The chinchilla baby
I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I did write about topics that will overlap this but I didn’t write specifically only about babies. This will be written from the top of my head. There is very little about it and everyone says the same. This is from my own experience, observations from what I’ve seen with other breeders and what I could remember from research over the years. When I wrote about the other topics I went through everything again and there is nothing new. There is also not nearly enough.
Baby chinnies are usually born in the morning. It does happen that they are born later during the day but very seldom at night. Babies born here are usually born between 8 and 11 in the morning and only 1 in 5 births will take place a bit later. The latest I had the past year was at 3 in the afternoon.
Just before the babies are born the mother’s water will break. The babies should then be born within about 4 hours or you will have to take her to the Vet. With strong, healthy and old enough mommies difficult births or other complications are extremely rare. Usually you will just discover the new babies already drinking from mommy.
When a chinnie gives birth she will sit on her haunches and if the babies doesn’t come out easily she will pull them out. I have witnessed a lot of births and it is usually with first time mommies that she will pull out the babies. Her mouth will be there but you can see if if she is pulling them out or not. This doesn’t make a difference if it is a normal birth. She can pull them out or not, they will be fine. If it is a breach birth the baby will come out tail first instead of head first. Breach births are not common and also not always a problem. It can however be a problem because the hind legs can get stuck. If this happens the mother will pull the baby out by the tail, often causing injury to the tail. The baby can even lose the tail but if she gets the baby out quickly it is not serious. If a breach birth cause problems and the baby is stuck a Vet will need to assist. If it takes too long the baby can die. The mother will survive if there is no internal injuries to her. Because most people do not see the actual birth they do not even know this happens. They will only notice if there is a problem. Often they will arrive home in the afternoon and find the mommy with the baby sticking out partially. She can even eat part of the baby in an attempt to get it out.
If everything goes smoothly the whole birth can take less than an hour, even if there are more than 2 babies. Some births happens very fast, only a fw minutes between babies and everything is over. For every baby that is born there is a placenta (afterbirth).
Immediately after birth
The first thing the mommy will do is to open the birth sack the baby is wrapped in. If she doesn’t open this the baby will suffocate. When she has it open she will remove the whole birth sack and eat it. She will also stimulate the baby with her mouth to help him to start breathing, just like a doctor will slap a human baby’s bum. She will keep nudging him with her nose and if this doesn’t help she will softly bite him. I often get questions from chinnie owners who asks me if the mother or father killed the baby and ate some of it. The answer is no. This is the time that it happens. If the baby is stillborn the mother will often intensify her efforts to get the baby to start breathing. She will go as far as to start eating the baby in an attempt to make it breathe. The mother will never kill her babies. Neither will the father, except if he has a genetic disorder that makes him aggressive towards babies. It does happen. I’ll get to it later.
Once the mother got the baby breathing she will start cleaning it. If there is another baby on the way there will be enough time for her to get the first one breathing before the next arrives. With experienced and older mothers the babies can come only minutes apart but she will cope. With first time mothers it can be a problem, especially if she is too young. She will just not know what to do. If you are present you can open the birth sack and softly stimulate the baby’s chest with your finger. In a case like this she will need more help and you can dry the baby with a hair drier. Just be careful that it is not too hot. Even if a baby looks dead and you just carry on with this you will often save the baby’s life. We have very few babies in winter but the hair dryer saved many lives. If the babies comes too close together on a cold day she will not have time to dry them quickly enough and if you can help they will live. Just like helping her opening the birth sacks will also save lives. When mommy is too young and the babies arrive she doesn’t know what to do, she will be too concerned about the next one that’s on the way to help the first one. If she is really young she will be just too exhausted to do anything. With chinnies that fall pregnant at the right age these problems are rare, then it is only the cold.
If she is busy cleaning the babies, looks relaxed and they start drinking the birth process is over. You will often not even notice the placentas coming out. She will eat it or part of it but it is not uncommon to find it, especially if there is more than one baby. She will clean up so thoroughly that people often only notice new babies when they see them running around. I leave them in peace till late afternoon if everything is fine. Then I will check the babies thoroughly and also check the mommy. She should not be bleeding anymore. There will still be a bit of blood and discharge but it will stop soon. Even just after the babies were born there should not be a lot of blood. The only time there is a lot of fluid is when her water breaks. For some people a little blood looks like a lot so this is difficult to explain. If there is a constant flow there is a problem. It should stop soon and if it doesn’t she must go to the Vet. I then also feel her belly to make sure everything is out. There will be obvious lumps in her belly. It can be the placenta that didn’t come out or another baby. The placenta can come out hours later and even if you check the next morning there is enough time to do something. Infection will not set in so soon.
