Ask people why they are keeping guinea fowl, and you may be surprised at the answers you get. While most people keep guineas for their voracious appetites for ticks, locusts, Japanese beetles, and other insect pests, that’s not the only reason guineas appeal to rural folks.
Reasons for Keeping Guinea Fowl
An orchard owner once told me she kept a flock of guineas to ward off rattlers so her young grandson could safely play under the fruit trees. Another person told me he keeps a sizable flock of guineas to protect his chickens from marauding foxes. Guinea fowl are famous for sending up a loud alarm whenever they perceive an intruder, whether it be a person or a predator.
Many people raise guineas for their eggs or meat, or both. Guinea eggs are about the same size as bantam eggs, with tough protective shells and rich, yellow yolks. Guinea meat is pleasantly gamey and is often compared to pheasant.
Some people keep guineas purely for their entertainment value. While these birds can fly really well — they spend a lot of their time in trees and on rooftops — they prefer to travel by walking. Their officious scurrying gait never fails to put a smile on my face.
Things To Consider
Before you decide to start a flock of guinea fowl, here are a few things you might want to consider.
1. Are they legal in your area? Even if your property is zoned for chickens, guineas may not be allowed. Guinea fowl are far noisier than chickens, and if you let them roam on insect patrol they will range quite far, maybe off your property.
2. Will your neighbors approve? The insistent “Come back! Come back! Come back!” cry of a guinea hen doesn’t appeal to everyone. And neighbors may not appreciate having your guineas forage in their yard or garden.
3. Can you protect them from predators? While guineas prefer to roost in trees, they’ll last longer if encouraged to sleep under cover. Guineas can be enticed to roost inside a coop by scattering a little grain indoors at nightfall.
4. Are you prepared to brood keets? Although starting a flock from guinea chicks, called keets, has many advantages over acquiring maturing or mature birds, they require the same special care as chicken chicks raised in a brooder.
When deciding how to raise guineas, consider starting your flock from keets which has the advantage that the birds will become familiar with their home place as they grow. I’ve heard countless stories from people who purchased growing or mature guinea fowl, only to have them fly off (never to return) at the first opportunity.
Another advantage to raising guineas from keets is that they will become familiar with you and other members of your household. Although guineas are naturally feral, they can be nicely tamed by someone willing to spend lots of time with them.
An excellent way to brood keets is with a batch of chicken chicks of the same age. In the brooder, chicks help teach the keets to be calm. And when they’re old enough to live outdoors, the chickens help train the guineas to roost indoors at night. The same benefits may be attained by letting a broody hen hatch and raise the keets.
One downside to starting a flock with keets is that that you’ll have to wait several months before they’re old enough to turn loose on bug patrol. Another potential downside is that they are difficult to sex, so you will have to be content to start with straight-run, or as-hatched, keets. However, that works out just fine, since approximately half will be males and half females, and guinea fowl tend to mate in pairs.
Getting To Know Guineas
When keeping guinea fowl, you’ll discover the birds have few health problems. They are relatively disease free and are immune to most ailments that plague chickens and turkeys. In all the decades I have kept guineas, I have never had one fall ill. However, one does occasionally injure a leg, usually by jumping down from the height of a roof or tall tree. And you don’t ever want to catch or carry a guinea by its fragile legs.
Guinea hens start laying when they’re about a year old, and they lay for only a few months during spring and summer. They typically find a good hiding place that is shared by several hens, so by the time you locate a nest it’s likely to contain a dozen eggs or more. If you remove all the eggs, the hens will find a new hiding place for their nest. If you want to gather the eggs to eat or hatch, instead of removing them all, leave three or four in the nest. Marking the guinea hen eggs with a China marker, or substituting chicken or bantam eggs, will let you readily identify fresh guinea hen eggs that are subsequently laid in that nest.
Nest sharing isn’t the guinea fowls’ only cooperative effort. I often watch our guineas hunt cooperatively by lining up abreast to move across a field, scaring up countless insects. And one time our flock circled a fox that wandered down our lane. Whenever the fox lunged at one bird, others attacked his unprotected back. Eventually the fox tucked his tail down and slunk away. Bravo guineas!