D. E. Larsen, DVM
The girls raced ahead of Sandy and me as we walked down the aisle at the Fort Collins K-Mart. They were headed to the pocket pets. We had just moved into an off-campus apartment, and we could have pets.
That was a big decision for a student family. We were only going to be here for another couple of years. What our living situation would be after school was anybody’s guess. But we had decided on a couple of guinea pigs. We were lucky. Had Dee been older, we would be picking out three.
“Brenda, you pick one, and then we’ll let Amy pick one,” Sandy said.
Brenda made her selection in a snap. “I want the fluffy yellow and white one,” She said, pointing to a young male in the bottom cage.
Amy was standing, jumping up and down and pointing a little tricolored female in the upper cage.
“Be patient. We need to find a clerk. We have to buy a cage and all that kind of stuff,” Sandy said as she entertained Dee in the shopping cart seat with her left hand.
I entered the apartment the next afternoon through the utility room door and discarded my clinic clothes.
The cage was set up on the dryer, and the two guinea pigs seemed well adjusted to each other and their surroundings. I could see that Amy and Brenda had been pushing carrot sticks into the kennel through the wires.
“What are we going to name these two?” I asked.
“I have been talking with the girls, and we have decided on George and Martha Washington,” Sandy said.
So George and Martha Washington became a part of the Larsen family. The girls enjoyed playing with them, especially when we would allow them out of the cage. A few times, I would have to retrieve one of them from under a bed, but that was the biggest issue with them.
Some months later, when the girls were having some floor time with George and Martha, I noticed that Martha was getting a little heavy.
“We might have to deal with a litter of guinea pigs before too long,” I said to Sandy when the girls were out of earshot.
“I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, we knew they were male and female when we got them.”
“Yes, but what are we going to do with six guinea pigs?” I asked.
“Do you think she will have four babies?” Sandy asked.
“I know nothing about guinea pig babies, but the cages at the store are pretty full all the time. That would suggest that they are pretty prolific.”
“Maybe you better do some reading in some of those expensive textbooks stacked in there on your study table,” Sandy said.
It was probably 2 weeks later when I parked my bicycle and stepped into the utility room. Both Amy and Brenda were there to greet me.
“Look what we have now,” Brenda said.
“We have Betsy Ross,” Amy squealed.
“Betsy Ross, who is Betsy Ross?” I asked.
The girls pointed at the third guinea pig, running around the cage. Only a half a dozen hours old, she was fully functional and nearly half Martha’s size.
“Who came up with that name?” I asked.
“Mom thought it would fit nicely with George and Martha Washington,” Brenda said. “She made our flag.”
“Yes, I know Betsy Ross,” I said. “But I didn’t expect her to be half-grown at birth. I guess I have some reading to do.”
So, it turns out that guinea pigs have an average litter of four babies, but that number can vary between one and thirteen. A standard litter weight is typical. A litter might weigh four ounces. If there are four babies, each one will weigh one ounce.
If there is one baby, as was the case with Betsy Ross, the baby will weigh four ounces. Also, as was the case with Betsy Ross. She was, indeed, half-grown when she arrived.
It turns out that we managed our guinea pigs correctly, even if it was by accident. Young females reach sexual maturity at two months of age, and they must be bred before they are six months of age.
After six months, their pelvic bones will fuse, and giving birth to a large baby, like Betsy Ross, will be impossible without a C-section.
The young Martha’s pelvic bones were able to disarticulate and allow a large single baby’s birthing. The babies nurse for several weeks but can survive without nursing after about 5 days. I never witnessed Betsy Ross nursing on Martha Washington. It could have happened at night. But I suspect that Betsy Ross was large enough to survive on her own from day one.
Three guinea pigs became a burden on the tight quarters of the utility room. With my school completion on the near horizon, we were forced to find new homes for our patriotic group. That was a difficult day for the girls but little did we know that Ralph would be waiting for us in our new home in Washington.
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash