Hello, I recently (within the last year) started breeding rats, my reasons are my own, suffice it to say no rats will end up homeless and I treat them humanely, with as much love as I have time to give them, so please do not bring up whether or not I should be breeding them, as that is not the issue here.
I have three females mostly white with grey splotches on them,(forgive me I do not know the different lines or breeds) who produce roughly ten babies each time they give birth. I believe they are all sisters or at least close relative as I got hem all from the same source. I started out cleaning their cages (sterilite tubs with wire tops constructed to fit) once every 3-4 days, and I would separate the mothers into there own tub as soon as I knew for sure they were pregnant. I continues my regiment of cleaning even after they gave birth, and found that the mothers were killing all the babies shortly after the cage was cleaned. I would come in the next morning and always find the horrific scene. the mothers consume part of a couple of them and just kill the rest. I did some research and read that sometimes if the mothers feel threatened or bothered to much they will kill the litters and start over. So I decided to put extra bedding down and wait until the babies were older, eyes starting to open. so that's what I did. The same thing happened (multiple times), just after the first cage cleaning. so I decided to wait longer. That's what I did, and the last several times, the babies have reached the stage where they are roaming about the cage and starting to show interest in and eat other food aside from their mothers milk before it happens.
Every time the same thing happens, even though I don't clean the cages. for some reason no matter what I do these mothers feel the need to murder all their babies at this stage. I am pulling my hair out wondering what the heck to do?!(actually I'm bald but you get the point) I have scoured the internet search engines looking for similar things happening and all I can find is that what is happening is EXTREMELY RARE, according to all the lab studies and such that I have read. And I cant find any information as to why it is happening or what I should change in my care habits to prevent it.
So I will give you the low down on what the cages are like and what I feed them.
Diet; a staple of premium medium protein dog food with pieces of bread (there is bread factory al most next door to my house so I get premium organic bread for very cheap) I also feed them left over vegetable and fruit. they also have little blocks of wood they can chew on if they wish, some do, some don't.
the cages; I am putting the mothers in a tub about 30" by 18" and 24" tall with the wire tops. I also had a wheel in there to exercise if they wished. The bedding is torn up news paper which they seem to love to burrow in and shred even more. Again, the mothers are in their OWN cage with their babies.
this last litter; these little guys are coming up on being three weeks old in a day or two, and this is the time that the mothers savagery kicks in. two nights ago I separated the mother from the babies and have been putting her in with them closely supervised a couple times a day. most of it is spent with her eating and the babies nursing. they are eating some of the other food now, but they aren't weaned yet. so far so good, I just am worried that they wont learn what they need to learn from the mother, I.E. social skills, eating and bedding habits ect...
I also had another idea that maybe the mother is getting driven crazy by the babies constantly pestering her and following her around the cage. I did have a successful litter from a different mother(all brown with a white stripe on her head) and noticed that she spent a great deal of her time when the babies got older sitting on top of the water bottle hanging on the side of her cage where she was high enough that the babies couldn't get to her. She has not bred since, and that was six month ago.
So what are the thoughts from the experts? What can I change while still being able to breed these guys and still manage to house them in my limited space? I would love to give them huge elaborate homes but that is just not possible and I doubt it would change anything, but I am obviously not an expert. I just cant deal with another litter of these cute little guys being killed like that again. Please any helpful advice outside of "don't breed them anymore" is welcome.