I also thought I'd answer some questions from my Backyard Chook Primer post here, as promised. But I'll start with my guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs are, as most people know, small quiet herbivores. In Sydney, they can live outside (with shelter, and protection from dogs and cats) all year round. Ours live inside at night and on wet/hot days. They love hiding in long grass, so pen them in the
Occasionally, when the chooks are elsewhere, I'll put the piggies into the chook dome.
The handy thing about guinea pigs is that they eat quite a wide variety of food, from fruit and vegetable scraps to most grasses. As long as other food is ample and varied, guinea pigs do not need the prepared food from pet shops. As a matter of fact, the prepared pet food is harmful: it usually contains a lot of lucerne, which can cause kidney stones. Their chief diet is and should be grass. Being small, an escaped guinea pig is unlikely to cause enormous damage even if it does escape into the vegie patch for a night, so I have not altered my garden much for their sake.
Whatever the guinea pigs don't eat can be offered to your chooks. In fact, I put all the used piggie bedding (grass, hay, uneaten scraps, and piggie poos) into the chook dome for the chooks to scratch in. Spoilt fruit should not be given to guinea pigs, but your chooks will eat it happily. So these are two animals that complement each other. Children like chooks, especially friendly, hand-reared pullets, like the Isabrown the Twig is holding. It isn't one of ours: Penny is an adult Isabrown, and our pullets, now about 17 weeks old (almost point of lay), are a White Leghorn and an Australorp.
Unlike guinea pigs, chooks will wreak havoc in a vegetable garden in a very short time. Their strong legs will scratch up shallow-rooted plants, and they have a good appetite for seeds and seedlings. Any new plantings will need protection. My vegie patch is surrounded by star pickets and one-inch mesh a metre high, to keep out my free-ranging girls. I'd like something a bit more attractive, but slightly loose mesh is something that a chook can't perch on. A permanent fence would need to be much higher, too.
I use the chook dome (described in the Primer) in the vegie patch for about half the year, so the poo is used where it falls. The other half of the time, I let the chooks free-range and fertilise my other plantings. Much of my garden is pretty low-maintenance, and autumn, our main planting time for perennials, is when the chooks are in their dome. So I can't say that I've done much altering of my garden for my birds. I suspect my children have driven my planting choices as much as the animals have!
Home Handymum wanted to know what the chooks' feed containers look like. They are made from two-litre milk bottles. The handle is on one corner, so I cut a hole from the opposite corner. There needs to be plenty of room to get the feed or water in easily, without causing the bottle to rip or collapse.
It's easier to have a hook than a tie: trying to tie on a full water container is an exercise in frustration. The hook is made from fencing wire. There is a hook at one end and the wire is doubled back on itself at the other. Flatten the handle of the bottle and slip it into the doubled-back section. Hope the pictures help make sense of this description.