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Free ranging guinea pigs (cuy)

 
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Hi,
here a nice video of someone who raises guinea pigs outdoors, free range, without fencing.

Maybe someone wants to try this out with cuy, as a meat source?

 
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I looked into getting cuy at one point, but where I live, guinea pigs are too firmly in the "pet" category. True cuy are larger than what's locally sold as pets, so it would have been hard to import the real thing.

I could certainly see trying this in a city where their quiet behavior would be a major asset.
 
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The "pet" thing is quite real. Guinea pigs are pretty damn engaging and responsive, as far as rodents go. (And I am hell+death on rodents who mess with my buildings and plantings.) But guineas talk to you, and purr too, when you pet them. I have seen them used in classrooms with kids who are crazy anxious, as a calming influence; they sit in a basket on the kid's desk. And the kids have duties, caring for them, and learning responsibility.

Actually I can't believe I'm defending a rodent. I would eat one if hungry enough. They raise them at the zoo to feed other creatures. But they are remarkable.
 
Jay Angler
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:Actually I can't believe I'm defending a rodent. I would eat one if hungry enough. They raise them at the zoo to feed other creatures. But they are remarkable.

Pigs are intelligent and remarkable also, and some people keep them as pets, and yet we eat them - a lot of them. There are other countries that raise dogs to eat, which most North Americans would find unacceptable. Social mores are a concept that is community dependent. They can also do a sudden shift at times, so maybe cuy will do that on my Island if people get hungry enough? The research I did suggested that they'd do well here and not rely on off-Island imports!
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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To clarify, no judgy pants here. I'm an omnivore, and well aware of the complexities of that. Just relating a few personal stories. I have looked into raising meat rabbits, which would be easy to feed here. They're probably cute as well.
 
Jay Angler
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Let's get back on topic - what are the best ways to raise these for meat? "Best" being a compromise between - healthy, humane, sustainable, permaculturaly based etc.

The scientific name of the ones raised for eating is, Cavia porcellus. This article - https://www.eattheweeds.com/guinea-pigs-cavy-cuy/  - states that they don't exist in the wild, suggesting they've been domesticated for a long time - has anyone met a wild cow lately? This suggests that if somehow released, they won't turn into a problem like wild pigs have! That article also gives some nutritional info, and a bunch of info from the Dept of Making You Sad for different places around the world. Also info on how to prepare them - it appears that you don't skin them, but in fact blanche them and remove the fur. That would likely both keep the meat from drying out and improve the fat content - I'm always looking for healthy, home-grown sources of fat.

This article is suggesting the Cuy's time has come, but is short on details: https://modernfarmer.com/2015/12/cuy/

Emotionally/culturally sustainable:
This article starts off well...but goes off the rails - hint, keeping just one is a bad idea:
https://foragerchef.com/raising-a-guinea-pig-for-the-table/

So I think I'd need to look next at recommendations for people raising the pet version, and go from there to consider how to raise Cuy for meat as part of a permaculture homestead. The movie posted is lovely, but it says nothing about whether those animals are being raised as a "visit a farm" income stream, or a "sustainable protein" income stream.
 
hans muster
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Hi Jay,
although I know nothing more than what was shown in the video about this situation, it appears that the guinea pigs can be trained quite well to follow the feed bucket to the place where the "herder" wants them to graze. Therefore some feed (grain or dry bread) to make them go where you want to, then let them graze, and again some feed to make them go home to safety at night. I don't know the feed conversion efficiency of guinea pigs or cuys, but have visited a farm in South America where they raised them on grass in a cut and carry system. They got pretty big with just the grass, so I think it may be quite efficient.

If you are interested in the system in South America I visited: they were raised in wire-bottom cages, similar to what Joel Salatin does with rabbits. They were then fed different grasses, I need to look at the pictures I don't remember what they were.
 
Jay Angler
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If you have some pictures of how they were doing it, please post them. It was years ago that I last did a little research into this concept, but feed prices have sky-rocketed where I live in the last 2 years - combo of weather weirding and covid disruptions. I'm on an Island that is in no way food secure and yet they keep building more housing.
Finding some more intelligent ways to feed people could be very important in the next 20 years. There's a lot of push for meat-free diets, but I know how hard it is to market garden without animal excrement to support our soil - heavy rain in winter when cover crops can protect the soil, but aren't really growing all that much.

