Based on size, chinchilla fur is the world's most valuable. The typical chinchilla coat requires as many as 400 pelts. Though chinchillas are almost extinct in the wilds of their native South American Andes, there is no shortage of ranch-raised rodents, mostly descended from a few pairs of animals brought to the United States in 1924. Because furs require so many pelts, small-scale farming doesn't make economic sense for that aspect of raising chinchillas.
Modern chinchilla fur ranch facilities are large, consisting of thousands of animals. However, because the animals are so small and housed indoors in cages, that doesn't mean a "ranch" must consist of considerable acreage. For that reason, many "ranches" are run by independent operators out of home-based properties. Small-scale breeders might focus on the pet or laboratory market, not the fur industry. While chinchillas are relatively inexpensive to feed -- the cost of which will vary according to hay availability -- it's important to purchase quality feed for animal and pelt health. Initial capital investments include the costs of breeding animals, which run between $25 to $40 each, as well as caging. Stackable caging units can cost over $200 each, depending on size. If suitable buildings don't already exist on the property, that's obviously a sizable capital investment. However, it's relatively easy to convert barns and similar outbuildings to house chinchillas.
Most fur-bearing animals have a few hairs per follicle. The chinchilla boasts over 60 hairs per follicle, making its fur extraordinarily dense and soft. It's the highest density of any furred mammal. This dense fur makes chinchillas parasite-free and virtually odorless, which also contributes to their popularity in the pet trade. Because of the animal's fragile skin, working with chinchilla fur is time-consuming and difficult. Although the fur is light, chinchilla coats are among the warmest fur garments available. They are more delicate than other fur coats and require more care. The value of the fur depends on size, color and quality, with each pelt receiving one of six designations ranging from "Select" to "Low Grade." High quality, full-length chinchilla coats might retail for as much as $50,000.
When raising and breeding chinchillas, you must keep them in cages in buildings away from any other type of livestock or domestic pets. The temperature in buildings housing chinchillas should range between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Minimum cage size consists of one square foot per chinchilla, with more space for breeding animals. Each chinchilla must have constant access to fresh, clean water. Feed chinchillas quality feed specifically designed for the species, along with clean, high-quality hay. Feed animals on a regular schedule, using easily cleaned and accessible feeding bowls or troughs. Cages require regular, thorough cleaning. You must provide dust bowls for the chinchillas to clean themselves at least every one to two weeks, removing the bowls after a few hours' use.
Female chinchillas reach reproductive age at about 8 months, with males reaching sexually maturity a month or two earlier. Females can give birth to up to three litters annually. However, the average litter consists of only one or two babies. The gestation period averages 128 days, with weaning occurring at approximately six to seven weeks. You can breed a chinchilla again within 72 hours after a litter delivery. Babies are born completely furred, with their eyes open and teeth ready for chewing. While they do nurse, they are able to consume plant materials, such as hay, immediately.
Ranchers must euthanize chinchillas processed for fur by a method approved by a national veterinary association. These methods include dislocating the cervical vertebrae, which requires proper training to ensure death is quick and the animal doesn't suffer. Electrocution via equipment designed for animal euthanasia is also a common practice. Chinchillas destined for the fur market at generally euthanized between the ages of 8 to 9 months.
- Fur Commission USA: Fur Types in Brief
- Canchilla Associates: Chincilla -- A Romantic History
- Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs: Standard Guidelines for the Operation of Chinchilla Ranches
- Animal Diversity Web: Chinchilla Chinchilla Short-tailed Chinchilla
- Mutation Chinchilla Breeders Association: Chinchilla Care
- Shoots Chinchilla Ranch: About the Chinchilla
- Redomar Chinchilla Business: Chinchilla Skins
- Furs by LaFayette: Chinchilla Coat
- Rivendell Chinchillas: Should I Breed My Chinchilla?
- GlobalP/iStock/Getty Images