The Library of the
London & Southern Counties Mouse & Rat Club
All of these articles are from the LSCMRC Handbook 1996 edition - they are the opinions of their authors and not necessarily the LSCMRC
Making a start? Some helpful advice for the new mouse fancier by Mike Davis
These tips have been produced to help any new fanciers make a successful start to keeping and breeding fancy mice. They are written from experience and may prevent you from making some of the mistakes that I did when starting out.
Visit some shows before you decide which variety, or varieties, you would like to keep. This will give you the opportunity to see as many different types of mice as possible at the same time.
Introduce yourself to the Show Secretary who will be pleased to point you in the direction of some experienced fanciers.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. We were all novices once!
Donít run before you can walk! At the beginning just choose one, or at most, two varieties to keep. Many people have given up because they took on far too many mice at the start before they have gained enough experience.
Think about the housing. Keep it relatively simple, remember that you are the one who has to clean it out. Most experienced fanciers keep their mice in very basic, easily constructed wooden boxes, although many are moving towards plastic washing-up bowls with a framed lid. The sort of cages sold in petshops are fine for a couple of pet mice but you will find them far too elaborate and generally inappropriate for keeping and breeding exhibition mice.
Listen and learn. Watch the judging at the show and feel free to ask the judge, politely, about their decisions (at the end of judging of course!). Most judges are happy to point out the good and bad faults in your stock and to provide helpful and constructive advice. In addition, always read the show reports when they are published as these can be very useful.
If you write to a fancier requesting help with advice or stock please enclose a stamp to assist them in replying. If you telephone please ring in sociable hours, and remember that most people work.
Above all, always remember that it is a hobby, something that should be enjoyed and that the taking part should be more important than the winning. Enjoyment is the name of the game! Here's to many years in the mouse fancy.
Starting Out with Rats By Hélène Prendiville
You have kept rats and been a member of the NFRS and/or the L&SCM&RC for a while. Now you have decided that you would like to progress to breeding and showing. How do you start?
First, attend as many shows as you can. Look at the rats which are on show and decide which varieties you like best. Talk to the breeders, ask questions and heed their advice. Most will tell you it is a mistake to go in for too many varieties at the beginning. Chose one or two at the most, preferably varieties which can be interbred, such as topaz/agouti or cinnamon/mink. Study the standards of your chosen breed/s very carefully. Pay particular attention to any of these which win at the shows. Ask why they have won and, if you can, handle these rats.
Notice who wins regularly with your chosen breed/s. They will most likely be rats from an established strain, or at least well on their way towards it. Buy your stock from one of these breeders. As appealing as young kittens are, your initial stock should really be a little older. Often a promising kitten will turn out to be a poor breed or show animal, and vice-versa. If you buy rats at about 4 months of age, what you see is usually what you get! Buy a buck and two does, the best you can afford. Better still buy one or two pregnant does. Above all, be guided by the breeder. By all means get a second opinion.
Personally, I feel that the beginner, as well as those who are adverse to culling, should avoid the marked varieties. Attractive and appealing as they may be, there will be many mismarked and unshowable kittens bred. You need to breed far more litters to get comparatively few good ones out. Unless you are prepared to cull and select ruthlessly, you will be for ever trying to find homes for the rejects and will soon be over-run with rats you can neither sell, show nor breed from. Avoid pearls, cinnamon pearls and the blue varieties too, as some of them have health and temperament problems. Not all of them do. Much has been, and continues to be done by dedicated breeders to remedy the problems. Even so, these are really NOT for the novice.
The self varieties such as black, chocolate and mink have a comparatively short show life, as they silver up and go rusty at around 12 to 14 weeks. They are only at their best as young kittens, so it is practically impossible to get a champion from any of these. Agoutis, cinnamons and topazes on the other hand, show better as adults and have a much longer show life. These are ideal for the novice and they require little in the way of show preparation too. They DO need to be in peak condition to do well on the bench though.
Read up on colour genetics and on inbreeding methods. These subjects are fascinating and by no means as daunting as you might think. You will need a working knowledge of both if you are to have any real success as a breeder. Try too, to develop an "eye" for a good rat, so that it will be easier to spot the best kittens in your litters. It does come, with practice. These will be the ones to keep. Run them on for a while. It is never a good idea to sell your kittens too soon, in case you part with those which would have turned into the best adults. By the same token you could sell a good looking kitten, only to have a dissatisfied buyer later on.
