Online Mentoring for New Ratteries
Or People Considering Starting a Rattery
Written by: Kathryn Lovings
So you think you'd like to open a rattery? Breed quality pet rats for yourself or the general public? But you don't know how to start or what to do first?
One of the first things you need to ask yourself is, "Do I have disposable income?"
Disposable income is money not needed for anything else. Extra money left over each month that you can decide what you want to do with it and could apply it to a hobby.
Running a rattery can never be anything more than a hobby because you can't make a profit doing it and thus it can never become a profit generating business. Why can't you make money doing it? Because it costs more to do than it brings in.
Because our pet rats life spans aren't very long we can't ask very much money for them. People do not want to spend a lot of money on a pet that only lives a couple years. If the pet rat as a species can consistently have a long lifespan of 4-7 years we could start asking $100 a piece for our pets, about the same amount they are asking for ferrets.
The average going price for a pet rat is between $15-25. You would need a lot of litters and huge litters to break even every month. I spend over $100 a month just on food alone to run my rattery and that's not counting bedding and medicines. I don't bred every month of the year so there are months I bring no money in at all, so I have to be able to cover the costs of my animals care even though they are not giving me back anything in return.
The next question you should ask yourself is, "Do I really have the time to do this?" Running a rattery is a daily chore. You have to check on your pets daily, feed them, water them, clean their housing, socialize babies. If you have sick ratties on medicines you have to give them their medicines. If you have a litter of babies that the mother rejected you have to be able to get up in the middle of the night and try to hand raise them, feeding them every two hours for two weeks. Do you have time for that type of emergency situation? Could you get time off from work to raise helpless baby rats you bred who couldn't fend for themselves because the mother died giving birth? Or rejected them, or didn't have enough milk to feed them? These are all realistic possibilities and have happened to me over the years of raising rats.
You can't take extended vacations if you are operating a rattery. Running a rattery ties you down tremendously. A weekend trip away once in a while is about all you'll be able to accomplish if you have this type of animal under your care. So if you and your family are use to taking one to two week vacations a year you will no longer be able to accomplish that.
If you have sick animals in need of twice a day dosing for medicines you won't be going anywhere believe me. It's very time consuming administering the care of a small animal of this type as they are the worse patients in the world. They do not hold still, they do no cooperate and they are very temperamental when they are sick. This is a lifestyle changing venture raising this kind of pet. I haven't taken a vacation away from my pets for more than a couple nights in ten years! And it's starting to take it's toll on me.
Can you afford $1200 for an unexpected operation to save one of your pets lives? Even if the pet ended up dying after spending all that money to save it's life? I've had that happen several times. I had one pet pull her stitches out twice! Each repeat visit to the vet to restitch her was $300. They don't handle surgeries very well and are hard to care for once you get them back home. Can you watch a newly operated pet 24/7 for two weeks so they don't do harm to themselves after an operation? There are serious things to consider financially and time wise, before even thinking of getting into this type of hobby.
If you decide you are wealthy enough to afford this hobby and have lots of daily free time on your hands to attempt this hobby, then let's move on to the next things to consider.
Are you willing to stay breeding rats for at least five years if not ten or more years? After all if you are going to put all this time and money into doing this you wouldn't want it to be in vain right?
Do you know statistically that new ratteries close shortly after two years of breeding? Do you know why? One, it costs more than the person really could afford. Two, it was more time consuming then the person first thought. Three, the person couldn't stand the heartbreak of losing their first breeding rats.
Most rats only live to be about two years of age. Do you know how traumatic it is to lose ratties monthly or weekly once they reach the two year mark? I cried my eyes out of days, weeks, and months and still grieve over some of the really special ones even eleven years later! Can you emotionally take the depression that death brings with it when it happens repeatedly and when you least expect it?
Take a minute to read through all my memorial pages. Some of my rats died of old age. But many others had problems toward the end and many others had incurable things, even more had unfortunate things. I knew of one person who's dog killed a couple of her rats when they got loose by accident. This has also happened to me. A dog that is as sweet as they can be normally; unsupervised?, not so much, it appears.
I have had water bottles malfunction over the years that I didn't realize were not working properly. I've had males attack and kill other males for no apparent reason. The variables of life and death in running a rattery are enormous. Are you prepared for this kind of grief, over and over again? A mother who hemorrhaged after giving birth, a whole litter of babies stillborn, a litter that has megacolon in it? The possibilities for problems are endless when you are first learning everything.
Ok, if you are still raring to go with this venture here are some next steps.
Step one: Pick a rattery name. Then contact the Ratster (www.ratster.com) and ask them if this name is taken or the prefix initials you want for your rattery are available. My prefix initials are RDPY. Every reputable rattery has these prefixes that represents their unique lineage.
While at the Ratster determine what other ratteries are in your area. And Google your state to get a list of other ratteries. Find out who is still in business and how far away they are from you.
In my opinion you should not even think of setting up shop within a two hour drive of another rattery, because anyone operating closer than that to you will consider you competition and not a friend. It's very cut throat out there. You would think having someone nearby would be a good thing, a helpful thing..it's not.
