By Susie Kearley – Owning guinea fowl can be uplifting … or cause problems with the neighbors!
When an old friend, Roy Miller, invited us to camp on his field in Lincolnshire, he didn’t mention the bird life, so it was an unexpected delight to be greeted by a flock of guinea fowl on arrival.
I learned a lot about guinea fowl care on that holiday!
They squawked noisily and took flight as we opened the gate into this ‘field’, which turned out to be a nine-acre nature reserve.
Back in 2004, Roy had bought a dilapidated cottage, flattened it, purchased the adjacent field, built a new house, and created a nature reserve. He introduced ducks, then guinea fowl.
Today there are woodland trails, nature walks, and wildflower meadows. It’s bursting with wildlife, but Roy’s real passion is for his guinea fowl: “I started keeping them after I read a newspaper article about them. I’ve become very attached to them, but they don’t show much attachment to me!”
He learned quickly about raising guinea fowl and guinea fowl care: “I bought the guinea fowl keets from a breeder and kept them in a pen until they were old enough to fend for themselves.” They now roam free, and Roy feeds them in troughs by the house.
Young Guinea Fowl Care
Roy’s keets were feathered when he got them, but very young keets who have just hatched should be kept warm under a heat lamp, or stay with their mother (although mothers sometimes wander off). A non-slip surface will help the youngsters stand and walk, preventing their fragile legs from splaying. Keets can be raised on a game bird starter food or chick crumbs. “They also like boiled eggs and lettuce!” says Roy.
When they’re fully feathered, at about six to eight weeks, you can move them into outdoor guinea fowl housing and feed them growers’ pellets. Their accommodations should be safe from pests and predators, with weatherproof areas. Give them plenty of space, because they’re flighty, energetic, and agile. They don’t tend to use nest boxes and dislike dark places, so illuminating dark spots in their accommodation can give them more confidence. Guinea fowl are prone to some of the same parasites as chickens, so bug control is important. When they’re older, they’ll want to free-range and sleep in trees.
Opinions vary on the best age to let young guinea fowl roam free. Many keepers will let them out for short periods and bring them back into the coop at night. “I let my guinea fowl out of the coop at eight weeks,” says Roy. “They take about another eight to ten weeks to integrate with the older birds. They attach themselves to the larger flock but keep a distance initially. Even when they’re integrated, they maintain their own social group within the flock.”
“I feed the adults corn. It’s just a supplementary feed because they’re eating all the time, munching on insects, and things they find in the wild. I feed them once a day in the summer and twice in the winter, giving them enough until the tray is empty. If I give them too much they leave it.”
Telling Boys and Girls Apart
At nine or ten weeks of age, you can start to tell the females from the males. The males have a shrill single-tone voice, while the females make a two-tone noise, but they can make the same sound as the males too. The males are often bigger than females when they reach adulthood.
Guinea fowl care means they may require occasional handling. These birds hate being handled, but if you must, do it when they’re in a confined space — like their pen. Get them quickly and hold them securely by the body. Don’t grab their legs. They will try to slip away, so you need a firm grip.
“I breed the guinea fowl when I can,” says Roy, “Although it’s difficult at the moment because I have nine cocks and only two hens and they don’t seem to be mating! Sometimes the guinea hens abandon the nest; it’s precarious.”
It takes between 26 and 28 days for the eggs to hatch; you can collect the eggs and incubate them. Free-range guinea fowl forage for food, consuming seed heads, plants, and are a great way to control insect pests. Providing a supplemental food gives them a reason to approach the house every day, and reduces the risk of them disappearing into the countryside, never to be seen again! Putting food inside a coop might also encourage them to return to roost there for the night, although often, they’ll prefer to roost in a tree.
“I did try bringing the birds into the carport one cold January,” says Roy, feeling that the cold couldn’t be good for their health. “They went in the shelter for food but refused to stay there overnight, always retreating to their favorite tree as dusk fell.”
In winter there’s less natural food around, so extra guinea fowl care is important. Fresh greens will make up for the absence of plant foods and they’ll eat as much as chickens, especially corn. Access to a source of fresh water is important.
Careful observation of your birds can reveal their nesting sites. They’ll lay a clutch of eggs and sit on them. If you take the guinea hen eggs while they’re away, without replacing them, they’ll probably move to a hiding place where they feel safer. If you replace eggs you’ve taken with dummy eggs, they’re more likely to stay put and keep laying.
Guinea Fowl Care and Chickens
Guinea fowl don’t always get along with other poultry. They may bully chickens, and they don’t always like newcomers, even of the same species. They have a particularly low tolerance of cockerels, and will often chase away birds they don’t like. One of Roy’s flock was constantly looking for leftover food after the rest of the flock had enjoyed first pickings; the others didn’t like this bird.
If you have lots of land, chickens and guinea fowl are more likely to live in harmony because it’s easier for each group to keep themselves to themselves, but if they’re competing for space, the situation could become fraught with problems.
Some people who keep guinea fowl and chickens together may have had this arrangement since they were chicks. Suffice to say, the two need to be well-integrated, and it’s generally considered better to keep them in separate quarters if you’re going to keep both.
Noise and Predators
Keeping guinea fowl safe is an important step when adding them to your flock. One night when we were camping on Roy’s land, we were awoken at 4 a.m. by loud squawks of guinea fowl, coming from the tree where they sleep. This terrible noise went on for about 20 minutes! In the morning, Roy said the guinea fowl might have been spooked by a fox. These birds are renowned for their noisiness. Roy finds it endearing; we’re not sure what the neighbors think! Generally, they’re not considered to be a good choice if you have close neighbors.
They’re also noisy when they’re approached by people, but this didn’t stop one being snatched by a passer-by in a car, on the country road. “They’re a culinary delicacy,” explained Roy, who suspected his beloved bird had been taken for someone’s dinner. Keeping guinea fowl can be pleasurable, but it’s not all smooth sailing!
Do you keep guinea fowl and/or chickens? Let us know your thoughts on these intriguing birds in the comments below.