All-breed judge and breeder shares insight on breeding a litter, rearing and marketing puppies, plus valuable advice on veterinary, vehicle, and show expenses.
ECONOMY TIPS FOR DOG BREEDERS
A lady told me that she had spent thousands so far in raising a small litter of six pups (to four months old) and the costs had not yet finished mounting, even though she paid no stud fee or shipping, since she owned the sire, too. This was her first attempt at breeding and will probably be her last, mostly because of the unforeseen expense.
There are many who have been told by experienced breeders that there is no money in puppies if they intend to be honest, conscientious, careful, and maintain respect for the breed. It is my purpose here to help the reader to come up with an estimate of his own expenses in order to help decide whether or not to breed.
I frequently ask prospective buyers of brood bitches or users of my stud dogs why they want to breed, and if the answer is, “To get a nice puppy to keep,” I try to persuade them that buying a puppy is cheaper and easier.
A second purpose of this piece is to help one defend their puppy prices to shocked potential buyers, and it should be helpful in choosing alternative care methods for one’s own dogs. With the tips that follow and your own ideas that will be generated thereby, you can save a good deal of money.
Most breeders are in that vast middle ground in which the actual costs, both obvious and hidden, surpass whatever payment the sale of puppies could bring, even if you ignore your time spent and consider it a labor of love. When I was breeding on a much larger scale (one or two litters every year), I was a professional handler and sold dog food on the side. Some years this put my business into the black, other years the dog-ledger bottom-line figures were in red ink. For a while, after becoming well-known in the breed, I relied principally on co-owners to raise my litters for me, and share the costs while they gained a brood bitch and expertise. Later, after I started judging and could no longer charge to handle for others (AKC & UKC rules), I had to rely principally on royalties to help me break even or better. (I wrote the definitive book on hip dysplasia and other orthopedic problems, in addition to the big breed book on the German Shepherd, both of which went into multiple editions.)
Veterinary Cost Tops The Dog Breeder’s Expense List
Without other income-producing activities, it’s almost 100% sure the quality show or pet breeder will go into the hole. But. Having made your decision to be either a regular or one-time-only breeder, how can you cut costs without adversely affecting your dogs’ health? During my heaviest exhibiting (handling my own and clients’ dogs), and breeding years, my biggest regular dog-business expenses were transportation, dog food, dog purchases/stud fees, miscellany including entry fees, advertising, and veterinary care and supplies.
The only reason vet bills were not near the top of this list is that I did most of my own medical and preventive procedures. Folks with no scientific background or training in canine medical care can lose their shirts paying the veterinarian for things they should learn to do themselves. Worming, vaccinations, dew-claw removal or tail docking in some breeds, and minor injury or illness care are examples. *see my article on worming in displays below. There will however, be veterinary expense for things the breeder cannot do, such as X-raying, diagnostics, and certifications. Veterinary care is possibly the biggest area where you can save money. But be careful: a little learning is a dangerous thing—“Do-it-yourself” is risky here.
Dog Vehicle And Miscellaneous Costs
The “3R’s” (running, repairing, and replacing the dog vehicle) expenses are partly hidden even with the best accounting methods. You can’t use a van or other vehicle for years and just figure the gasoline/petrol bill. The replacement van price five years later should be estimated and divided over that time, and such things as insurance, licenses, etc., are also often overlooked by the dog owner.
It is not only vehicle costs that you must calculate to see if you are losing money in this game. “Miscellaneous-costs” may include shipping, phone, postage, registration fees, supplies, etc. You might have to factor in fencing and dog housing costs, and advertising.
Let’s look at each item and see where the average breeder/dog fancier can save money. Much of these comments will apply to folks who aren’t into show competition. The first item, transportation to and from shows, will be negligible if you’re not into showing and/or you have a small breed that rides in the family car.
Dog Show Expenses Are Part Of Proving Your Breeding Program
Motel bills can be lumped into the miscellaneous entry or they can be a major “travel expense” category if you show away from home often. If you are just having “one litter for the kids” this won’t matter but if you continue to produce puppies, the quality of the parents should be proven in the show ring and the sire and dam’s genetic health should be appropriately certified.
