Monday, May 24, 2010

All those puppies! Or A Tail of Two Mamas

This post is from Walt, the other half of Timbreblue Virginia.

I'd like to explain how we wound up with the prospect of 22 whippet puppies. It's not routine for us -- our puppies are raised inside and underfoot, so that number is a daunting prospect!

A little bit about breeding:  You can breed dogs by having one each, male and female. However if you have a breeding program -- a plan, goals, a standard for success, and so on -- you'll probably need six to ten. A small-scale breeder might typically have:

1) Two females that are expected to be bred in the next year or in alternate years. Preferably not at the same time!

Katie growing up --->
2) Two more females that are too young -- we don't breed them before age two because kids having kids is bad for dogs too! These females are generally your own breeding and you want to live with them during their puppyhood and adolescence so you can see who and what they really are. Temperament? Health? Structure? Behavior around other dogs? Around younger puppies? Around people? Even when another breeder (selling you a dog) is absolutely honest, you cannot get equally detailed information. Mom is considered to be 60-75% of what you get
in a puppy, so choosing the right females is critical to success. 

3) Many breeders keep at least one male. You can (and we often do) pay a 'stud fee' to another breeder for use of a male you don't own, but owning them is the best way to get acquainted. And Dad does matter. We don't like to use males younger than six  because we want them to have a health track record.

Generally one should not, today, do breedings that would be illegal as human marriages, so breeding your own to your own is unwise unless you're able to maintain two or more distinct families ('lines'). Our two males came from Appraxin Kennels, and are only fairly distantly related to our girls. Genetic diversity is now critical to the survival of most breeds.

4) An older puppy or two that is being evaluated.

5) A rehome (from another breeder) awaiting placement, perhaps a puppy returned from your own program -- about one in twenty of ours comes back. Some of these dogs must wait for a specific sort of home, meaning they're here for several months. And like many other breeders, we do some rescue when needed, so there's usually an "extra mouth to feed" even if we didn't breed it!

6) Old folks who have retired but earned a permanent home with the breeder.
<----  Ivy
at 14 1/2  

We often place our adults (at great emotional expense) after their breeding days are done. Since they're among six, seven, or eight here, we feel our mamas deserve their own private sofas and to be one of just two or three in homes where they will be cherished as much as they are here. We do what's best for the dog, even though it hurts to let go. But there are some we cannot part with. They remain here to help bring up puppies and snuggle on the couch with us.  Ivy is the Queen Mother here. Party will also not be leaving,

So at a minimum, a hobby breeder with an ongoing program has six to feed, house, and pay vet bills for, year-round. Plus when you have a litter there'll be some number of puppies awaiting homes: We keep them to ten weeks minimum and it usually takes 12-15 weeks for all to leave.

<--- Our boy Blue

An average pet dog costs $500-1000/year to maintain, but breeding dogs require more of everything, including more vet care. Immediately before every breeding, a test of both animals for brucellosis -- the doggy STD, which, unfortunately can be caught from a toilet seat, or at least from non-sexual contact with other dogs. (It kills whole litters, sterilizes both adults, and can spread through all your dogs.) Also a 'breeding soundness' evaluation of the bitch. A c-section now and then -- average price $1000. Removal of dewclaws, and a pre-sale vet check for every puppy. Health screenings for whatever are the testable issues in the breed -- at least eyes and hearts for whippets. Plus whatever bad veterinary incidents happen in a year: There are always one or two.

Nearly all dogs do well on any major brand of food but most hobby breeders feed a grade or so above the middle of the range, if only because the stools are smaller. In a year's time, we pick up a lot of stools.

Rini waiting her turn --->

There are constant seemingly one-time expenses: We didn't plan to have any use for a tank of oxygen, but we have it: Rental $35. Usually we tube feed one or two for a few days: More #8 French feeding tubes, syringes, etc., needed this time, $20. Miscellaneous whelping supplies -- a couple hundred dollars per litter. We had a perfectly good whelping box from previous litters: Dissassembly, pressure wash, and fresh coat of shellac: $8 New whelping box for the second litter, $300 in materials. We had plenty of hospital pads for the one whelping box for a single litter: More hospital pads $120. New shower curtain (we use the old one to cover the whelping box floor) $10. Improvements to puppy room floor: $100+ in materials.

Prior to WW II middle class folks owned mixed breeds whelped under the neighbor's porch. The breeding of purebred dogs (the only intentional breeding -- there were no 'designer' dogs) was mostly by wealthy people who owned large kennels. These individuals could afford substantial ongoing costs. After the war, however, both breeding and ownership of purebreds moved into the middle class. Although a very few of the early large hobby kennels did return a significant income to the owners, today's smaller home kennels, do not. Having looked at the numbers for more than ten years now, I can tell you that even if you ignore the value of your time, it is impossible to break even over any several-year period.

Sharyn tells me that we made $346 last year. However, that's a before-tax number and because we have to treat our hobby as a hobby for tax purposes -- the legal status of a breeding business in Virginia is intolerable -- the taxes were much more than that. We paid $1373 in additional taxes because we had income from a hobby, even though nearly all of it was offset by expense.

A realistic goal for hobby breeding is that outgo doesn't much exceed income over any period of a year or more. When a year starts as this one did, with a litter of four (a very expensive four -- about $500 in extra registration fees!) coming right after a year when our investment-based retirement income was way down, the future of our program is in doubt. We had planned another litter now anyway, but now, not having one wasn't a realistic option if we wanted to be able to keep breeding at all.

Chippy -->

This was to be Chippy's first litter so we had no track record to go on. Then she refused mating (when the physical signs said she was ready) until a progesterone test said "It is already too late." We got her bred, but the vet said there was no way she'd be pregnant.
Then Juliet came in season a bit earlier than expected, a few weeks before we would be able to tell if Chippy was even pregnant.

&$*%*$&! Hobby breeding is always a little like bungee-jumping with Mother Nature tying your bungee, but this was really exciting. Based on our estimate that the most likely scenario was just one litter and two medium or small litters was much less likely, but possible. So we did the Juliet breeding.

<---- Little mamas

And what did we get? We had sent Chippy back to South Carolina, where she lives most of the time with daughter Jo and SIL Derek. Then we got that call from Jo telling us Chippy definitely had a "baby bump."Chippy was not only pregnant but had a litter of nine. And Juliet is carrying 13.

Yes, we should be able to pay expenses this year -- but we have to get through the whelping and care of twice as many as ever before. The two of us are doing nothing else right now and it'll be several weeks before that changes. And when it developed that Kara required tube feeding every two hours, and Chippy's milk didn't come in as quickly as usual so all the pups needed supplementing for a few days, we were darn glad to have Jo come up to help for the first few days post-whelp.

Nature expects to throw a few away in these large litters but in fact if they get enough to eat, they nearly always all become healthy adults. So we'll probably be supplementing some of Juliet's puppies as well. It's going to get busier before it gets easier.
But -- It's a hobby. We do it because we love the dogs, we enjoy the challenge, and of course there's the wonderful (and growing) Timbreblue family, the people who really do make it all worthwhile.


P.S. We're not worried about homes for the puppies, fortunately. We will keep one or two for breeding and show prospects and we have an extensive waiting list for the others. We are lucky to have simply incredible people applying for these pups, so they'll all be going to great homes. I think Sharyn told me we have 15 on the list already, so before Juliet's litter is even born, most are tentatively placed. We keep in touch with all our owners through an email list and occasional phone calls, as well an an annual reunion. So though our family will be growing quickly in the next month or so, we know these puppies will be safe and well-loved!

Juliet -->

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