When do you guys pick your holdbacks? What I mean is, many morphs change as the snake ages. Many BP morphs brown out. The “best looking” hatchlings of a given clutch may not end up being the “best looking” adults of said clutch. Remember that totally freckled out BP that keeps popping up in MM? I think the owner said it developed them as it aged. If that entire clutch looked pretty normal as hatchlings, the breeder might have sold off the entire clutch not knowing one of them was going to freckle out.
I know that generally BPs look their best as hatchlings, but if you hold back the “prettiest” hatchlings and dump the rest, how do you know you’re not dumping “the ugly duckling”?
So I will say that MOST breeders (as in, pretty much everyone I’ve ever spoken to) chooses holdbacks as babies right out of the egg, based on genes/gene combinations. This has been one of my biggest gripes with ball pythons, because you’re absolutely correct that most of them tend to brown out and fade significantly. A lot of people are going based on certain genes though, and not thinking about what the animal may look like as an adult as long as it has the desired genes.
So what I do, personally - because I’m a very small breeder and don’t have space to grow out hatchlings for years - is I look at lineage. Gecko breeders already track lineage but I track my lineage for ball pythons. When I’m looking to buy a snake, I always ask for pictures of both parents. If a breeder won’t provide them then I have no basis to go off so I won’t even consider purchasing that animal. I also frequently receive parent pictures from a breeder and decide not to buy based on how much a parent has browned out, faded, or just generally not aged well. When I was looking for a banana pied female a couple of years ago, I inquired on 12 animals before I found one with a banana parent that stayed purple into adulthood instead of turning brown, so that’s the one I bought.
I also try to avoid this by working with genes that age well (BEL genes, desert ghost, OD, fire complex, lace, etc.) and lines of those genes that tend to be higher quality - again, through parent lineage.