Housing and Food
I strongly believe in responsible ownership of all animals, including feeders. So whether you decide to feed live, pre killed or FT, know all the dangers involved with each method and properly ready yourself for any and all mistakes, the care of, or exceptions.
This is the first in a series of articles directed towards teaching others how to begin breeding feeder rats.
Click on any of the links below to jump to that section.
As always when embarking on a new project, the first thing to outline is the COST, and it's no different here. Some of you may not care the cost and are interested solely in raising quality rats to feed your animals and that is understandable, but it's always nice to see a little bit of math and how much everything adds up.
Below is a short excerpt based on a topic from the forum Ball-Pythons.net by Sean (aka, Lord Jackel). It outlines the general costs for raising rats to feed 5 snakes for 6 months.
5 snakes means 5 rats per week * 26 weeks (6 months) = 130 rats total
|To buy at the pet store : 130 rats * $4 per rat = $520 avg.
|To buy F/T from a .com : 130 rats * $0.92 per rat = $120 for 6 months.
Avg. $0.69 each rat + $0.23 ($0.23 is what is costs to ship each rat total = $30)
|Initial Setup Cost : $368 - $428 for first 6 months.
Then $222 - $282 for following 6 months. Close, but not really worth it. And, this doesn't factor in time, smell and frustration!
The most efficient way to house breeding rats is in a secure, well ventilated rack. There are commercial racks available, but these often cost a couple thousand dollars and hold a lot of rats. They are excellent racks, made from steel, with water lines already run, food hoppers and tubs made just to keep rats in! If you have the money to spare, I suggest taking a look.
For those of us that don't want to dish out a couple grand on a rodent rack, but have some tools handy, you can build your own rat rack for relatively cheap. There are many do-it-yourself write ups out there, so I’m not going to write a new one.
These two links below are to DIY guides to building and plumbing rat and mouse racks. We used both of these guides to build our own racks and I am very pleased with each style and the articles. They are very easy to follow with many pictures.
What you want to make sure of is that any method you choose to house your rats in gives them plenty of room, makes food easy to feed and little waste, and quick replacement of water lines and sippers in the case of floods. (And you WILL have floods, just a matter of time.)
The rack itself should be made from non treated wood and made for the tightest fits possible. Use care especially when assembling the rails for the tub. You want the tightest fit possible between the tub lip and the rack to prevent rats from chewing the lip of the tub. IF ONE RAT LEARNS TO CHEW, THE REST WILL TOO!
If you do experience a chewer, honestly, it’s best to get rid of that one. Rats are smart! They will learn the easiest way of chewing out and other rats will learn how to do it as well; monkey see monkey do.
To prevent rats from chewing, I have always provided 4 inch blocks of 2 x 2’s, untreated wood. All rats, especially expecting or nursing mothers will use them.
Once they have turned yellow from pee, or are hardly useable, throw them out. Pasta is also another rat favorite. I like to buy the big bags of bulk twisty pasta. It sits well on the hardware cloth, and rats totally love them. Just listen to the music of dozens of rats chattering on some pasta!
My rack is made with the medium concrete mixing tubs. They measure approximately 21”x16”x7”. I think this is the PERFECT size for breeding rats. I can comfortably fit 1 large (600+g) male and 4 adult (300+g) females in this size tub with no worries about stress induced injuries or sickness.
Certainly, as the females grow upwards of 450g, it is better to use as few as one or two females with one male to avoid overcrowding. Overcrowding will give you sick rats.
They have room to move and stretch, socialize and nurture each other; preventing boredom and again, stress. The tubs insides are smooth with no edges, and in a tight fitting rack, there is no way for them to chew out. (But you should always provide something for rats to chew to keep their teeth worn to the right length)
I have used PVC tubing for water, and it sounded really good at first, but there is no quick breaking down for flushing the system of dirt and goop.
My second rack used the soft tubing available online and is much easier for maintenance. Floods are easily fixed, and it is easily disassembled, saving lots of time and prevents any dehydration from clogged nozzles. Dehydration is a quick killer in rats; they drink a lot of water!
We also add 1 cc of bleach per 5 gallons of water. We already have city water, but this helps to keep bacteria levels down. I’ve drank the water myself, it tastes no different, and none of my rats have shown any ill effects from it.
It is recommended that you clean the water reservoir and lines regularly with a 10% bleach solution.
Keep your rats and their food in a well ventilated area that is protected from wild animals, moisture and the elements.
Ventilation is key to keeping ammonia levels low, and odor to a minimum. Ventilated does not mean drafty. (i.e., leaky doors or windows in the winter time)
Rats do not do well with temperatures above 80 F degrees and are prone to heat stroke which will kill them. They can only regulate their body temperature through their tail and feet. You should be mindful of the fact that rats spend a large majority of their life in the wild in burrow systems, where they are kept cool and comfortable during hot dry summer days.
During hot streaks, keep a high velocity fan running across the racks that will keep them in a comfortable zone or in an air conditioned well ventilated room.
