An animal breeder assists and co-ordinates reproduction of pedigree animals to produce money or to protect a species.
Animal breeding is a branch of animal science whereby selection through knowledge of genealogy and desirable traits leads to a desired set of offspring. Animal breeders strive to meet certain standards for the animal’s purpose, often set by organisations. Breeders produce pedigree animals for sale, for shows or for preservation of species. A person aiming to find the most efficient method of producing the highest quality meat from an animal can also be referred to as an animal breeder. The job can fall into both the scientific field, and the agricultural field, depending on the intended purpose of the stock produced.
Animal breeders are responsible for the conditions for producing offspring, as well as the selection and the initial care of infant animals. With this in mind, an animal breeder often needs to observe young offspring in the first few weeks/months of their lives, feed and water them, ensure they are vaccinated, generally care for their well-being, as well as building the environment they will temporarily live in. Not all animals are bred for sale, therefore animal breeders may be responsible for their care throughout their entire life. Animal breeders producing young for sale as pets or show animals are responsible for the marketing and selling side of the business.
Animal breeder salaries are vastly wide ranging. For example, scientific animal breeders employed by a company for research and engineering can earn a basic salary of around £17,700 a year whereas animal breeders who produce agricultural animals and livestock can earn between £11,800 and £37,500.
There are many factors that affect wages for animal breeders. Firstly, animal breeders who sell their offspring are hugely affected by the frequency of production, as more regular breeding supplies more animals for sale. Secondly, the type of animal and species also impacts salary as more highly sought after animals and species sell for a higher price. For scientific research, experience in the field, level of skill and type of animal can account for a higher salary as certain animals are considered more important to research.
The term ‘animal breeder’ is very broad and therefore responsibilities of the job can vary according to the purpose of the animals after birth. Generally responsibilities include:
- Researching and learning genealogy and animal specifics
- Care for animals that will be bred, including feeding and watering them, seeking care for injury and ailments, having them vaccinated and tending to their living environment
- Care for the animals who will be breeding (see above)
- Observing ovulation cycles and patterns of mating
- Artificial insemination is often required
- Assessing and recording data regarding fertility
- Arranging the sale of animals or rehousing
- Organising medical procedures such as neutering for newborn animals
In order to become a breeder of domestic pets or show animals, no specific academic qualifications are necessary. There are, however, qualifications available such as diplomas in breeding certain domestic animals such as cats and dogs. These are useful for the promotion of sale and for gaining the necessary knowledge of procedures.
When looking to breed animals for agricultural purposes, most employers will look for a degree in agricultural science. Although not necessary, it will often set candidates apart from others, or could be a company-specific requirement.
People who would like to breed more exotic animals for zoo purposes or for scientific research need a Bachelor of Science degree in a related field such as zoology, veterinary science or animal science.
Licences for breeding animals should also be considered when contemplating the prospect of being an animal breeder. Depending on the type of animal, the purpose of breeding and the frequency of breeding, a licence may be required. All information on animal breeding licences can be found on your local council website.
The skills required to be an animal breeder are far ranging and often unexpected. This is because animal breeders need to be scientists, businessmen, carers and social activists all at once. Animal breeders must:
- have knowledge and understanding of scientific method for experimentation and procedures
- be able to take observational notes and record data
- be caring and patient with animals
- have a keen interest in animal welfare
- be socially aware of the ethics surrounding the breeding of animals
- be able to plan an alternative if the rehousing or sale of animals does not follow birth
- understand the importance of cleanliness and be able to maintain this level at all times
- have a good working relationship with the local vet and be able to recognise basic signs of illness or injury in their animals
- have a good knowledge of health and safety procedures and follow them accordingly
The working conditions for an animal breeder will vary according to the type of breeding. A domestic breeder will often work inside, either in their home or in an animal shelter, whereas agricultural or zoo breeders will often work outdoors and scientific researchers will mainly work in laboratories.
Animal breeders must be prepared to work in all weathers as animals will often need time outdoors for walking or playing. Animals are often kept in kennels or shelters and will be frequently fed outside, meaning more exposure to the outdoors. Equally, animals often need to be relocated, so working may sometimes include travelling in an enclosed vehicle with the animals. Work can be physically demanding when preparing the environment for animals to live in, especially those breeding livestock and other agricultural animals.
