Guinea Fowl are in a class all there own. They are listed as "poultry" by the Dept. of Agriculture. They originated from the Central African plains, but have long since been domesticated.
They are about the same size as a chicken when full grown. Their feathers make their body look round like a big quail, and their heads are bald like a turkey. The most common variety is the helmeted Guinea. They have a bony protrusion on the top of their head. They come in many different colors but the most common is called pearl gray. The feathers are a very dark gray that look black in the sunlight with millions of tiny white polka dots. If you do any arts and crafts you may recognize their feathers as the same as those sold in craft stores. They are popular in the making of feather Mardi Gras masks, dream catchers, and ladies hats.
Do you have snakes? Guineas hate snakes and will kill any they come across. Do you have ticks? That's their favorite food. They are also known as "the farmers watch dog" because they warn you, your live stock, and each other when anything threatening is in sight.
I have ten-and-a-half acres that was the deer convention center before we bought it. Since us humans and our dogs are spending so much time there, the deer have decided to gather elsewhere but they left behind a huge tick population. The first year we owned the property, I would come up for a beautiful weekend in the country and spend the next three days picking ticks off my dogs. 30 ticks per dog was not uncommon. I would find them crawling on my arm during the car ride home, I would find them crawling on my couch and up my drapes. Invading my home 150 miles away.
In the country, we cut the grass real short, purchased horrid pesticides in the biggest bags we could find, put drops and sprays and chemicals on the dogs and sprayed stinky chemicals on our selves ... nothing worked. I refused to let this one little insect spoil this beautiful place. I tried Guineas. I have had the birds for two years. I have not seen a rattle snake since we got them and the tick population has decreased by at least 98%. Lately I feel silly doing the ritualistic tick checks on my dogs. I have only found a few this entire season. It's a miracle bird!
Guineas eat weed seeds, and all kinds of bugs.They do not scratch in the dirt like chickens, so they are a perfect compliment to vegetable or flowers gardens. They can peck the aphids off your roses without leaving a mark on the delicate petals. I purchased a commercial game bird feed for my Guineas but they can also be fed chicken or turkey mash. Millet seed is a treat that can also be used for training purposes. Free roam guineas will also consume small amounts of green grass which helps their digestive system.
Guineas are wild by nature. They will roam around and find their own food. They will sleep in the trees, and may even reproduce. My guineas have access to feed, grit, and clean water close to my home. They sleep in an old oak tree over my goat barn. This is what I call their "Home Base". They start and end their bug eating day close to the area that I want to be tick free. They usually visit the feeder once or twice a day. Other than that they come and go as they please. They cover about two thirds of my acreage and sometimes a little of my neighbors pasture as well.
You don't have to feed your Guineas at all. However, as they consume most of the bug population on your property, they will need to expand their territory further and further to find enough to eat. Eventually they'll be sleeping in your neighbors tree to be closer to available food sources. Soon you may not see them at all. I make sure that my guineas keep the same "Home base" by rewarding their hard work with supplementary feed free choice. Besides I like them visit my patio on a regular basis. They are fun to watch.
If you start with keets, your farm will automatically be "home base". I release my young guineas when they are about 3 months old. If you start with older birds, it's best to keep them contained for a while so they will know that this is their new home. When it's time to release them, just make sure it's a nice calm day. (not a terribly windy day, no dogs around to chase them or loud trucks roaring by etc.) Just coax them out of the opening with some millet seed and let them start to explore and wander about. When it comes time to release them, they will not wander far. Each day they will explore a little further and expand their "territory". If they go outside your property or somewhere you do not want to become part of their routine, you must break the cycle immediately by shooing them or coaxing them with millet seed back where you want them to be.
My birds follow the same routine each day. I can easily predict where they are by looking at the clock. Any time my birds roamed out to the roadside I would herd them back into the gate. They like to be with the group, so once you get a few back in the rest will follow. I recall about three times that I harassed them like that, and they never go that way anymore.
One lady I sold some birds to, would sprinkle a few millet seeds on the ground to coax them wherever she wanted them to go. They were used to eating out her hand and would follow her once she showed them the seed. She made sure that her flower garden was part of their routine and the woodpile where she spotted a rattle snake last year.
Some people prefer to have them roost in their hen house. They should start with keets and brood them in the hen house. However, Guinea hens trained to sleep in the hen house will probably still lay eggs in a hidden nest outside.
When the keets hatch, they are ready to eat, drink, and run around as soon as they are dry. They are raised in a brooder much the same way as chicks. Have your brooder warm and ready the day you bring your keets home. Zip lock baggies (double bagged in case of leakage) make a good hot water bottle to keep your keets comfortable if you have a long ride home.The box or bag you bring them home in, should have some non slip litter on the bottom to protect their legs.
