(article taken from empresschinchilla.com)
Chinchilla, A Cellulose-Splitter Rodent
In the chinchilla’s native habitat, in which it has lived for many thousands of years, this animal has existed with a minimum of rainfall and other sources of water and has been able to thrive on relatively low protein fibers, dried grasses in a realtively arid country. Recent studies have shown the native chinchillas in preserves today obtain most of their water supply from eating the undersides of the cactus and succulent plants.
Since the chinchilla has been raised in captivity, chinchilla ranchers have been fortunate in having a relatively clean rodent who can exist on almost any diet containing a high percentage of ceelulose or vegetable fiber. This animal did not require a significant amount of starchy material in the wild. It didn’t get oats, barley, alfalfa, molasses, citrus peel nor carrot pulp as it does today in the form of pellets.
A Cellulose-Splitter – The source of the chinchilla’s carbohydrates was from dry grass and cactus containing a large content of cellulose of fiber. Since the chinchilla is a cellulose-splitter and can make six carbon chain carbohydrates from cellulose, it did very well with this type of hay and forage.
Mineral Source – The chinchilla’s mineral source was also in the hay and cactus. The country was basically rocky and contained numerous trace elements and required minerals. Basically, the staff of life for centuries for chinchillas was dried grass or hay, as we know it, and cactus. There doesn’t seem to be any reason that this rodent, when placed on ranches, should suddenly evolve into a new and complex animal requiring quatities of the present day pellet diet to which it is now subjected to.
Caution – One of the problems with the hays of today is the use of poison sprays. In some areas, it is difficult to get good hay free from molds and spray. However, the fortunate ranchers, and probably also those who are going to be able to stay in the industry over a long period of time, are in areas where hay of reasonably good quality can be ontained at relatively low cost.
Timothy – Has been the favorite among chinchilla raisers traditionally in the past. With the demise of the horse as a menas of transportation and power on the farms, timothy has become less and less available and is now used mostly for race horses.
Alfalfa – There has been a marked increase in the production of alfalfa because of its high protein content and the fact that it can be combined into all kinds of feeds for chinchillas, rabbits, cattle, hogs and horses. There are hay blocks and hay cubes that can be purchased fairly economically all over the United States. This part of the chinchillas diet, could be considered the main food or diet of the chinchilla other than the females in breeding or have young to rear.
Pellets – Could be viewed as a supplement to the use of the hay. The pellets keep the animals fat, help them grow larger, contain vitamins and minerals, but as a source of their main food and fiber, they are a pretty expensive way to go. With the anticipated rise in the cost of carbohydrate feeds such as oats, wheat, and barley, it may eventually be impractical to continue with the present portion of pellets per animal which is currently in use. Most hays are basically bi-annuals and perennials requiring less cultivation and less use of costly gas and oil for their production and baling making the cost more reasonable than carbohydrate feeds.
The chinchilla rancher in the future, when asked what kind of feed he uses, may have to think first of hay as a main source rather than pellets. This is as it should be, since as shown above, the pellet is only a supplement to the real cellulose nutritional need of this rodent. Why not let the chinchilla make his own carbohydrate as nature has provided. the chinchilla was born to do it, and it is certainly the cheaper way to raise them.
Source of Article: J. Lauridsen, M.D., MCBA News – August 1979