It is recommended to have an exhaust fan moving hot stale air outside and allows the bringing in of fresh cool air.
If you are unsure how hot is too hot, just remember that rats will thrive in temperatures that we humans enjoy, between 65-80 degrees when possible, with humidity between 25-40%.
I have read that some breeders keep their rats during the winter in garages that can reach freezing temperatures. I do not recommend this. Not only does it seem inhumane to keep rats so cold, but a simple oil filled heater can keep a one car garage in the 60's very easily.
If you cannot possibly avoid cold drops by any means below the 60's, I can only recommend an appropriate heater to keep off the bitter cold, extra thick amounts of shavings and ensuring they are being fed a very good rat diet with fat of 9-11%.
Bedding is important. Rats are known to have sensitive lungs. Too dusty or strong smelling bedding (like pine or cedar) can weaken their immune systems, making them more likely to develop respiratory infections or worse. NEVER use cedar! Rats already have sensitive lungs, so be sure to weigh all options and choose the best one for your set up.
Corn Cob and Alfalfa Pellets
Corncob is highly absorbent, but both can be expensive and mold easily.
Will stink when wet, just like wet newspaper will. Some brands are dust free, some aren't. They are also very expensive to use on a large scale.
I do not use raw pine shavings. Yes, they are cheap and come in large bales, but I have read articles outlining the detrimental effects of phenols from these soft woods on rats livers and respiratory systems, and I have decided I don't want to risk sick rats. (References)
Harlan Teklad also notes (http://www.harlan.com/):
*Please note that we supply softwood pine shavings to the research community because there is still a demand for it, primarily with housing larger farm-type animals, such as sheep, goats and pigs. However, regardless of the amount of heat processing, some residual resins and aromatic hydrocarbons remain in all types of softwood bedding materials, including pine and cedar. These have been shown to cause elevated liver enzymes, and some respiratory irritations and ailments in several species of small mammals. For this reason, we do not recommend the use of pine shavings as a contact bedding material for rodents, rabbits, guinea pigs or other small mammals.
If you must use pine because aspen or the pellets are unavailable in your area, open the bag and feel the shavings. If they are large chips, moist, or have a very strong pine scent, they are best skipped over. A good pine will be small shavings, kiln dried, light, fluffy and when you grab and handful, stick your nose in it, the pine smell is kept to a minimum. Premier pets also carries a pine that I think meets these minimum requirements. TSC also rotates their brands, but they are all normally kiln dried.
Aspen is also a great bedding choice, although some brands can be very very dusty. Kaytee provides small shavings, but can sometimes have a strong chemical odor. I personally buy the Premier Pets brand Aspen carried at Tractor supply. The shavings are sometimes larger, don’t smell very much, and make a great nesting material. Buy a brand that has been kiln dried and screened to remove dust.
The downside to any shavings is little odor control, and unfortunately shavings do not absorb moisture very well. I don’t use shavings in the breeder tubs. Instead I use a pelleted sawdust product called Equine Fresh. Not a lot of pellets are needed in each tub and a small amount effectively keeps the smell to a minimum. The big trade off is the dust which will land on everything in your rat room as the pellets expand from soaking up the moisture. It can be extremely dusty, so please take considerable time to vacuum up the dust and make sure to have exhaust fans installed (wtih closed motors rated for use in barn settings). Rats already have sensitive lungs, so be sure to weigh all options and choose the best one for your set up.
Brands commonly found at feed stores or Tractor Supply Company:
There are other brands available. In my experience, the best pellets will be light yellow in color.
I vacuum frequently and have a window fan sucking out the air. Using an exhaust fan helps tremendously with smell and dust your rats create. A rounded 2 pints of pellets per medium concrete tub is what I use to ensure there is no waste and all the pellets are broken down. It covers about ¾’s of the tub and the pellets will be completely expand by 7 days.
Some people use the pellets with a sprinkling of shavings over top, this does actually help to keep the dust down very well and you may prefer it in your set up.
**Nursing females should be given mostly shavings until the pups are 2 weeks old. Using the pellets may incur litter loss, as their noses can become clogged with the dust.
Regardless of what bedding you decide to use, it is a good idea and practice to vacuum your racks and the area around them periodically (i.e. weekly, bi-weekly) with a shop vac or another good vacuum. Having a bunch of animals kicking around bedding, shedding constantly and eating food will create a fair amount of dust and dander in a short amount of time. Keeping their living quarters clean and dust free will go towards keeping them and you healthier.
Change their litter once a week, or more if needed. It takes a simple scrape of the pan, dump into large contractor bag, and replace with fresh bedding. Fill up water and food at this point as well.
We wash the tubs with hot water, soap and a scrub brush at least once a month. Rats spray urine, and feces will stick on the sides of the tub, so we like to wash it off to keep things clean and not to mention it helps tremendously with odor control.
