Chinchilla Herd Foundation Guidelines
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When the perpetuation of a domestic animal falls solely into the hands of a breeder, and is far removed from the laws of natural selection, the knowledge and responsibility put into practice by that breeder is paramount. We have seen how hip dysplasia in purebred dogs, HYPP in Quarter horses and malocclusion in the domestic chinchillas can affect a far greater percent of the breeding population than would ever be afflicted in nature. A breed can be degenerated extremely quickly. The elimination of genetic disease and breeding soundness should never be sacrificed for the attainment of singular desired traits. With these things in mind, this article will point out some important breeding basics pertaining to the foundation of a domestic chinchilla breeding program.
When deciding to take on the responsibility of breeding chinchillas, the breeder needs to pay close attention to several factors including conformation, color, fur quality, temperament, and size. The selection of a herd's foundation stock is critical. Foundation animals often have more influence on the future of the herd than any selected later, as they will in all likelihood appear in a higher percentage of the herd's pedigrees. At this particular time, buying mature breeding stock, and being able to see closely related chinchillas may prove to be a great aid. Several reasons for this are:
- If negative traits like malocclusion or vices are not present at this age, there is a lower chance that animal is afflicted, thus a lower chance of the trait being passes on.
- Negative recessive or polygenic traits may appear in close relatives, even if they are not visible in the chinchilla being considered for purchase.
- The temperament is already well established and readily apparent.
Chinchilla conformation depends largely on strain influence (i.e. Brevicaudata, Lanigera, or Costina). Brevicaudata chinchillas developed at higher elevations, at around 15,000 feet elevation. They were known for being large with short ears and tails, and having docile temperaments. Pure Brevicaudatas generally have a brownish cast to their coats, and can have a wavy-type fur. Costinas developed closer to sea level, have longer ears and tails, and tend to have a more wedge-shaped head and body. They tend to be a more active than their Brevicaudata cousins. Costinas are largely responsible for contributing the desirable blue hue that is so complimentary to all color mutations. Lanigeras developed at moderate elevations, and have traits that fall somewhere between the other two. Almost all domestic chinchillas are classified as Chinchilla lanigera, and have genetic markers from all three strains, but some tend to show a stronger influence from one strain than another. Certain mutation colors developed from herds with a high percent genetic influence from a particular strain. The Gunning Black velvet, for example, mutated in a herd with heavy Brevicaudata influence, and still reflects those traits today.
The ‘Standard’ grey is the natural, wild type, or agouti chinchilla. It is nearly impossible to place too much emphasis on the importance of high quality standard bloodlines in any standard or mutation breeding herd. The high quality standard is the backbone of quality and hybrid vigor.
A wide variety of colors and fur mutations have appeared at random in the herds of domestic chinchilla breeders, and perpetuated. Among the most common dominant color mutations are the Wilson White, Tower Beige, and Gunning Black Velvet. The Wilson White is an incomplete dominant, therefore, some degree of the agouti or recessive color shows through, hence the predominantly white, the white mosaic, and silver all share the same phenotype. The genetic variance in color coat pattern is responsible for the different appearing animals.
The more common recessive color mutations are the charcoal, *Larsen Sapphire, African Violet, and the Baar Goldbar. The Larsen Sapphire does not fit the technical definition of a recessive, but for all practical purposes it is generally classified as a recessive. The Royal Persian Angora also does not fit the technical definition of a true recessive, but is often categorized as such. Royal Persian Angora chinchillas are the most common (presumably) recessive fur mutation.
Unspecified Mutations include the Fading White, a spectrum of Ebony or ‘wrapping’ mutations, the Locken fur mutation, and dwarfism. The classification of color and fur inheritance, and dwarfism, is strictly observational. Some of the unspecified mutations are potentially the result of polygenic traits, and have no scientifically verified pattern of inheritance. For simplicity’s sake, unspecified mutations are often classified as recessives. Additionally, nearly endless varieties of mutation hybrids exhibit phenotypic combinations of multiple mutation genes (ex: Pink.White, TOV Violet RPA, Tan Locken, Blue Diamond, etc…)
When breeding dominant color mutations it is important to keep in mind that there are genetic lethal factor associated with both the Wilson White and the Gunning Black Velvet black velvet genes. Neither of these two color mutations can exist in the homozygous form. When Wilson White or a Wilson White hybrid is bred to another Wilson White or a Wilson White hybrid, the result is 25% less offspring produced than anticipated. The same case exists when Gunning Black Velvet or Gunning Black Velvet hybrid is bred to another Gunning Black Velvet or Gunning Black Velvet hybrid.
