By Jeannette Ferguson, Guinea Fowl Breeders Association (GFBA) President
Photographs by members of the GFBA
Guinea fowl that are trained to roost inside a shelter at night will outlive those that roost in trees. Guinea fowl have been reported to have lived to be 17 years or older, but unfortunately, more lose their lives to predators than to old age. In the winter, guinea fowl care is important to shield your flock from dangerous temperatures and hungry predators. Guineas are unable to see in the dark and are easy pickings as a nighttime snack for predators on the prowl. Being high up in a tree is no safer than being broody on an outdoor nest. Hawks, owls, and raccoons are common everywhere and once they find an easy meal, you can bet they will return nightly until their food source is gone.
If you live in an area where winter temperatures drop below freezing, guinea fowl can get frostbite and lose toes, or worse. Sure, some may manage to survive in the worst conditions and the most frigid of nights, but that does not mean that the birds were comfortable, that they were not stressed, and that they should be left outdoors to fend for themselves. Flock owners should be responsible and provide proper guinea fowl care via housing (just as they do for their dogs, barn cats, and other farm animals.) Guineas are capable of being trained and should be trained to roost inside.
Guinea Fowl Care: Housing
When it comes to guinea fowl care, housing need not be elaborate. Housing can be anything from an old outhouse for a few guineas or a shed to a corner of the barn or garage or a converted trailer. What is important is that housing provides a place for guineas to roost in that is dry, draft-free and predator proof. Ventilation, roosting bars, adequate space for the number of birds kept and the type bedding used as well as keeping unfrozen water and feed available 24/7 are important factors to keeping your flock healthy and safe while confined.
While a guinea house may seem huge for the beginner with guinea keets kept in a small brooder or holding pen inside the adult guinea house, they grow up really fast and as adults need three to four sq. ft. of space per bird. Keep in mind that guineas in colder areas of the U.S. and abroad may very well need to be confined to the inside of their shelter for weeks at a time during the coldest days of winter, especially during ice storms, deep snows, and blizzards. Guinea fowl care tip: To prevent stress and pecking from boredom and to provide comfort for the birds enclosed, four sq. ft. per bird is best. When calculating space per bird, do take into consideration any space provided by nesting boxes, roosting bars, and shelving. A shelter such as a shed instead of a barn with a high roof will also hold in some body heat and the interior of the building will be much more comfortable than the frigid temperatures outdoors.
Roosting bars should be provided for guinea fowl. Guineas fluff their feathers to allow air in to help cool their bodies during the summer and to allow the warm air from their body heat to warm their legs and feet during the winter. If a guinea is forced to sleep on the cold ground or on litter, it cannot fluff up the feathers to cover the feet that can actually freeze in temperatures of 10F or less. Guineas roosting in trees are also subjected to strong winds that can ruffle their feathers, allowing body heat to escape rather than to keep them warm and cozy. Small tree branches, 2×4’s on edge or cut in half make good roosting bars. While it is not necessary to put up nesting boxes for guineas, when stuffed with loose straw to provide a wild-like hiding place, a guinea hen will often use or share a nesting box to lay eggs (during laying season) or to bed down overnight on a cold winter night.
Ventilation helps to allow moisture as well as fumes from ammonia and odors to escape through vents in the eaves or through exhaust fans installed in the roof or by windows that can be opened slightly—taking care that the air exchange does not create drafts in the roosting area. All openings should be covered securely with quarter inch welded wire fencing to keep rats, mice, mink, snakes and other small predators out. Double wood walls (without insulation) will help hold in some heat. Insulating an unheated building can actually hold moisture in. Dampness can cause respiratory problems and increase the risk of disease. Parasites can multiply rapidly in damp bedding. Remove any bedding that gets wet from water spills and keep the bedding as dry as possible.
While straw tends to hold in moisture and takes much longer to dry out, a bag or two of compressed wood shavings for animal bedding is really nice to use and clean up is a breeze. Loose bedding is not as likely to grow mold and mildew. Droppings from guinea fowl are much drier than those from chickens and ventilation is not as great a problem when guineas are housed alone.
Electricity inside the shelter makes life easier on both the owner and the flock. Being able to provide a 5-watt nightlight to help guineas see at night and a brighter light so we can see at night or to see to clean the coop or for our flock when confined on darker, gloomy winter days is one thing, but to be able to provide a water base heater that will keep their water from freezing in the winter is a real blessing. For the owner, this means fewer trips hauling water, no time spent breaking ice, and a continuous supply of water for our flock. Drinking water is actually more important than food. Guineas can survive longer without food than they can without water. Even ice cold water actually helps to maintain the body temperature in our guinea fowl during winter. Please do not assume the birds can eat snow in place of drinking water. It takes a lot of snow eating to be equivalent to drinking water.
Although the common helmeted guinea fowl originate from Africa, they are pretty tough birds and do not require a heated coop. Some owners do prefer to give their birds the option of getting under a heat lamp when temperatures drop to the single digits. If you choose to do the same, make absolutely certain that the light is securely fastened high off the bedding material and that both the light bulb and your guineas are protected by a shield. f the guinea house is large enough, it can be partitioned with a room for food storage and a brooder and with storage areas for bedding and hay or straw. The storage area can come in handy should the size of your flock increase and additional housing space be Yes, guinea fowl do like to get out for some exercise and fresh air even in the winter. On a snowy, but calm day when there are no weather warnings or hazardous conditions, let them out! Prepare to help first-timers back into the henhouse at night. Some may freak out at their first snow, but as you can see in the pictures, they will get used to it, walk on it, and enjoy finding many seeds and such along fence rows and on the undersides of grasses that protrude through the snow. An attached poultry yard can be covered in the winter and an occasional flake from a bale of alfalfa hay will provide needed. some greens and tiny insects to peck at while outdoors getting some fresh air and sunshine.
For details about training and raising guinea fowl from egg through adult, you can get your own copy of the book “Gardening with Guineas: A Step by Step Guide to Raising Guinea Fowl on a Small Scale.” For details about the Guinea Fowl Breeders Association, please visit the GFBA website.
Originally published in Backyard Poultry October / November 2007 and regularly vetted for accuracy.