If it is another baby and you can feel the baby move she must go to the Vet. I explained a while ago about pregnancies that occurs after she is already pregnant. This can be the case but the smaller baby will be born with the normal baby. If it doesn’t happen she must go to the Vet. The easiest is to feel her belly the next morning, it is still safe. If she doesn’t show labor cramps or discomfort she will be fine. If she does show labor cramps and constantly puts her head between her hind legs there is still something on the way, either another baby or placenta. If she keeps doing this 4 hours after the birth of the last baby she must go to the Vet. It must not be mistaken with just cleaning herself.
So now the babies are born, she got them breathing, she cleaned them and they will start drinking. The whole birth process is complete.
This is becoming a very long piece. I will break it up and write about the next stages in separate posts.
The role of the daddy
After the babies were born and mommy cleaned them they will crawl under her and start drinking. Because they are still so small you will often only see the tails stick out. She will keep them warm until they can produce enough of their own body heat. Before I carry on, now is a good time to discuss the role of the father.
When she gives birth the mommy will most often prefer to be alone. Daddy will sit somewhere out of the way but it sometimes happen that he will be with her right through everything. You now face a problem. If you leave him with her he will most likely mate with her again because she ovulates for 48-72 hours after giving birth. This is called back breeding and it means that she will be pregnant while she is feeding babies. Obviously this can’t be good. I need to expand on this a bit because of how I breed and also what I see in my chinnies. When you read books written by and for pelt ranchers you will see that they exploit the back breeding “window” to make sure they get more babies per year.
I try to base everything I do as much on how it will work in nature as possible. People will disagree but before you do please read everything. I keep my girls separate until they are older than 8 months and weigh more than 600g. I then pair them with a male. When they are far pregnant I take them away and they have their first babies alone. This way I prevent back breeding. Once the babies are weaned I give her 4 weeks rest and then pair her with a male for life. I do not separate them again. I have a very good reason for this but it works for me and it is also my opinion. I haven’t read it anywhere and nobody told me. I noticed it over the years.
The daddy have a very important role to play. When mommy needs rest he will keep the babies busy and warm. Chinnie daddies are very involved with their kids. The reason I do not separate them again is because of this. The chinnie parents form a very strong bond. They need each other. You just can’t allow a young girl to back breed. It has happened in the past that I did take the male away and the female became so stressed that she lost interest in the babies. When I put the male back everything was fine.
Because my chinnies are all housed in a granny flat they function the same as a herd in the wild would. There are the households, a pair. They form part of the colony. Because they are part of a colony the colony influences their behavior. They fall into a yearly routine. Most babies are born about the same time in Spring and then again in Autumn. Back breeding is rare.
The male will mate with the female again after she gave birth because she is in heat. This doesn’t always happen. Because of the colony they often just don’t mate again. She will not always fall pregnant. If she is not a young girl and she does fall pregnant there is usually only 1 baby, sometimes 2. If her body can’t handle it she will re-absorb the fetus. This is how it works in nature. If she does fall pregnant she will usually skip the next cycle. I have very few back breed babies, they are in a good routine and the babies come when they should, only 2 litters per year. They function in balanced family groups and as a colony. The daddy is always there, as he should be.
When they do mate soon after her giving birth it is important to protect the babies. They are not stupid and I provide hiding places for them in the form of PVC pipes that they can fit into but not the adults. This way I never have a baby that gets hurt.
It can happen that the father is aggressive and kills the babies. This is extremely rare and happened to me once with a male someone gave me. He killed his babies right after they were born, I walked in as he killed the last one. I gave him to someone as a pet. When males are like this it is usually a genetic disorder and it can be passed to their offspring. Pelt farmers cull them and big breeders sell them to pelt farmers or as pets.
It can be the other way around too. The mommy can get extremely aggressive towards the end of her pregnancy and a few years ago I almost lost a male because the female nearly killed him. It was their 3rd litter together. I took the girl out of breeding because I don’t want that trait passed to any babies, especially boys.
The pairs I have now are mostly already a few years old and are like married couples. The babies comes in Spring and Autumn and rarely there is a back breed but then she just skips the next cycle. When I make up young pairs they settle into this routine after the first babies. I will always breed like this because if you see the interaction between the daddy and the babies and the free time it allows mommy just to rest a bit you will understand.
