Syrian Hamster Conformation – A Judges Point of View

I’ve been judging for two years and as a qualified judge now for a year so I’m not the clubs most experienced voice by a long shot but as I have been trained, I feel able to write about something I enjoy. Judging is both fun and difficult at the same time. There are lots of different factors to focus on. You have to keep an eye on the points you have awarded through the day and on how much time it’s taking you to get through.

One question that comes up a lot is ‘Why did my hamster get those marks’? And a fan of the Facebook page has also asked that I cover this topic. All the official information on conformation can be found in the handbook but here is my interpretation.

This article is rather long, I do apologise! I don’t speak for all judges here, just what I’ve had experience of either judging or being judged.
Colour


The highest mark available. Your hamster may gain or drop marks from show to show depending on the quality of light, the opinion of the judge, the hamsters condition which can affect colour and whether it’s moulting. And its age of course. Different colours are affected differently by age. Creams mature into their colour, blacks and greys brown out of their colour.

It’s also important to check the pedigrees of any hamster you purchase. Some colours, when bred together, muddy the quality of each one so the colours you produce are poor quality. This can’t be helped when breeding for certain colours that require a combination but if you want to exhibit a particular colour then it’s worth checking what’s in the make up.

I won’t go into each colour here, safe to say that the best option for you is to talk to other exhibitors who show the colour you are interested in, or talk to judges on the day, to find out the various benefits or pitfalls to your chosen hamster. For almost any colour you can name, someone has bred that at some point in the past. Again, don’t always just talk to whomever is winning that day. There is a wealth of information to be had from many different exhibitors.

Patterned hamsters are judged on both colour and pattern so you need to consider that a hamster with exceptional colour may lose out on points because the pattern isn’t good or vice versa. Read the description of the pattern carefully. Does it ask for even spotting? A white animal with coloured spots means the colour isn’t too heavy. Do you need to avoid brindling?

I was taught to look at the top coat, blow through the fur to see the undercoat, check all the coloured areas of an agouti and to factor in the effects of satin, rex and long haired hamsters on colour quality. These things all contribute to the overall score.

‘Patchy colour’ refers to the hamster having areas of good colour and areas of pale colour and is usually found in animals that are moulting but can be a general fault in the overall coat colour.

‘Wide open, wide, narrow or no chest band’ is a common complaint for agouti hamsters. Don’t forget that hair’s width! Chest bands run around from the cheek flashes under the hamster’s chest.

‘Pale’ is what it is. Pale and patchy is particularly bad and means the hamster starts as pale in it’s good areas and gets paler in places.

‘Pale/dark undercolour’ is just specifically that the undercolour is either pale or too dark.

‘Lacks ticking’ refers to the ticking on the top coat of the hamster and indicates that there should be more of it.

