Run, Skip and Hop Degu 1999
One of the biggest problems l ever encountered when running the small domestic livestock business some 18 years ago was that when you landed a contract to a huge pet store chain and in this case for me between the years of 1994 – 2002 supplying Pet City UK was that they atypically always wanted top quality and 100% healthy animals – which is perfectly acceptable and should be a given – but at the lowest and most competitive price possible.
In truth no different to any industry that buys huge quantities of product, like for instance supermarkets buying from the agricultural market, they are seeking the best price, so that they can make a profit. However what many industries forget is that THEY are not the only ones looking to profit, in the case of the example here – farmers are looking to profit from all of their hard work, planting and seeding, growing, harvesting and cropping – it stands to reason. Many a time most supermarkets neither care nor take into consideration any of the expenditures that farmers and suppliers incur. The same applied to the pet supply industry.
Breeders like myself had to always ensure that we had healthy breeding stocks, that we kept our animals in top quality housing, that they were fed, watered and maintained on a very healthy regime in order to produce healthy offspring and weaning youngsters. That we had to once the young were weaned off their parents that they were kept clean and healthy and were of the right age to be transported out to the shops who had placed orders. The big buyers seemingly believed that just because they were huge contracts, that you could only supply them with your wares or in my case animals, and that we should always be grateful that they were doing business with us.
One of my biggest expenditures when it came to the shipping and transporting of livestock all over the UK to 33 stores nationwide was the cost of transport itself, the secondary expenses were in fact the carrier boxes. The latter had to be a specific box of a certain material that was long enough to ship certain quantities without overcrowding, wide enough for the same reason and deep enough to ensure that the animals didn’t become too stressed and able to accomodate a good 3″ of shavings and bedding so that they would be comfortable, with some food for the travel times.
I used Amtrak to ship and they charged like wounded bulls, and after a relatively tough period of running at a loss between the years of 1996 – 1998 l decided that l would in fact deliver myself. This meant that l was in total control of all costings, the boxes could be specifically made from wood which was safer than the waxed and corrugated cardboard l had to buy in from elsewhere, but also it meant that l could make them to a more generous measurement and with a more easily controlled method of opening and closing as well as it would mean l would get my boxes back. There was only one hitch … l am not a driver! That meant l had to rely upon others to drive me to the locations themselves.
Now as it happened, l was very lucky l had a small circle of friends and family that would help and assist me. I travelled with all deliveries but would also pay handsomely the drivers, and still doing that l made a much healthier profit, albeit the only downside was the time element it could take delivering to some of the locations further afar from where l lived in Lincolnshire.
The deliveries themselves dealt with the usual suspects, mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, chinchillas, guinea pigs, rabbits, but also as l became more ‘elitist’ in my breeding, later deliveries had on board some more exotic species, notably, jirds, jerboas, sugar gliders, chipmunks and degus!
There was another downside to delivering yourself, and whilst it didn’t happen often, out of sixty transports it DID happen three times, this tales deals with the first escape ever … and our escapees were in fact an entire boxload of 50 degus!
I used to run and house a large colony of this charming and cheeky rodent species – the Common Degu ‘Octodon degus‘ The common degu is a small animal with a body length of 25.0 to 31.0 cm (9.8–12.2 in) and a weight of 170 to 400 g (6.0 to 14.1 oz). It has yellow-brown fur above and creamy-yellow below, with yellow around the eyes and a paler band around the neck. It has a long, thin tail with a tufted, black tip, dark sparsely furred ears, and pale grey toes. Its fifth toe is small with a nail, rather than a claw, on the fore feet. Its hind feet are bristled. Its cheek teeth are shaped like figures-of-eight, hence the degu’s genus name Octodon.
They were a truly [in my eyes] beautiful species of rodent, they were affectionate and loving and had an incredible vocalisation range of noises, from chirping to purring and barking.
The driver for the delivery was none other than my [ex] wife. As a delivery team we worked well, however after this escape she would NEVER drive any animals for me ever again, such was the trauma [her words] of the journey.
We were to deliver fifteen transport boxes of animals to Guildford in Surrey to the Pet City store located there. There were to be the usual rats, mice, gerbils, hamsters and the box of 50 degus! Back then, l preferred to deliver slightly older animals than other breeders. I worked on the theory that if they were slightly older, they were less prone to serious transport stress and therefore wouldn’t become ill, and therefore had a much better survival chance when placed into a different location’s environment, and this meant that my degus were not six weeks of age, but closer to ten weeks. This also means that they were slightly bigger than six weekers and with that it also meant that they had more potential for more’chewing damage’.
All rodents chew, they have teeth designed to chew and gnaw and degus were no exception. I remember clearly that Saturday in March 1999, all boxes were packed and my wife and l were in good spirits as we left Market Deeping bound for Guildford at around 9am.