The big risk you take when separating them when the babies are born is that in most cases the mommy will not take him back after 4 days. You must then wait till the babies are weaned and not with mommy anymore. The only way it can work is to give him supervised visits at very regular intervals. This is not practical because most people are not there all the time. I do it with great success with first time mommies and after 4 days daddy is with them and everything is fine. This just mean you must spend a few hours from morning to late evening with them or she will not take him back.
The way I see it is that if nature intended something to be a certain way we must not try to change it. I will protect first time mommies but after that there is no need because they protect themselves. I will not exploit back breeding to get more babies. In fact, if they do back breed you will often get less babies that year because the second litter is smaller and there is no 3rd litter. As nature intended. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.
The first week
The birth process went fine, the babies are clean and they are settling into their routine. There are a few things you should look at as soon as the mommy dried them and cleaned herself. I give them a few hours before I bother them. Off course by this time you would have noticed if there are any stillborn babies or babies that are struggling from the start. As I explained with the birth process it can be that she just didn’t have time to dry them all thoroughly. You can help with the hair dryer.
The first thing to look at is the size of the babies. If there are more than 2 one of them will often be obviously smaller than the other 2. It can also be that there is one big one and 2 small ones. At this stage the size is not the main concern, their behavior is. Even small babies can and should be very lively soon after birth. They should move around easily within an hour or 2 after birth and should be very busy by the evening. This is where you must keep an eye on the smaller baby. If the small one is slow and not moving much there is reason for concern. With a good mother even small babies will get going, it can just take a bit longer.
I wrote about “double” pregnancies a while ago, when I wrote about complications. A smaller baby can be the result of this and then the chances of survival are slim. If babies are premature they will also be smaller but if they are not too far premature they have a good chance and should pick up soon. A good average weight for a newborn baby is about 50g but the safe parameter is between 35g and 60g. Babies smaller than 30g very seldom survive but it is not given that they will die. Babies bigger than 60g are rare. The bigger the litter the smaller the babies will be, eg. if one baby will weigh 50g 2 will weigh 45g each, 3 will weigh 40g each etc. This is just an example. With 2 or more babies from a good mother the average weight is still very close to 50g and often above 50g. It is very important to weigh the babies because you must keep an eye on their growth.
Most healthy babies are born with their eyes open but it can take a day or 2 for some eyes to go open. I haven’t had this for years but you can help the process along a bit. Do not try to pull open the eyes, you will cause permanent damage. You can treat it exactly like an eye irritation, where the eyelids are stuck together. It can be because of the birth fluids that they are stuck together. Just apply a drop of the eye drops used to clean contact lenses. In South Africa I use Renu-It. Natural Tears also works. Do not use medicated eye drops or any eye drops other than the drops to clean contact lenses. The contact lens drops are safe because they just clean, they do not medicate. They will soften the sticky parts and help the eyes to open. Just a drop on the closed eyes every 6 hours is fine. No more attention is needed but if the eyes do not open after 3 days a Vet will have to look at the baby. It is usually with small or premature babies and then the closed eyes are the least of the problems.
Soon after the babies are dry they will start drinking from mommy. This doesn’t mean she has milk yet. She will only produce milk if they suckle. It’s not like a milk bottle you just open and the milk comes out. Milk production is stimulated by the suckling. It can take 2 days before she has milk. The babies are born with about 3 days reserve to keep them going. In most cases with a good mommy she will have milk by the same evening they were born. If she is on a good diet there is no reason to give supplements. I do not give any supplements, just the normal food, a mineral block, probiotics in the water and as much alfalfa (lucerne) as she wants. Because of good selection and not letting them fall pregnant too soon there are no problems with mommies not having milk.
The best way to make sure she has milk and it’s enough is to weigh the babies every day. From day 1 to day 3 they might lose a bit of weight and there are other signs to look for. If all goes well they should gain about 1,5g per day for the first 4 weeks. Anything above at least 1g is OK and it can even be more than 1,5g. This means by 4 weeks the baby should have doubled it’s birth weight. Because it can take a day or 2 for the milk to come in there are other signs to look for. The babies will be very busy but when they drink they will be quiet. If they stay restless and do not sit still to drink there is no milk. By the 3rd morning they will become lethargic and become weak very fast. By this time you should’ve noticed it already. If there is no milk they will often bite the nipples to try to get milk. This can cause the mother to bite them back but usually she will just make a noise and push them away. By checking her nipples you will see if there are bite marks.
