How to Raise Your Own Snake Food: A Helpful Guide

Raising your own snake food takes work, but you’ll save money. Raising your own snake food also offers the convenience of not having to drive to a pet shop once a week or paying hefty shipping prices for bulk rodents. While breeding rodents isn’t for everyone, it may be the right choice for you.

When to breed mice

While buying rodents from a pet shop or distributor costs money, raising your own rodents also has some overhead. These days I buy all my rodents in bulk, frozen. That’s what works best for me and my current situation, but that wasn’t always the case. I raised both mice and rats at different times over the years, mice in the late 1990s and rats in the early 2000s. 

How to raise your own snake food
Pinkie mice.

Before you jump into a rodent breeding project, there are some things you must know. Take these points into consideration.

How to raise your own snake food
Common white mice. Only one male is needed in this enclosure.

Breeding mice

Breeding mice are easier than breeding rats. They smell less, eat less, and take up less space. You can set up your breeding project in different ways but I’m only going to cover how I did it and what worked for me.

I bred mice exclusively in the late 1990s because I had several snakes that wouldn’t take pre-killed or frozen/thawed at the time. In that particular situation, it was worth breeding mice for the first year until they all successfully switched over to frozen/thawed.

What you need to breed mice

Sexing mice and rats

Sexing mice and rats is extremely easy. Males have two large testicles which are extremely conspicuous. If you pick a male mouse up by the tail, the testicles hang out. Females obviously lack this and only have a small hole below the base of the tail with a small dot below it.

Male mouse
With a male mouse, protruding testicles are easily seen making them distinguishable from females.
Female mouse
Female mice lack the bulge and only have a small hole below the base of the tail with a small dot below it.

Mouse enclosure

For larger breeding projects, racks similar to those used for snakes are utilized. This is for mass production, usually for selling them off for profit as feeders. Believe me, this is harder than it sounds.

Setups

For the sake of the article, I’m going to cover a smaller project for self-use. I used glass ten-gallon tanks with wire mesh covers and locks. Besides that, I also used two large Rubbermaid tubs.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using Rubbermaid tubs. Advantages include they’re cheaper in price, have more floor space, and is lighter than glass tanks makes them easier to clean. One disadvantage is the mice sometimes escape, especially males. While pregnant mice are simply too heavy to jump and hold on the edge, males, being more nimble do it with ease.

There are ways around this but there are also things you shouldn’t do

One may think poking a bunch of holes in the lid of the Rubbermaid lid or along the sides of the enclosure will keep mice from escaping. The main problem with this is mice need sufficient ventilation. If they don’t have proper ventilation, the enclosure becomes too humid and wet, causing the mice to get sick.

Also, any holes poked on the side of the enclosure within the mouses reach are a prime target for chewing. This, in turn, makes the holes large enough for them to escape. The only thing you can do is buy a Rubbermaid that’s high enough to where the walls are too steep for the mice to jump. You can also make your own lid out of screening such as chicken-wire.

Remember, glass tanks work too

Ten and twenty-gallon tanks work fine too and have lockable screen lids. You’ll never have to worry about any mice escaping but you’ll spend a little more money going this route.

For every one enclosure, I place one male and three females. Leave the male in the enclosure with the female for a week to ten days before removing him. By that point, all three mice are pregnant and the male becomes a meal for a snake.

Mouse substrate

I always used pine bedding but today aspen bedding is more in fashion because it is made of hardwood shavings instead of softwood. While I never had a problem with pine bedding, aspen is the more popular way to go. Always avoid cedar bedding. It’s not good for rodents or reptiles.

Various frozen rodents
Various frozen rodents.

The smell of raising rodents

One thing is for certain, raising rodents stinks. Rats smell far worse than mice but mice stink too. It’s hard to get around this because the unpleasant smell mice produce isn’t necessarily from their urine and feces, but from their pheromone producing scent glands used to mark their territory.

Males do this more often than females. I usually change out the bedding every two or three days for sanitary purposes. Don’t expect the smell to be gone for long, they immediately release more pheromones once placed back into their enclosure.

It is recommended by some to leave some of the old litter behind so they won’t stink up the cage again so quickly. If you have female mice with active litters, leave the bedding they’re sitting on and work around them. As for dealing with the smell, I suggest buying a quality air purifier.

Water for rodents

Rodents always need fresh water. The best way to go is with a water bottle that hangs off the side of the enclosure. Using water bowls isn’t recommended because they need changing several times a day. They easily fill with bedding so avoid using a water bowl altogether.

Food for mice

Today rodent chow is readily available at farm supply stores, select pet shops and online. Back in the 1990s, I used 100% natural dry pellet food for kittens exclusively. No added dyes or preservatives are present and it’s high in protein. It was also cheap.

Never use dog food or cat food with dyes in it. When I initially attempted to breed mice my first litter only yielded two pinkies which the mother ate in 24 hours. The problem was that I was using commercially available hamster food. I quickly learned that protein and nutrition levels were far too low for pregnant mice.

Alternatively, I switched over to the kitten food which resulted in huge litters (10 to 12), of healthy pinkies.

Baby pinkies

Once the pinkies are born, they’re good to go. You can take what you need. All the mother mice take care of all the pinkies, even if they’re not from their own body. You may allow some mice to reach sexual maturity to start the breeding process all over again.

Females could bite you as you remove their babies. It doesn’t always happen with mice, but removing pinkies from rats most certainly leads to a retaliatory bite.

Breeding rats

Basically, follow the same procedure for breeding rats as breeding mice. You won’t get away with kitten food though, go with a commercially available rodent chow high in protein.

Maintenance for rats

Maintaining rat enclosures is hard work. It’s much harder than raising mice. They smell worse, get dirty quickly, eat a lot of food and produce copious amounts of waste. In a situation like this, you must weigh in the pros and cons.

I bred rats in the early 2000s and found that the work along with the cost of feeding them and supplying their bedding wasn’t worth my effort. After two weeks, I closed the project down and went back to buying bulk frozen/thawed.

Conclusion – Is breeding rodents right for you?

In some situations, breeding your own rodents temporarily may help fill in gaps while you’re raising hatchling snakes that only take live pinkies or fuzzies. I bred my own mice for about a year until all my snakes switched over to frozen/thawed. I still feel it was the right thing to do at the time.

Driving to a pet store two or three times a week wasn’t feasible, at least not for me. I was perfectly content in ending my project and going back to buying frozen in bulk. I must admit I occasionally missed not having live mice on tap. Just remember, they’re a lot of work and in most situations, buying in bulk is worth it, saving you time and trouble.

Do you find breeding rodents to be more economical than buying them in bulk? How do you keep the smell of your rodents in check?

Tell us of your experience in the comments section below!

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