I personally have a non-compete clause I function under. I have friends who I'm loyal to and I won't mentor or offer breeding stock to anyone I feel would be in direct competition to one of my friends. If you live near another rattery you will need to be breeding, colors, markings or fur types different from them so you aren't stepping on anyone's toes.
For instance, if there is a rattery within two hours of you and they are breeding for hairless, do not breed for hairless. If they are breeding Burmese and Points don't breed these markings. Find your own nitch, your own things that are original to your efforts and not anyone else's. Remember everyone else has put an investment of time and effort into their rattery too, they want to make sure they can find homes for the pets they breed so you need to tread cautiously regarding hindering others efforts.
So if after doing research you realize there are several functioning ratteries within your immediate area, stop right there, don't bother adding to the over population of unwanted pets because yours will be unlikely to find homes.
I know of one rattery who was located in a area near other more established ratteries. Their way of getting business was to sell their rats really cheap, like $8 a piece. They felt if they offered them for less money than the other ratteries they could take away their business. That is not how it works. Not offering your pets at the typical going price of at least $15 (that's how much Petsmart gets for theirs) makes a statement that you don't care about your pets and don't have a quality pet to offer. You need to take pride in what you are producing. A good pet adopter will be willing to pay a decent price to get a quality animal.
Step two: After you get your name and initials approved by the Ratster, contact Narr (www.ratregistry.org) or RatsReg (www.reachingacrossthestates.com) and get a membership with one of the national rat registries. (Remember money is not suppose to be a factor. If you are already telling yourself you can't afford to get a membership to register your rats, stop right here.)
Step three: Go to Tenset's web site (www.tenset.co.uk/) and purchase a standard edition copy of their Breeder's Assistant for Rats software database. (It costs under a $100 dollars.) If you are bulking at the thought of spending or making this kind of investment into your hobby, stop here, do not start a rattery.
This software is a necessary component for properly running a quality rattery. The most reputable ratteries in the country use it. As of this revision there are other companies offering similar software such as KinTracks. If you want to stand a fighting chance of getting any of these established breeders to work with you and one day let you work with some of their breeding stock you have to show them in advance that you are willing to function at their high standards of excellence. Because the breeding world is very political.
Many new breeders get very discouraged when they realize how cold of a welcome they get from more established breeders. You would think the more established ratteries would welcome new ratteries with open arms. That is not the case. Making friends and forming alliances takes time and patience. You will feel the sting of rejection less if you have certain high caliber items in place before you even think of approaching an established rattery.
You need to have a thick skin to make it in this type of breeding environment. I don't know how many times I've had my feelings hurt over the years by abrasive individuals who looked down on me as a thorn in their side or a piece of dirt. I've cried my eyes out through the years. The breeding world is not a warm and fuzzy place, so if you can't take the heat don't go there to begin with.
Step four: Purchase a domain name for your rattery. It should be similar to what your rattery name is going to be so people can find you. (I use GoDaddy, they are one of the best around.)
Step five: Get a hosting account for your web site. (Again my hosting account is through GoDaddy and I've been pleased with them. (www.godaddy.com)
Step six: Build a quality web site. Most hosting accounts have web site builders as part of their monthly fee. (Learn basic html to build and upload to your web site.)
Note: If you are bulking at the thought of the costs I just mentioned, regarding an online presence? Or the time it's going to take to develop a web site? Stop here, do not continue, do not get into this hobby.
Your web site will be very important to you this is how people will find you to adopt babies from you. This is were you'll showcase your pets and post pedigrees, and profile pages. The more high quality your web site the more seriously you'll be taken. Free web sites make a statement of temporary. People don't want to do business with temporary establishments.
Step seven: Purchase a quality digital camera capable of taking crystal clear pictures. Having quality pictures of your rats on your web site makes a statement of "excellence." All the best ratteries have decent pictures of their pets and products, if you aren't one of them you will be over looked by the general public. If you've been doing your research and checking out various breeders sites you'll notice you are more drawn to the web sites that look professional and so are others.
(Note: A quality digital camera will cost you over $500! If you are bulking at the thought of this investment or thinking you can't afford it, stop right here, do not continue with this hobby.)
Make sure your web site does not have typographical errors on it. Run it through a speller checker or have a friend act as an editor to make sure it reads and looks professional. Your web site is your most important marketing tool and can make or break opportunities for adopters to want to do business with you.
Do not attempt to sell your pet rats through Goosemoose or Craigslist. You will not be considered a quality reputable breeder if you do. All reputable breeders find quality homes by using their web sites.
Step eight: Get on Google and Google this: "Pet Rat Genetics" and start visiting and reading everything on all the web sites that it brings a search back for. You have to have some basic genetics understanding to do this properly. Genetics is something I'm very weak with, but I've formed alliances with other breeders, where genetics is their strong point and they are willing to answer my stupid questions and humor my dumbness, lol. But I do understand certain things. Like what is dominant, carried or recessive and I have a basic knowledge of colors, markings and combinations. At least a 80% accuracy rate of probabilities when I'm pairing my couples together.