Do not become complacent if you do well at the shows early on. Remember that your stock was bought from an established strain so they were bound to do well. The art is breeding your own kittens to the same standard, maintaining that quality and winning on your own merit. There will be a lot of joy in breeding and showing your rats. Sometimes there will be setbacks and sadness. Do not let that get you down. Persevere, and you should be rewarded in the end.
Pitfalls for the Novice By Ian Langmead
When you start breeding exhibition mice you are usually buoyed along on a rush of enthusiasm. The breeding stock you have acquired look pretty smart, you have some clean new breeding boxes, and you have a set of gleaming Maxeys. The problems can start, of course, fairly soon thereafter.
One problem can be that your new breeding stock won't breed. This does not mean that you have been duped, it can simply mean that the mice don't adapt to their new home or that they have developed some physical or emotional problem. The solution is to acquire a few more bucks and does and mix them up to see who is fertile. Normally mice are more virile than rabbits, so this shouldn't be a major problem. In fact it is usually the reverse situation which can cause the novice a few headaches. Two does breeding together can give you 24 babies, and if you do not reduce these substantially you will end up with too many mice. Moreover, they will be physically inadequate for showing. I used to aim for about five babies per mother, although each fancier has his own preference. There is a temptation to keep a couple of young bucks to see if they will be better than Dad, but of course they will need to be housed separately when they are adult, and they will need a doe now and again to keep them fit, i.e. even more babies.
One solution is to have a friendly pet shop that will take them (I used to supply Harrods) but often you will find that your supply situation does not meet their demand situation! I refuse to supply snake food, so ethics can also get in your way.
The unpleasant truth is that many healthy mice may have to be destroyed if you are not going to be over-run. The only way for me to handle that was to accept that it was being done for the greater good (and health) of the mousery.
This leads nicely into another area; hygiene. You should clean your mice out regularly to avoid bad odours and the illness that can result from wet conditions. Flies will produce maggots very quickly in soiled bedding or wet corners, and it can be unpleasant. Within days your mice can be reduced by diarrhoea to walking shells, and you can find dead mice in the box. Not pleasant but true. The moral is; DO NOT BE TEMPTED to keep more varieties or more boxes than you can easily handle or keep clean. Show mice need attention to be tame and pleasant to hold. Attention means time, and time is the pure gold of the 20th century. You will ideally have a dry garage or shed with electric lighting that will enable you to tend for your mice on dark, wet, cold winter nights. You will ideally have an understanding family who will let you hide yourself away for the time it takes. You may have a sharp cat to help you round up refugees and 'jumpers', not to mention illegal immigrants from the garden or hedgerow. You will buy secure plastic bins to keep your mousefeed and sawdust dry. You will buy Vapona strips or flypaper to keep flies at bay. You may have an air freshener to keep it smelling nice, or else you may smoke a dirty old pipe to substitute one smell for another. The important thing for the novice is to take it slowly. If you have only time for 5 or 6 boxes and one variety, then that is your bag. Do not attempt difficult varieties like Fox or Brokens, stick to Selfs or something simple in genetic structure until you feel more confident. If you don't win after one or two shows do not ditch all your stock and get a new variety. Get some fresh breeding stock by all means, but work at your variety to improve them. Watch the judges and watch the exhibits. Differentiate between good advice and moonshine. Beware the hidden agendas and the fancier who would like to unload some stock on you. Do not come away from a mouse show with a new variety or someone else's cast-offs. Read the books that Tony Cooke, Tony Jones and some of the old timers have written. Eric Jukes Electronic Archive will enable easier access to this than has existed in the past. But the biggest thing of all is to he a good sport. I have met mouse fanciers whose minds are as small as their mice, and I have seen some pretty petty punchups over the years. At the end of the day we are talking about mice, not the German Grand Prix. On the other hand you will meet people you would be happy to share a trench with...especially if it had mice in it too.