Your brooder doesn't have to be an expensive commercially made model. It can be a large cardboard box or just a ring of cardboard set on the floor. Mine is an old fish tank. The size you need will vary depending on the number of keets you acquire. You may have to enlarge your brooder to accommodate the growing keets or add a lid. They will be able to fly in about two weeks. I use wood shavings for litter. Shredded paper, clean straw, or paper towels can work just as well. But never use flat newspaper, the slick surface causes the keets tender legs to slip out from under them which can cause permanent damage to their developing bones. Food and water should be available free choice at all times. The inexpensive lids for feed and water that screw onto mayonnaise or mason jars work well. I put some marbles or small pebbles into the water dish for the first few days to prevent accidental drowning. I feed my keets turkey/game bird starter and switch to turkey grower at about 6 weeks. Buy the big bags even for a few keets, you'll use it. They waste a lot of feed. Never switch feed abruptly. Mix half and half new and old feed for a few days before completely switching over. The keets also enjoy clipped grass and it's very good for their digestive system. I prime them for bug hunting by tossing in a few crickets now and then, so they learn how to catch bugs at a young age.
Your keets will need an added heat source for the first 4 to 6 weeks. I use hooded heat lamps sold at most feed stores. The ones at the hardware store can work too, or even an old reading light. Just make sure it's rated for the size bulb you plan to use. Your lamp will be on 24 hours a day so those with a porcelain socket are much safer than the plastic ones. For most people brooding less than 30 keets, regular light bulbs work fine. The expensive 250 watt models they sell with the hooded lamps are overkill so don't waste your money. The temperature on the floor of the brooder directly below the lamp should be 95 degrees the first week. After that, the temp can be reduced by 5 degrees per week. You do this by either raising the heat lamp or putting in a smaller bulb. If the keets huddle together making lots of noise, they are to cold and the temp should be raised. If they spread far apart to sleep they are too warm. Your brooder should always be large enough for the keets to get away from the heat source if they are too hot.
If you want your Guineas to be tame, start with very young keets. Handle them often, and feed them treats from your hand.
Some people think that guineas make too much noise. In the beginning, they do. They call out their warnings at anything new and unusual. When you first release your guineas, EVERYTHING is new and unusual. The leaf blowing across the driveway, the neighbor coming by to visit, the flower that wasn't blooming there yesterday, etc. It takes 5 or 6 months for the guineas to learn what is a threat and what is normal on their farm. When they see something new they actually gravitate toward it. The females are the noisiest, "beh-cock, beh-cock" they are telling everyone on the farm, "Look out, look out." Once they determine there is no danger, they go about their business, pecking at seeds and searching for bugs. If the new thing actually frightens them, they will run or fly away from it all screaming together (males and females) Ch-chee-chee-chee! You must be patient and let them learn what's normal at your ranch then they will calm down. Now when guineas sound off their alarm, I go out and see what is there.
No and No. They pick a tree where they feel safe and roost 30 to 40 feet up in the branches. If they are frightened or disturbed by predators or natural elements they will choose a new tree the next night.
Raccoons, hawks, owl, mountain lion, fox, coyote, bobcat, domestic dogs, anything that would attack a chicken will think a guinea is just as tasty. But they rarely fall prey to these predators because they alarm each other and your livestock whenever predators are near. Most of their predators do their hunting at night when the guineas are high in the thee. Many of these critters will turn tail and run when surprised by the loud warning calls of the guinea fowl.
The one exception is when a guinea hen decides to raise a family. She will choose a semi hidden location in some tall grass or berry brambles and lay an egg a day. (Breeding season for my birds is February to October.) When she has a clutch of 20 or 30 eggs she starts setting on them. Day and night she is very vulnerable to predators for the next 26 days. Laying there on the ground with no protection she is an easy target because she probably won't even try to run.
Even if she survives the incubation period, Guinea hens are horrible mothers. She will abandon the nest as soon as 3 or 4 babies hatch, leaving the rest to die. Those few "lucky" babies will often get left behind when they get lost in tall grass or the hawks will pick them off before they learn to hide. The survival rate is not worth risking the loss of your hen. You can remove the eggs from any nest you find, but she will start a new one somewhere else the next day. Some people prefer to keep only male birds. They are not as loud and do not go broody.
The first year, I collected and destroyed the eggs so the mothers would go
back to roosting in the safe trees. Once a hen made a very well hidden nest
close to my home which I thought was quite safe. She hatched 3 of her 22 eggs
and all of them were gone within a few days. I saw one of them get snatched
up by a hawk and the other two died of pneumonia after she made them swim across
the creek that she flew over. Guinea are originally from Africa and are not
adapted to getting wet when small. Even a walk through dew covered grass too
early in the morning can be fatal. Now I collect the eggs when I find a nest,
and incubate them artificially. I have a broody chicken who will hatch 15 eggs at
a time and carefully cares for the babies as her own.
If you do loose too much of your flock, replacements (Helmeted Guineas) are inexpensive and easy to brood. And ... they are now available right here in Nevada County. If you happen find yourself with more birds than you need, they are edible. The meat is similar to pheasant and can be cooked many different ways. The eggs are also very good if collected daily. Two guinea eggs equal one large chicken egg.
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