Chinchilla breeding, husbandry, pairing and more

An interview with Pedro Machado

How long have you been breeding chinchillas?

About 4 years in the UK, but I have been involved with chinchillas for around 20 years.

Why did you start breeding chinchillas?

I was around 9 or 10 years old when I saw a chinchilla for the first time. I was fascinated with them and wanted to have one, but back then the price was more than the minimum wage in Portugal.

So, when the first club was created in Portugal by some guy whose interest was to gain some experience and make some easy money, it became a bit easier to find chinchillas. The guy who created the club was working for an importation/exportation warehouse of pet supplies and live animals. That warehouse had an amazing collection of mutations, and they were like the start of a breeding hobby in Portugal, but again the prices were quite high, and it took me a while.

Breeding, well, it was just next step, having babies, trying to select the best ones to keep, and seeing them go to their new families was the best part of having chinchillas.

Do you sell your kits to private buyers or to pet stores?

I always sell my animals to private buyers. I like to know where my animals are and how they are doing, even though they do not live with me anymore, they will always be my chinchillas.

How many chinchillas do you own?

At the moment I have 11 breeders and 2 retired females. I have 1 young one who is almost 5, and 3 kits with their mother. In October and November time I will have 5 more, 4 breeders and a young one.

How many litters do your females have before you stop breeding them?

My females only breed once a year. They start at an age of around 9-10 months, with a weight of at least 600 grams. I retire them at around 8-9 years old. If everything goes well, each female will have 8-9 litters.

How many kits do chinchillas give birth to?

Usually 2 kits, but sometimes only one. Recently I have had a lot of 3 kits. One of my girls had once 4 kits, which it was a nightmare.

How many kits do you have a year?

I try to put all my girls in breeding at once a year. Last breeding season I had 6 litters and lost one due to cold weather, something that I fixed already. This season, it wasn’t perfect, some girls didn’t get pregnant, and I lost a litter right after it was born. I am aiming to have all my girls pregnant within the next couple of months, so I am expecting 10 litters.

What is the mating process, how do you know if it has been successful?

The mating process in my shed is always in pairs, I don’t do it in any other way. To know if it was successful or not, I look for pluggers, however I do not very often find one. I touch their bellies after one month of being with male and check for some stiffness. With two of my males it is quite easy, as soon as the girls get pregnant the males start barking at me every time I approach their females, and this means the girls are pregnant.

Is it common for there to be complications during chinchilla births?

I wouldn’t say it is common, I would say it is uncommon, but it can happen. Luckily for me, it has never happened. However, the founder of the club in Portugal in 2000 had a female who needed a c-section.

Do you keep your chinchillas once you stop using them for breeding?

Yes of course, they gave me a lot, and it’s my job to reward them by having them stay with me, in their cages, eating the best food possible.

How much time per week do you need to dedicate to your chinchillas?

Well, chinchillas are quiet and calm animals, so I try to spend the little time with them as possible. Basically, I just refill their water bottles, feed them with pellets, weigh them, and check them for any issues. It takes me around 2 hours to clean their cages. I always give them their sand baths for bathing, this helps them to relax whilst I am in the shed.

Is this your full-time job, or is it a hobby?

I wish it could be my full-time job, or even my part-time job, but for that I would need at least 80 animals in breeding, the way I do things of course. For now, it’s just a hobby, going into my shed at the end of my day to spend some time with them.

What cage, food, hay requirements are necessary for baby chinchillas?

Before I started with chins here in UK, I had hamsters and those ones would need loads of things. With chins, babies or not, I just have to provide good pellets, some hay, but not much until they are 6 months old. I use Thickets cages for all of my chins.

Something I would like to add, but I haven’t had the opportunity to order, is milk pellets to give to mums with kits, or while they are still pregnant. This promotes milk production and helps with quicker and stronger kit development.

How much involvement is required from yourself in looking after babies?

Honestly, if mum can feed their kits, absolutely none, apart from handling the kits every day for them get used to human touch and smell. If mum can’t produce enough milk, that’s a different story, and we need to support with milking top-up which has to be done every two hours.

Do babies ever get rejected by their mother and require hand rearing? Is hand rearing usually successful?

This has never happened to me, and it is quite rare, however it happens from time to time. When done well, hand rearing is always successful, we just need to forget about our personal life, and feed them every two hours, most kits do just fine.

How old do chinchillas need to be before they can leave their mother.

Chins need to be at least 2 months old and weigh at least 200 grams. Some breeders only wean off their kits when they are 250 grams.