The Stud Buck By Tony Jones
In any animal bred in controlled conditions, i.e. farm livestock, laboratories, or fancy rabbits, cavies, gerbils, rats and mice, the head of the stud, or the stud buck, as we commonly call is, is of paramount importance. This statement applies equally to whatever the animal is, but for the purposes of this article we shall concentrate on the smallest member of the established fancy - the mouse.
Firstly let me state that any doe is equally as important as any buck in a one to one relationship. In other words it is of no use expecting immediate success by using low grade does to a perfect (even if that were possible) buck. Good, big health youngsters will not be bred by using small, weedy, light-boned parents of either sex. Both the male and female equally affect the quality of their immediate litter.
Notwithstanding this fact, it is obvious that the stud buck is more important than the brood doe simply because be serves so many of the fairer sex in his lifetime, whereas the doe is usually only capable of raising two or three litters at most. After this the litters are weedy specimens, often "baggy" under and in the worst cases have thinly furred or bare bellies, sometimes having a "ribbed" effect. Such litters have to be culled, but are simply the result of using old does and is bad stock management.
Now our perfect stud buck must excel in type and size. He must have plenty of bone, or timber, and must, therefore, be heavy in weight without being overly fat. He must be as large and as strong as possible. He must also excel in all minor points i.e. ears, eyes, tail and set-on. The ears should be large and set wide apart on a broad skull. Any bucks that have a narrow skull and look like a doe should be discarded. They may or may not win a straight class - but their progeny will inevitably have narrow skulls and be light boned, whether they are sons or daughters of such a buck.
The eyes should be big, bold and set widely apart. They should stand out like button pips. If the eyes are sunken the effect is not pleasing and makes our mouse look "rat" or "wolf-like" in the evil context of these animals.
The tail should be thick and strong and at least as long as the body. The set-on is often overlooked by judges and breeders alike. It should be rounded and have a smooth join to the rump. It should not look as if stuck-on and nor should it be square. A thin, square, weedy tail is one of the first signs of lack of stamina.
Without all these properties a buck is not any good for stud purposes. In fact I would go so far as to say that any buck that has a typical doe type and could win a straight class is worthless for heading a stud. What I require, especially in Selfs, is an ugly brute, big shoulders, course, with plenty of size and perhaps harsher in coat than the smooth, short, sleek coat of a top class doe. Any buck that can be mistaken for a doe is of no use whatsoever and if such bucks are used, the stud will become progressively weaker, when what is required are robust youngsters, full of stamina and fitness.
Try to obtain the best buck you can of the above description and then, by selective breeding, try to improve upon him. My method of doing this is to mate my best two to four does to the head stud. Separate the does, or have two kindling together. Soon after birth cull all the female youngsters and any bucks which are smaller than their brothers. Leave 3 or 4 per mother for about a week. If any are not growing on cull them, until at the end of 4-5 weeks you have only two young bucks left. Now select for minor points and cull any with defects, e.g. sunken eyes. Now you should have at least one decent buck which should be left in the same cage until he has mated his mother or other does. Then remate the old does to have their litters and put in two more mature tested does.
Check the litters and if all is well with the young produced you can use your new stud buck to the rest of your stock. When he is old he can service young maiden does, until you are ready once again to replace him in the same way as before. In this way the good points of the strain will be perpetuated and hopefully improved upon.
Once Upon a Time.... the Perfect Dutch By Mike Davis
The Dutch mouse has been around as long as the Fancy itself - records show that our founder, Walter Maxey, was exhibiting them in the 1890's and they are still one of the most popular of varieties today. They are also one of the most frustrating to breed and are only for the dedicated fancier with lots of patience and even more spare boxes!
They have a very exacting standard and are the only variety that have a picture printed alongside the written explanation in the National Mouse Club Breed Standards to help exhibitors get it clear in their mind exactly what is required. Despite the fact that the Dutch has been around for over 100 years, we are still awaiting the 'perfect' exhibit and it is my personal opinion that we will never see one.
Assuming you are fortunate enough to produce an exhibit with perfect cheeks, saddle, under, stops etc etc. you still have the very real problem of correct type and this is where, unfortunately, the Dutch fail every time. All the top Dutch breeders and exhibitors over the years have tried without success to produce mice of the type commonly seen in many of our other varieties. They have all had to reluctantly accept that even if the markings are faultless (and that is extremely rare in itself, the type will let them down and therefore the very top honours are likely to pass them by.
