No one ever really talks about the logistics of managing a large kennel of gerbils.
Breeding gerbils is a hobby and its one that you will sink absurd amounts of time and money into for your own enjoyment.
Gerbils have the same basic needs no matter how many you care for. The main issue is when you start to keep larger number of gerbils you now need to use more food, bedding, and toys.
This is a huge expense. The more gerbils you keep the more impractical a 2 pound bag from the petstore is. Commercial diets tend to be very wasteful. Large portions of commercial diet are fillers like corn, milo, sorghum, safflower, and hay pellets. Gerbils may eat these, but not as readily as other ingredients. its more efficient to have a diet they will eat all of.
You will need to see what is offered at your local petstores and design your own diet using bulk ingredients. Below is a very simple recipe, with minimal waste.
Basic Recipe (15% Protein, 8% fat, 9% Fiber)
50 lbs Rolled Barely, 50 lbs Rolled Oats, 50 lbs Manna Pro Calf Pellets, 50 lbs Millet, 25 lbs Striped Sunflower Seeds, 20 lbs peanuts
Lab blocks are a great staple to include in your gerbil diet often these are very high in protein. Mazuri 6F and 9F are good. 6F is good for adult gerbils and 9F is good for pregnant and nursing females and pups.
Moonstone Gerbils Diet
Base Blend 14% protein 10% fat
Barley, oats, sunflower seeds, rice, Iams cat food, millet, hemp seed, flax seed, calf pellets, pea mix, canary and rape seed blend, tree nut mix, pumpkin seed, peanuts, mealworms, raisins, cranberries, carrots and banana chips
I have used Tractor Supply Co's Large Flake Bedding for years now. It is kiln dried and very low in dust. It costs about $6 a bag. I also use baled hay as a bedding too. Other options include buying crinkled craft paper in bulk, its meant for packaging. Usually comes in 10 pound boxes and is the same as Eco-Bedding.
Ideally you live on a large piece of property where you can compost your used bedding. This is generally not the case. Disposal of used litter can be quite expensive if you pay per bag.
Cleaning Cages - You can clean a few everyday or you can clean all of them in one go. Cleaning cages takes time
Finding a good vet is a challenge. Few vets are comfortable treating small exotics, and even fewer have an expertise in it. When searching for a vet the vet should be understanding of you being a breeder and willing to work with you if you need to do kennel wide treatments. The vet should be able to confidently operate on a gerbil. They should be competent enough with small animals to be able to trim a gerbils teeth without anesthesia. They should also be willing to do a necroscopy on a deceased gerbil to determine cause of death. If you can find yourself one vet who can do all of these things it'll save you a lot of stress.
The hardest part of keeping a large kennel of gerbils is actually deciding who stays, who goes, and who to bring in.
The first thing you should decide on is why are you breeding and what are you trying to accomplish. . Many breeders are stuck in the early stages of breeding gerbils. Their goals are simple and short-sighted. More indulgent, than premeditated.
Early Goals of Inexperienced Breeders.
These goals aren't really goals, there is little thought into the plan. The plan in only about one or two generations and nothing is being improved. The goal is to make more gerbils.
Health Goal - to breed healthy, happy and friendly gerbils. Almost any breeding pair will do this.
Rainbow Goal - to breed as many recessives into the litter as possible, so that the litter has gerbils of any color.
Ultra Rare Goal - to breed the rarer colors or even coats exclusively. Rex, Schimmel, and Dilute are often sought after.
Goals for Experienced Breeders
Standard Goal - breeding for a particular standard or set of complimentary standards. Example. A breeder is interested in Burmese gerbils. They are looking to refine the self standard by reducing the amount of white on the chin, feet and through out the coat. Often choosing to create litters that have only a few select colors that compliment each other like Burmese, Siamese, and black. They try to avoid pairings that include d, p, or uwd as these colors may muddy the color or create non-standard colors.
Long term goals of Seasoned Breeders.
