• The Many Hats of a Hedgehog Breeder

    Written by Antigone Means-Burleson

    Being a successful hedgehog breeder means wearing many hats. Simply putting two animals of breeding age together is the easiest part- it isn't just that simple. Here are some of the hats that you will need to learn to wear if you decide that you want to raise hedgehogs:

    1) Sanitation engineer:
    If you're going to raise animals, you're going to have to scoop poop. Hedgehogs require weekly cage cleaning (or more, depending on the type of bedding that you choose to use). This can be quite time consuming if you have many hedgehogs. With 50 hedgehogs, I spend roughly 8 hours cleaning cages every weekend.

    2) Behaviorist:
    You have to get to know your animals and become familiar with their normal routines so that you will know when things are ok, and when things are not right. You will need to learn how to work with animals who are not tractable and how to bring out their best. You will need to be prepared to help others learn to do the same. If you want your customers to be happy, you will need to know how to help them solve common behavior problems- whether that means intervening with the customer's expectations or implementing behavior modification for the animal.

    3) Vet tech:
    You will need to learn to handle basic medical problems. The more animals you have, the more opportunities for things to go wrong. Hedgies always seem to get sick late Friday night on 3 day weekends- it's really important to know what to do until you can get a hold of the vet or the back-up vet. You also need to be reasonably able to identify potential problems. Nobody can detect all problems, but you will need to be able to demonstrate to your customers that you are able to take reasonable care. And, if your customer's hedgie has problems later down the road, you will be the first person they ask for help.

    4) Legal beagle:
    You need to know what laws govern hedgehog sales where you live, as well as an awareness of laws that apply to persons to whom you are selling. Local, state or province, and federal laws may apply. They are prone to changing at the drop of a hat. If you ship out of state, you need to know where NOT to send a hedgehog. Just because they're legal for you doesn't mean you're not responsible for trying to send them places where they've been banned, or letting your customers figure that out for themselves by running afoul of the law.

    5) Marketing expert:
    Hedgehogs don't just sell themselves, especially if people don't know that you have them for sale. First, you have to figure out a way to reach potential customers. Then you need to convince them that they should buy from you. There are lots of hedgehog breeders out there and I've heard some complain that they can't hardly give them away, while others enjoy reasonably steady business. You aren't just selling an animal, you're selling your expertise and quality. You need to be able to instill confidence that you can provide these things and to follow through. After all, one happy customer may send one more your way. And one unhappy customer will tell 100 not to do business with you. You can't please everybody, but it sure helps if you try your best.

    6) Travel agent:
    Most breeders find that the local market for hedgehogs is not very big and shipping often becomes a necessity. Air freight is the only legal way to ship mammals and that means dealing with the airlines. Due to recent security concerns, shipping regulations are changing frequently and what may be the rule one day may be different the next. Most airlines are not accepting new contracts, so you may have to sign up with a secondary shipping service. Secondary shipping services (basically, travel agents for pets) make things easier than having to wade through all the rules and trying to find flights with pressurized cargo areas, but it's often more expensive than going directly through the airlines. You will earn lots of gray hairs during this part of the process.

    7) Public relations/education:
    You have to like people, not just hedgehogs. If you enjoy working with your customers, helping them to become better educated and answering all their zillions of questions, they will enjoy working with you. They will also have a much better relationship with their hedgehog because they will be better prepared and will have a more realistic idea of what to expect. If you do not enjoy working with people and answering lots of questions, you will quickly become frustrated with this part of the process.

    I'm sure there are plenty more hats to wear, but those are the ones that first come to mind. If you enjoy your critters, enjoy learning, think creatively, and like to work with people, you've got the beginnings of what it takes. I strongly recommend that people gain at least a year to two of experience owning hedgehogs before trying to breed them. It's hard to fill these hats without a strong base of knowledge and experience to go along with the basics. Good luck, and happy hedgehoggery!