You can help the mommy by feeding the babies goats milk. It is just important that they keep suckling or she won’t make milk. It is a bit of a balancing act. You must feed them enough to keep them alive and well but not too much that they don’t suckle at all. This should not be necessary if you only breed with suitable females. Even with first time mommies it will all be fine if she is old enough. When she becomes old it can be a problem again. The responsible thing is to retire females at 6-7 years. They can have babies up to 9 years or even older but then the risk of losing babies increases and for me it gets too high so I rather retire them.
Mommy has milk and they are drinking. The next problem will be sibling rivalry. It can not be a problem at all but they can kill each other, especially if there are more than 2 babies. A chinnie mommy has 6 teats but the top 2 are the most popular. The babies will establish a pecking order and in most cases by far it will happen with a bit of squabbling and they will settle down. The strongest babies will get the top 2 teats and the 3rd and 4th if there is one will drink lower down. If the mommy is healthy and on a good diet there will be enough milk for them all.
It does happen from time to time that you get a very aggressive baby that will fight just for the sake of fighting. This is often inherited from one of the parents and breeders will take any aggressive chinnies out of breeding. Over the years I lost 2 babies because of this. In one case the parents are the most timid pair you will ever find so it just happened. In the other case the father was an Ebony that was aggressive and once I realized what the risks were I took him out of breeding. A bit of fighting amongst babies are common but if it gets rough the risk is that the aggressive one will bite another one on the nose. If there is blood and the baby inhales some of it, even just a little bit the baby will not survive. You can do what you want, if the baby doesn’t drown in the blood infection will set in and you will lose the baby at the longest 2-3 days later. There is absolutely nothing anyone can do. This can be a problem right to the time when they are weaned. I lost the one at 2 weeks and the other at 6 weeks. After speaking to a lot of people over the years it became obvious that the aggressive behavior is more likely with Ebony than any other color. The least problems with aggressive behavior is from White and then the recessive mutations.
If you do encounter this you will have to make a choice. Either you can risk it happening at any time or you can remove one of the babies. If there are 2 the choice is yours. If there are more than 2 and only one is aggressive you will have to remove the aggressive one. You can then either hand rear the baby or place it with a surrogate mother. What works well is to place the aggressive baby with a mother that has only one baby but the baby must be a few weeks older. If the mother accepts the baby there is no problem. It also works to put the troublemaker with a mother who’s own babies were just weaned. As you wean them you introduce the new baby. She will continue to produce milk as long as the baby suckles. I have done this in the past when I lost a mommy to birth complications and the surrogate mommy raised the second litter right after she raised the first. I gave her a long rest afterwards.
To hand rear a chinnie is not difficult if you have the determination to do it right. I raised quite a few babies for other people but only found it necessary with one of my own once. I didn’t lose any of them and my own one is still here. I use powdered goats milk that I prepare exactly as the instructions say. I mix the powder with luke warm boiled water, add a dash of colostrum and feed it with a 1ml syringe or an insulin syringe that diabetics use. The colostrum can be bought from a pharmacy in capsule form and it is only necessary to give it the first 2 weeks. The reason for giving it is that colostrum builds the immune system. If you do not give it the baby can get diseases easier later in life. For the first 2 weeks the baby must be fed every 2 hours, right through the night and day. By the 3rd week you can change the routine a bit. Feeding every 3 hours is fine. You give the last milk as late as possible in the evening and again as early as possible in the morning. If you do this and keep it up the chances of survival are very good.
The first week is also important because if there is any serious birth defect the baby will not survive the first week, even if everything else is fine. If something serious is wrong the mother will often abandon the affected baby because she knows it will not survive. A mother doesn’t abandon a baby without reason. It will happen that she will spend time away from them to rest a bit. It can be hours at a time. This is normal and this is also why the daddy is so important. He will keep them warm and happy while she rests.
The biggest tell tale sign that something is wrong is that the baby will go all hunched up, like a question mark. It will be as if the baby curls up into the fetus position. Even if baby still drinks and this doesn’t improve the baby will not survive. It can take days or even a few weeks but if the baby doesn’t get a normal posture it is just a matter of time. The first week tells us a lot and is a good indication of what to expect later. If there is something wrong most babies will not survive the first week.
Weeks 2 to 10 and after that
If the babies survive week one the mommy have milk, they are drinking and the risk of losing one diminishes with every day that pass. There are still risks but if you notice certain things you can either prevent them or fix them if it happens. Genetic disorders can unfortunately not be fixed and it is often only after they are weaned that you will notice it.
