In order to know what the quality of a chinchilla is you look at certain characteristics. They are used in shows, by clubs and by breeders to judge their own chinchillas. The value of this is that by looking at the characteristics you will know what you have and you will also know what the breeder of a specific chinchilla did. It will show you if a good or bad choice was made when pairing the parents. You will know if the breeder made a mess or if they did the right thing.
Everyone knows what I do. I must just again say that every single chinnie is a living animal and deserves love. I have very ugly chinnies that are rescues. I love them and care for them. It is not their fault, it was the breeders. You do not need a show quality chinnie to have a good pet. But then you do not need to pay for show quality if you buy a pet.
Topic 1: Clarity
Clarity is the absence of red or yellow pigmentation in the colour. The colour must look “clean”. A White chinchilla must be pure White, not yellow. An extra dark Ebony should be black without any brown. A Tan should be brown without any black. A Standard should be a clean grey without yellow or brown in the grey. This is not to be confused with the colour phase, light, medium, dark or extra dark. A light Standard can have excellent clarity. The grey will off course be lighter but it will be grey, nothing else. Compare this to someone who dyed their hair from brown to blonde but made a mess. Instead of the hair being “clear” blonde there is still strands of brown showing. If the same person bleaches their hair and remove all other colour it will be clear. If a blonde person dyes their hair black and removes all traces of blond, ending up with pitch black hair it will be clear. This applies to ALL colours except Sapphire because Sapphire totally lacks the yellow pigment.
By looking at the pictures below you will think the top one is better. In fact the bottom one is better. The top one is darker but has obvious brown in the black. In the bottom one the black is black. This is clarity, not colour. Even a chinnie with poor colour can have great clarity.
Topic 2: Fur mass / fur density
Density is how many single hairs there are in a given area. The more hair the denser it will be. People talk about volume when they describe their hair. Obviously a balding man like me will have less density than a teenager. To identify the true volume of the fur you should feel it. However, to get a good idea about the fur mass from a photo is also possible. Remember that fur supports fur… if each hair is surrounded by others it has nowhere to go, like in a crowd of people. It keeps the fur standing 90 degrees to the body.
It can be seen by determining:
– how far you can see into the fur
– how straight the fur shafts are standing
From this you can obviously see the chinnie on the right have much better density that the one on the left. Density also improves with age and the fur of a young chinnie will get denser as it grows older. Just keep in mind that even when they are young you can see if density is good or bad. It will get better but growing up can only do that much.
Topic 3: Blueness
This is the most difficult quality to see and understand. It has nothing to do with the colour of a chinchilla. Blueness is a “shine” a chinnie has or doesn’t have, like a hologram. It comes from inside the fur. I’ve seen some pictures where people give their aura a color image. This can be described as the “aura” of a chinchilla. It is also the most difficult of all qualities to improve. You can imagine it is there but very few chinnies in South Africa have blueness.
Forget about the colour. You will see that the chinnie on the left has a “shine” to it that is obviously lacking on the right. Actually the one on the right is just a bad photo but helps to illustrate.
This illustrates that colour has nothing to do with it. The chinchilla on the left has good blueness even though it is a Wilson White. The chinchilla on the right is a Black Velvet and doesn’t have it. Incidently the one on the left was bred by Willie and the one on the right was imported. Just shows the difference good selection does.
Topic 4: Veiling coverage
Chinchillas have 3 layers of fur called “agouti patterning”. From the skin the 3 layers are: Underfur, Bar and Veiling. Veiling is the top layer of the fur, the one we see most of. Ideally the other layers should be hidden.
A good description of veiling from Ralph Shoots:
“VEILING – This is the outermost tip of the hair shaft. A Chinchilla fur fiber has three colors. A slate gray underfur – a white bar about a 1/8” wide and an outer most tip that is dark. The contrast between the veiling, bar and underfur is what gives Chinchilla its striking character compared to other furs. While it is beautiful on an animal, complete wrap around veiling down the side is not a must for producing top pelts. However, veiling up through the neck, the naturally weakest part of the pelt, is vitally important. The amount of veiling tip is what determines the color phase of the animal. The longer the tip: the darker the animal. The shorter the tip: the lighter the animal.”