There have been only a handful of Dutch mice that have won Best in Show over the past fifty years and most Dutch breeders content themselves with competing against each other for the various awards that are offered each year to the Dutch fancier. I have been fortunate enough to win most of the top Dutch honours with my stock over the past five years including all the awards available from the London & Southern Counties Mouse Club plus wiping the board at the London Championship in 1991 and winning awards at the Bradford Championship and the National Mouse Club Annuals. I have also managed to record both Single and Double Champions.
I feel that the advantage that Dutch mice, and, indeed, most of the Marked varieties have over other mice, is that if you breed a good one it tends to have a much longer show life. Indeed, my Black Dutch buck, Double Champion Barnesdale Bobby, won his first award in April 1991 and continued winning on a regular basis up to and including February 1993. There are few other varieties that could boast a show life of nearly two years!
As I said at the beginning of this article, the Dutch mouse is not for the fancier who wants instant results and expects to win something every time they enter a show. The number of wasters produced is very high and litter after litter can fail to produce a single youngster worth exhibiting. The best advice I can give you is make sure you go to a proven breeder to obtain your initial stock. All the Dutch that are currently available in this country have originated from just a handful of breeders and the lines have been bred relatively 'true' for several years. Dutch are available in many colours but the consistent winners tend to come from Black, Blue and Chocolate marked.
The Dutch breeders within the Fancy are a dedicated bunch and are always happy to provide help, advice and, more importantly, stock to get you started. At present I am not keeping Dutch but they are still my favourite variety and I am always pleased to help anyone with advice so do not hesitate to contact me or to track me down at a show.
The Dutch mouse is still going strong after 100 years and will be around in another hundred, although I think we will still be waiting for that elusive character, the 'Perfect Dutch'. Good Luck and Go Dutch !....
The Cure and Prevention of Diarrhoea in Mice By Frank Prantl
In my 25 happy years in the Mouse Fancy I have always found Mouse Fanciers to be very caring about their livestock. Unfortunately, there are times when we lose our best stock to illness. One such ailment is diarrhoea.
In a well cared mousery sickness is practically non-existent. Sometimes an old mouse has a tumour or one gets a snuffle. These can be dealt with immediately.
Occasionally a mouse or a box of mice will have diarrhoea and this can lead to a heavy loss of the best stock. The favourite excuse is a dirty box or uneaten contaminated food. I do not think this is true. A change in the weather may upset a mouse's digestive system. A little bit of residue of washing up liquid in the drinking bottle or the baker put too much soda or yeast into the bread. Mice will eat insects - so if a fly should get into a box it will be caught by a mouse and greedily eaten. So out of the blue the fancier has a problem. There are a lot of bacteria strains, which vets are keen to identify, for a price. By the time the strain of bacteria is identified, the affected mice (more often than not) are dead! Diarrhoea is contagious and one should keep the sick mice as clean as possible and never ever swap them around. They must be kept isolated. If you have a box of 10 mice, 3 have diarrhoea, the other 7 are all right then taking the healthy ones out makes no sense. This is because they are already contaminated even if the symptoms do not show. In my opinion feeding dry food, with or without water, does not help. I believe the most effective cure is to remove the water and feed them bread and milk with a pinch of SA37*. Make the mixture quite wet so that the mice get the liquid and food at the same time.
Do this for three days - after that feed normally again but put a pinch of arrowroot in the water for the next four days. After a week your mice should be cured. I once had a mouse and she was in a deplorable state - a no-hoper - but after a week of treatment she was beautiful. She did well in shows and had several litters.
I am a great believer in prevention being better than cure, so once or twice a week I put a pinch of SA37 into the bread and milk mixture for several dozen mice. This keeps them in excellent condition with handsome shiny coats and healthy skins. It makes cod liver oil or linseed obsolete.
* SA37 is a nutritional supplement manufactured by Intervet for dogs and cats. It is sold in powder form in pet shops.
Pregnancy & Birth in the Rat By Hélène Prendiville
The best age for your doe to have her first litter is, in my experience, four and a half to five months. I do not like them to be much more than seven months old when having a first litter. On the other hand it is better to leave the buck to reach five or six months before he is asked to start siring litters. If you are breeding pets you simply need to make sure they are healthy and have no obvious faults. Breeding for showing is more complicated. The pair must be excellent specimens of their variety and two rats with the same faults must never be bred together. Also, never breed rats which are not in peak condition. They must be strong and healthy.
