Hay plays a very important role in the health of chinchillas and should be the foundation of their diets. Chinchillas are herbivores and need to have food constantly moving through their digestive systems. The fiber in hay aid in this process.
FREQUENCY TO FEED HAY ~ A handful a day keeps the vet away~
Providing daily rations of hay to your animals is of great benefit and will go a long ways to keeping them healthy. An unlimited supply of hay has many benefits to chinchillas:
It provides the required fiber to aide in digestion,
keeps their rear teeth ground down,
provides added nutrition to their diets,
and keeps them occupied.
IMPORTANCE OF QUALITY HAY / PROPER STORAGE
Hay is a fairly inexpensive protion of the daily upkeep/maintenance that goes into chinchilla raising, however, it needs to be selected with care. When selecting hay, look for the following qualitites:
Mold free (with no evidence of being exposed to molds or excessive moistures after cutting)
Purchased from a reputable farm to ensure proper handling
Pleasant fragrence (with no musty or dust smells)
A good majority of the hay should maintain its natural green color
Finding good quality hay can be a difficult task, especially during the "off-season" (winter months). With this in mind, it is important to purchase as much hay as can be properly stored in late summer. The best way I have found to located quality hay is through reputable horse owners. They are very picky about the hay they feed their animals, and some even go to the lengths of visiting the farm they will purchase the hay from prior to harvest.
There have been many studies on the amount of time hay can be stored, and of course is accompanied by factors, such as temperature and weather exposure (sun, rain/snow and wind). An aritcle prepared by University of Kentucky stated that "the amounts of energy, protein, calcium, and phosphorus in a bale of hay in dry storage are basically the same after two years of storage as they are after two months of storage" (Lawrence).
TYPES OF HAY / NUTRITIONAL VALUES
The most common types of hay fed to chinchillas are timothy, orchard grass, alfalfa and alfafa-grass mixtures. The most ideal cut for chinchillas is the 2nd cut timothy or timothy-alfalfa mix. This is due to the time of year the hay is cut and the stage of growth.
Depending on the pellet feed the chinchillas are being fed, it is not always advisable to give Alfalfa on a regular basis due to the high calcium content. It is an excellend supplemental source of added calcium and protein for nursing mothers and can also be benifical to young animals when fed sparingly.
(Lawrence, Laurie M and Robert J. Coleman, Choosing Hay for Horses, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, 2000)