The chinchilla on the left has poor veiling and it is indicated where the veiling stops with the red line. With the one on the right the veiling goes all the way down. Veiling is therefore how far the dark extends down the body. In South Africa this is still a huge problem. Good veiling coverage should extend all over the body.
In the UK show criteria is rated as follows:
1 – Uniform Veiling
2 – Break in veiling over neck OR hips.
3 – Break in veiling over neck AND hips.
4 – Showing little or no veiling.
Topic 6: Belly
The ideal is on the left. To make a belly good it must be pure white, the line where the white stops must be clearly defined and the triangle at the hind leg must be well defined and clear. Violet and Sapphire tend to have very good bellies. It is much harder to achieve with Standard. Unfortunately it is also used to cheat. A Violet will improve the belly of a Standard but then the Standard will not be pure anymore. Any yellow on the belly makes it worse and the less defined the line and triangle is the worst it is. It is also one of the qualities that is most difficult to improve.
Topic 5: Conformation
Conformation is the body shape.
When looking at the head. You can in your mind draw a triangle with the eyes and nose. It should make a close to equilateral triangle as possible. I.e. a triange with sides all the same length. The ears should not be too big, the face should be round and the head should be in proportion to the body. Very often when babies are born their heads will look way too big for their bodies, especially if they were born a few days early. By 12 weeks everything will be in proportion but you will get chinnies with big or small heads. This is due to poor selection.
Conformation is an accumulative trait, meaning that it gets passed on from generation to generation. By good selection you can greatly improve on this. Body shape is about much more. Read what I said under “Size” about La Plata and Costina. It will explain it.
This is good to compare conformation. Note the big ears and long face on the right. Because of the conformation the chinchilla on the right have a rat like appearance. Just look at the ads for chinnies in the classifieds, you will see them but you will seldom see something like the beauty on the left. This is caused by poor selection, passing on the weak traits. With inbreeding it gets even worse. This is what happens when you pair and breed with chinnies that should never breed.
Topic 7: Size
Size is the length of the body from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail (where it attaches to the body), the visual size (body fur) and the weight. None of these can be used without the other. A 600g Royal Persian Angora will look huge compared to a 600g Standard. A chinchilla with good fur density will look bigger than one with bad density. A “longer” chinnie can weigh less because of malnutrition or that the “shorter” one is fat. Size does play a role but then in my opinion it can never be judged alone. You must see the chinnie as a whole. A well balanced and in proportion chinnie that is a bit smaller is better than a huge one that looks like a giraffe.
Size does have an influence on breeding. If a female is too small it is very dangerous for her to breed. I will never breed with a chinnie girl if she is lighter than 600g. The ideal weight is 650g to 800g for a girl. Boys tend to be smaller but you also get huge boys. A healthy size will be from 400g to 700g. A few tips on size. Bigger is not better. Males over 750g tend to give very few offspring, the same with females over 900g. A chinnie that falls somewhere in the middle of the accepted weight is good. Selection will make a difference to size. Pairing a bigger male with a smaller female will give bigger babies, provided the female is not too small. Then it just becomes dangerous to her health. A small male with excellent qualities paired with a big female will give bigger babies than he is but will also improve the qualities. There is nothing wrong with a “small” but excellent quality male. There can be a problem with a huge male and he might never reproduce. Same with a female that is too big.
The secret is in the balance and the whole picture. Obviously breeding with two tiny chinnies is just idiotic.
Something interesting. This I took from a discussion with my mentor. “La plata” and “Costina” are subtypes of Chinchilla Lanigera.
La Plata Type: bigger, rounds conformation with short wide head, full neck and short round ears. The significant advantage is the good fur density. The fur length tends to be uneven – particularly at the hips too long. The fur is usually lighter, bar is often unclear and underfur often wooly.
Costina type: small and longer body with more pointy head, longer ears and often a curved back. The significant factor with the fur is a lack of fur density. All other qualities like more unform fur length, elasticity, silkiness and clarity are better than the La Plata. The fur colour is often much darker due to the superior veiling. Worth noting is the superior fertility of the costina type.