dougal-5

Type
When judging type, two main areas are looked at. That is the head and the body. Both are described in the handbook. A Syrian with good type is very clear to see. I tend to lengthen the hamster out to see it’s true proportions. A long, thin hamster can still be seen even If it’s carrying extra weight. Adding too much weight to your hamster doesn’t win it type marks, only loses it condition marks. A Syrian should be cobby, not too overweight. Cobby means a body that is short and stocky rather than long and thin.
Ear size can really throw off an otherwise nice head and points can either not be awarded for type here or taken off Eyes and Ears. I prefer to judge the type and deduct marks in the other section for overly large ears. Particularly pointy ears have the effect of making a hamster look rather elvish!
Sometimes a hamster won’t put up it’s ears and that can be a trait that is bred into the line rather than being a sign of distress. I had an issue with this personally. A line of lovely laid back Syrians and none of them put their ears up, ever. Again, something for a breeder to breed out if possible.
There are a lot of marks to be had here and I’ve seen lovely coloured hamsters miss out on placings because of poor type and vice versa.
‘Narrow head’ is obvious but it is the space between the ears that is looked at primarily. There are degrees of narrow head that may be recorded.
‘Chunky’ is usually a good term. Very chunky is often not.
‘Long face’ is sometimes referred to as ‘horsey head’ and means the head is too long from the base of the ear to the nose and is particularly noticeable when the hamster reaches forward to sniff.
Perzik 1
Fur
Fur is judged by its condition, whether the hamster has enough of it and how it feels. So a woolly, open coat is to be avoided and a thick plush coat is desirable. Fur marks are deducted for the prevalent ‘TBF’ or thin belly fur. Fur can be affected by weight, age and hormones. A very heavy hamster carrying too much body fat will have thinner fur as the skin is stretched. Equally, a hamster that is out of condition may have areas of loose or baggy skin that affect how the fur looks or feels.
Long haired hamsters may lose points for ‘lacking skirt’ as males should have a nice full coat all over.
‘TBF’ is thin belly fur as above. There are varying degrees of this. I’d argue that a hamster with almost no belly fur really ought to stay at home.
‘WU’ is the dreaded white under and mostly afflicts creams, blacks, chocolates and doves. It’s important to notice the colour of your hamster’s belly as if you have a golden or a cinnamon, for example, with a white belly then this is potentially a ‘white bellied golden’ or ‘white bellied cinnamon’ and a different colour entirely that belongs, in my opinion, in non-standard class. These are hamsters that carry and show the white bellied gene. General splodgey bellies are just mismarkings and should be bred out.
‘Woolly coat’ is a texture of coat that feels rough. Similar to a rex coat but on a hamster that should be smooth coated. A rex hamster has curly whiskers, if yours doesn’t but has a textured coat then it should be bred to one with a good coat to try to take this out of your lines.
‘Open coat’ is when the hair doesn’t lie entirely flat and can be because the hamster is warm, or older, moulting, or may be not in the best condition. It’s most noticeable on an agouti hamster as the under colour will show through.
wigley-1
Condition
One of my pet peeves is a hamster that is overweight. One whose natural type is long and thin so is fed suet to bulk it up. Judges can see this difference. When you pick a hamster up under it’s armpits, if your thumb is totally covered by the animal’s fur then it is overweight.  Overweight hamsters don’t win shows. You need to work on size to get near the big hamsters that get best in show and you can’t short cut that with the aid of too much suet (some suet in the diet can be useful but owners should keep a close eye on the condition of the hamster).
One problem some breeders encounter, usually new breeders from what I’ve seen, is over feeding baby hamsters. Your cute splatty hamster will soon turn into an adult with baggy, loose skin. Those nearly out of or just out of young stock can lose marks for looking terribly out of condition as they have all this extra skin hanging down.
Make sure your hamster is firm, chunky and the right shape for its natural type. Its natural type may not be what you are after but that’s how you know what to breed for and hiding it won’t help you in the long run.
Older hamsters most often lose marks here and sometimes marks can be lost from either fur or condition depending on the judge’s discretion.
‘Pin bones’ refers to the hip bones jutting up as the layer of good fat over this area has been lost. Usually found on older hamsters.
‘Old?’ is often noted on animals the judge feels have justifiable loss of condition. They’ll still lose marks but don’t need a ‘please see judge’ marked on the label.
‘Saggy’ is referring to the loose skin as above.
‘Please see judge’ should never be ignored by exhibitors. This could be anything from very poor condition to a lump felt or a chipped tooth. Southern and Midland club judges don’t tend to write the reason on the label as it’s potentially embarrassing for an exhibitor who may have genuinely not noticed an issue or that has arisen during that day. The public may misinterpret the label to mean the hamster is very ill. Sick hamsters are not put back on the show bench but disqualified and should be given back to the owner.
Size
Size overlaps somewhat with condition in the case of weight. I don’t tend to award marks for weight in this section, I go by look and feel. I award marks on what the animal’s true size is and deduct condition marks if the hamster is overweight. Have I belaboured that point yet!
Size marks vary across judges and is sometimes influenced by what’s on the table as there is no visible cue to a ‘perfect hamster size’ although all species have parameters into which the hamster must fall. Babies may miss out on size marks so this is a consideration for anyone entering young stock. If your hamster is very young but within the guidelines set for showing, is it worth entering them if they are very small?
Overall all though, this tends not to be a big deciding factor on who wins as it’s only ten points. Size tends to influence the results most when the size of the hamster is very small.
Eyes and Ears
Here a judge is looking for discharge from the eyes and deducting marks for nicks in the ears. Small eyes are penalised too. A sticky eye may not be penalised if the hamster opens it within a minute or two of coming out of the show pen. A true sticky eye may be helped by the judge or left for the owner as appropriate.
‘Sticky eye’ refers to an eye that won’t open and may or may not have some dry discharge around it usually from sleep.
‘Small eyes’ is definitely something to breed away from. Ignoring small eyes simply cause the issue to worsen down the line.
‘Nick in the ear’ is usually from a pairing or historically from pups fighting.
Plus and Minus Marks