I know the concept of "follow the feed bucket" as I use a similar concept with a small group of Khaki Campbell ducks. I let them out the morning after moving their run. They charge out, grabbing a bit of grass or a worm as the go, and just by moving my position to herd them gently, they see their umbrella and their water pan and in they go.

Our Muscovy ducks are large enough to free range in a larger area, but they only get chicken feed at bed-time and they will line up and follow along. It's like the old saying, "get all your ducks in a row".

Using some sort of rotational grazing pattern seems totally possible. Maybe I need to start with rescue pet guinea pigs as proof of concept and if they cope with our climate and system and being outdoors most of the day, worry then about whether I can get breeds more specific to meat or not.  I'm wondering if they'd be happy in the same run as the Khaki. The umbrella discourages aerial predators - total free-range and I'd be afraid they'd be targets. The bigger they are, the less of a target they'd be.
 
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Many, many, many people here in Ecuador raise cuy for food. You can buy freshly bar-b-q cuy at most every weekend farmer's market around here. It's a fatty-greasy style of meat. I have never raised them, but it's so common it probably isn't difficult. As far as I know they are fairly clean animals, they breed fast, easy to raise and keep fed. I'll ask around about the nuts and bolts reality of doing it, and report back.
Here are a few links:
https://www.baconismagic.ca/ecuador/how-to-eat-cuy-guinea-pig-in-ecuador/
https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-cuy-5195301
https://duckduckgo.com/?t=ffsb&q=ecuador+cuy&ia=web
 
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Are they related to ground hogs?  I mean, I know they are distantly as a rodent, but on a closer basis as they look a lot like what I already have in my backyard.
 
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hans muster wrote:Hi,
here a nice video of someone who raises guinea pigs outdoors, free range, without fencing.

Maybe someone wants to try this out with cuy, as a meat source?



OMG they look so cute... I'd like to try this. Has someone here tried it already?
 
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I have raised guinea pigs on some scale, tho not for food. They are small, short-legged, have very little sense of self-preservation, so extremely vulnerable to predation... I really can't imagine "free ranging" them without huge losses. Even your neighbor's cat (or your own) could make off with one easily enough. Tho they are easy to raise in a colony set-up, so if you could construct a really secure, movable tractor type enclosure that would give them a better chance of surviving to harvest. Electric poultry net would not contain the young ones or protect the adults from birds of prey.

The gestation period is much longer than other rodents, and more than 2x as long as rabbits, but babies are born furred and with eyes open, rather than as squirmy "pinkies". They do, however, grow much more slowly than meat rabbits, which can reach 4lb or more at 8 weeks, while a gp the same age might weigh 1lb. And they are not quiet, lol, their frequent, hi-pitched squealing is why they are called "pigs", so not a good choice if you have close neighbors and are trying to raise meat in town. Rabbits are quiet.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:- has anyone met a wild cow lately?


I haven't, but I think a lot of folks in India have. ☺
 
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After the recent backlash that occurred at a Haida Gwai school where a rabbit was killed for an anatomy lesson on butchering (SPCA investigation and PETA involvement), I fear cavies for dinner might not fly here in BC, CANADA.

Growing up we always had them in the kitchen where they were beloved pets and our answer to today's "green bin".  All our waste veg/fruit went straight into the cage.

Of note, they cannot "make" vit C and must be supplemented with proper guinea pig pellets (not rabbit) or heavy vitC fruit or veg.
 
