By Elizabeth Semple
Just because you have a male and a female of a species and decide to put them together for the purposes of procreation doesn’t mean that you can hang an Open for Business sign on your door just yet. I can’t stress enough how much thought and planning and cash investment is required BEFORE you consider placing that male in with your female. But wait a minute, don’t the animals do all the work and the breeder just sit back and accept the cash as the orders for animals roll in? Not so fast. Let’s take a look at some of the things potential breeders should review carefully before deciding to pair up their animals.
When considering whether or not to breed your animals, whether or not they are snakes, lizards or dogs, you must start out with healthy, high quality animals that are of the ideal age and conditioned for breeding. I am a firm believer that only 100% healthy animals whose lineage can be traced back a few generations should be considered for a breeding project. Why is this? Don’t snake breeders pair up siblings and breed son back to mother and so forth? Well, yes, this may be a somewhat acceptable practise for some breeders, but this kind of line breeding is not done without careful consideration of the animal’s pedigree. Because I am a firm believer in physical soundness via genetic diversity, I prefer not to participate in this type of breeding practise. Even if you disagree with me, and that is absolutely fine, you should be certain of your animal’s heritage.
Secondly, are you certain your animals will produce offspring that are desirable in the ever-changing reptile community? Remember, you want to be able to sell your offspring and if there is no market for your babies why would you produce them?
You should also ensure your animals are examined by a vet and a fecal test for parasites is performed. A clean bill of health should be a prerequisite for any breeding program. If the expense of having your animals checked is prohibitive please reconsider breeding your animals. This cost is minor compared to the potential cost of vet bills for an animal that cannot deal with the physical stress of the breeding process because of ill-health.
Secondly, part of the conditioning process is to prepare your animals by ensuring you follow natural processes such as cooling if this is necessary. Thorough research will reveal whether or not the species you keep requires a cooling process to trigger successful breeding. It`s a good idea to document your cooling routine so if you do have a successful breeding season you have a complete guide for next year.
Once the cooling period is over, the next step in conditioning your animals for breeding is to provide high quality feed and lots of it. It may take a while for your reptile to wake up after the cooling process, but when fully functional most animals are pretty hungry. Feed your animals generously, and ensure you use quality supplements. Ensure animals are fully hydrated and minimum recommended breeding weights/ages are exceeded before pairing up animals. The courting and breeding process uses a lot of your animal`s reserves and its best that your reptile be in tip-top shape to be able to deal with the rigors of reproduction.
The period of time immediately prior to breeding is not the time to change your husbandry practises. Any drastic changes in your husbandry can stress your animals resulting in an unsuccessful breeding season. Ensure your husbandry is ideal and maintained for the year prior to the breeding season. Does the species of reptile you keep require a specialized nesting area? Can you accommodate this in your current enclosures? Please carefully consider all aspects of your husbandry. Again, it is recommended you document your husbandry practises to assist you in subsequent years.
An important aspect of reviewing your husbandry well in advance is to learn all you can about incubating eggs and caring for hatchlings and/or babies. Are you going to make a homemade incubator or purchase a specialized reptile incubator? Either way it is good practise to have your supplies ready and assembled prior to breeding. If breeding was successful it is good practise to start up your incubator as soon as possible to ensure accurate temperature and humidity is maintained and ready to welcome the treasured eggs. Also have all the enclosures/supplies to rear the offspring ready well in advance of the hatch date. This usually requires a significant cash investment so be prepared. While you are considering budget, it’s a good idea to research the costs of feeding your babies. Will your hatchlings require difficult to find feeder items? Are you prepared to source and pay for specialized feeders?
Congratulations! You had a great season and now have hatchlings. How are you going to sell them? You may think that pet stores will welcome you with open arms and willingly fork over cash for your babies. Unfortunately that doesn’t usually happen. It is a difficult process for a new breeder to become a trusted supplier to retail stores. They do not know you or trust your integrity. They likely already have regular suppliers and prefer to stick to them. So now what?
Consider an online presence. This could be a website, social media page, and advertising. If you plan on making this an actual registered business, marketing will have been a major portion of your business plan. If not, use social media and free online advertising to your advantage. Another possibility is to become a vendor at a reptile expo. As a reptile fan, it is very likely you have already attended one or more expos as a visitor. Why not become a vendor? I can’t think of a better way to make the transition from keeper to successful breeder than to vend at expos. Here you gain exposure to potential customers and fellow breeders. Be prepared to market yourself and animals at expos, and network amongst other breeders. Show off your healthy and well-cared for offspring proudly. Be prepared to stand behind the animals you produce. You just might make a sale!
It takes a lot of hard work to market your animals. Don’t expect to sell everything you produce. Be prepared and be patient. You likely wont make much money, if any at all, considering the investment in supplies and equipment you made. Most breeders do not breed with the hopes of making big bucks. Most do it for the joy of the hobby.
In conclusion, I hope I have demonstrated that there is considerable effort required to prepare animals for breeding, rearing offspring and eventually selling the babies. It is not the “get rich quick” scheme that some folks think it is. Breeding animals is never easy, always costly, but can be extremely rewarding. The best of the best reptile breeders do it for the advancement of the hobby and for the rewards of successfully producing offspring of species they love and making money, if any at all, is simply a bonus.