you are, who the breeder is or how the rat is marked... clutch on to that rat... throw some money at whoever is selling it and run for the car. You won't regret it, ever.

That's really the best advise I can give anyone.
 

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My best (and first) rat is an albino feeder from Petco. I didn't buy her; apparently she escaped for a while, was found, and my ex-roommate brought her home since the store couldn't sell her. I fell in love with rats then due to her amazing personality, affection, and intelligence. Her personality is what I would have expected from a well bred rat!

My ignorance had me buying two more rats from a local feeder bin. They are pretty and were sweet, but took a turn for the skittish and anti-social as they got older. My other two came from my ex-roommate who was a hoarder and BYB (that's a long story). They are incredibly sweet and docile, due largely in part to their parents, and will lick you until you are blue in the face.

If you are absolutely against BYBs and think every person who breeds without proper breeding stock/absolute knowledge is a BYB, then look at some accredited ratteries. If you are looking for a sweet rat, want to see the parents, want to talk to the breeder to make your own judgement, then check out some local breeders. Make sure the parents are okay, grandparents (if any) are okay, cage is well maintained, etc. Ask why they are breeding. If you can, rescue. If you want a sweet rat now, visit your local pet store and examine all the rats. Give each one enough time to calm down before trying to gauge personality. A sick rat can look like a calm rat; don't always go for calm unless there are absolutely no signs of sickness. Don't always go for the one with all the energy either, as that could be neurotic.

Long story short, 'shop' around until you find the rat(s) that fit you and you fit them.

Breeding stock is supposed to be superior to pet quality, and that's probably why she was offended/put off. If I was the breeder, I would have tried to help you understand the difference instead of just being miffed, but the breeder probably deals with a lot of crazy people in her day. Don't take it personally. If you want, you can always let her know that you didn't understand and hope her day gets better. I kill people with kindness. :D
 

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I think that too many breeders get lumped into the BYB category unfairly. There are those that follow ethical practices and do care about the health/personality/etc of their rats. And then there are the really bad ones...but those can include the fancy breeders with their snazzy websites too. Just depends on the person in my opinion. Though, I'd never label anyone until knowing their practices and their personality.
 

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There are some areas (like, as far as I can tell, the whole state of New Mexico) where the only breeders you'll find, if any, are BYBs. If I was speaking to someone who purported to be a breeder, I'd try to figure out how much they really knew about rats, whether their animals were well-kept and well-socialized, and what health and temperament qualities they were selecting in their breeding stock.
 

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@ponderosa--I feel ya there. There really aren't any breeders around this area and only one rescue that I know of. Even when I'm rehoming a rescued litter, I make sure that the people they're going to know something about rats or are at least willing to learn from me. If they're not willing to endure my interrogation then they don't deserve my rats.

@gotchea--that is so you lol I wish I had the time to raise a couple of pinkies by hand. I feel like my older rats would be extremely jealous though lol
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Thanks a lot the input. My husband & I will be visiting two breeders (still not sure if they are BYBs!) tomorrow. Both have websites that talk about genetics (expected colors for a planned cross, what genes the babies carry, etc), so hopefully, that means they at least have some idea of what they're doing!! Both say they offer pedigrees upon request, too, but I'm not yet sure how detailed these will be. Since both breeders also have parents (& in most cases, grandparents) on hand, I'll be able to get an idea of what to expect in our babies. And I'll be able to see how the rats are caged & cared for. Both claim that their babies are handled daily from the pinkie stage, & that they won't adopt out biters or sick animals. They both say they like to keep in touch with their rattie adopters to make sure bad traits aren't coming out in their lines. All in all, I feel pretty good about these two, & I'm sure that meeting them in person will give me an ever better idea of what I'm dealing with. I feel a lot better about the lack of ARMA accreditation after hearing so many stories of sweet rats coming out of feeder bins!
 

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To be very clear, great rats do come from anywhere. Good hobby breeders usually try to work with healthier rats but with rats it's always a craps shoot. To my knowledge no one has got perfectly healthy long lived rats down to a science. Nor can anyone guarantee personality. Although some strains can be particularly bad in general, there's no perfect ones so don't let anyone mislead you into believing that they breed only perfect rats.

The best breeders and rescues pre-socialize your rat pups for you. But no matter where you get your rats, spend some time with them and select your rats based on their personality and temperament. Great rats can and do come from anywhere.

Best luck.
I quit reading the thread at this point, so apologies if I'm being repetitive, but this post completely ignores the real issue--which is one of being an ethical consumer.

You, the purchaser, must decide what choice best fits with your own personal ethics.

Do you want to support someone who is not doing things right? Someone who may or may not be a nasty mean money-motivated person, but simply someone who doesn't know (or care to know) any better?

Lots and lots of bybs are fond of their animals, and sort of muddle thru, doing what they think is best, but their practices and programs are sorely lacking, and innocent animals end up suffering, as a result.

These types of bybs believe that they sell rats to "nice people" and that the screening/pre-purchase stuff that other breeders do is "overkill." (And in a few cases, it likely is, but that doesn't mean you throw out the whole safety net for the rat babies.)

These are the folks who produce most of the rats who eventually wind up tossed from home to home, kept in substandard living conditions--because no one knows any better or is motivated to learn better--and end up dumped on Craigslist or similar.

These are the breeders whose rats end up in kill shelters and in rescues.

Those aren't the kind of humans I personally want to reward with my purchase dollars, nor do I want to be one of the ones who gives them incentive to produce another litter.

It's NOT enough to say "Great rats do come from anywhere," because it isn't only about ourselves, our own selfish and impulsive desires to have what we want, when we want it.

I've worked in rescue for decades, adopted rescue animals since I was a teen, and have found something to love about all of them--even the most difficult, ****, maybe especially the most difficult and damaged ones. They have been my teachers.

But, would I knowingly PAY someone to create those problems, for those animals? I would hope I'm stronger than that.

It's an emotional thing, walking away from a cute animal you want.

It comes down to what kind of consumer you want to be.
 

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Well said, Ratpax. Great rats CAN come from anywhere, but given that, why would you NOT support the most ethical option available to you? Even if it comes down to as simple an equation as this: scenario one: Get a great rat from pet store/byb, give a rat a good home, encouraging and rewarding those practices, support the misery of the pet trade and pay for more rats to end up in that situation who won't be as lucky. Scenario two: Get a great rat from a good breeder or rescue, give a rat a good home, encourage and support their practices and efforts to improve or save more rats, allowing them to continue their work, saving or producing many other great rats.

I realize not everyone has a good breeder or rescue next door, but there is nearly always a better option than a pet store or byb. It's about doing the least harm and the most good with your choices and purchasing power. It's important.
 
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