The doe comes into season every five days, usually around late evening. Her vent will be a reddish purple colour and will be open. She will be extremely skittish. Put her with the chosen buck into a separate cage. If you have two does in season at the same time and you want them mated by the same buck put all three together. Leave them overnight and return the buck to his cage-mates in the morning. There will be some inquisitive sniffing and possibly a little sparring, but usually there is no serious fighting between the bucks. The does will settle back into their communal cage without any problems.
Sometimes it is necessary to leave the doe or does in with the buck until they are showing obvious signs of pregnancy. I only resort to this if they have not become pregnant after a couple of normal matings. It will then be very difficult or even impossible to re-introduce the buck to his former cage mates, as serious fighting will take place. Rather than forcing him to live alone, which no rat really enjoys, you could introduce a young buck of not more than five or six weeks of age and the older one should accept it. Very rarely, when a buck has been with the does for a long while he will become quite protective of them and may bite or become rather bad tempered when he is removed.
The doe will carry her litter for 21 to 23 days. Towards the end of her second week she will begin to feel noticeably heavier and her girth will expand. This is the time to settle her into her breeding cage and to increase her rations a little. Do not over do it or the kittens will become very large inside her, which could cause problems during the birth. Give her a little milk and some extra protein. Make sure she has plenty of clean bedding with which to make her nest. I do not like using any special nesting material as the kittens can get tangled up in it and may be injured or even suffocated. Wood shavings are all she will need. Cover one end of the cage if there is no nest box. Light is not good for the kittens' eyes and the doe will feel more secure in the darker area.
The doe will not eat much during the hours before she gives birth. She will be busy arranging her nest and cleaning herself thoroughly. Most births take place during the night or very early in the morning, but if you get the chance, and the doe does not mind you being there, witnessing the birth is an experience not to be missed. As the first stage starts the contractions will be about twenty to thirty minutes apart. With each one the doe will stretch out to her full length, raising her rear slightly. Between contractions, which will get closer all the time, she will sleep or rest quietly. Sometimes you will not even see the first stage because rats are particularly good at concealing signs of pain. When the second stage begins she will sit up on her haunches with each contraction and will strain each time. This stage should not last much more than an hour. The first kitten arrives, is cleaned and the afterbirth will be eaten. Usually I find that the second kitten arrives about twenty minutes later, but the subsequent ones will come in quick succession. My theory is that the kittens come from each horn of the uterus alternately so the first from each side takes a little longer than the others. After the last one has arrived the doe will gather them to her and they will begin to feed.
Leave them alone for a few hours, because it is very important that the kittens receive the first milk which is rich in protective antibodies. After that time, if the doe is very tame she will let you remove her to another cage while you check the babies. Remove any dead or deformed ones, then return the doe and make sure she has plenty of food and a little milk. For the first two weeks all you need to do is make sure she is well fed and that the cage is kept clean. It is a good idea to handle the kittens every day. Tamed in this way they will make much better pets and will be far more tractable when being shown.
At two weeks their eyes will begin to open. This is the time to offer them small pieces of food and to make sure they can reach the water bottles. Once they start to run around give both the kittens and the doe plenty of high protein dog chow and a little bread and milk. The doe will finish feeding her litter by about four or five weeks, but the longer she feeds them the better. At five weeks of age the little bucks must be separated and carefully introduced into the communal bucks' cage. I do not usually remove the doe kittens before six weeks. At that age they are ready to be sold or kept as part of your breeding programme. Keep only the very best ones if you intend to show and breed seriously.
The doe must be rested for at least one week before she is mated again, but I find two to three weeks is better. During her pregnancy and whilst feeding the litter, the extra food she has received could make her a bit tubby and an over-weight doe will not usually become pregnant. Also, if her previous litter was a large one she will need the extra time to regain her full condition.