Packing food from home saves a little compared to restaurants and concession stands. You can car-pool to some shows if there’s enough room for all the dogs as well as people. This could conceivably cut the transportation bill in half, more if you show Toys or small Terriers, because a Shepherd in a crate can take up room that a human and his small dog could utilize. You can concentrate on cluster shows to keep mileage down.
Quality Food Is Paramount To Your Breeding Stock
Whether its birds, hoof stock, or dogs, feeding your animals can be a big expense item for most fanciers. There are ways to reduce costs without detriment to their dogs’ nutrition. The best-known brands of dog food in a supermarket can cost almost twice as much as some local feed mill or co-op brands, yet may have less meat, protein, and fat because they are designed for the “middle” of the dog spectrum—the average.
Educated label-reading can help your pocketbook and your dog’s well-being. Verify meat (not meat meal!) is one of the first two ingredients. Don’t assume that the foods with the wildest claims or most advertised are superior to all others. It’s you who must pay for that advertising! The “protein” listed on the labels of the cheapest dog foods could be anything from feathers and beaks to eyelids and hooves.
The word “fat” could theoretically include something as non-nutritious as crankcase oil, though it is highly unlikely any food processor would stretch your imagination that far. Both the ingredients list and the analysis should be studied carefully, as should the food itself under a magnifying glass. As you have heard, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, in the dog.
Many breeders supplement in order to improve condition beyond that achieved from commercial rations, and you may find that the supermarket’s weekend special bargains in meats and poultry are a healthy way to cut costs. I made regular trips to processing and wholesale distribution plants where there were cracked eggs and outdated cottage cheese they were happy to sell cheap. (That may be impossible these days because of “consumer protection” laws and fears of lawsuits.) Cottage cheese and eggs are among the most digestible additives you can put in your dog’s diet, but you are unlikely to find them in even the best commercial dog foods.
If you don’t have a neighbor with chickens, a couple supermarket eggs a week and a frozen drumstick or chicken back will give gloss to the coat and keep tartar off the teeth. Do not thaw the raw chicken first or the bones will separate from the meat.
Saving $$$ On Veterinary Expenses
There is some wisdom in the commonly-held caution that many long-term experienced breeders give—that of staying away from the animal clinic because such places are likely to be full of germs. If you keep them at home, isolated from visiting dogs or human carriers of parvo until they are old enough to develop immunity through the vaccines, they have less risk of picking up contagious dog disease. That also means keeping other family dogs away from “dog parks” or dog shows when you have a new litter.
With the exception of rabies vaccine, you might talk to your veterinarian about giving the first round of vaccinations yourself. Offer to pay the standard office visit for him to take time to show you and possibly dispense the vaccines. You can also order shots online. Most puppy vaccines are for subcutaneous (under the skin) administration, and puppies have plenty of loose skin to pick up and get a needle beneath. Some things are best given to adults in the muscles, with such recommendations being on the package or the insert flyer, but there again, there’s plenty of room in the thighs. It would be preferable to have your veterinarian show you.
I advise dog owners to do their homework. Several years ago it was proven what many breeders already knew or suspected: that repeated vaccinations of most drugs are not necessary, that (after the puppy shots) the vaccinations given adults will generally last the dog’s lifetime.
Worming puppies is a must! You can take them to the veterinarian or purchase puppy wormer from your veterinarian or online. Today you can also buy over-the-counter tapeworm meds for your adult dogs.
4-C’s For Fleas
If you want to avoid or minimize the chemical approach, you can quite successfully prevent fleas most of the time by remembering the “4-C” maxim: Fleas abound most often if you have Cats, Carpets, Contacts, and Close quarters.
Dogs that live part of their time in the house that has vinyl or wood flooring, and part of their days in a large enough yard, and are kept from contact with cats (notorious for carrying fleas to dogs) seldom have to be treated for fleas. Dogs that have much contact with other dogs, whether it be at shows or play parks or having dog visitors, are at much higher risk.
Regular Grooming Protects Your Dog’s Health
A few words about other tips for economy and good health: Shampooing, nail cutting, coat clipping, and other grooming services should be done at home at a big savings. Pay a breeder for a couple of lessons if you have a breed that requires careful trimming, then do it yourself. There’s no reason that you can’t train your dog to lie still while you pare his nails or scrape the tartar from his teeth. *see teeth cleaning video in displays below. Start early so the puppy can be more controllable while it learns to lie still.
