One of the best things about living on a large and remote mountain homestead is that you get the opportunity to rescue many animals. We’ve rescued several lost or abandoned dogs, four homeless cats, three rejected goats and countless battery chickens. The rescue animal that has a special place in my heart however, is the guinea pig. It all started a few years ago when my friend called me up. “Would you be able to urgently re-home eight vicious male guinea pigs that have been attacking each other and their owner who no-longer wants them because they can’t bear the sight of any more blood?”. Of course the answer was yes! Turns out two of those pigs we’re actually female and that had been the reason for the uncontrollable cage-fighting. We separated the girls from the boys, gave them first aid, food, and housing and harmony was quickly restored. Since then many pigs have come and gone from the Freedom Farm.
Some of our pigs are adopted by our friends and neighbours in single-sex pairs and some pigs live out their lives here in comfort and safety.
Sometimes the pigs arrive in poor health and we keep them in segregated accommodation until they’ve had time to recover from their ordeal. Often they have wounds from being attacked by other pigs or from being kept in unsuitable conditions. It’s common that they’re poorly socialised and can be aggressive to humans and other pigs so it’s important that we take good regular care of each pig until they’re ready to enter the general population. Some guinea pigs never adjust to life with other pigs and they are housed separately.
For most pigs however, they’ll be placed in a single-sex enclosure, (boys with boys, girls with girls) where they’ll soon find their place in the pig hierarchy with little fuss.
However, the Freedom Farm is a working farm and homestead on a tight budget. People often ask me if we eat the Guinea Pigs and the answer is no! But we can’t afford to keep these (or any) exotic animals without putting them to work for us and since guinea pigs are pretty useless at farm work we had to find some other way to justify keeping them.
Permaculture Guinea Pigs is the project I’ve been working on to incorporate the guinea pig rescue into our permaculture project. I quickly discovered that the pigs produce a lot of poop and since they’re vegetarian creatures their poop can be used in the garden straight away without needing to compost it first. I tried a few experiments, applying the waste from the enclosures to my garden and the mix of sawdust, straw, and pig poop yielded good results.
For the next phase in the plan we used these old vintage fruit crates to create raised beds which we placed next to the guinea pigs enclosures and for a few months every time we cleaned them out we put the waste directly in the boxes. It didn’t take very long to fill them up and once they were full we started planting.
The results have been outstanding. Everything we grow in these pig-poo-boxes grows really well.
Like all soil and compost it does tend to shrink over time but that is no problem as it’s very easy to simply add more every time we clean out the guinea pig houses.
This system works well for the guinea pigs themselves because whenever we pull off a faded or slightly chewed leaf it goes straight into their enclosure for them to eat.
It’s a cycle that feeds itself, pigs feed the plants, plants feed the pigs. We make sure they get plenty of straw and hay from the goat barn as well as regular treats of alfalfa and black oats. It’s very satisfying to see how they’ve become part of the lifecycle of the farm.