Another Year in Review: Update on Confessions of a Bengal Breeder
Updated: 5 days ago
While we registered our cattery in April 2016 and got our first girl in February of 2017, we didn’t have our first litter until January 2018. Last year we wrote a blog So You Want to Breed Bengals-Confessions of a Bengal Breeder that detailed our trials and tribulations in our first year of breeding. We covered topics like relationships, health, finances, social issues, housing, food and much more. There seems to be a misconception that like other “businesses” you start making a profit after the first year. With breeding it’s a little different. Things change regularly and there is a higher change of accidents or medical care. You also have to think on your feet and make adjustments that often will cost money. We’ll revisit the topics of last years blog and update our readers on some new things we had to navigate this year. So let’s dive in! FINANCIAL
Finances will always be a part of breeding. While this is a “business” it most likely never will be profitable it’s always something on the mind far outside the sale of kittens.
At this point we obviously don’t have start up costs. We have our foundation breeding cats fairly established and we don’t plan on purchasing more. That being said of the seven cats we inherited from our mentor and five cats we had already in 2018, we had retired fives cats in 2019 (two of our inherited cats were retired in 2018 due to pyometra without a litter being produced and a mitral valve dysplasia). a) One female was only 10 months own when she contracted pyometra this year and relapsed twice there after WITH treatment before even producing a litter. b) One female did not like being a mother and was retired at just 2 years old. c) Two males were 5 years old and one was getting aggressive due to sexual frustration and raging hormones. Of these cats, we had two for almost a year before they found their forever home (in addition to three older kittens whose homes had fallen through but later found homes at 8 and 10 months). Normally we would health test all cats entering our home. While we didn’t purchase new cats or kittens for our program, some expected and unexpected tests needed to be performed this year. (See Medical below for more). Other expenses we incurred this year included: Renovations to provide better nursing/delivery suites and kitten room for our moms and kittens $7600.
Basic operating costs 2019:
$662 of cat litter, litter pans and trash bags or 1900 lbs of litter
$8850 for cat food (which required about 10,000 paper plates costing about $200)
$50 of water or 62 galleons
$1130 in Cleaning supplies which doesn’t include $585 to have help cleaning (FUN FACT: We go through 16 rolls of paper towels a month)
Expected Medical Cost
HCM screening $1281 (plus gas and time to drive 4.5 hours away to screen)
Spay and Neuters and other Veterinary Care $3505
Unexpected Medical Costs
$4250 Broken Knee, Respiratory distress and ER visit, sick visits, Respiratory PCR (polymerase chain reaction) on the whole cattery and more.
Showing Cost This year we increased our showing presence which cost about $1055 in showing fees (considered a very low showing presence) this does not include gas, hotel, food while traveling or airfare)
$4761 for electricity, heating, air conditioning etc.
TOTAL so far : approximately $33,750 Of course there were other costs for new cat trees, toys, pet sitters, advertising cost (business cards) items for kitten kits, medications and basic first aid items or the basic costs of living our lives and paying bills outside of our cattery.
A large majority of these costs are related to the operation of the cattery and some are included in the raising of our kittens (spay/neuter, litter, food, water etc.) But to raise just one kitten costs about $300 and this is much more reasonable by most. We have worked hard to creatively source the things we need as well as make many things like preparing our own raw versus purchasing premade. Each litter is 4-6 kittens on average but can be more (we had a litter of 7 this year) or less (we had a litter of 2 this year) or $1200-$1800 per litter IF everything goes smoothly and there are no problems.
This does not include toys, cat trees, medical equipment for first aid and birthing, office expenses for record keeping, advertising expenses, website costs etc. unexpected medical costs or emergencies.
Within the first year (2016-2017) our costs were as follows :
Start Up and years operating costs $33,883
Profit from kittens $7200
From 2018-2019 we made $51,000 but our profit was only $8,000 after all our expenses and costs were factored in.
From 2019-2020 we made $35,000, but our profit was -$10,000 after all our expenses and costs were factored in.
Our home was purchased specifically knowing we were going to breed. While we had our main cattery space all set up for the boys, most of the year our moms and kittens were in our living room, bathrooms and bedrooms. In 2018 we inherited many of our cats from our retiring mentor and without having this preplanned we suddenly found ourselves with almost no living space due to housing the cats in our home. This year we knew we needed to renovate and renovate fast to make sure we had our own living space but also so our mothers and kittens had appropriate and comfortable quarters where they felt safe and stress free from the hustle and bustle of our personal lives and away from the spraying and calling boys. Our mothers now have 4 beautiful and comfortable, private nursing and delivery suites and the kittens now have a kitten room filled to the brim with toys, textures, sounds, windows, cat trees and much more. We successfully have transitions most of the cats from our personal living space.