Economy Safety Fencing For Any Size Dog
It would be nice if everyone could afford six-foot chain link fencing but that is an expense which can be considerably reduced. Tip: we use “hog wire,” which is fairly heavy-gauge 4 x 4-in wire. Near the top of this four-foot-high fencing runs a single wire on insulators attached to and standing out from each post, the wire leading to an electric fence charger.
About eight inches from the ground (for wee puppies and would-be diggers), a second strand can complete the escape-resistant security system. The only place we use chain-link is on the concrete pads extending some 24 feet from the kennel building. For your yard or exercise area the electric fence is a safe, effective, and economical deterrent even when it’s turned off (the memory is still there). NOTE: be sure it is not shorted out by an abundance of weeds or during a heavy rain which might conduct the charge over the surface of the insulators to the nails holding them to the posts.
Cutting Expenses By Cutting Numbers
Finally, a sure way to reduce expenses—but one that will be resisted by a lot of readers—is to dispose of (sell, give to relatives) all dogs that are not performing some needed function. Time after time I run across families who’ve let their enthusiasm and love for dogs run away with their common sense.
Many of these become “half-families” because the friction over changed life styles frequently leads to divorce. An owner of a male dog buys a breeding female, has a litter or two, finds it hard to sell all the pups, and becomes mired to his knees in the physical and emotional mess. That point may be four or five dogs with some folks, 25 with others, but whenever it is reached the owners wake up (hopefully) to find they are spending most of their time cleaning kennels and feeding puppies, and spending most of their money on the dog activity, too. One or two brood bitches should be enough for most breeders, and it’s cheaper to lease a brood bitch or “rent” the services of a stud dog than to buy either one. Besides, you can change the bloodlines easier that way, too.
Best Economy For Breeders Is To Reduce Litter Costs
The ideal setup is to have deposits on pups even before the breeding takes place, so you’re not swamped by hungry adolescent pups that have not sold for some reason. Having a co-owner for your brood bitch (such as someone you bought her from on a share basis) can save you a little money and move puppies thanks to that person’s good reputation and advertising.
Litters costs start to mount fast at two to four months, when the pups eat a whole lot more and need a bunch of vaccinations. You may want to lower the sale price to cut your losses, but don’t go too low or your buyer will not value the dog.
Culling defective pups at or soon after birth will remove costs before they amount to anything. If any grown dog in your kennel serves no purpose (breeding, guard, children’s playmate, obedience, showdog, field trials, beloved companion, etc.), or is not living out its last retirement years with respect and honor, sell it. Or give it to your mother-in-law.
If you’re losing money, more dogs will help you lose it faster.
Advertising Your Litter Of Perfect Puppies
Advertising expense and efficacy will vary. Just remember that advertising demands a long term commitment to be cost-effective. The chances of selling dogs are much greater if the public repeatedly sees your name than if you advertise only sporadically. I placed many dogs with people who told me they had read my ads for many years before buying a pup or adult from me. Repetition is the key to getting your advertising dollar back, however, magazine advertising on a regular basis is only suitable for people who have a near-constant supply of pups or stud service.
Newspaper advertising is quick, but one of the least effective and therefore most expensive because: (1.) The paper is thrown away after being perused; (2.) It covers a small geographical area and most readers are non-buyers of dogs, and (3.) You are competing with the cheap backyard “accidentals” as well as the lower quality dogs in your breed. People have not learned to go to the newspapers when they decide to buy a dog of quality. If they do, part of Murphy’s Law states that it’s bound to be a week after your ad has expired.
Competition in the specialty breed magazines, most of whose dogs probably have similar bloodlines, often is too stiff a cost. And, these days, print advertising is waning so fast that most dogs and services are now sold on the Internet.
The similarity to regularly-running magazine ads of the past is that you need constant exposure, an eye-catching look that quickly catches the attention, and other things that I, not being a computer nerd, have little or no expertise in. If you are website-savvy, you can probably skip all the paper-&-ink means of advertising and take advantage of a world-wide but credible internet advertising program. Even for a one-time litter event, internet advertising may be your best bet.
Economizing in dogs is possible, if you put your mind to it. Just don’t go to extremes like the farmer who kept adding higher percentages of sawdust to his chickens’ feed. One day a nest of eggs hatched, and out came ten peg-legged chicks and a woodpecker!
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