We had stopped just prior to getting on the motorway for a McDonald’s breakfast, and l was able to check all the stocks and water where necessary – another benefit of having your own specially made transporter boxes, you could water them. However what l didn’t know was that when l checked on the degus l hadn’t closed the lid properly and with the motion of the car journey, it slid open!
Now when animals escape, and let’s use mice and rats as the example, every single one of them will clamber out and it’s a mass escape. With gerbils and jirds, you might have one or two venture out and with hamsters and guinea pigs, well you could have no lids at all and they wouldn’t bother, but degus … well that’s the thing, they are a clever species. They will send one or three out to investigate and then they slowly escape. They are also remarkably keen and astute climbers, jumpers and navigators of all sorts of terrain, ostacles and hurdles!! They can scale anything!
In the passenger seat if not talking l usually took to counting things, to ease off the boredom, l used to be a terrible fidget and didn’t like sitting in one location for too long, and so took to making words out of number plates, or counting certain colours of trucks and lorries and cars, or counting trees and then trying to calculate how many leaves there might be in a single tree, you know that sort of thing.
My wife was concentrating on the traffic in front of her as we had not long come off the motorway and found ourselves winding our way down some country traffic lanes. I happened to glance in the mirror as l thought l had heard a strange noise, the wife heard it as well and asked if the animals were all secure and l took a cursory glance and told her yes everything was fine. Once l checked , l turned my attention back to the counting.
Except within the space of perhaps thirty seconds, l heard this strange noise again, a kind of chirping. Now l knew the degus made that kind of noise and l looked again, everything was clear, and l was just in the process of turning around to face the front again when l spotted her or him or whatever on the parcel shelf just looking at me with a cheeky grin on its face.
The wife asked if everything was alright? I pondered for a second on whether to worry her or not when suddenly l saw that the one had now been joined by another and it too was looking at me with a sly grin!
“Uh oh!” I said.
“What do you mean ‘uh oh’ what does ‘uh oh’ actually mean Rory??” She asked.
“Well l can see two degus on the parcel shelf.”
“You mean they are out and about?”
“Yeahuh, that’s exactly what l mean. But no problem you keep driving and l will sort it out.”
“Are you sure, l can stop?”
“No, don’t be silly, it’s two animals, l can get them, no panic it’s not like the whole box is loose.” I answered. [Famous last words in hindsight!]
I unbuckled my seat belt and wiggled my way through the two seats and cooed to the two animals and reached out for them when suddenly they scattered. But l then saw the lid of the box off, and there were only perhaps 20 animals in there!?
“UH OH!!” I grunted louder than l had meant to.
“What do you mean UH OH? Do you need me to stop?”
“Nope l am good” [l lied]
“I can stop, l just need to know if l need to, there is a layby coming up in a couple of miles. Do you need me to stop??”
At that point, my wife concentrating on the road and the traffic ahead of us, my two legs sticking out between the driver and passenger seat and the rest of my body contorted in an unsual angle, l saw the depth of the problem! There were degus everywhere, in the footwells, sitting on the other boxes and running around in the boot. So l decided on some small humour as l could sense the wife getting slightly angry [perhaps justifiably]. “We have a problem here Houston, we need to make an emergency stop!!”
However, a car had just cut acroos her vision and she swerved to avoid hitting it, which meant that l swung unnaturally in the back seat, boxes scattered everywhere and so did the degus! Suddenly they were not just everywhere but everywhere all over me. I could feel them running over my back and up my legs towards the driver.
“Rory, do l need to stop or wh..aaaaaaarrrrhhhhhh what the fuck???!!”
She was screaming in the front, the car was swerving erratically, and l was being knocked around in the back against the wooden boxes!!
The degus had decided to jump onto her and apparently a dozen or so had leapt into her lap, on her shoulders and her head and she was just overrun with degus who by this time were past chirping but were barking and squealing at her. She never knew they could make so many noises or that they could become so frantically upset! The clip above shows one making an assortment of noises, well imagine a car filled with upset and angry degus!
Meanwhile l was trying to capture the escapees who were not having any bar of that and everytime l caught one, l was bitten. By the time she had managed to stop the car and scrambled outside once she was free of the animals in her clothing and her hair and trying to recover from having her neck and ear lobes bitten, she had slammed the door shut and was glaring at me inside trying to capture them all.
Which took me an hour actually, but they were all caught up, and the lid was secured tightly. My hands had been bitten or roughly nipped around thirty times, and l was in quite the state!
I can’t believe she didn’t help!
However, finally we were on the road again to Guildford and arrived forty five minutes later looking somewhat worse for wear with bloodied hands and sawdust in my hair and a wife who had developed this fearsome scowl . On the return journey, she didn’t talk to me apart from these 9 words “I AM NEVER driving you again! Got It Buster?” It was around three weeks later when she actually started talking to me again properly.
Personally I think she was overreacting, it wasn’t like anyone died. Some people eh?
So how about you, would you have simply handled it or freaked out big time??