It only takes a couple of seconds to wash tubs, and these mortar tubs pretty much dry themselves in a few seconds. When you get into a cleaning rhythm with another person dumping soiled bedding while you wash them down, it will take very little time to accomplish. (It also helps to have a deep basin/laundry sink)
Once you have made your rack, you’ll need to fill it up with food. The absolute best thing you can feed your rats are lab blocks. All Purina dealers will be able to order a product called Mazuri Rodent feed. If you cannot find a dealer, you can order directly from Mazuri’s website for a higher price.
On the same note, we fill up the food hoppers when we clean weekly. Leave just enough for one week.
- As of August, 2008, 50 lbs of Mazuri 6F is approx $25 from a feed store.
Mazuri 6F is approx. 16% protein, 6% fat. It’s a very good feed, providing everything a rat needs without danger of illness from too high of protein levels or poor nutrition.
Female rats and young rats do very well on 18-19% protein. Their bodies are better able to handle the higher protein levels for nursing and growing.
Male adult rats do better on a lower protein diet. 16% is going to be a good choice for them.
Currently, (beginning of 2010) we have been using the Kent Rodent feed and have found it to be more economical and a great feed for the rats.
Here are a few rodent foods I recommend:
- Mazuri 6F, 9F (Any Purina dealer or Mazuri.com)
- Harlan Global Diets (Harlan Teklad)
- Kent Rodent feed (Kentfeeds.com Tractor Supply Stores can special order)
- Zeigler Rodent feed (www.zeiglerfeed.com/html/small_animal.htm)
- Sand Valley Rodent Feed, sold as Native Earth (Amazon.com or Petfooddirect.com or search here)
- Purina Lab Diet (Lab Diet) (http://www.labdiet.com/rodent_diet.html)
**Avoid mixed seed diets (Kaytee or generic pet store brands), they are cheaply made, cost more than they should and are crap. Your rats will not be in prime condition to breed, and you will see smaller birth sizes and weights. This isn’t our goal to provide our reptiles with crap rats.
If you possibly cannot get a rodent food after searching high and low, your next best choice is a non medicated HOG feed, with a high quality senior dog food. Try to match the rodent feed in regards to protein, fat content and fiber. Hog feed is very low in fat content, shoot for 6-9% fat minimum.
Look at the labels and check the ingredients used and how close they match up. Mix the two together, supplement whenever possible with scraps.
You will have a hard time find a hog feed with a pellet size larger than 3-8 mm and meets the minimum fat and protein requirements AND non-medicated. If so, it seems the only thing to do is use bowls in each tub, and be prepared for waste before you realize how much food is enough for each animal in the tub.
I wanted to put in a couple of notes about Harlan Teklad. Harlan makes some high quality lab blocks, so much so, that even Fancy rat breeders go out of their way to get this feed. The problem is that Harlan does not sell to the pet market.
EDITED 6/5/09: Per one of my readers, they just received a shipment of Sand Valley Rodent Feed, and it no longer appears to be a Harlan product. It is now tagged as 7155. The ingredients now include "animal protein products" and "porcine fat", which I believe Harlan says on their site they do not use in their products. This is bad news for the pet market that couldn't get Harlan Teklad by any other means.
We are waiting for any updates into this matter.
Previous entry from May 12th "Sand Valley Rodent Feed is repackaged Harlan available to the pet market, be prepared for them referring you to this product. (Thanks Dawn for the info!)"
To buy Harlan, you can contact them directly, but be prepared. They require a minimum $1000 order and shipping/receiving arrangements. (I got the following contact information from the GLFRA.)
There are also privately run websites, or classifieds on large reptile websites where you can often find Harlan Teklad for sale, however, the cost of shipping is more than the cost of feed. Unless you know of a distribution site near your area, or someone who orders in bulk, chances are you will not be able to get this feed for a reasonable price.
---I have used both Harlan and Mazuri, I find Mazuri 6F and 9F to be comparable and acceptable. ( I like the 9F for the higher fat content)---
Quarantine is the most important aspect of rat keeping. Plain and simple, there are some very destructive and contagious diseases out there that can and have wiped out entire colonies in a matter of days. Once you have a full running rattery, the loss of even a portion of your rats can have serious production and ultimately financial consequences.
Sendai, SDA and parasites are the biggest diseases to worry about. Don't think it is impossible for you to infect your colony by not bringing in any new rats. While this greatly reduces your chances, even visiting a pet store can bring home some hitch hikers on you. Whether this be parasites from your clothes or even a couple of viruses stashed in your nose! If you visit a pet store or any other rats/mice and guinea pigs, do not work with your rats until you have changed clothes and showered. Might seem like overkill, but an ounce of prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure in this case.
Directly from RatGuide.org (Link to ratguide.org)
Quarantine is the singularly most effective tool we have to prevent and contain viral outbreaks.
Visit the following sites to read more, and I encourage everyone to read up on what proper quarantine fully entails.
- Always change your rats bedding every 7 days or earlier if needed.
- Always feed them appropriate food and have water 24/7
- Always keep them between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit
- Always provide a well ventilated cage to prevent build up of ammonia
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breeding rats for feeders, breeding rats for snakes, breeding feeder rats, rat breeding, how to breed rats, rat food, rat housing