All animals in breeding are a combination of these types. The trick of breeding is to achieve the ideal mixture of these types.
Selection extremely to the “la plata” type will give big round animal but often with the other unwanted traits:
– Less fertile / worse clarity / bar / uneven fur length / worse veiling.
The better animals generally are not massive (bigger than costina but not as big as animals with mostly la plata traits).If the selection isn’t good, then the costina will logically sort of take over due to superior fertility. But often look like rats but reproduce like rats too. Try to understand this piece of text I took the effort to translate. It is very very true in breeding practise.
Countries that have show systems that look too much for size and shape, end up with less clear lighter which are slow breeders, this is certainly the case in the UK. To avoid this happening in your own herd, you have to look at the full package of the animal and not too much at shape and size. By looking for a combination of excellent clarity + fur mass you going to get a mix of costina + la plata types. Because fur mass is strength of la plata and clarity of the costina.
This should cast some light on all the “ratty” looking chinnies being sold here and why there are suddenly so many of them. I will never boast with big litters or more than 2 (often only 1) litter per year. If you understand this you will know why.
Topic 8: Texture
“Texture is what the fur looks like. Difficult to explain but it is how fine or coarse the individual hair is. It can give a silky look or a “coarse” look. Fine texture will be thin and coarse texture will be thick. If it is too fine the hair will fall down and if it is too coarse it will look like a porcupine. Very basic but how I see it.”
Simply put, tidy fur will have good texture and untidy fur will have bad texture. It goes hand in hand with fur mass (how many hairs there is) and if the fur is an even length all over. If it is different lengths on different parts it will create a “wavy” appearance, not a smooth and silky one. A clean chinnie will always have better texture than a dirty one. The way I see it, you can have the thickest bush of hair ever. If it is dirty and you do not comb it a bald man will be more attractive. It is how smooth the surface of the fur looks. Remember that strong guard hair (king hair) sticks out and should not be taken into account. The guard hair keeps the fur up, giving it the silky look.
Topic 9: Bar
Probably the easiest one of the lot because you can see it. Bar is the White section of the fur in the normal agouti patterning. This means when you look at the fur you must see the underfur, the bar and the veiling. The bar will form a white line as in the picture below.
The grey you see in the middle is the underfur. The white circle is the bar and the dark around the white is the veiling. For a chinnie to have good bar it must be clear (not off-colour or grey) and it must be defined, meaning it must not be blended with the underfur or veiling. The bar must also be the same all over the body, not “deeper or shallower” in certain places. So good bar is a good colour and it forms a straight line, almost as if there is a border between the bar, the underfur and the veiling. In Europe the width of the bar doesn’t matter, you can have a clearer and better defined “thin line” bar that will be better than a broader bar that is off colour and blends with the rest. Bar improves with age. It can only be judged at about 6 months or older.
This is a very good example. The bar on top is clear and a straight line. The bar at the bottom doesn’t for a nice line, it blends with the underfur and veiling and the color is not clear.
Topic 10: Patterning
Fur pattern is how the surface of the fur looks. If it is good it will be smooth and unbroken, like a piece of velvet. Pattern is influenced by fur length which can give a choppy appearance. If a chinchilla is priming (shedding old fur) it will affect the pattern. The pictures above are just to give an indication. When a chinchilla is priming it can have a mottled appearance like the photo below. Patterning is if the chinnie have a solid colour or if it appears mottled. “Mottled” is like a piece of marble or granite. It will have a base colour with a bunch of spots on it. Again it can’t be associated with colour and must be seen with the other qualities. A chinnie with poor density or veiling will appear mottled and therefore have poor pattern. If it is a nice solid colour it has good pattern. I am still learning more about patterning and if there is anything new I will add it.
You can see in this photo that the chinnie is priming and I only use it to show the mottled appearance and the influence it has on pattern. In chinnies with bad patterning they will look like this even when they are not priming. They will give the impression that they were hiding behind a screen full of holes and you threw paint at them.