Used to differentiate between too very close hamsters where the score is the same but one may be marginally better than the other. Minus marks are used in the same way but not every judge uses them. Some of us prefer to use a + or a ++ if more than one hamster needs to be ‘split’.
Show Pens
Marks are deducted for shabby pens but not if they are hire pens.
Syrian Pen 1
Duplicates
After the main judging, the judge and book steward go around the front of the table and judge the duplicates. Essentially this is based on the overall scores and can be quickly ascertained. A hamster in young stock with an overall score of 75 beats one with a score of 50 with no need to look at the hamsters as they have been judged already.
However, hamsters on the same marks need to be looked at again to see who beats who IF they have not ‘met’ before i.e. they weren’t entered in the same class so haven’t been judged next to each other. This is true even if one hamster has a plus mark already as this plus was achieved against a different hamster (s).
Effectively the winner wins their plus mark as if they were in the main class but this is not always noted on the pens. I like to mark a tiny + next to the duplicate class number and always put the pens back in the order I want them.
When judging for neck and neck hamsters in duplicates, again, you are looking for the better overall hamster. One may have amazing colour but lacks condition and type therefore the other hamster might win.
Lastly a little word on temperament. A hamster that is too grumpy or nervous does not show well. A judge will only spend so much time looking for a hamster’s best side, especially on a table with 150 other hamsters to judge. Do your best to breed well tempered hamsters and handle them as much as possible. Make their first show somewhere quiet or close to home.
Hamsters that bite can be disqualified. Although there’s no section for ‘temperament’ it does play a crucial role in the show.

 

Starting Out: The Novice Hamstery

When I joined the hamster club over 4 years ago I was introduced by a friend and shown round. This friend, the lovely Vectis Hamstery, had been in the club a few years before me and already knew quite a few people. This was a real help to me as I got to tap into a wealth of experience to help me choose the direction I was going to go in.

GETTING TO KNOW HAMSTERS

When you first start, if you’ve never been to a show or your friends are still very new, it helps to talk to the experienced club members. I’ve not met anyone who wasn’t happy to help in some way. But who to talk to first?

The show manager is probably the most stressful job in my opinion. Show managers are ideal to talk to about the specifics of the show itself such as if dogs are allowed in the hall, directions to the hall, information on the show schedule and if you can volunteer for a job. On the day however, unless arranged before hand, probably not the best person to bother!

The show secretary is usually busiest at the start, the middle and the end of the show day. 11am to 12pm is probably a good time depending on what’s happening but you won’t get a good long chat. Perhaps jot down a few pertinent questions so you don’t come away from a  show feeling like your questions haven’t been answered.

The sales manager is a good one to talk to if you want a colour ID, to choose a show hamster or to be pointed in the right direction towards someone you are looking to meet but don’t yet know what they look like. Again, the sales manager is most busy at the start and end of a show. After 11am is best but you might miss out on a hamster if you wait so email in advance and let them know you are looking and would like some help.

Judges are best to talk to if you’ve entered and you have any questions about your result. But best wait for judging to finish as the judge is not supposed to know which is your hamster and they’ve got to concentrate through the day. The only person who knows exactly why your hamster is in the place it’s in is the judge. Don’t guess, ask 🙂

Stewards are not best to talk to as they have pen or book stewarding to focus on and being asked questions can easily cause something to go wrong.

They are plenty of people to talk to who don’t have a job that day. If you want the best introduction to want you should choose and how to breed it’s really best to speak to members who are out of intermediate. Those who have been around for a few years have plenty of insight to give.