We also better equipped the Stud Room. We completely stripped the floor of a cheap epoxy paint from Lowe’s (that peeled up a week after installing) and purchased a $200 per gallon epoxy industrial paint which also involved renting a floor sander and pads and removing all the cats from the area for over 24 hours.
I have my bedroom and bathroom back and the Stud Room is so much easier to clean but it came at the expense of a pretty penny of $7600.
There are some medical costs that are very predictable such as genetic testing, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) screening and spay and neuters. While you won’t always be able to predict the amount of kittens you have you have a general idea. It’s the unexpected that you can’t entirely prepare for. This year we had a few issues that took most of the year to figure out, lots of various medications, vet visits and tests including performing a respiratory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on the whole cattery which alone cost $1500. Unfortunately these setbacks (which can afflict any cattery even if you are doing everything right) also affected some of our kittens and unfortunately several passed away. We did everything we could for them at home, at our regular vet as well as trips to the emergency room. It was a hard year medically and while we seemed to have fixed the issue, we still lost several kittens we loved and cared for with all our time, energy and resources.
I always say expect the unexpected and medically with breeding cats this is 100% true. No matter how much you research, vaccinate, medicate, be proactive, something inevitably will happen unfortunately. It could be an emergency c-section or pyometra. It could be bacteria, viral or fungal. It can be isolated in a litter of kittens or spread through your whole entire cattery including domestic rescues and depending on the situation your other companion animals. It can be pests like fleas, ticks, parasites, or worms. It could be anatomical like cancer, kidney failure, liver shunts. Some things are easy to treat others take weeks or months to treat. You may have to treat multiple times with the same or different medications and protocols. You may not even know what it is. Some may require expensive tests or surgeries. Really the possibilities are endless.
You may need to employ numerous vets in order to get a well-rounded treatment and some may give you trouble just for being a breeder. Others may be difficult because they are general practitioners and aren’t up to date on more complicated cases or reproductive care.
This year we lost our raw food supplier. At the time we were getting a 60% discount which obviously really helped. We were lucky to find a supplier that delivered to our area for a slightly lower cost (about $0.10-$0.50 cheaper) however while they supplied bulk ingredients and premade products, their premade products were well over $3-$5 per lb. While this may be common others, when feeding for free to $1.50/lb prior, this was a bit of a shocker so we resorted to going back to preparing raw ourselves (commercial dry or wet food was in no way an option). It was great that we found a quality supplier who was more locally sourced to us but unfortunately we no longer had a company making pre-mades (we now had to prepare ourselves which takes about 8 hours) for us nor one that shipped right to our door (we now needed to pick up an hour away) we also had to store less (prior our food came frozen flat in 10 lbs packs, now we were using plastic bins which took up more space) but we also needed to buy a grinder that could handle the amount of food we needed to process (while we recommend chunked and whole meats, when you have medium sized cattery like ours with litters of kittens, its much harder for us to prep without grinding).
Moms and kittens still eat a lot and sometimes males even more food. This year we increased all our males food as they were not maintaining a good body weight and several of our girls had larger litters. Not only is that more food required when the kittens wean to solids, but that also means more food for moms with large litters and to maintain weight while nursing. One mother with a litter of six required about 4 ⅔ cups of food a day and even then it was hard to keep weight on her.
Having the nursing and delivery suites actually helped all the cleaning we needed to do. Prior I was cleaning the entire house and cattery daily however I am still a glorified pooper scooper. While my adults poop every 2-3 days they still pee whether in the box or on the walls (my spraying boys) and the kittens need the litter done at least daily.
Awhile ago we had switched from metal bowls to paper plates (recycling them and using them in the non food grade compost) because we lost our supplier we had daily bins to clean, measuring cups and silverware as well as our prep stuff after making food.
In addition we did hire a cleaning lady to help here and there. While I work from home, I do have other responsibilities aside from caring for the cattery and as long as I have boys there will always be more than enough to clean. Its extremely helpful when we take (a very limited) holiday trip to see family or when I have a food prep day and cannot clean and prep food at the same time. BEHAVIOR
Behavior primarily will always be the same. Hormones play a whole other role in how a male or female interacts with others and behave in their own environment. All they want to do will be to reproduce. We have retired a few of our boys that have instigated others and we have worked with our home grown boys to the point where we can let them all out while cleaning without little problems. Of course this is not common and we would never do this unsupervised. We are able to pair off most of our females but unfortunately there are a few that just don’t get long and it can be touchy at times when they have babies and we need to wait to reintroduce.