Stewarding - The first step to becoming a Judge by Mike Davis
When you first join the Fancy it can seem quite mind boggling trying to get your head around the fact that there are over sixty different varieties of mice, and that they come in Normal, Satin and Longhaired coats, not to mention Rex and Astrex. I remember thinking to myself, how on earth do the judges ever get to the stage where they know what to look for on every different variety. The fact is, in reality they don't. Most judges will happily admit that they have not seen an example of every variety in the flesh as it were. Some of the varieties are so rare that it can be years between one appearing on the show table.
For the vast majority of varieties however there are plenty of opportunities to view them at a show. The best way to learn what is required in an exhibition mouse is to volunteer to steward for the judge. The steward is a vital part of a show and the job plays an important part in the smooth running of the day's event. You will be doing a lot of fetching and carrying, opening of Maxeys and removing of bedding, but most judges are happy to talk you through the exhibits as they go along, pointing out what it is they are looking for and the faults that an exhibit might possess. There is nothing to compare with first hand experience and the knowledge gained whilst stewarding will prove invaluable if you decide that you would like to have a crack at judging. If you are showing mice on a day that you steward it is quite likely that your exhibits might be judged in front of you. It is very difficult sometimes not to give the game away but you must remain neutral and not indicate to the judge in any way or attempt to influence them. Your exhibits will always be judged fairly and on merit and that is what the Fancy is all about. It is just a hobby at the end of the day, winning should not be everything.
Once you have stewarded at a number of shows you may well be approached to judge. This is usually alongside an experienced judge and you will only be expected to cope with one, or at most two sections. It is at this stage that you will truly appreciate how valuable the stewards role is in making your job a little easier. You will have a hard enough task sorting all the exhibits out without needing to concern yourself with moving and removing Maxeys from the table. As you gain in experience and confidence you will find yourself judging more sections and may well end up judging a whole show. Judging is very challenging but also extremely enjoyable. I was voted on to the NMC judging panel in 1995 and the grounding that I got whilst stewarding was invaluable. I would encourage members to volunteer for this role at a show in the near future. Who knows what it might lead to?
Show Preparation of the Rat By Hélène Prendiville
Never having kept white or rex rats, I have no experience of preparing them for showing. The best thing is to be guided by the breeder from whom you bought them. I would think that too much bathing dries up the natural oils and eventually spoils the coats. It would be a good idea to keep them in smaller units, in ultra clean bedding and remove dirt and staining with a dog tear stain remover. If you groom them every day they should not require much bathing. I have shown pearls, buffs and topazes and have never needed to bath them. I simply scrub their tails with a mild shampoo and an old toothbrush and wash their feet and ears with a flannel on the morning of the show. Bucks can get a bit dirty around their rear ends as they mature but good grooming and tear stain remover usually does the trick. I find that bathing pearls actually makes them tend to stain up quicker.
Dark coloured rats hardly ever need bathing, but they do need to be in tip-top condition to show well. A good diet, plenty of exercise and clean bedding is a must. I have a regime whereby I remove the soiled bedding and excrement every day, topping up with clean bedding if necessary. I brush all my rats daily with a baby's hair brush, natural bristle is best if you can find one, and polish them with a piece of pure silk I also groom adult bucks with a fine comb daily. This keeps their harsher coats looking good and helps to stop them going so spiky. Brushes, combs and polishing silk must be kept scrupulously clean too, as buck rats exude a brownish-yellow oil that soils this equipment. If the dark rats do need a bath, do it at least a week before the show, allowing time for the natural oils and the sheen to return. It is better to let them dry naturally in a warm, draught-free room. Hair dryers can terrify the rats, dry up and spoil their coats and can sometimes damage the delicate ear tissues.
A week or so before the show you could give them a few hemp seeds and repeat this three days later. Do not over do it though! On the morning of the show scrub their tails and wash their feet and ears. Check the bellies of agoutis, topazes, cinnamons etc. as well as lighter coloured rats for grime or staining. Remove it with tear stain remover. Brush and polish them and avoid feeding them anything which could stain the coats.
When you get to the show groom them again and use the tear stain remover if they have got grubby in transit. Kittens and nervous rats sometimes scour a little if they are unused to travelling. Give them a final polish with silk, then bench them. If they have been kept in good clean conditions, they will show to their best. Finally, show them in clean smart show tanks. Nothing looks worse than a grubby tank, bearing old stickers from previous shows.
LSCMRC Web Page - Updated - 9th April 1999