For a recessive color or fur mutation gene to be visible (to appear in the phenotype), that animal must have two copies of the gene. This means that all African Violets, for example, have two copies of (or are homozygous for) the African Violet gene. If a chinchilla only has one copy of a recessive gene, that chinchilla will be a ‘carrier’ (or heterozygous), but will not exhibit the trait visibly. A Standard (African Violet carrier), for example, will appear standard, but will carry the recessive African Violet gene. Considering that recessive genes in the heterozygous form are not visibly apparent, it is very important to know the ancestry of your breeding animal. A Gunning Black Velvet carrying the African Violet gene is often not the quality of a good pure Gunning Black Velvet. Further, the quality of the recessive mutations, as is often the case, has not yet reached the quality of the standards or dominant mutations. Therefore, it is important to cross all mutations, especially the recessives, back into high quality standard bloodlines every few generations to maintain the quality of the mutations.
Despite whether the chinchillas being bred are standard grey, or color mutations, they should have a clear or blueish tint to their coats, and no red cast. To clearly view color it takes a well trained eye and the proper lights; a specific full spectrum of light. Keep in mind that there are both environmental and genetic factors which can affect clarity of color. Beige chinchillas, for example, will almost always oxidize and develop an orange tint over time due to environment. You need to be aware of the type of clarity your standards and mutations tend to throw. Chinchillas should have very white bellies, showing no creaminess and no brown tip on the white hairs, especially between the front legs. This grey/brown tip often indicates the presence of the charcoal or ebony gene in the background of the animal. This is undesirable unless that animal will be going into breeding with other ebonies or ebony hybrids. Chinchillas with the Gunning Black Velvet gene should show complete silky textured veiling from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail with little to no break in veiling at the back of the neck, or elsewhere. It can take a year or more for a chinchilla with the black velvet gene to completely get its veiling. Also, black velvets, males in particular, tend to be slow to mature and often are slow to breed. Beiges should be blue-beige, not orange. Whites should be true white, not yellow or creamy. Ebonies should be blue-black, not red. Sapphires tend to be true to their color, but the whiteness of the belly should be watched. Violets should be clear, and their bellies must be watched very carefully, as they tend to be creamy or yellow. The other mutations like recessive beige and albino are so rare or obsolete that they will not be discussed in detail at this time. All other colors (i.e. pink white, TOV beige, tan) are merely hybrids (phenotypic combinations) of the colors mentioned above, and clarity should be watched in them as it is in the non-hybrid mutations.
Temperament should always be considered when selecting animals for breeding. Temperament gets passed on through both heredity and environment. Chinchillas should not bite or be excessively high strung under normal circumstances. Extremely nervous animals also tend to be "fur chewers," and although there are several reasons why an animal may chew, chewing is considered to be largely hereditary. Fur chewers will chew off the hair around their hips or sides on one or both sides. They can chew from time to time, regrowing hair completely in the mean time, or chew constantly.
Chinchillas, being quasi rodents, are afflicted by malocclusion (bad fit of the teeth) like their rodent cousins. Malocclusion is quite often hereditary, and should be strictly culled from the breeding program. Experienced lifelong breeders tend to agree that the genetics involved with malocclusion is most likely a combination of genetic factors (which could also include some environmental factors) rather than one simple gene.
In general, female chinchillas are larger than males. It is important that females are roughly equal in size to, or larger than the males they will be bred to. This will result in fewer complications when littering. A general guideline for good breeding weight for high quality standards is 1 pound 7 ounces to 1 pound 12 ounces, with more leniencies afforded to high quality males lacking this particular attribute. Dominant mutations tend to be slightly smaller on average than Standards, and recessive and hybrid mutations tend to be smaller still. It is very important to let females attain their full size before they are put into breeding. Some chinchillas don't reach their full size until 10-15 months of age, and possibly even longer for the Gunning Black Velvets. If bred too early, females will often not reach their own full size, and the demands of the developing kits will hinder her own maturity. Males need to attain their full size before being selected for breeding primarily so that the breeder can be assured that he will be adequate size and quality, but also to avoid intimidation by a more mature female.
As hobbyist chinchillas have risen in popularity over the past decades, there has been a lot of interest in exceptionally large chinchillas. Bigger is not always better. Fast maturing and extra large chinchillas are more likely to be sluggish producers, have fatty liver disease, and can be more prone to malocclusion. A breeder interested in producing large but healthy chinchillas should pay attention to substance versus fat, and should especially avoid putting a notably large male with a smaller female.
Whether your herd is comprised of just a few chinchillas, or hundreds, the benefit gained by their breeder's understanding of the even the basics is immeasurable. By starting out with quality chinchillas, a breeder will be decades ahead of one starting out with mediocre or poor quality animals. The latter will spend a countless amount of time and effort in an often failed attempt to produce the quality of herds founded on high quality animals.