KEEPING AND BREEDING KANGAROOS AND WALLABIES
THE IN’S AND OUT’S OF KEEPING AND BREEDING KANGAROOS
Keeping and breeding kangaroos is definitely not for everyone, but we love it! Kangaroos need plenty of room to run and graze. Roos are not house pets, they don’t ride in cars, walk on leashes or do tricks. They are shy and easily stressed in strange situations. We bottle rear our animals as they tend to be friendlier and more affectionate with people, but they will not come when they are called and they need to be kept in a secure environment at all time.
Kangaroos and wallabies are surprisingly hardy in cold temperatures. They will adapt if they can aclimatize over the course of the fall and grow a good winter coat. We build low bunks that the roos can hop up on that have shavings for bedding. They like raised beds. Once the temperature dips below zero in their house, we add enough heat lamps to keep their water barely defrosted. You don’t want to over-do the heat. Animals that go from hot to cold and back again don’t do so well. Our building is big enough to accomodate all our roos comfortably. Building more than one shelter in the same pen will not work as the roos will insist on all sleeping together.
Most people assume that a roo will try and get over a fence. This is generally untrue. Roos usually try to get under or through a fence. Fencing should be at least 6 ft high and tight to the ground. It’s best to either bury the fence or peg it down. Wire should be heavy guage and no bigger than 2″ x 4″ mesh. Roos are extremely nosy. If there is a flaw in the fencing, the roo WILL find it. The fence is only as strong as its weakest point. Any trees that might come down on the fence should be removed. GATES NEED TO BE KEPT LOCKED. Security is very important. As far as enclosure size, that really depends on the quality of grazing and the number of animals. Generally speaking, if the number of animals in the pen are not overgrazing the area and they have enough room to run and exercise properly, the pen is large enough. A pen for one animal certainly should not be smaller than 50′ x 50′ at a very bare minimum and it should all be in pasture. These are the guidelines we follow for our Roo enclosure.
Before you ask, yes those are dog beds in the picture. Roos are definitely creatures of comfort. They also like to get up high like a goat. That’s why we put the beds on that little rise. Roos are browsers. That means they like to graze but they also like to nibble on brush. This is essential to the health of their digestive tract and teeth. They also enjoy trimmings from an organic orchard or willow boughs. They love to chew on those. We make sure our pasture is not too wet. If there are muddy areas, we eliminate them as they will become a reservoir for bacteria. Roos continually groom themselves and having them ingesting large quantities of bacteria laden dirt is not a good thing. We feed a good quality brood mare pellet to our roos. Some breeders prefer goat tex. Roos have very similar digestive tracts to alpacas. Feed a good quality hay in the winter along with greens such as apples and carrots. Roos are not “piggy” eaters. Food doesn’t have to be rationed. We put an entire bag of feed in an automatic hopper.
HAND-REARING OF JOEYS
THE HAND-REARING OF A JOEY HAS MANY BENEFITS
Why bottle rear joeys? There’s a number of reasons. Bottle reared joeys become very tame. Having tame animals is beneficial from a number of perspectives. They are more enjoyable as a hobby farm pet and if you need to handle them for any reason it’s a lot easier and less stressful for all concerned. Roo mums don’t get overly stressed when a joey is taken away. In the wild they often “toss” their joey if they are being persued by a predator. This allows the female to escape and live to breed another day. And due to their ability to replace a baby very quickly (see the page on kangaroo reproduction), this only makes sense from a survival perspective. They are not inclined to grieve and search for their young like some animals. Most female roos go right back to grazing after we take a joey. If they do look around, they don’t do it for very long. A newly “pulled” joey is taken into the house and placed in a warmed soft cloth pouch. For the next few hours someone sits quietly and holds the joey in their lap. Very quickly, the joey becomes curious about what’s going on and starts to peak out and look around.
It’s important to get your timing right when taking a joey. The one pictured to the left is definitely a bit under-done. We took this joey away from it’s mother at this stage because mum was in need of surgery on her jaw that couldn’t wait. We knew we were the joey’s best chance at survival. The joey did very well but was always stuck with the name “Pinky”.
This joey is at an ideal stage of development for bottle rearing. It has barely furred in but isn’t “fluffy” yet. If the joey is left with it’s mum much longer than this, it can be very difficult, if not impossible to get it properly tame. It might put up with being bottle fed but as soon as you put the joey outside on pasture it will quickly revert to a wild state.
THE ESSENTIALS FOR HAND-REARING A JOEY
To hand rear a joey you will need cloth pouches, a heating pad, a child’s play pen, bottles, specialized marsupial nipples and a supply of Puppy Esbilac powder (by PetAg). There are specialized milk replacers on the market. I’ve tried them as have many other breeders and we all find that the Puppy Esbilac works the best. We do NOT substitute other brands of puppy milk replacer or milk replacer for other mammals. They are not all created equal and I’ve seen some nasty reactions to stuff like goat and lamb milk replacers. Bottle feeding is easy but there is a knack to it. Joeys adapt to a bottle very quickly and tend to guzzle their feed within a minute or two. Once they are taking their feed well and in full measure, it is necessary to only feed 4 times a day. It is not necessary to feed through the night. Very easy compared to a lot of other animals.
A joey in the house when it is little is delightful. This is only a temporary situation. While the joey is on a purely liquid diet, it will be very easy to keep in the house. Most of our joeys will not soil their pouch. They prefer to wait until they are taken to the washroom. Obviously this needs to be done every few hours during the day to avoid accidents and it should certainly be done before they are let to run around and exercise. To “potty” a roo, we hold it over the toilet and gently rub the cloacal area at the base of the tail. The roo will promptly do its business in the toilet. We then let the baby exercise for a while under close supervision. The joey might go on a “roo run” around the house for a while and then find the next best place to a pouch to take a nap.
A roo in the house will get into everything. Once it starts eating solid food, potty training goes right down the tubes too. At this stage we can’t wait to get it out of the house. And when I say they get into everything I mean it. My husband forgot to close the bathroom door and this roo decided to join him in the tub. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…NOT a house pet.
INTERACTION WITH OTHER PETS
ROOS AND DOGS CAN GET ALONG. BUT KEEP CATS AWAY!
Generally, a roo will get along with a dog if the dog doesn’t chase, bite or act aggressively towards it. Kato and Quigly the black lab played together for hours at a time. But it was usually Kato that came off the winner. But…ROOS AND CATS ARE NOT COMPATIBLE. Cats can carry a bacteria called Toxoplasmosis. This bacteria is generally harmless. If a person gets toxo they might feel a bit under the weather for a few days or they might not have any symptoms at all. However, toxo can be very damaging to human fetuses. A pregnant woman who contracts toxo might miscarry or the baby might be born with brain damage. Marsupials react to toxoplasmosis the same way that a human fetus does. They did not evolve in the presence of cats and so they have never learned the immune response necessary to fight toxo off. Most of the time there is no warning when a roo contracts toxoplasmosis. It is simply found dead. However, sometimes the animal develops neurological signs first. Most efforts at treatment fail. It is absolutely essential to keep cats out of your pens as the toxo is transmitted through feces.