Why Do Rat Breeders End Up With So Many Rats?

Written By Kathryn Lovings

I'm writing this article to try and show people that rat breeders end up with a lot of rats as just part of the process and those numbers go up and down depending on what year of a three year cycle they tend to be on.

Many rat breeders have web sites and they proudly post their rat children and potential breeders on their site. To the outside world the number of rats posted can seem like a lot. Before criticizing a rat breeder for how many rats they have there are some basic things that need to be understood.

Most breeders on average have two to three different lines they are working on. It's actually very rare to have a breeder only doing one specific thing. Example: Breeding just for black, standard coat, standard ear, selves.

Most breeders will work with a couple different colors, or in my case it's always been my love of working with a couple specific markings.

So using myself as an example, here is how the numbers start to increase within a rattery operation.

I have a Russian blue blazed line and I'm expanding it to include mink and black blazed too. I also have a masked line where I breed masked in Russian blue, mink and black. And I have a dwarf line, plus I'm trying to keep some rex coats in my lines. Almost all of my lines have dumbo ears.

So let's say I start off with 12 rats, a male and female Russian blue blazed, a male and female black blazed that carries mink, a male and female Russian blue masked and a male and female black masked. Add to those, two female dwarfs and two male dwarfs and let's say one of my black blazed also has a rex coat.

Those 12 rats will be the foundation stock for the things I mentioned earlier I wanted to accomplish in my breeding program.

All good breeders approach their breeding efforts with the thought of somehow improving the overall pet rat, whether through health or temperament or through conformation. That's why we choose specific things to accomplish with our efforts.

So if I pair all my males and females together I will have six litters. If I save a female from each of these litters that will give me 18 rats.

Why would I keep six females, one from each litter? Because a female rat's breeding cycle is very short. On average it is just a year. Basically a female rat that is 12 months old is actually about 40 years old in human standards. Though I could attempt and have attempted to breed them longer, the older they get the more birthing problems I've encountered. So basically on a yearly basis I need to replenish my female rats for the next season of breeding to keep my lines going.

Now that I've been breeding for two years, adding females yearly I've accumulated 24 rats, thus doubling the number I started with. Meanwhile, all of my male rats are now turning two years old. The average lifespan of a rat is two years, at which time they are approximately 80 years old in human terms. Because they are getting up to the top of their lifespan I must consider replenishing my males if I wish to have males to breed my females to in the coming years.
So I still have my original 24 rats and I now start to save some males from my litters. By the time I'm approaching my third year of breeding it's very possible I have 36 rats still living. Usually sometime between your second and third year of breeding you will see some of your original lines pass on and the numbers start to diminish.

So this is a cycle type of thing where approximately every third year of breeding your numbers will be at an all time high, then diminish and climb back up again. Some years breeders will have more rats than others in a basic attempt just to keep their lines going. It's just simple math and nothing the breeder is doing on purpose. It is not a hoarding problem. It is a neccessary element of this type of hobby.

Also, in reality most breeders end up keeping more than one rat from a litter for the the following reason: If you are breeding for selves not everything in a litter will be a perfect example of that. You might get many with white tail tips, or white on their feet. So if you get a litter that has two females and one male that are perfect in type you would want to keep those to enhance your future outcomes as you'd never know when you'd get this type of excellence again.

For me, when I breed for masked rats I usually only get a couple out of a litter with near perfect masks. Therefore, I try to keep the best ones as I never know when I'll get something of that quality again to work with.

Breeding is all about enhancing your lines. So after you have excellent health and temperament within your lines you can start to master specific colors or markings. And it's not all about colors or markings either. You also need to pick the babies from litters that demonstrate the shortest noses, the biggest eyes and well placed, well shaped ears.

A rats facial appearance should not have an overbite. You shouldn't be able to see it's front teeth when it's mouth is closed. The top of the mouth and lower part should almost meet together at the end of the nose. So you can have a baby in a litter that might not be a perfect example of a color or marking but is a perfect example of the facial features I just mentioned, thus you'd want to hold on to it as you are trying to perfect the overall pet rat as a species. So you can see how easily the numbers can increase for a rat breeder quite quickly just in the process of improving all aspects of their lineage, or taking advantage of opportunies in excellence when they present themselves.

It's been my experience if you are going to work on three specific things within your breeding program be prepared to house and care for an average of 60 rats by year three, then the numbers will diminish just to start all over again.

I hope this article helps shed some light on why it may appear breeders have a large quantity of rats. It's just part of the process of breeding and a breeder should not be criticized by others for a neccessary process that goes along with creating this type of pet.

Created on: 04/19/12
Revised on: 01/22/13

Second Revision 03/17/15