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Permaculture Techniques - Useful Animals in a Permaculture System

Guinea Pigs

We began breeding guinea pigs when our eldest was seven years old - nineteen years ago - and haven't been without a pig or three since then. Our pigs now number over forty and are housed in three enclosures. Several of them are allowed to run around the garden and don't seem to be worried by predators. The guys and gals are separated and if we want young ones we organise breeding cages.

Guinea Pigs make idea pets for children who don't own cats and dogs. Females are very clean and hardly smell at all.


Usually kept in cages or confined to specific areas so ensnaring is simple.


If butchering for meat then a suitable area will be required but due to the small size of the animal this can be done on the kitchen sink. Skills are required for this task.


Guinea pig manure is an excellent fertiliser. Guinea pigs can consume three times their body weight of green plant matter daily and therefore produce much manure. A movable open bottom cage may be used to help eradicate unwanted plants, including noxious weeds. Guinea Pig meat is used by many people in the world and is served as a delicacy in some Australian restaurants. Skins may be easily tanned for use as clothing etc.

Our Guinea Pigs

As well as great pets our guinea-pigs are working animals. Although cute, cuddly and very friendly, our guinea pigs munch their way through kitchen scraps, turning it into wonderful maunure for our compost bin.

Being small it's easy to have several guinea pigs in a back yard - they make ideal suburban backyard permaculture animals - especially if chickens are not allowed.

Our cavies are kept in a huge cage under the house - about the size of a living room. This cage is the height of a living room too, so it's easy for us humans to get in and play with our pets, or clean the cage.

Last year we added 'the Hilton' to their enclosure, a 3mx3m galvanised iron shed with a whirlybird extractor in the roof and a small window high up. The boys and girls have access to the Hilton from their individual sides of their enclosure. The wire fence between them continues across the floor of the Hilton. It's only 30cm high and so far none of the guys have worked out how to get over it to sweet-talk the girls!

The guinea pigs require no extra food beyond our fruit & vegetable scraps, but we supplement with wheat screenings and weeds from the garden. The males and females are separated by a low wire fence, and seem happy with the arrangement. We did have a colony of guinea pigs living in the orchard, free ranging, but over time their numbers dwindled. This may have been because white guinea pigs eventually dominated, and the babies were an easy target for birds of prey. We tried again, but the guinea pigs bred under the house kept coming back and running around the cage, meanwhile munching on garden plants I'd rather they left alone! However the free range pigs were fabulous and kept the grass down in the orchard that winter and spring. We miss them - observing the colony was fascinating & rewarding.

We constructed safe houses with pipes and bricks and timber, scattered throughout the orchard, but the guinea pigs preferred the daisy hedgerow (as did the feral rabbits!)
We have several breeding cages, with wire bottoms, that we use when we want babies, or to mow the grass on the driveway below the house, and to keep other areas under control. This works very well, as the cages are of lightweight construction and easy to move everyday.

Guinea pigs can eat up to 5 times their own weight in green stuff every day. We provide grass, seagrass, hay or straw for them to use as bedding, although they soon munch their way through it. As we give them this and wheat we supply them with water in shallow dishes. They drink the most if they have lucerne hay - almost as though the hay is salty!

Guinea-pigs are rodents, so they need plenty of rough chewing to stop their teeth getting too long and to help wear their claws. If they have no twigs or other sources of wood to chew, they will ring-bark shrubs & small trees. We keep a few hollow logs and bricks on the floor of the cage and this seems to do the trick. From time to time we need to cut the claws, but this is easily done with sharp scissors.

Guinea pigs have a keen sense of smell, and know instantly when food has been left for them. They also hear us coming, and call out 'wheat, wheat, wheat' or is it 'weed, weed, weed"? It's hard to tell!

Our guinea pigs tend to eat most things, but do refuse some foods, like oxalis weeds and plants. They love fresh banana skins and orange peel. Guinea-pigs must have a regular supply of vitamin C - like humans, & unlike other animals, they cannot manufacture it in the gut. And they need some grass or hay every day as the long fibres keep their digestive systems working properly.

They are very intelligent and can be easily trained, but only if they want to be. They will sit in your lap for hours, as still as can be, without peeing, then ask to be let down. We've had a few guinea pigs that bite, but these are identified at birth, as the habit is begun that early. But overall, they are the most gentle, wonderful pets for children.

Guinea pigs can even be kept inside. Our first guinea pig book was written by a German, who kept his inside all year round. So no matter what size garden you have, guinea pigs are great pets who reward you with affection and wonderful garden fertiliser!

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Copyright © Beverley Paine 2002-14. Article from this website may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this entire notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained from the author in order to reprint this article in a published work or to offer it for sale in any form. Please visit Bungala Ridge Permaculture Gardens for more original content by Beverley Paine.