BENCHING

You’ll possibly need help benching for the first time. Benching is the process of placing your hamster in it’s show pen and onto the show bench. You can contact the show manager before hand so see if someone can help you. Essentially you get your hire pen from the show secretary in the morning, along with your pen labels (make sure you have asked for a hire pen when you entered). Short haired hamsters are penned on wood shavings and long haired hamsters (no matter the length of the coat, if they are classed as long haired then that is what matters) are penned on wooden cat litter or back to nature pellets. Each hamster should have a piece of veg (cucumber is most popular) and a dog biscuit obtained from the show secretary’s table. Your pen label goes on the top left usually or on either side if you have entered a pair of dwarfs. Simply place your pen on the show bench and the pen steward will order them. If you are late though, you’ll want to try and put your pen in the right place. Pens are ordered numerically with class one starting 101 down to class 23 at 2301 for Syrians and D101 to D2101 for dwarfs.
Make sure there is no other food and no tubes in the pen once you are ready to bench.

WHAT TO DO AND WHAT NOT TO DO

Here’s a little list of do’s and don’t’s that I’ve thought of. This list is just a guide.

  • DO ask, ask, ask. There is no such thing as a silly question. Members want to see other members do well as the efforts you put in will pay back into the club later in the hamsters you breed. We all have a vested interest in maintaining a quality of breeding across the board.
  • DON’T just pick up a ‘pretty’ hamster and breed it without first checking if this is a good idea. You are new and (all of us have been there) what looks cute to you is not necessarily the same as ‘show quality’.
  • DO own and show hamsters for at least a year before you start breeding. Novices often suffer from an initial rush of winning with hamsters from top hamsteries and then this can peter out as you start to pick, breed and show your own hamsters. People leave after intermediate when the novelty wears off or the rosettes dry up. Winning isn’t everything so take it slow. Enjoy it. No one is racing!
  • DO help out! Best questions are asked whilst helping the person you are asking. We always need volunteers to help set up, pack away, steward or assist on sales and in the kitchen. DO speak to the show manager about helping well in advance of the show as stewards particularly are organised in advance.
  • DON’T get into the mindset that the people volunteering for jobs are ‘staff’. They are exhibitors like you and don’t get paid to spend the whole day working so DO please be considerate of this.
  • DO ask again if the person you tried to speak to didn’t have time. Wait for a quiet moment. Often people are very busy depending on the show. We can have 300 hamsters entered in one show to deal with as well as members of the public.
  • DON’T just ask the show winner for advice. Quality show hamsters can be in the top 10 pens on the table. Not all of them can win a show. Limiting your questions to just the show winners will mean you potentially miss out as not every breeder breeds every colour. Someone who didn’t even enter that day may have won every show the previous year so don’t discount their experience just because they didn’t get a rosette that day. Some breeders take breaks too so may not even have hamsters at all at the moment but still have a wealth of knowledge.
  • DO spend time finding the colour you like to breed. Each colour has it’s own challenges. No one colour is best to win with when you are starting out. Shows have been won by creams, cinnamons, yellows, smoke pearl, black and silver grey in my time in the club. Creams tend to be a go to colour for novices because, genetically, they are easy and can be bred in conjunction with other colours like sable and mink giving a wide variety of colours with little issue. But you can still breed a bad cream so DO still seek advice. When you get into a breeding rut it’s your love of the colour that will see you through.
  • DON’T open the show pens once judges start. The only person that should be handling the pens at this point is the pen steward. If you need to leave early then let the show secretary know who will retrieve your hamsters for you.
  • DO enjoy yourself! Shows should be fun.

When To Safely Handle Baby Hamsters

Note this is when to SAFELY handle them rather than when you can. You can handle from any age but should you?

Peering into any hamster’s nest is risky enough. And if you are happy to take the risk then that’s fine, in a way. I’m sure the pups wouldn’t be too pleased about it.

If you really want to see your pups early you can take a photo with a zoom and crop it. You can do this when you feed them. See the photo below. This mum was given a box to nest under but chose not to. I would never lift a box up to see underneath at this age. This mum voluntarily got off her pups to come and eat the food I’m pouring in with one hand while clicking a pic with the other. If she were to become agitated by my merely putting food in, I’d retreat quickly but calmly and let her settle back down before feeding again. This is why I bulk feed all my mums the day before they are due so that I can leave them in peace for the first few days.