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ok, sorry, I'm computer illiterate, let me try again. Speaking of stacking functions/income streams; GP make great fertilizer.  There's a whole industry in South America.  The industrial set ups use long hard floored, usually cement, troughs in open wire sided sheds.  These are easy to sterilize with steam or bleach water wipe.  As long as GP are dry and out of the wind they are not cold tender and cuddle at night anyway. The walls don't have to be high, GP don't jump or climb.  They do better if they can run back & forth and have houses to hide in.  Think small up-down cardboard boxes.  My smaller setup was with pet store wood chip bedding.  The chips, droppings, leftover feed, hay & veggies make wonderful compost.  Most GP will use one spot IF you scooped every day, then there is no oder.  The feed ratio, how much feed to make a pound of meat is good, better than chicken.  On warm days, only when I was outside, they were in one of those small dog type portable pens with an old sheet cover for shade.  They are enthusiastic little lawn mowers and make short work of weeds. Don't throw anything toxic in because they live to eat, know your weeds!  They are so efficient alfalfa is too rich, you can raise them on straight hay or timothy.  They do need fresh greens or Vit C supplement in their water because Vit C is not stable in dry feed.  Try NOT to use soy meal-based feed (the cheap stuff), they can lose hair from eating legumes.  The list of what they can't eat is short and on the cavy care sites. They have hair, not fur so are way less allergenic than rabbits to work with.  They are gentle and only bite if you are consistently long-term rough with them.  It's actually hard to get a GP to bite.  The larger agricultural breed is skittish and not so pet like.  I absolutely know that GP are a viable option for small home protein production.  And potential for income from easily handled ready to use fertilizer.  I had to downsize, health & family changes, or I would be looking into the fertilizer aspect.  
 
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The Benson Institute looked into cut as food source. https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/11290563/guinea-pig-management-manual-benson-institute
 
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I have raised GP’s - pet type- for meat many times.  I have recently acquired a herd of Cuy - the meat breeds- and will be setting them up on a rotational grazing system this summer. They thrive on grazing and can also successfully  be fed 100% veggie matter with zero other inputs.  So it makes them viable to be fully sustainable if a person doesn’t want to have to depend on buying feed. The downside is that you either have to live in a climate that produces some sort of veggie matter year around, store a copious amount of garden produce for winter or grow fodder(which obviously you are then dependent on growing grain unless you wish to buy). Cuy and GP’s are big eaters.

The meat IMO is delicious. The fat is within the muscle like pork and more moist with more flavor than rabbit.

I live in a cold northern climate (MN), so I have some challenges with winter, but look forward to spring and getting them out for grazing and garden waste. Their poop is cold like rabbit and put straight into garden.

Questions? Feel free to ask 😊
 
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Anne Nichols wrote:I have raised GP’s - pet type- for meat many times.  I have recently acquired a herd of Cuy - the meat breeds- and will be setting them up on a rotational grazing system this summer. They thrive on grazing and can also successfully  be fed 100% veggie matter with zero other inputs.  So it makes them viable to be fully sustainable if a person doesn’t want to have to depend on buying feed. The downside is that you either have to live in a climate that produces some sort of veggie matter year around, store a copious amount of garden produce for winter or grow fodder(which obviously you are then dependent on growing grain unless you wish to buy). Cuy and GP’s are big eaters.

The meat IMO is delicious. The fat is within the muscle like pork and more moist with more flavor than rabbit.

I live in a cold northern climate (MN), so I have some challenges with winter, but look forward to spring and getting them out for grazing and garden waste. Their poop is cold like rabbit and put straight into garden.

Questions? Feel free to ask 😊



Where were you able to find the livestock type?  I'm in WI, I may be interested in getting a few from you if possible.  How big are yours?
 
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Fun fact about guinea pigs, they are one of a small club of mammals that cannot produce their own vitamin C, and can therefore get scurvy.  The other mammals include great apes (That's us, chimps and gorillas) and some fruit bats.  Their feed, if you're buying for pets, is more expensive than rabbit food because it has to have vitamin c added.  Or you can figure out how to get enough vitamin in their diet naturally.  This might be a consideration in northern areas where they need supplements in the winter.  Summer fodder probably contains abundant natural vitamin C.
 
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Anne, how long from birth to butcher for the GP? Thank you.
 
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Marcos Zapata Last Supper Eating Cuy
 
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Do they dig? I am going to be raising chickens Justin Rhodes style with movable electric fence this year. I think that once they are big enough to not be on the chickens menu they could be in the same enclosure.
 
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New to posting responding- not sure how I respond to specific people...so I’ll just do a general response-

Trace- there is a breeder in WI of Cuy and Cuy cross. If I remember right, she is on the east side of the state? I’m not going to be in a position to see any females for awhile -as I need to more firmly establish my herd.  Cuy are the meat breeds from south America. One of the strains is called Peru Giants- which is the largest strain. I have multiple strains of Cuy, including the Peru Giant. And the Peru Giant is definitely one skittish pig!!!

