Many clients have asked how they can make their own wood chews for their chinchillas. These are our directions for preparing branches from trees that are known to be safe for chinchillas.
Please be sure to check that the wood you intend to prepare IS safe on our safe woods page, and be absolutely certain that you know the the type of tree you are going to take cuttings from. Also be certain that the tree has not been sprayed with pesticides or fungicides and that there wouldn't be any drift of sprays from any surrounding trees or plants.
Take branches that are green (live, not dead). Trim off the leaves and the little twigs that hold the fruit before you clean them. Use clean pruners to do most of this work as if you just grab and pull, you end up stripping off bark, which is the best part of the stick!
Use a scrub brush in a tub of hot water for the larger branches to get them really good and clean. The smaller "shoelace" sized twigs that are too small to actually scrub, put them in a tub of hot water (already cut to the length you want them) and soak them until the water isn't hot anymore. Periodically go over and scrub your hands through the water to agitate it really well. Dump the water and repeat a few times. You'll notice the water turning kind of an orangy-brown color, that's the tannins coming out of the wood and it won't hurt anything, it's perfectly safe. Wood that has lichen (green mossy looking stuff growing on it) is fine to use as well. Just scrub off the lichen. It comes off rather easily with a scrub brush.
Give all your scrubbed wood a good rinse in a fresh tub of water and put them onto old towels to air dry.
Once the sticks are air-dried (no longer wet), make sure the oven isn't going to be needed for anything for a couple days. This is easier than taking everything out and putting it all back in again later. If you have others in the family that might turn on the oven, you might want to put a note on the oven to make sure someone doesn't preheat it for something and inadvertently burn your wood!
Put a couple pieces of aluminum foil on the racks of the oven (I don't recommend using a cookie sheet, especially coated ones). Lay out all the sticks on the foil preferably so they're not overlapping, but the small ones just make sure they're not all in one big heap. The larger sticks (pencil width and larger) lay in rows next to each other (cut them with clean pruners to the size you want them to be before drying in the oven...it's much easier).
Turn on the oven to its lowest temperature. 170-180 degrees is about right. Too high a temperature will actually burn the sticks and then the chins don't like them and all that work has gone to waste. Let the oven heat up to that temperature and then turn it off and let it cool down with the sticks in it. Don't open the oven. Usually a couple hours later you can repeat the process. Repeat this several times until the sticks are dried out (take one and break it...you'll be able to tell, it will snap like a dead branch if it's ready). The really skinny twigs that were soaked clean, about 4-5 cycles of heating and cooling down is usually sufficient. The larger ones will take longer.
You'll not want to do this when you're having company over. You WILL smell these things "cooking" and it's not the most pleasant aroma.
If you need assistance, just contact us and we'll be happy to answer any questions you may have about this process. Please use "preparing wood chews" as your subject to help us serve you better.