Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pets in My Garden: a Multi-Meme

This month's Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop asks: Have you made any design changes to your garden to accommodate your pets? Care to share how you use their manure in your garden? Have you designed part of your garden specifically for your fuzzy or feathered companions? Care to share your strategies for keeping your pets out of places you don’t want them to be?

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 unweeded wilder parts of your garden. I use a very simple corral of one-inch mesh, about 50cm high, with bricks to cover any holes, and a simple weather-shelter. This photo shows Lilac in the corral eating sweet-corn husks.
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.


home handymum said...

Thankyou! The photo makes a lot of sense :) I saw one recently too, and have devised something similar for our chooks' pellets.

quu said...


I take care of wildlife in wintertime - birds and one squirrel. In summers my small garden is a home of 3 hedgehogs. So I need to select plants that don't mind of running spikes ;)

My bigger garden has more wildlife( more birds, water voles, moles, mice, rats, squillers, rabbits..) and two dogs and a cat.

Dogs enjoy watching wildlife, so the garden is designed to keep them active and happy. Cat loves paths and chairs. Of course she loves to catch mice.

Happy valentimes day! :)

Chookie said...

Quu, I am very envious of your animals! Apart from the rabbits, of course. I am too far from the bush to see any wildlife apart from birds. To have a hedgehog family would be delightful; I would live to see pictures of them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chookie! Sorry it took me so long to visit. How lucky your animals are - especially your Guinea pigs. I've never seen them kept outside before - usually just in small, sad cages - but I imagine they find it quite delightful.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I had no idea that Guinea Pigs could be, and even should be, allowed outside. I also didn't know they ate grass. (They seem like tiny sheep.) Thanks for the informative post.

Chookie said...

I like the idea of piggies being like tiny sheep -- they are a bit, but without the need for shearing! In harsher climates, they must be harder to look after, but there are some sites online that show very creative piggie palaces.

clarita said...

hello, I'd like to know if you can actually put the guineapig's wet/poohy straw onto the vegie garden bed? (well, you know, like chook pooh)... want to prepare my vegie patch dirt for our next crop of something... our guinea pigs live outside too, in big cage at night, on the grass during the day...