They are generally butchered around 12 week. Cuy are 2-3 pounds at that point.  The American GP is about 1 pound. Think of eating a large sunfish for size comparison with the GP.

Gp’s don’t dig but they will walk right through an electric net fence- the openings in fence are not small enough.  A new born GP is small enough to crawl through chicken wire.
 
denise ra
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Pigs, Potatoes and Progress in Puno, Peru - Heifer Project blog.

This article is from Heifer Project, a group who help people all over the world by training them in animal husbandry, starting them off with animals, and then having them then share firstborns from their flock/herd/etc with other trained families in their area. Heifer does great work all over the world. They have 6 pages of articles on cuy, though I did not find a technical bulletin - I typed guinea pig in their search bar.

Also see the articles listed at the bottom of this page, one of them has lots of info from a grower.
 
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How does processing compare to rabbits?   I raise rabbits partly for the ease and cleanliness of the whole processing part of it.    It's really quick to do cervical dislocation and skin them.   I'm not sure I'd be into a mammal that is messier or more difficult?    Is it similar?
 
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Fascinating discussion. I've been really enjoying raising rabbits. I think cuy would fit in great at our farm, we're getting pretty good at eating cute food lol.
We had a parasite problem when we attempted rabbits in a tractor, a couple escapes, a few losses. I've been searching for breeders periodically for a few years. they still seem to be quite rare, none have popped up in Missouri or Illinois that I've heard of.
 
Jay Angler
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lauren christians wrote:Fascinating discussion. I've been really enjoying raising rabbits. I think cuy would fit in great at our farm, we're getting pretty good at eating cute food lol.
We had a parasite problem when we attempted rabbits in a tractor, a couple escapes, a few losses. I've been searching for breeders periodically for a few years. they still seem to be quite rare, none have popped up in Missouri or Illinois that I've heard of.

We have a huge feral domestic rabbit issue in my area. If I had the time, I'd try and capture a few of them, because so many of the long-line-domestic rabbits seem so totally sensitive to absolutely everything in the real world, that I'm not willing to raise them. These feral rabbits seem to last for ages and are a great size, so clearly they've got to be tougher than their caged raised brethren!
 
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Anne Nichols wrote:I have raised GP’s - pet type- for meat many times.  I
Questions? Feel free to ask 😊



Hi Anne, I know this thread was from some time ago so hopefully you see this!  
We are planning to imminently get some GPs for meat raising....we live somewhere where we get a few fairly mild frosts & can grow greens through winter though comfrey & tarragon die back for a short time.  We have Plenty of pasture available, as yet I don't have a full list of what grass species, but a lot of perennial rye (Lolium perenne), bluegrass (Poa annua), clover, plantain, I think there may be some timothy in there, and certainly other 'weeds' in there too.  Most of the GP raising sites (which are looking at keeping pets of course) keep saying they need constant access to hay, but is this simply because they assume they're not outside on abundant pasture?  Do they need dried grass?  I don't want to bother cutting & storing dried grass when it's unnecessary!  I intend to keep them outside in small moveable hutches.  I will feed branches as well from things like willow, poplar, hazelnut, fruit trees, tagasaste.  Plus of course some vegetable greens from our garden.  
Another question is about the bedding.  What do you think are suitable types?  Again, those pet sites seem overly cautious and seem to think almost everything can be bad, like cause eye stick injuries if it's too scratchy or things like that.  And that it has to be changed daily.  I really don't want to have to buy in bedding...  resources on my property are grass, grass, grass, eucalypt leaves & tree fern leaves, which may be suitable I suppose....
Any advice on these 2 areas much appreciated!
 
Heather Staas
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I don't know about cuy, but they say the SAME about rabbits; that they need 24/7 access to dried hay for proper digestive functioning.   I have not found that to be true.   My colony rabbits were fat, healthy, and productive on fresh forage only for 6-7 months of the year.   I did give them some alfalfa cubes or sunflower seeds for treats, and transitioned them to pellets for the winter months for my own convenience.  
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