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Ultimate Guide to Raising Guinea Pigs for Meat

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The guinea pig farming business is gaining popularity worldwide and the meat is increasingly showing up on plates in the United States. But just how do you farm guinea pigs for meat? Let’s look at everything you need to know about the guinea pig meat industry.

Guinea pig meat farming is a better source of food and income than many traditional stock animals like cattle and pigs. Guinea pigs require less space than traditional livestock and reproduce extremely fast.

Their meat is high in protein, and low in fat and cholesterol. Guinea pig meat is described as being like rabbit and the dark meat of chicken. High profits make guinea pig farming lucrative.

Before you start in the guinea pig farming business, you should first know everything about guinea pigs. Here we explain all you need to know.

All About Guinea Pigs

The guinea pig is a species of rodent that belongs to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia. Guinea pigs belong to the rabbit family and are native to South America.

Guinea pigs are also known as cavy or cuy as livestock, making you wonder why they are called guinea pigs.  They are not from the pig family Suidae, nor do they come from Guinea.

Guinea pig meat farming is not a new concept; they have been kept as a food source for a long time.

These animals were domesticated and reported as early as 5000 BC as a food source by tribes in the Andean region of South America. Statues unearthed in archaeological digs in Peru and Ecuador dating from 500 BC depict guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs were first introduced into Europe in the sixteenth century and have spread throughout the world since.  Guinea pig meat farming is gaining popularity throughout the world.

Today, several wild guinea pig species found in South America are hunted as game and are considered a delicacy. Peruvians eat around 65 million guinea pigs each year. That should answer any question about edibility!

Guinea pigs eat only vegetation, the same as rabbits.  They are extremely easy to handle, very easy to tame, not noisy, don’t require a lot of space, have no offensive odor, and are hardy and healthy.

Guinea pigs are generally free from diseases and are easy to breed.  All these advantages make guinea pig meat farming a very pleasant and profitable industry.  Guinea pigs can be raised in both urban and rural areas.

guinea pigs in a pen

How to Start Guinea Pig Meat Farming

Starting your guinea pig meat farm is very easy.  Guinea pigs don’t require too much care, and management is easy.  Follow the tips listed here to start a successful guinea pig meat farm.

Housing

Guinea pigs don’t need much space, but it helps to prepare the housing before bringing the animals home.  Guinea pigs can be raised in one of these housing systems: pens or hutches.  Providing them with spacious housing and a secure outdoor run keeps your guinea pigs active, happy, and healthy.

Hutch System

Raising guinea pigs in a hutch system requires less space and is easier to keep warm in the winter.  If you plan to make your hutch, construct it to accommodate one male and 3-4 females and all the young until weaned.  Guinea pigs handle cold climates better than hot climates, so keep that in mind when setting up their housing.

Guinea pigs should not be confined to a hutch for long periods; they could be more susceptible to health conditions and potentially start fighting with companions.  Make sure they have access to space to run if you plan to keep them in a hutch.

Pen System

Most breeders use the pen system as housing for the guinea pigs.  The pen system provides more space, needs less cleaning, and is more economical.

A pen is preferred if you have more space.  Make sure you protect your animals from overhead and land predators and have a good fence in place.  Guinea pigs need at least three covered hiding places or in their pen.  Being a prey animal, Guinea pigs don’t feel safe grazing in open spaces and will usually hide in one corner or under a shelter if they do not have several hiding places to move in between.

A pen with 60 square feet of space provides adequate housing for 30-50 guinea pigs.  The floor of the pen should be covered with sawdust or another type of natural bedding.

You could also use straw or hay for bedding. Provide them with a box with a small entrance and fill it with hay or straw. This box provides good shelter during the cold winter months

different types of guinea pigs in a pen

Buy Healthy Animals

Make sure you buy good quality animals for your farm.  There are several guinea pig varieties available.  The smooth-haired English guinea pig is the most common, well-known variety.

To start your guinea pig farm, you need one male and seven females. In a few months, your animals will have doubled in number. A guinea pig herd consisting of two males and twenty females can sustain itself and provide meat for a family of six.  

Feeding

Guinea pigs are natural herbivores and spend their time grazing in small herds in the wild. Feeding guinea pigs is easy as they eat the same foods as rabbits. Their natural diet is grass. They do well when fed fresh grass hay, like timothy hay. A pelleted form of timothy is also available commercially. 

They need a minimum of 4-6 hours a day grazing on grass or access to a good mixture of safe garden greens. Guinea pigs can’t make their own vitamin C. So, throw in some kale or carrots once or twice a week, and they should be fine.

Your guinea pigs should be fed hay at least once a day. Other common green foods fed to guinea pigs are spinach, green clover, lettuce, green corn stalks, plantain, and celery tops. 

The constant chewing helps to wear down their continuously growing teeth and is important in maintaining dental and gastrointestinal health. 

Providing sufficient fiber in their diet is vital for their general health.

Some breeders also feed grains like corn, bran, oats, and wheat which helps fatten the guinea pigs for the meat market.  Some pet stores sell ready-made guinea pig feeds, which makes feeding convenient.

Uneaten food should be removed from the enclosure after a few hours to ensure that it doesn’t rot or become moldy and cause harm to the guinea pigs.

