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From: Small livestock – Footsteps 10

Improvements in small livestock can result in many health and financial benefits

The guinea pig or cavy (cuy or cobayo) comes from the Andes in South America. Villagers in many parts of South America keep guinea pigs in their kitchens.

Guinea pigs have many good points:

In the Andes, guinea pig is often served as a favourite dish. In Peru alone there are 22 million of them. They are also eaten by the highland people of Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. Most people who raise guinea pigs do so for their own household consumption, or to exchange for other food, such as rice.

Researchers in Ecuador and Peru have been working on developing much larger breeds of guinea pigs which grow rapidly. These breeds are being slowly distributed in parts of South America. If you would like to obtain a large, improved male, try asking your agricultural extension officer for advice about where you could get one, or write to: Heifer Project, PO Box 808, Little Rock, AR 72203, USA for advice about a local source.

Traditional production

Many people allow guinea pigs to run freely around the cooking hut. Small pens may be built of adobe (mud) bricks, often underneath the cooking stove, since guinea pigs like to keep warm. This system has some advantages:

But there are also some disadvantages:

This simple system is used by many folk in the Andes. Production could be increased by encouraging people to feed the guinea pigs two or three times a day, and by teaching them how to recognise pregnant females.


If people are interested in changing their traditional system to achieve higher meat production, there are several points which can be followed:

Setting up a system

Here is a simple system for keeping guinea pigs which you could adapt, as needed, to your own situation. A long cage (or pen) is built and divided up as in the diagram on the left.

Every month move the animals as follows:

This system should work very well using three males and fifteen females as breeding stock. Once well established, with breeding females producing three or four in a litter, at least 200 young guinea pigs should be produced for selling or eating each year.

Guinea pigs are less productive than rabbits, but they thrive on a herbaceous diet, are generally less likely to suffer disease and are easier to keep because they do not burrow or jump.

GETTING ORGANISED - A system for rearing guinea pigs using a long cage divided into sections.

Compiled from information from M V Julio Leon Zevallos, IDRC Reports and ECHO.

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