By Jeannette Ferguson – Guinea Fowl Breeders Association
Do guinea hens really make bad moms? Is there really a concern? What exactly is the problem with guinea hen moms, and why do people say things against these very entertaining birds that are such a benefit to have around the farm, by making negative statements about guineas or asking questions such as, “Is it true that guinea hens make bad moms?” An experienced guinea keeper will understand that there is no simple answer to this question.
Weather or Not?
It is not as dry here in the USA as was their original home in Africa, and guinea fowl are not quite as calm or as easy to relocate from a nest as most chicken hens are. Guineas do not usually lay their eggs inside the safety of a coop in nesting boxes. When given the chance, guinea hen eggs are generally laid outdoors in hidden areas that are most difficult to find. Regardless of the location of a nest, predators and exposure are a big concern. These facts are only a few of the things that must be taken into consideration to determine whether or not a guinea hen will be given the opportunity to be a good mom.
Instinct will tell a guinea hen to lay her eggs in a secluded, hidden location. It’s the nature of guinea hens to share nests, so the clutch will build rapidly. Once the nest accumulates 25-30 eggs, one or more guinea hens “might” decide to go broody on the same nest. A good broody guinea hen will stay put day and night for the duration (26-28 days) other than to leave the nest for food and water — usually no more than twice daily, and usually not for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
• Sometimes a guinea hen nest will be discovered with 50 or more eggs, but no broody mom. Often, a skunk or snake or raccoon will find the nest before we do, and will destroy the nest by eating the contents or by breaking those they do not eat and making a mess of the remainders.
• A guinea hen may go broody only to change her mind before the hatch begins, leaving the eggs to chill and the embryo to die.
• A guinea hen may go broody outdoors and will often lose her life to a predator.
• A guinea hen may do a fantastic job, survive the odds of being discovered by a predator, complete the hatch— then take her guinea keets across a damp field where they will get wet, chill and die.
• A guinea hen just might occasionally survive all odds, the weather may be perfectly dry, and she and her mate might bring home a few dozen healthy guinea keets — beware, other birds in the flock may or may not be far too curious about the returning keets and may accidentally, or intentionally, injure them.
• After assuming that a missing guinea hen is history, she may show up a month later with a few keets in tow. It is safe to assume that she hatched out a few dozen or more — what you see are the survivors.
• A guinea hen might make her nest inside the safety of a henhouse where eggs will remain unharmed, hatched keets will not get wet and all are safe from predators—only to have the rest of the flock put those keets through a brutal pecking order ritual which is far too harsh for them to survive.
• Keets that do survive but are in a coop with other adult birds are more than likely exposed to coccidia, worms, contaminated bedding, and may drown in adult waterers even if they are not bothered by other adult birds in the flock.
• Unexpected deaths can happen. A guinea hen mom may accidentally step on and/or crush a guinea keet, a few may get away from the nest and chill, or the mom may leave them unattended too long.
• Some guinea hen moms tire before the hatch is complete and do not remain broody. Other guinea moms might stay put through day 26 and move her keets to a new location—leaving the nest before the remaining eggs hatch.
• Some guinea hen moms completely finish a hatch and later tire of the motherhood role—leaving her keets behind to chill and die.
Do any of the statements above make a guinea hen “a bad mom?” Or is it that odds are against a mom being able to do a good job under some of those circumstances? Actually, most guinea hens are great moms who protect their clutch of eggs or guinea keets as best as possible, staying put during a predator attack, hissing and darting at predators that are often far too big and strong for her, attempting to protect the contents of her nest as best as she can. Unfortunately, more often than not, a guinea hen who is broody outdoors will lose her life to a predator.
To watch a guinea mom communicate with her guinea keets is awesome. To see her call them to bits of food and teach them to eat, to watch her carefully lower herself onto the nest as they scramble under her for warmth and protection, to watch as the guinea keets play and climb all over her, to listen to the sweet little peeps and chirping sounds they make. But getting there is tough, avoiding the elements is rough, and relocating the little family to a holding pen that is safe for mom to continue to raise her own is not always easy and can be dangerous for the owner because that mom will be very protective of her newborns.
A guinea hen can do a much better job if your provide proper guinea fowl care by encouraging her to make her nest in a safe place. If guineas are confined to the coop until after they lay their daily egg, they will begin a nest indoors. Creating a cozy, private location helps. This can be something as simple as a dog kennel with the opening facing a wall, straw stuffed behind a sheet of plywood leaning and secured to a wall, a wooden teepee to hide under, or nesting boxes to get in or under.
By using a dog kennel inside the coop—the gate can be closed when the hatch begins to confine the keets, to keep mom from taking them outside, and to protect them from a harsh pecking order. As the keets grow and the family needs more room, they can be easily transported to a roomier holding pen where they can remain part of the flock, without injury to the keets.
Once a nest is underway inside the coop, the guinea hens using that nest are more likely to return to lay their daily egg until one or more goes broody, or a chicken hen sharing the same quarters may go broody on guinea eggs and complete the job for her, taking guinea keets to raise as her own.
If a guinea hen does go broody outdoors, relocating her and the egg to a safe place is a possibility (I have done so successfully) but this is a difficult task and not all guineas will continue to remain broody once the nest is disturbed. Another way to help this mom would be to put a small weave protective fence around the area in an attempt to provide some protection from overnight predators. After the hatch takes place, mom and keets can be moved to a holding pen where she can safely raise her own.
You will want to keep a close eye on the new family to watch that the chick waterer is not accidently knocked over by Mom, and to be certain that Mom is indeed caring for them full time and not losing interest.
Whether or Not?
You can be the mom and plan on hatching guinea eggs yourself. Gather eggs daily, store them properly, use an incubator inside the safety of your house, know the expected hatch date, use a clean brooder (a cardboard box inside your house will do), handle and maybe even tame a few keets, then reunite them with the flock by moving them to a clean holding pen after they reach six weeks of age and are fully feathered.
So Who Is the Best Guinea Hen Mom?
I have kept various breeds of poultry for 30 years, and guinea fowl are no doubt the most challenging — unless they are trained that is. I have lost many hens through trial and error — mostly to predators when a guinea hen has gone broody on a hid- den nest that I could not find. A few have hatched keets, but very few keets survived without intervention. I have found 3-day-old keets spread about a 3′ area in the field—killed by an owl in broad daylight, nests destroyed by skunks, stray dogs and worse. And yes, over the years a few missing moms have returned home with some healthy keets in tow. While it is natural and beautiful and exciting to watch a guinea mom raising her own guinea keets, I opt for the safety of my hen and her keets, so my preference is to use an incubator. I guess that makes me the best guinea mom.
Jeannette Ferguson is President of the Guinea Fowl Breeders Association (GFBA) and author of the book Garden- ing with Guineas: A Step by Step Guide to Raising Guinea Fowl on a Small Scale.
Originally published in Backyard Poultry April / May 2007 and regularly vetted for accuracy.