The Soft Side of Agriculture, Chinchilla Ranching  

 By: Chelsea Fauber

East Clinton FFA Chapter

02/23/09

 

When I wake up each morning I hear a very familiar sound at our household.  The sound of hundreds of Chinchillas jumping around in their cages and spinning their feed lids.

 

            Hi, I am Chelsea Fauber, I am representing East Clinton FFA Chapter. 

 

My family and I have been raising Chinchillas since 1994. We started with eight animals and have grown to over 200. Chinchillas are small and require very little space, and eat for only a few pennies a day.  Many people start by raising them in their basements or garages. We house ours in our large basement.  We started raising chinchillas as another source of income for our small farm.  We sell our chinchillas as pets, breeding stock, and fur pelts. As with most livestock, we are constantly striving to improve the quality of our animals. Quality animals allow us to get the best price for our stock. We now raise standard chinchillas (the grey ones), beige chinchillas, black velvet chinchillas, and white chinchillas. These varieties are in the highest demand in today’s market. Our goal is to continue to expand our herd, targeting production of around 600 babies per year.

 

Today I will be sharing with you some chinchilla history, chinchilla facts and ranching methods.

 

            Chinchillas have been internationally prized for their luxurious soft fur for hundreds of years. Chinchillas in the wild are found in the Andes Mountains of South America. In the early 1900’s an American mining engineer, Mathias Chapman, captured a few chinchillas while in South America and brought them home to the United States. Mr. Chapman became know as a “Founding father of the chinchilla industry in the United States.”  Most herds in the United States has originated from those first few animals Mr. Chapman brought into our country.

 

            Since the early 1900’s several hundred chinchilla ranchers work hard to continuously market and improve the quality of the chinchilla. Today, thousands of chinchillas are raised for pets, pelts, and breeding stock. Chinchillas are one of the friendliest and cleanest animals. The chinchilla is a distinct species; a rodent that is genetically unrelated to any other.

 

            Chinchillas are 10-12 inches long when full grown. They have a long bushy tail. An average chinchilla weighs between 16 to 24 ounces. They have dark eyes and small short ears. Their front legs are short and small whereas the hind legs are long and strong- much like a kangaroo. Chinchillas are nocturnal. Chinchillas can live up to 18 years.

 

            The fur is very soft, with each hair follicle having between 80 to 100 hairs, measuring ¾ to 1 inch long. The most outstanding characteristics of the chinchilla, is the triple tone color of their fur. Next to the skin it is a deep slate grey extending about half the length of the fur. Above that is a band of white and 1/8 inch wide, and a dark outer tip. Chinchillas come in a few color variations, the grey color know as the standard, a beige, a black velvet, white, and many other mixed color variations. Chinchilla’s fur is the lightest weight fur. It has been said that a square yard of chinchilla fur weighs less than a square yard of silk.

 

Chinchillas require a controlled environment of about 60-70 degrees. Each Female chinchilla is housed in an individual cage with an access tunnel in the back allowing one male to service numerous females. Each female chinchilla wears a collar to keep them from entering the tunnel.

 

            At the early age of 9-12 months females go into breeding. Chinchillas are not prolific breeders, averaging only two litters a year, many animals will only have one litter per year.  After a gestation period of 111 days, they may give birth to 1 to 6 babies. The babies are fully furred, eyes open and are able to move about immediately. Babies remain on their mothers for about six weeks before they are weaned and placed in their individual cages. Chinchillas may be marketed as pets as early as weaning age, but must be over 9 months old before considered as a fur pelt or breeding stock.  Only about 20 percent of the weaned animals are kept as replacements or new breeders.  The balance of weaned animals will be sold. 

 

            Annually, a small group of the best chinchillas will be taken to local and national chinchilla shows.  These shows help the rancher see how their animals compare with others.  This helps identify areas that need improvement in their current herd.  Information gathered at the shows also helps the rancher plan for future needs of the chinchilla market.   

        

            As you can see chinchillas are unique animals.  For their size, they produce the softest fur in the world, they have one of the densest furs, and they have the only three tone colored fur known. 

 

Establishing a quality chinchilla herd takes many years of hard work and ongoing efforts to improve and maintain their quality genetics.     Although challenging, the rewards can be worth it.  The demand for chinchillas continues to grow allowing sale prices to remain strong.

 

Raising chinchillas offers many, young and old, a way to get involved in the soft side of agriculture.

 Chelsea Fauber

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