We are always learning. Each year new information comes out that helps us all understand our companion, advances in animal science, genetics and behavior. Sometimes we are even a part of this. This year we took an active part in getting the charcoal pattern effect accepted by TICA. While we are in the end stage and hope for acceptance by May 2020 we did a lot of campaigning this year. Not just with other breeders on facebook and social media but through shows including flying to Las Vegas for the TICA Annual (which also included seminars from notable researchers working with our breed). We’ve interacted and talked to committee and board members, wrote a proposal that needed to be seen by TICA and the breed community that was genetically sound and compliant with the TICA rules. We have facilitated over 50 bengals being registered as charcoals, gathered breeders to write statements of support for the addition and helped to show 10 charcoal bengals in the show hall (which includes disregarding points and titles). This also involved paying a few hundred dollars not only to change pre existing cats’ registration but also show fees, as well as processing fees to submit proposals and applying for community polls.
TIME Boy is this still a biggy in more ways than one. This year we had many girls go in heat early (with 6 week old kittens) and some that refused to come out of heat forcing us to breed sooner than we’d like in order to avoid pyometra. Sometimes this didn’t work out in our favor. One of our girls pyo’d at just 10 months and while we were successfully able to treat it, she needed to be bred right after at 11 months (while not ideal this is common and a recommended practice by other breeders and veterinarians).
This year we nursed several kittens around the clock. It’s very tiring and honestly stressful as you worry about them constantly. One kitten needed to be rushed to the emergency vet late at night which is an hour away.
While many people take breeding as a hobby, it really isn’t, it is a full-time job that frankly no one gets paid enough to do. While I don’t count my time I did ask my pet sitter and cleaning lady while I was away on holiday, how long it takes them to do everything. My pet sitter said about 1.5-2 hours twice a day and my cleaning lady said 4 hours to clean the whole cattery. I pay my pet sitter $40 a day (inexpensive by the way so I do tip him) and $90 a day for my cleaning lady. So IF I were to truly pay myself just for the cleaning and basic care. I should pay myself $130/day or $47,500 per year which doesn’t include socializing the kittens, giving love and attention to the adults, sitting and waiting to for kittens to be born, nursing kittens around the clock, prepping food etc. EMOTIONS
This “job” is very emotional. At times there are a lot of ups and days within one day.
Socially there can be a lot of stigmas against breeding. At times you will have to deal with emotionally charged discussions with other breeders in regards to how kittens are raised and placed, ethics, values, discussions/gossips about other breeders/groups of breeders, etc. In other words there are difficult situations just with relating with other breeders. Pet owners or rescue only advocates can be very degrading and make you feel like a terrible person for adding to the pet population for example. Pet owners or potential pet owners can get nasty if something doesn’t work the way they want and some may even try to report you to the better business bureau, scam sites, or animal control, while others may smear your name elsewhere.
Aside from social stigmas, there are emotional tolls breeding can take on you. Kittens can be born stillborn, with their intestines outside their body, or suffer an illness that later kills them despite all your efforts, among many, many other things that can be emotionally hard.
An illness may ravage your cats and treating everyone, going to the vet, trying to figure out what the problem is can be very upsetting and add additional stress to your life.
Rehoming kittens or retiring adults can also be difficult. All the time spent raising and caring for them you obviously form a deep connection with them. It can be hard letting them go. While some pet owners will keep you updated others will not and you don't know how your kittens are doing. Further so, some pet owners may not raise them the way you want which can be discouraging, yet there is little you can do.
This partially goes hand in hand with the above EMOTION section but breeding to one's surprise can really affect your relationships. From my personal experience, while my husband is very supportive of breeding, I know my husband has felt trapped in the house with all the cats, the messes had been overwhelming, and he felt they are not only taking over our living space, but destroying it as well despite us being in the process or renovating to accommodate the cats and our living space. Luckily with the renovations of the nursing/delivery suites and kitten room helped my husband’s feelings immensely. It has reduced a lot of stress for everyone and he now enjoys the kittens and cats in a different light.
VACATION Vacations are few and fewer. This year I did show a little but my husband mainly stayed home to care for the cats. While we planned a few trips to see family most fell through after finding it difficult to find someone we not only trusted but willing to care for everyone and take on the responsibilities we do on a regular basis. It's not typical my husband and I can both go away together. Far to often only one of use can go away at a time. We successful were able to attend a family wedding and see family for Christmas. Otherwise we are homebound. A few times family has came to use but many don’t stay here and instead get a hotel despite us having space to house guests. They don’t have a problem with the cats but especially when they were in our main living space some felt their quality of sleep was poor or felt they were imposing on our daily routines.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND And finally .....We do maintain a waiting list, often consisting of 40-50 people however there are times we don’t have what people on our list are looking for or its not the right time due to moving, renovating, finances or other circumstance. So one of the most important things to remember is that you may have kittens longer than your set go home date. You should have the time, resources and space to keep each of your kittens and even adults just in case. We had a roller coaster of a year with plenty of ups and downs. We learned a lot in many aspects of breeding that has led us to a new understanding of our program and how to better care for our babies. It’s a constant ebb and flow of reflecting on what you are doing, what you can change and conversing with others to improve what you are doing.
Happy New Year and here’s to a great 2020!