J-Lo 02-09-16 Day 4.JPG

At 2 weeks old, or thereabouts, you can get them out for the first time. Although they start wandering as early as 10 days old, I still wouldn’t risk it. I know from other breeders experiences that litters can be culled by mum as late as 12-14 days old and, in my view, it’s not worth it when all you need to do is hang on a few days.

Once their eyes are open, I’ll take mum out before I touch the nest. A playbox with some toys and treats in is usually a welcome break for a nursing mum who is still feeding her pups at this age. I don’t tend to remove the litter from the cage at this age, rather I handle them in situ and add mum back along with chopped cucumber and high protein wet food.

After the first couple of days, mum should be used to the routine and pups come fully out into a handling tank. This is the first time I can go fully through all the bedding and make sure I have an accurate head count. Exploring babies are adept at tunnelling away through the bedding! At this point it is about quality handling rather than quantity. Mum shouldn’t be away from her pups for too long.

The right amount of effort put into handling at this age builds the foundation of a trust in humans that ensures a tame hamster for the rest of it’s life. But it’s important not to risk it’s like in the first place for want of a bit of patience 🙂

Angus.JPG

 

On Hamster Wheels

Great blog post, and very true!

Vectis Hamstery

Choosing and furnishing your hamster’s cage can seem like an impossible task, with conflicting advice often offered on the internet with a high degree of certainty: “all hamsters MUST have…”, “You should NEVER…”etc.  After keeping hundreds of hamsters, the only certainty I’ve found is that there’s always going to be a hamster that goes against the must/always/should. Hamsters will be hamsters, and one of their most endearing qualities is in being uniquely awkward!

My rule of thumb for hamsters and wheel size is to check whether they can run without bending their backs. Different hamsters are different sizes, so a ‘one size fits all’ approach for recommending wheel diameter doesn’t work. I have one tiny Syrian hamster who runs quite happily with a straight back in a 6.5 inch diameter wheel, whereas a larger girl like Tayleur needs an 8 inch wheel.

This is Tayleur in a 6.5 inch (left)…

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Show Pen Maintenance: A Necessary Evil?

It’s time! I think I lost out on a first place in Roborovski class at a recent show because of a neglected show pen. Any points removed were well deserved I have to say. I’ve not repainted my pens since I started showing Syrians in 2013 *shame*

Syrian Pen 1

So I’ve finally gone out, bought the paint, set up the work table and found all my pens. For good measure I’ll also do my pen carriers. It’s worth pointing out that for new members who hire pens, your pens don’t get penalised for condition as it’s accepted that it’s the club’s issue/owner of the pen to look after hire pens rather than the member who hired it.

Before I went to B and Q there was a scrabble to find the various bits of info provided by show pen guru, Mark, on what paint to use. Black gloss and white gloss for the Syrian pens (Dulux is favoured) and Ronseal Deep Mahogany for the dwarf pens. It’s worth noting that members have previously mistakenly used something like ‘cotton white’ rather than ‘pure white’ gloss and have also mistakenly varnished dwarf pens. It’s just woodstain for those and you can tell the difference between the shades of white on the show bench so be careful.

First job is cleaning. All my pens are getting a full clean rather than their usual quick wipe. I’m hoping not to have to paint all of them if they are just a little stained.

Syrian Pen 2

Then sanding any chew marks out. Sanding also provides a better surface to paint the new gloss onto I’m told. After sanding, I managed to remember to wipe the pen out again. Look at this black paint dust.

Syrian Pen 3

Due to the application of masking tape, I preferred to paint the inside first and freehand the black. I’m quite good at my edges, you might like to mask both. I’m more likely to need to re do the interiors of all the pens whereas I reckon only two of mine need the black redone. We’ll see!

Syrian Pen 4

Looks like more than one coat will be needed. On my second one I realised that you need to paint the inside front lip first and the top outward facing edge last. I got a bit covered in paint this go haha
Syrian Pen 5

Look at the difference!