Some plants are toxic to guinea pigs, like wild mustard, parsley, dandelions, blackberries, green potato peels, and coriander.  Just like humans and monkeys, guinea pigs can also get poison ivy rashes.

fresh sweet peas in a pod

What NOT to Feed Guinea Pigs

Do not feed guinea pigs the following foods: 

  • Cereals
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dried beans
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Buttercups
  • Garden shrubs (hemlock or privet)
  • Lilies of any kind
  • Sweet peas
  • Nightshade
  • Oak
  • Avocado
  • Onion
  • Grass onions
  • Potato tops
  • Mushrooms
  • Daffodils
  • Foxglove
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Human foods include biscuits, breakfast cereals, bread, sweets, dairy products, sugar, chocolate, crackers, pasta, or pickled foods.

Breeding

Breeding guinea pigs is easy. Males are called boars, and females are called sows. Generally, a sow can begin breeding as early as five weeks of age.

However, breeding a sow at such young age is not recommended. The recommended age to start breeding a sow is three months or until she weighs around 14 ounces.

The estrus or heat cycle of a sow lasts around 16 days. The sow will be interested in the boar for about 8 hours during this time.

Breeding typically occurs anywhere during these 8 hours. The gestation period is between 65 to 70 days. 

Two boars and twenty sows can produce 160 to 200 guinea pigs a year. That same stock, if not eaten, can produce 6,000 guinea pigs within two years.

Breeding season is not limited to one season, meaning they can breed year-round. The sows can deliver as many as five litters a year. Guinea pig’s average litter size is between 2 and 4 piglets.

Guinea pig babies are born running around, with all their hair, eyes open, and drinking. When born, they are about the size of a one-month-old rabbit.

Environmentally Friendly Organic Meat

Giant guinea pigs organically farmed and bred for meat are twice the size of the guinea pigs used as pets. Their meat is marketed as an alternative source of protein to poultry and a healthier option to red meat. Research by Peru’s national health institute reported that guinea pig meat has greater nutritional value than beef, lamb, or poultry. 

Guinea pig meat farming is seen as an environmentally friendly alternative towards reducing the impact on the environment. It optimizes the use of land, therefore, reducing the carbon footprint. They are fast-breeding and do not require much feeding before they are ready for consumption.

Unlike traditional livestock, guinea pigs do not contribute to deforestation or produce large quantities of waste like cattle which are the main producers of the greenhouse gas methane.

It takes two years to rear a calf, seven months for a chicken, and a year to raise a pig. Raising a guinea pig takes only three months. The animal’s manure can also fertilize pastures to grow alfalfa, which is used to feed them in return.

Only three of the twenty breeds of guinea pigs that exist in Peru are bred for meat. The other breeds of guinea pigs are exported as pets.

Guinea pigs reared for the pet market usually weigh an average of 1.6 lbs.  The breeds reared for meat like the Inti and Andino can weigh a hefty 3.3 lbs. The bigger Peruvian breed can weigh up to 6.6 lbs.

The meat should be sold without the head and legs so that in supermarkets, it is marketed as healthy organic meat instead of a slaughtered pet. The meat is considered one of the world’s healthiest meats. It contains almost no cholesterol and large amounts of protein (21% protein, 8% fat).

In the United States on both coasts, some South American restaurants promote guinea pig meat, answering to demand from Andean communities that migrated to the US bringing their culinary traditions with them.  The animals go for $17 a plate at some restaurants and are cooked whole, often grilled, and sometimes deep-fried.

These days it is possible to buy guinea pig meat in the freezer sections of select Latin American supermarkets in the US.  Most guinea pigs intended for consumption come from Peru packaged whole, skinned, and frozen.

roasted guinea pig

Marketing and Selling

Top chefs in Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia have brought traditional Guinea pig meat back in popularity, with curried roasted and sweetened versions of this delicacy appearing on menus. With the newfound interest in guinea pig meat, marketing and selling the meat should not be a problem.  

Peru’s agriculture ministry reported growing international demand for guinea pig meat, with an 18% growth in sales.  During this period, prices increased from $5 to $13 per kilo. Peru is the leading producer, followed by Ecuador, with Andean ex-pats in the US the main export market (99%). 

Researchers and producers in South America have improved guinea pig production and marketing for decades, and they are now frequently sold in supermarkets.

Serving Guinea Pig Meat in the US: Is It Legal?

Serving guinea pig meat is legal. Under federal law, guinea pig meat is considered exotic meat and referred to as game or non-amendable species. The FDA regulates the sale of guinea pig meat.

Oregon’s Department of Agriculture is ready to work with farmers who want to raise guinea pigs for meat.  Farmers are subject to USDA inspection while raising the animals. The license to slaughter and process the meat would be granted by Oregon’s Department of Agriculture. 

Exporting and importing guinea pigs across state lines requires a permit.  If you are ready to start guinea pig farming, you should first call your local Department of Agriculture.  You might get a puzzled response but know that the federal law is on your side.

Conclusion

Producing guinea pig meat is more environmentally, ethically, and socially responsible than producing other types of meat, and their culinary appeal is reaching into the United States.

Guinea pig meat rates highly on the sustainability scale because they do not need protein in their diet and do not emit methane or cause soil compaction.

There’s a clear cultural prejudice against eating guinea pigs, and rodents in general in the United States. However, finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint is a good idea, and so is eating small livestock like guinea pigs.  Guinea pig farming is a more profitable source of food and income than many traditional stock animals.

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