Breeding rats and mice is not something that should be taken lightly. When a rat colony is not kept properly it can be quite frustrating maintaining it and take a lot of time. Before starting a breeding colony you should consider if it is worth bordering. When you only have a few snakes breeding rats and mice is not worth the time and costs. In that case it is better to find a local breeder that can sell you rat/mice to maintain your snakes. Another option is to get your rat and mice from a pet store but keep in mind to take a full wallet because pet stores aren’t cheap. And in most cases those pet stores buy their rats and mice also from a local breeder.
So when is it worth to start breeding your own feeders? Well I would say when you have between five and ten
snakes it is worth to start breeding your own feeders. You could start with two large cages and two small. A large
one to keep your breeders, another large one to keep the young feeders. And two smaller ones for the females with
young. The best way is to keep your animals in so called laboratory cages. These are cages laboratories use to keep
their mice and rats. These cages are made of a very hard plastic that prevent the animals from chewing through the
cage. On top the cages are covered with a metal lid that is made of bars with a very small space between them.
This keeps the cages open and allows a good ventilation. Ventilation is very important because rats and especially
mice have a nasty odor. The lid has a lowered section called a hopper which can be filled with food and a water bottle.
A positive thing about these cages is that they are easy to keep clean and they allow you to feel the hopper with enough food for several days or an entire week. Negative about these cages is taking out the animals for cleaning is time consuming because you have to remove the lid. Some mice or rats are real escape artists so when removing the lid they will squeeze themselves through a small opening and run like hell. Another negative point is that each cage has it’s own water bottle which needs to be filled separately.
When you have a lot of snakes the amount of rats needed to keep your snakes feeding gets larger. This means you need more cages, more feeders, more food and more space. More feeders also means you have to do more cleaning. When your keep all your feeders in laboratory cages, cleaning can get quite time consuming. To make it easier rats and mice can be kept in a rack system. These systems can be bought but are not cheap. An aluminum rack can set you back a 1000,- to 1500,- dollar. Making a rat system yourself from wood is a lot cheaper and when done properly it works just as fine as an aluminum version. So how is this done.
Well the most important thing about these racks is the tubs you keep your feeders in. These tubs need to be sturdy because they will go through a beating when being cleaned and your animals will try to chew through them when they get the opportunity. I use tubs that are used to catch oil in a garage but you can also use tubs that are used to mix cement. Make sure your tubs aren’t to high because your animals need to reach the top where the food and water is. When the tubs are selected you can get 4x4cm square beams from your local hardware store. Each cage needs a top so when you need ten cages you also need ten tops. First measure the size of the tub and cut the beams so they will fit tightly around the tub. Make sure the isn’t placed to tight between the beams because it has to slide in and out. If you want you can place two tubs behind each other so your rack system gets two sides were the feeders are kept. When the beams are cut and the measurements are ok you can bolt the beams together. Make sure each beam is bolted with two screws, when this is not done the beams will turn and the rectangle is not fixed.
When the rectangles are made they can be covered with a metal mesh. You can use a mesh that is used for bird cages. When you are planning to keep mice make sure you buy a small mesh because otherwise the mice will escape. Keep in mind mice can get through a hole that is 1cm in diameter. The mesh can be fixed with a staple gun for wood. When each rectangle is covered with mesh you can start taking measurements for your framework. Make sure the space between the bottom of each cage and the top of the one underneath is not to small because you have to get the food in there. If the space is too large this prevents you to place as many tubs above each other as possible. So take your time and measure properly.
When the framework is made and the rectangles are bolted in there
you can start placing the beams where the tubs slight over. Make sure the tubs are placed tight enough against the top because this prevents escapes and it prevents your animals to chew on the tub or the wood. To keep your rack system maintenance free you can place a water system inside it. This system is made from a water container which is placed on top of the rack. Water tubes to each cage and a sipper in each cage which will be placed in the mesh top. Don’t forget to dial in the sipper before taking the rack in use. Two drips per second from the sipper is enough for the rats. Anymore will turn your rat cage in a swimming pool.
In the front of the rack system a separate area should be made to put the food in. This area is called a hopper and is normally filled with pallets that are specially made for rodents. These pallets contain all the necessary ingredients for your rats and has the benefit your rats can’t be picky about their food. I get my pallets from a local “large” rat breeder, he gets is pallet specially made. The costs for a 25kg bag are €12. There are also bigger companies that make these pallets but there brands are expensive. The average costs of a 25kg bag are between €20 and €25.
For bedding I use large sawdust. It is cheap and takes in the fragrances well. The only down side of sawdust, the word already says it, is the dust inside. When there is too much dust it will harm the lounges of the rats and will cause them to breath with a squeak. This is the reason I choose large sawdust, small or medium sawdust contains more dust particles.
Breeding rats is easy but there are some things to lookout for. Females will be ready to breed after six weeks of age but it is not wise to breed them at this age. Their body is still growing and most of the times not ready to wean younglings. Most of the time the young female will eat there younglings or the younglings will die because the mother does not produce enough milk. When you take young rats away from their mother you can keep the females and the males separate to grow up to become good breeders. I normally start breeding them after 3 months of age. Make sure you often obtain males from other breeders so you keep the bloodline fresh. When this is not done freaky mutations like naked rats will pop out from nests.
I keep 1 male and 3 or 4 females in a big tub. When I notice a female is pregnant I will place her in a smaller tub. Here she can create a secure area to give birth and feed their babies. When you don’t place a female in a separate tub there is the risk the babies will be trampled, don’t get enough milk or will be killed by the male. I remember an occasion where I didn’t notice a female was pregnant and she gave birth in the cage where also the male lives. This male would take babies from their nest and kill them by biting them in the head. Off course this would give the male the opportunity to breed faster and don’t get any opponents.
After 10 days the babies will start growing a fur and after 12 till 14 days they will open there eyes. After 14 till 16 days the young rats start leaving there nest and explore their surroundings. After 4 weeks the young ones can be taken away from their mother. Make sure you don’t take them too soon because won’t eat solid food yet and they will die within several days.
Once per week I will clean all cages, when they are really dirty I will clean them out with water. This is also the time when I refill the water bucket. Twice per week I will check if the food hoppers are still filled and check for any problems. When maintaining the rats I will wear gloves. Rats will keep their body clean but the bedding can get very dirty and could contain deceases from the feces. After maintenance I will clean my hands thoroughly, I make sure I don’t touch my face before I have done this. When handling rats you can pick them up by grabbing them at the base of their tail. Normally rats won’t bite but there are exceptions. Try to prevent this because you can get Weil disease from a rodent bite. Chances are very little but there are known cases. Weil disease can also be spread by rat urine so make sure to clean your hands thoroughly. Again chances are slim but is better to prevent getting sick than dealing with the effects when it’s to late.