There are varying hazards associated with being an animal breeder including bites and injuries from the animals themselves. Secondly, disease or infection from animals can be hazardous to humans, as well as exposure to waste or other bacteria. When working with animals, breeders must ensure they wear protective clothing and follow health and safety procedures, especially hand washing – both for the protection of themselves and the animals. Working with large numbers of animals can also be a noisy and pungent environment to work in so animal breeders need to be prepared for this.
Animal breeders can expect to work different hours depending on who they work for. Often though, animal breeders will need to be on call 24/7 in case an animal needs help or care, or is injured or ill. This can mean long unsalaried hours.
Experience isn’t a formal necessity to become an animal breeder but is often a good idea. Before starting out with animals, having a good knowledge base around the traits, characteristics and genealogy of the animal is essential. There are work experience opportunities on farms and in zoos that are useful when considering animal breeding. Many companies will not employ a person without a basic level of work experience, which shows that the applicant is capable of handling, caring and dealing with animals.
Some degree programmes such as veterinary science include periods of work experience (sourced by the individual), therefore making experience an academic requirement.
- Agricultural business
- Government departments
- Conservation and preservation programmes
- Private contractors looking to breed for shows
Many animal breeders are self-employed.
Career progression in animal breeding is not like that found in a usual office job. Often progression is a sideways move rather than up ‘another rung on the ladder’. Often self-employed animal breeders will start their own businesses or will look to be employed by other companies. People employed within companies can look to gain managerial positions or to specialise in certain fields. Some animal breeders go on to become show judges, assist with national breeding organisations or become lobbyists and campaigners.
Donna Peynado has been a cat breeder for over 18 years and currently runs a successful cattery named Strawbell Pedigree Cats. Here’s what she has to say about breeding cats:Donna, why did you decide to become a cat breeder?
"My family and I simply adore cats."
As a cat breeder, what are the responsibilities that you face every day?
"I have to ensure the cats and kittens are happy in their current environment and in every new home that they go to. I have to feed the adult cats twice a day and the kittens three times per day. At Strawbell Pedigree Cats, all soil must be removed from litter trays immediately to ensure the animals are clean. We also ensure that all cats and kittens are kept warm and fully protected for any harsh weather outdoors. In fact, we keep all of our cats indoors or in an enclosure. I have to make sure they are fully exercised and kept alert by playing with them. This is extremely important to their welfare. I have to keep an eye out for any signs of illness etc. so they can be checked out and treated by a Vet. All of our Pedigree cats and kittens are checked by a vet at least twice before they go to a new home and fully vaccinated and micro chipped."
What do you love most about breeding cats?
"We are always pleased when Strawbell Pedigree Cats produce kittens and see them born, grow up and then they are handed to their new adoptive parents. We are also delighted when their new owners keep in touch with us and send us photos to say their kittens are all safe and well."
What’s not so good or particularly challenging?
"We dislike when someone takes a kitten home and they move and we never hear from them again. The most challenging thing is vetting individuals before they are assigned a kitten to ensure that all kittens are in safe and comfortable homes."
Are there any specific qualifications or licences you need to breed cats?
"At Strawbell, we have ensured that at least one of us is certified in Feline Cat Care so as to look out for and to prevent any ill health a cat may encounter. In the UK, licences are required for any dangerous wild animals but not for domestic cats."
What type of skills or experience are handy when breeding cats?
"Vast amounts of love for cats and the time to care for them to ensure they have a happy life. We would always suggest to potential breeders that they get in touch with other really experienced breeders and ask them to mentor them for the particular breed they intend to produce. Also talk to their local vet for help and support in breeding cats."
Lastly, if somebody was considering breeding cats, what insider advice would you give them?
"To do their research and never breed kittens hoping to find new homes for them. Always ensure you can find really good homes for each and every kitten. If not, be prepared to keep the kitten. Another key thing is to ensure that all cats are clean. All cats really love a clean environment and they love to climb so a great deal of space is required to ensure they do so. They love to be warm and they get involved with everything you do – so ensure all cats are kept safe from tumble dryers, washing machines etc. Also, kittens are like babies so you have to be prepared to work at any time of the day. Strawbell Pedigree Cats are on call for each cat that resides with us 24/7."