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help with canabalistic behavior

1631 Views 11 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Rat Daddy
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.
The issue;
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.
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First things first; talk of intentional breeding is frowned upon on this forum but since it seems like a legit issue I think the mods will let it pass?

But; Is it only one female or all the females?
The discussion of intentional breeding is not permitted on our forum. A disclaimer at the top of your post does not protect you from the rules that you agreed to upon registering.

Please re-read them if you have questions.

Its all three of the females that look alike,

@cagedbirdsinging, I am sorry I did not mean to break the rules, I hope you don't close this as I really need help with this problem and it seems that just shutting the thread down instead of letting people offer their help and advice will only make it harder for me to find a viable solution. I just don't want the babies to die. If you have any advice where to go to find a group that is more willing to talk about this and help me on my issue I am all ears. I do not intend to start a debate, nor do I want to step on anyone's toes. I am headed to further read the rules, thank you.
Maybe try making the smaller so the mother doesn't feel territorial or whatever
It might just be coincidence that the mothers look alike but then again you do say they might have the same lineage so they could get the trait from that
Do you know the genetics of the rats you are breeding?
It's possible that you are breeding very sick rats with genetic conditions. The mothers may be culling the babies because they know there is something wrong with them. They sound over-bred as is, I think its time you stop breeding them completely. Let them retire and if you insist on breeding then invest in rats with known pedigrees and genetic backgrounds.
thanks for the replies,
@ velo; I went into this not really knowing there was a difference. Another member suggested the same thing you guys are saying that it may be a genetic defect. I have decided it is probably best to retire those 3 girls, and look for better quality stock.
what do you mean by "making the smaller" do you mean make the cage smaller? I am not sure I follow...
The tub that you keep the mothers in when they are ready to give birth.
So, from the details you have provided, we're basically talking about a snake food operation. And your on your way to losing your shirt doing it. Not to worry, that's perfectly normal. I'm a commercial banker and I've worked out the numbers and I can almost promise you that when you actually get into rat production things will get significantly worse in terms of returns on investment. Your sort of lucky your already in trouble and can stop before things really start to go wrong.

Seriously, unless you have a lot of snakes and you can't find a local breeder to buy your rats from... breeding your own rats is more work than it's worth. Feeder rats are dirt cheap once you find a good source and buy in volume. There are usually other people near you sinking into the financial abyss of rat breeding willing to sell you rats for less than it costs to breed them yourself if you look around hard enough.

There are actually very few animals that are profitable to breed at home. Trust me, I've known several people that have lost their life savings trying. There are a few that will break even if you count your time at $0.00 per hour, but rats along with most others are big money losers. If you have your doubts, calculate a reasonable salary for working about 100 hours per week, add cost of food, real estate, equipment, heat, air conditioning, litter, vet care and a cushion for things that are going to go wrong, like disease, mites etc. and your into breeding tens of thousands of rats per year at which point you will be paying taxes and salaries and you won't be working out of your basement any more which usually all goes into the crapper when you exceed market demand and/or you run out of money.

I'm not making a moral judgement here, my own breeder is actually a very gifted rat breeder with serious skills at producing top quality fancy rats, but he's also a snake collector and his rat breeding interest helps to support his other passion. And as he has no problems with financing his breeding activities out of pocket, he doesn't worry about losing money on breeding rats. I could go into ways of fixing your breeding problems, but that wouldn't likely be doing you any favors and it would be against forum policy.

Like I said, you may be very lucky things are going so wrong so quickly. You still have some rats to enjoy, they really do make very fine pets.

Best luck.
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I just thought to add that if I got it wrong and you are thinking of breeding rats as pets for fun and profit, the gods are already ROTFL.
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