This article is from the WSSF 2007 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Nichole Royer
The American Heritage College Dictionary defines “breeder” as: “a person who breeds animals or plants.” In truth, they are much more. In fact, I would suggest that the term “breeder” is much too vague. The people who breed rats and mice can be divided into at least six different categories.
This is where most (but, by no means all) people who breed rats and mice start. This person may obtain a rat or mouse from a pet shop only to discover a “surprise” litter 3 weeks later. The Occasional Breeder may also just own a couple of pets and then decide it would be fun to have babies. The parent animals are often unremarkable having come from a pet shop or another breeder. The breedings are simply based on what animals happen to be available.
Usually, the Occasional Breeder takes good care of their animals. They are basically pets and are treated as such. So long as the adults are healthy and friendly, the babies usually are as well.
Often the Occasional Breeder will give the resulting babies to friends. They also may simply drop them off at the local pet shop in hopes they will find good homes. Many Occasional Breeders have one, two, or three litters, then lose interest in breeding. If they don’t lose interest, they turn into either Dabblers or Suppliers.
The Dabbler is often an Occasional Breeder who has discovered the world of fancy rats and mice. They usually acquire an assortment of critters, whatever happens to strike their fancy. They have a little of this and a little of that and will usually breed them “just because.”
The Dabbler doesn’t particularly put any effort into planning their breeding. Often they will get the “new and unusual” and breed it because “they are neat.” It is not unusual for the Dabbler to breed two rats together “just to see what happens.”
The Dabbler usually doesn’t have a huge number of animals and takes reasonably good care of those they do have. They can, however, get overloaded easily since they tend to acquire the “flavor of the day” and keep acquiring some each time something new shows up.
Usually, the Dabbler will breed a particular variety once or twice and then move on to something else. They don’t have a long history with any particular color/variety and will change direction at the drop of a hat. Dabblers are often disappointed in their litters, because, without knowledge or planning, they don’t get what they want. If they don’t drop out, it is not unusual for the Dabbler to turn into either a Producer, or more rarely, a Fancier.
It is not unusual for the Occasional Breeder to turn into a Supplier. Often, in the process of finding homes for their litters, the Occasional Breeder will discover that pet shops will pay for the babies.
With dollar signs in their eyes, the Supplier will start off on a project to try to make money breeding rats or mice. They quickly discover there is only one way to do so. Keeping the maximum number of animals in the minimum number of cages, with the smallest amount of the cheapest food and bedding, and the least amount of care is the only way to turn any significant profits breeding rats and mice.
Now and then, Suppliers will discover some of the fancier animals (and the commercial pet industries’ willingness to pay more for them) and so will deal with them as well.
Naturally, this is where most pet shops get their animals. Due to the lack of proper care, it’s no wonder so many are very ill and have so many problems.
The Producer is usually (though, not always) found among the show world. Often, they both breed and show rats and/or mice and come to shows regularly.
The Producer often has many animals (several hundred is not unusual). Like the Dabbler, they tend to have a little of this, a little of that and add to their collection frequently. Unlike the Dabbler, however, they usually have been around for a number of years.
When planing their breedings, the Producer concentrates on the idea of “producing” more babies of a particular color or variety, and/or continuing a particular line of their animals, making more of what they already have is their primary concern. Many Producers will breed because other people want babies of whatever color/variety they have.
Many Producers do a good job of caring for their animals, others can’t simply due to the high numbers. Most produce several litters at a time, so babies are handled infrequently.
The Pet Provider can range from Occasional Breeder to Producer. Their main goal is to produce rats and mice for pet homes, so temperament and health are their only focus. However, most of the Pet Providers do not have a knowledge of genetics and inherited health issues and will oftentimes continually produce animals from lines with major health issues such as bloat, hemophilia, scabs, or other issues. They will have one or two litters a month to one or two litters per week. They will breed colors and varieties of rats and mice that are easy to sell and popular with the public, often getting the latest new color Fanciers have produced, to place into their breeding program.
Occasionally, Pet Providers are seen in the show world. Because their focus is not on all parts of the animal when breeding, they get discouraged when their animals don’t place well at shows, so they don’t participate for very long.
The Pet Providers normally take very good care of their animals and take great care to find good homes for their litters. Most of these breeders sell privately and not to pet shops so they know who is buying each animal they produce.
Pet Providers are usually short-lived though—breeding for just a few years before giving up the hobby.
The true Fancier is strictly found within the rat and mouse showing community. They breed, show, and are usually very active within the club as well.
Fanciers may have many animals or just a few. The key that differentiates them from all other kinds of breeders is that they have a long history with each variety of rat or mouse they have.
Often, the Fanciers who have small numbers of animals specialize in just one or two varieties. Even those who have a large number focus their efforts on five or six varieties. Their concentration is breeding for quality rather than quantity.
When planning a breeding, Fanciers do just that, they plan. They concentrate on improving their animals with each litter rather than simply producing more of what they already have. Each litter produced is expected to be better than all that has come before.
No Fancier will breed an animal that has a poor temperament or who is ill. Their goal, however, goes far beyond just producing nice pets. Because of Fanciers, the various varieties of attractive rats and mice exist for the pet owner’s enjoyment.
Most Fanciers have many years experience with each variety they breed. They very rarely bring in new stock (and next to never the “flavor of the month”). When they do bring in new animals, it is with careful thought, much planning, and an honest attempt to improve their own animals in some way.
Naturally, almost no one begins at the “Fancier” level. I certainly did not. As with all other things in life, breeding animals is a learning experience. As you learn, you grow and improve. One of the more common characteristics of the Fancier is their open-mindedness, willingness to try new things, and listen to new ideas. There is no such thing as an absolute “right” answer when dealing with animals. The most valuable lesson the Fanciers have learned is that there are always more lessons out there to be learned.
I can (very happily) report there are far more Fanciers now than there were when I first became involved in the fancy. We are also seeing many more people ascend from the ranks of the Occasional breeder to Fancier more quickly than in the past, with fewer Producers and Suppliers occurring along the way. It is all the wonderful, new Fanciers who make our hobby the enjoyable pastime it is.