Improvements Goals - breeding for particular traits as part of a multi-generational plan to improve a singular color or trait. Not many breeders take on these goals. These goals are often private explorations of a certain traits. Often breeding for a pure single color or trait. If a breeder was focused on Burmese, their goals would be more than just the current standard and would be attempting to push the standard to a more refined animal. The contrast between the body and the points on a Burmese, and the exact transition of the mask into the face or how high up the dark fur on the feet go. Often breeders have litters of only a single color and hold back pups for 6-8 months before deciding who the best of the best are. They are also prone to hoarding their little stash of perfection and leery of sharing their work as others might ruin the progress they've already made.
Maintaining Groups of Gerbils.
There is a lot of advice on how to keep a pair of gerbils. That's simple really. When you have numerous gerbils in your kennel you start to come to the conclusion that gerbils are more of a fluid. Keeping any two gerbils in the same cage together, isn't all that important. I tend to keep large groups of same sex gerbils. This makes it much easier to take one gerbil out of a group for breeding without having to figure out what to do with the gerbils you aren't going to breed right then.
When I breed a pair of gerbils, I almost always keep all the daughters with their mother. This is necessary if you wish to breed any gerbils from this pairing again in the future. Family groups are the most stable when a parent is present in the group. This is more critical for females, than it is males. The size of the group, isn't all that important as long as there is enough food, water and space for the gerbils. You should monitor the group, and if there are signs of aggression take action to either split the group up or re-partner the gerbil who is causing the problem.
I also never breed just one pair of gerbils. Generally I start 2-3 pairs at the same time so that their pups will all be born around the same times. This allows me to retire the fathers in waves. One male will only get to sire 2 litters. He, his sons and all the male pups between 5-7 weeks old will be introduced together as a large group. Most fathers are perfectly okay with suddenly adopting a bunch of pups that weren't theirs. Even some adults will readily accept a swarm of pups. You should monitor the introduction, but and use a split as needed. If there is some agitation or aggressiveness, you'll need to split them into multiple cages. 5 weeks later i retire the next male. Its a bit of a balancing act, but if done properly, you will have a continuous cycle of new breeding pairs and retiring pairs.
Overtime these larger groups of gerbils get reduced down to just the gerbils that I am interested in keeping and breeding as i adopt out pairs of gerbils that don't align with my goals.
Infertile males and females are a very valuable commodity in your kennel. They are easy placeholders for gerbils that suddenly find themselves alone and in need of companionship, but you do not want to breed them and for whatever reason you're not interested in finding them pup companions.
When to Breed
This is something that takes time to figure out. However there is a cycle to adoption of gerbils, since they are mostly owned as pets for children. The summer is probably the slowest time of year. Christmas time is a busy time of year. Back to school is a busy time of year, and even the start of summer might see a little bit of a rush. Report card time. Spring breaks or winter breaks. The school year and holidays definitely influence people's decisions to get a pair of gerbils. I breed heavy during the fall and winter. Once spring rolls around I start to slow down considerably and am more likely to put pairs together for some of my longer term projects whose pups i want to keep for 6-9 months to decide on.
Adopting out Gerbils
In order to make room for future litters you need to be able to adopt out the gerbils you do have. The best way to do this, is to join the American Gerbil Society (or other local gerbil society), Build a website and engage in social media.
I would strongly recommend not using craigslist or classifieds. Its a risky venture. There are animal flippers, hoarders, and people just looking to feed their snake. There are probably plenty of good adopters that might come along through craigslist or classifieds ads but you would need to screen these adopters.
Proper Quarantine Procedures
Many breeders overlook this figuring it'll be just fine. However, when you're wrong, the costs are very high. Any new gerbil coming into your kennel needs to be quarantined for minimally two weeks. This gives time for problems like parasites and disease to become apparent.
I only take in gerbils if i plan on doing one of two things. I will either immediately breed the gerbil or I will introduce them to young pups that are between five and eight weeks old. Young gerbils have a weaker immune system and if your new gerbils are sick and can spread disease putting them with young pups increase the odds of the pups getting sick so you can diagnose what