Many established breeders get really fed up with new breeders ignorance in the genetics area, so do your homework before approaching anyone. Also do your homework on basic rat housing and rat care. Again, spend a lot of time on Google doing searches for information on these subjects and spend a lot of time reading and book marking useful information for later use.
Go to established breeders web sites and read what's there from top to bottom. Learn the terminology they are using. Every hobby or interest has it's own special "lingo" learn what rat breeding lingo is.
Get on Facebook and search for rat breeders, or people who like pet rats and friend as many people as you can, then start asking questions and making friends with like minded people who share a love of pet rats. The more well liked you are the more people will be willing to assist you. Otherwise you will become a nuisance to them and they'll start to snub you to get you to leave them alone.
When combing the Internet for proper bedding, food, cages, etc, go with the majority. The more people mentioning good results with something or the longer the person has been breeding and using something successfully, the safer it is for you to use as your option.
Again, going back to Google, search on "Rat medicines, Rat illnesses" And learn as much as you can about the health issues that plague this hobby. There are many. Because our pets have been passed down to us from laboratory animals, where they did all kinds of experiments on them, they are pretty goofed up and us established breeders have been spending years trying to fix what research broke, in our poor little pets.
I guess that's the different areas and in the order in which a new rattery owner should tackle becoming a creditable rattery. Oh, other things. Don't start your lines from pet store rats. Start to correspondence with established breeders. Start by getting some pet only's first. If you take good care of the pet only's they might let you have a breeder later. Thinking you can just contact a breeder and ask for stock to start your lines with? Well it just won't happen, so I'll pop your bubble right from the start.
If you are forced to start you lines from pet store rats (usually how most people end up doing it because breeders won't give you any of their stock) you have to work with these animals at least three generations. My thinking is two full years and five generations to really know what kinds of problems you will encounter. No line is truly yours until at least three full generations with your prefix in front the rats name. From a genetics stand point no line is really yours until you've worked with them for 20 generations!
If you get rats from a pet store the prefix goes at the end of the rats name, because it is not yours. You don't know anything about them. Working with animals you know nothing about is a risky way to start. And established breeders will not want their rats breed with yours unless you can prove to them excellent health, conformation and temperament. And that takes time. It can take over three years to determine how long one of your rats lives and all the health issues it had along the way.
I'm not encouraging you to start your lines from pet store rats. Be-friending a breeder is your best bet, but the reality of it is, you probably won't get any breeding stock, unless you really have done your homework. If an establish breeder asks you questions about genetics, housing, food, medicines, health care and you actually know the answers to all of their questions they will probably be impressed enough to work with you because they'll know you are serious about doing this enough to have learned everything you could before you contact them.
Step nine: Once you actually have rats to use for breeding you need to purchase dwellings for them to live in and things for these dwellings, such as hammocks, huts, water bottles, wheels, food dishes, chew toys. Just one properly set up dwelling can cost $100-500. You will need two of them right from the start. One for males and one for females. Preferably you can house the males in a totally different room from the females to assure you don't have accidental breedings. (Note! Do not under estimate the tremendous determination of a female rat in heat. They are unbelievably clever in their ability to get out of a cage and find a male to breed with. I can not stress this caution enough!)
Martins cages are good choices, but avoid the R699 Rudd cage, as it's a bear to clean and takes two people to lift out of it's bottom tray. Critter Nations are good and I hear they are easy to clean. Homemade setups can be good too if basic needs for room and exercise are met. (Note: I do not recommend aquariums as a housing choice. There are many better options than this.)
I know of many quality ratteries who have spent thousands of dollars on their rattery setups. Can you afford that kind of excellence? If not, please don't begin this hobby, the world just doesn't need another substandard rattery. Those types of "backyard breeders" close up shop because of the rejection and inability to place their animals. Then the animals end up in shelters or rescues and it is contributing to the growing over population of unwanted pets.
In conclusion: I have mentored many ratteries over the years. It's very time consuming. The things I've written here are the same things I've been telling anyone I've mentored, but I don't know how many times I'll have someone I'm mentoring make statements like: I want to register with Narr but I have to save up some money to do so. I want to get my own web site but can't afford it right now.
Let's be real here. If the thought of money even enters your mind as you pursue this hobby this is not the hobby for you. There are up front costs to do this right. There are weekly amounts of time needed and monthly expenses needed. If you have time constraint issues, of financial ones, please don't do this, because every time someone registers their rattery initials with the Ratster and then closes shop, those initials can never be used again.
With so many ratteries starting and stopping, pretty soon there won't be any initials left for anyone to pick for their rattery. So be serious about the commitments that will be necessary to do this hobby or don't begin the process.
I hope this helps those looking for a mentor or place to start. :>()
Looking for more rattery mentoring information? Check out this great resource!
The Virtual Mentor - Detailed information and considerations about various aspects of starting a rattery. Superbly written and well thought out!
Created on: 03/13/11
Last revised on: 01/22/13