Syrian Pen 6.jpg

This is the paint I used for the black on the other show pen. The white dried in a couple of hours, the black needs to be left overnight between coats and a good day/night to completely lose the tackiness I’m told.

Syrian Pen 7.jpg

The pen I’m painting was chewed by a naughty boy on the way home from a show because I forgot my divider (see further down) meaning the pens didn’t sit right in the top of the carrier.

Syrian Pen 8

I’ve sanded the chew marks down as much as I can. and then painted.

Syrian Pen 9

Looking good!!  After it’s second coat I’ll redo the mark on the bottom (for identification you mark the bottom of your pens so the judge can’t see). For the pen carriers I bought a Valspar satin paint called ‘wine cask’. I’m really hoping it dries more red than that! I had to get the chap to mix it up for me. The divider is place on top of the bottom row of pens in the carrier to give a space between rows. This gives extra ventilation, makes the top row more secure and stable as well as helping to stop the hamsters underneath being able to chew the pen above!

That’s my progress so far. Hopefully I’ll have some more photos later this week. It’s definitely worth the work to avoid losing marks in the future 🙂

 

On Spanners And All That

Just as things were getting going my hamster go and get old! Sadly I’ve now lost Boffo and Atlanta’s line as Nebbiolo refused to breed and is now too old to risk it. As she never looked pregnant I highly doubt she’d take anyway. Grenouille is on the edge and is going for her last try, with anybody at this point! Both fantastic looking girls and the result of a lot of hard work.
I’ve got a lot of them getting nearer to that dreaded cut off point. So I’m starting to breed almost round the clock to make sure they ‘take’ and I don’t lose the effort of several generations.
The Roborovski are just as bad with my agouti line now gone with Evie and my pieds gone with George and Ursula. I’ve had to bring in some youngsters but these now carry husky too so I’ll have to be careful.
The Chinese are following suit with the loss of Astere, Arty and nothing here from Jock thats breedable anymore. No more Not or Wullie either.
The Pallids time here has been short lived with Nut now being too old and them having to be split for fighting. She does look good now though!

However there is some good news. Wigley’s coming up for breeding (in the Syrian queue!) and I do have plenty of husky Robos here. Bardane the Chinese lives on in Luzerne, Safran and Frenee who gave me two boys as it turns out. I’ve got a little white boy here and Froggy from Vectis has two girlfriends lined up. Jock’s son Oats has been busy and his son James looks amazing.

I embark upon new lines in Chocolate and establishing my Ivories/black eyed whites in Syrians. I now start to roll up my sleeves for the blues as well. The blacks are not gone by a long shot as I bred so many lines so I have options there. Just not the ones I wanted. I’m hopeful, in time, that I can put that back on track.

I have some normal winter whites here that I’m going to pair up from tomorrow too.

Surely things will start to look up…..

Finally!!

Goodness me, good things come to those with an awful lot of patience! I know I bang on about it but being ‘ethical’ comes with its own painful niggles. With Chinese hamsters, the biggest pain is the systematic screening of the hamsters to try to breed away from diabetes.
In addition, the process of pairing up without the relative ease of colony breeding whilst retaining a higher minimum age for breeding (4 months) makes everything slower and riskier. You swap the risk of overly inbreeding with the risk of physical injury as males and females can fight spectacularly during their time together often needing to be split up after just a few days to prevent fatal injury.

All things considered, it’s easy to see why this litter is so precious. It’s been 2 years and 2 months since my last Chinese hamster litter and grandad to these pups passed away just a month before they were born. Although I’d love to breed some black eyed whites, I’m just happy to have any pups at all at this point!

Without further ado, let me introduce the Frenwins. Of course, irony dictates Frenee only gives me two babies so I can give one to the owner of dad, Winford, and keep one. But Chinese are not in short supply right now so I suspect the vast majority of my waiting list has been able to find a ham by now. I’m just happy to benefit from some breeding success of my own.

One normal boy, and one dom spot girl with their eyes just opening at 12 days old. I’m unbelievably proud of these two!

Frenwin Litter - 06-06-16 - Day 12 a