By my standards and expectations last year was a tough breeding season. In addition to losing a few key clutches during incubation I had an amazing number of clutches that bludgeoned me on the odds. At times it was depressing. But one thing that all breeders rely on is the fact that sooner or later the odds tend to swing around in their favor. It’s the nature of averages; sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. Last season wasn’t all bad, though. I had a few moments that really stood out. My perspective is arguably tainted, mind you. With very few exceptions I do not try to produce single-gene carrying animals and producing things like black pewters, albino spiders, super pastels, and bumble bees has become business as usual. While I am certainly very glad to produce those animals I have my genetic sights set much higher. As I type two-gene animals are a common (but often still pricey) staple of the industry while the immediate future is in 3, 4 and 5-gene animals. To steal the words of a friend of mine, “I’m not in this for socialist reasons. In this business there will be winners and losers. I want to be one of the winners.”
Being one of the so-called winners in the ball python breeding business requires several characteristics and qualities:
- Money. You’ve got to be willing to spend a lot of it if you want to play around with the cutting-edge animals. Heck, you’ve got to have a lot of it even if you want to eternally play catch-up. I’ve said it before: The high-end arena of this particular field of hobby is not for the financially feint of heart. Here be speculators.
- Patience. Females take upwards of three years before you have any chance at seeing eggs. Sure, males get up to breeding size in much less time but big genetic magic requires both the boys and the girls to come to the conjugal packing genetic heat. You are essentially treading water with a backpack full of bricks if you spend all of your money on high-end males without also investing in multi-gene girls to go along with them.
- An entrepreneurial spirit with a gambling addict’s judgment. How else can I say it? You will never get rich by putting your money in traditional savings accounts and certificates of deposit. Betting it all on black is a good way to do it, though. But you’ve got to be prepared for it to come up red (and lose it all). A long time ago a day-trading friend told me, “People get rich by putting all of their eggs in one basket. People stay rich by spreading their eggs around.” And perhaps nobody summed it up better than the copy store clerk in Jerry Maguire when he said, “That’s how you become great, man. Hang your balls out there!” The moral is simple: Do not walk through this life expecting reward if you are not willing to take risks. The live animal business is packed full of risk.
- Luck. Even with the best genetics you still need a bit of luck. To take things to the next level you have to hit on long odds. The genetics of ball pythons is a game of calculated chance. Most of the high-end genetic progress comes when people bet and win on very long odds. At a bare minimum I’m talking about 1:16 odds. But real magic is in the 1:32 or 1:64 range. When you hit on a long shot it’s a payday, something that can leap your collection [genetically] forward by multiple years.
- Business acumen. For many of us this began as a hobby and morphed into a business. If this is a business, treat is as such. Crunch the numbers. Factor in the costs. Do the analysis. As much as possible, remove emotion from the equation. How else can you know if you are being profitable? If your measure of business success is that you have a wad of cash in your pocket at the end of a trade show you aren’t in the right place. This business is not as simple as putting two snakes together, selling the babies and then going Mercedes shopping. The expenses of the live animal business are significant, on the rise and constant. Cash flow does not equal financial success.
Whether you call ball python breeding a hobby or a business it has the capacity to be both personally and financially rewarding. But you have a greater chance at achieving personal rewards (e.g. the joy you feel when you produce a particular morph for the first time) than you do financial rewards. Reflect on your motivations and your aspirations and define your goals; both tactical and strategic. Do so and you will find that the opportunity for financial success is much more likely.