I already mentioned sibling rivalry. It can still happen at any time but usually after the first week it is pretty much sorted out. The most important development now is that the babies will start eating solid food. They will start nibbling on hay and small pieces of pellets. Pretty soon they will eat regularly. The biggest concern now is that if mommy doesn’t have enough milk they will compensate by eating more. It is very important to keep an eye on them for the whole 8-10 weeks they drink from her. If they don’t drink but only eat solids and drink water there is not enough milk and you must help her as I already mentioned. Goats milk is best but if it is not available kitten milk is also good.
A baby can survive on it’s own after drinking milk for about 4 weeks. This is off course not the ideal situation and if will severely slow down their growth if this is the case. By weighing them regularly you can keep an eye on this. From week 4 they should gain about 2g per day. This means by week 8 they should be close to 200g. The 2g per day becomes more if everything goes well but it should not be less. It seems like the accepted norm for a healthy weight at 8 weeks is from 260g up. If they eat too much solids too soon and don’t drink anymore they will gain very little weight, so little it will not even be noticed on a daily basis.
The added risks to eating too much solids too soon is bloat and constipation. I wrote about it earlier and it kills babies, especially bloat. When I finish this I will do another piece on bloat, constipation and diarrhea in adolescent chinnies.
The risks to the mother lessens as time goes by. If there is any infection it will show after a few days but can take up to a few weeks. It was discussed in detail when I wrote about complications. An added risk is mastitis. Mastitis is inflammation of the mammary glands. This is not always easy to notice. The teats will get swollen and go red. It will be painful when the babies drink and she will prevent them. It can happen in only one teat or more than one. The babies will then squabble over the other teats. It can often be noticed by matted fur and dry milk around the teat. I will do a thorough piece on mastitis. The risks are twofold. The babies can be deprived of enough milk and the infection can also spread to them. Mastitis is caused by bacteria and when passed to the babies their chances of survival is extremely slim. It is good practice to check her on a daily basis. I do it with all the chinnies and the babies every morning and evening.
If there is enough milk and everything goes smooth the last thing that can happen is that problems with their development will become evident as they grow older. If they survived the first week it will most often only show after they are weaned and it will usually be problems with the intestinal tract. Mother’s milk is very easy to break down and absorb. Once they are on solids and water alone their bodies need to get all the nutrition they need from the solid food. The problem can either be that the intestines can’t handle the solid food and gets blocked or that they just can’t absorb the nutrition they need. If the intestines can’t handle the food or more of the food as they eat more they will become constipated. The body just can’t get rid of the poop. If the chinnie can’t poop it will start poisoning the chinnie, the liver can’t handle all the toxins in the blood and the chinnie will not survive. Bloat often goes hand in hand with constipation. With a well balanced diet unnecessary risks are eliminated. The most important part of the diet is enough hay. If the diet lacks enough fiber the intestines will stop working.
Treats often kill young chinnies. The only treats I use is what is in the food already, rose hip shells and goji berries. Then I give a small piece of apple twice a week. I give nothing else.
Mommy will wean them at between 8 and 10 weeks. If she doesn’t I take them away in the 12th week. There is no hurry before 12 weeks. After 12 weeks the boys can impregnate the mothers. The girls are still too young to get pregnant but they can get pregnant as young as 14 weeks. I split the boys and girls. If there are any problems you will notice it during the next few weeks. I have recently decided not to let babies go before 14 weeks of age. Apart from the fact that it gives me more than enough time to see if anything is wrong it also protects the chinnies. A cute new baby can be spoiled to death. If someone doesn’t know what to do and the baby gets diarrhea or constipation it can kill them before the new owner realize something is wrong. After they have been on their own for a month the risk of this happening is minimal. They are a lot stronger and even little mistakes from owners can be overcome. In 99% of cases nothing will happen and baby will be fine but there is no reason to let them go earlier, except money. There is no hurry and if it saves 1 baby it is enough. Keep in mind that once the baby is out of your care you have no control. You can give advice but nothing more. Just like you protect the babies you also protect yourself. Nothing can destroy a reputation as fast as people accusing you of giving them weak chinnies. Even if it is not your fault.
When babies gets weaned it is a stressful time for them. By having a “nursery” cage for each sex you minimize this too. They have friends of the same age to play with and the stress is a lot less. When they are then re-homed a few weeks later they will be fine. To re-home them straight from the mommy to the new home is not good. I used to do this before I knew better. Most breeders by far still do it this way and it is dangerous.
I can write hundreds of pages on babies but this should cover the most important and obvious parts. I hope it helps.