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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gobs of Guineas

This is our third year with guineas on the farm.  Last fall someone described their “buck-wheat” call as a rusty gate continuously swinging.

I think they were fairly accurate.  

Even with this continuous clatter, we now have over 100 guineas on the farm. Hopefully that will soon turn into over 200.

The reason I even sought after guineas in the first place was because of their reputation for destroying tick populations. When we bought our property, our 23ish acres of pasture had been in a CRP planting of prairie grasses for well over 10 years.  As we soon found out, the ticks had used every opportunity they could to reproduce in these tall grasses.

Just before a trip into the doctor, to get a large rash checked out where my young daughter had just had one of her many tick bites of the year, I posted a quick post on Facebook searching for someone who might have some guineas.

As the Lord’s provision would have it, on our way back from the doctor’s office, I noticed someone on the way home had some guineas wandering in his yard, which I had never noticed before. I immediately pulled into his driveway and asked if he had any for sale.

He didn’t, but he did have a pile of eggs he told me I could just have to try to hatch out.  While visiting, I also learned that he was the gentleman who had sold us our land, and that he would be more than happy to buy it back from us as land prices shot up shortly after we bought it. Although I didn’t offer him the land, I did thank him for the guinea eggs.

 As I incubated the eggs for my anticipated tick control, I did a bit of research on guineas and found they are also wonderful to have in gardens, as they are high protein feeders ravaging insects.  They also do not scratch like chickens or  dine on the produce – a perfect pest control companion for the home garden.

Later that fall, after the keets had hatched and grown a bit, we were asked if we were raising them for meat. We had never considered it, but with a little more research I found out that guinea fowl is actually a specialty meat – often used in high end restaurants as their game bird. 

It just so happened that the guinea keets we were raising were a jumbo version, and the jumbo version that naturally reproduce vs. the jumbo version that needed to be artificially inseminated.  Perfect for tick control, garden pest control, and another meat enterprise.

 Which leads us back to the 200 guineas we hope to have later this year.  Last year we raised around 75 of these birds, keeping back a breeding flock of 25.  And although we did order some keets in that “may” reproduce on their own to get some early guinea meat, we hope to hatch out many of our own.

The thing about guinea fowl is that they do not lay in nest boxes like chickens do.  Instead, they take great pleasure in hiding their eggs in tall grasses.  Along with that, they are awful caretakers of their keets.  The “gather the young under their wings” does not apply to guineas, and many of their keets are often overcome by the elements or just plain lost. Because of this, I have been busy collecting/searching out guinea nests to incubate and hatch more of our own flock. 

Thankfully, guineas do like to cluster together to hide their nests.  Most of the year they run around in one big pack scaring up insects into the air to gobble them up. During spring, however, I have found they break apart into groups of about 6 or so with a male to accompany them.  This group will lay their eggs in one spot, making a large cluster of eggs in a couple days. 

Before they started laying, I set up a trap nesting spot with hay bales stacked to make a little cave.  When I found an egg in this nest, my search began. This spot has also by far been my most productive nest, and I should have made more in various locations around the farm.

So this spring, when it was just too wet to garden or when I needed to get outside but didn't feel quite well enough to garden, I took some walks to look for guinea eggs.

I found one of these nests on the far corner of the farm while checking on the electric fence. I just happened to scare a guinea up off the nest or I may have missed this one.

Another nest I went searching for, as I knew that there was a group of birds hanging out in this area. This nest was made in a tent like structure of weeds, and I’m sure I would not have found it if I wasn’t intently searching for it.

A third nest was found again in an area where I had seen guineas gather, but I didn’t have to search as hard as I came across it when a guinea was on it, scaring her up again. This nest seemed to be popular as there was a trail of eggs around the next from guineas most likely waiting their turn!
It didn’t take me long to get 150 eggs to set in our incubator, and I have another 50 or so waiting to go in when these hatch, not because I am waiting on the room but so that we can space out our available meat.

Unfortunately, my guinea nests have dried up this last week or so. I know a predator found the location of one nest as evidenced by some egg shells, but I’m wondering if they have just slowed down on laying since my trap nest has even slowly dwindled down. Or they are just getting smart, and I need to do some more searching for nests, although I have gone on a couple morning walks and have not scared up any guineas in the ditches lately.

In a couple of weeks, however, we’ll see just how well these guinea eggs were fertilized this year, and we’ll see how this year of focused guinea raising goes. We have a few kinks to work out, such as corralling these flighty birds to keep them where we would like them and catching them during processing time. We do have some different plans of attacks for the year including sending off the year old guineas who have taken to wandering a bit more than we would like and roosting in the rafters, setting up a roosting area where we can shut the door and actually catch them, as well as some ideas to keep them in the pasture area more.

I’m not sure if guineas will be a permanent part of our farm or a “It was fun while it lasted” part of the farm. Even with the challenges of these skiddish wandering foragers and the times of unwanted, not-stop rusty gate noise, they do provide wonderful pest control, a unique meat, and quite a great deal of entertainment as they charge though the pasture in mass, scaring an array of insects into the air, and darting around to gobble them up.

Do you have any experience with guinea fowl? If so, I'd love to have you share!

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Rich said...

I had some guineas at one time, and my story was just about the same as yours. Someone with guineas gave me some eggs and I hatched them in an incubator.

After they hatched, I kept them in an ordinary chicken house with a large enclosed outdoor run. Out of curiosity, I tried to train them to come to a whistle by throwing out some proso millet and whistling at the same time. It was easier than I thought it would be to get them to the point where they would respond to the whistle even if I didn't feed them some proso millet.

Eventually, I gave them away to someone that let them roam freely over about 8-10 acres. A year later, I could still whistle and get most of the guineas within earshot to answer back before they'd come running for their proso millet treat.

Nobody else seemed to be able to get them to respond to a whistle, and it was an easy trick to impress any little kids that were around.

Anonymous said...

Did you notice any significant reduction in tick bites? If you do get rid of them will you go back to living with ticks?

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

Rich - I just might have to try that whistle trick!

George- Yes, we have not had any ticks on us from our yard the last 2 years, which is where we would often pick them up. There still are some in the tall grasses on the outskirts of our farm, and the dogs bring some back from the woods, but it also seems like a lot less on them too. It could be from the guineas, the grasses being grazed now, or just different temperatures of the years - possibly all three, but I would like to think the guineas are making a big dent. :)

LP Payne said...

I have one guinea, the rest of the ubnch of keets ran under the house one night never to be seen again. I let him free range (he is a boy) with my chickens and he is super loud and cries out when he sees a neighbor dog entering our territory. Very useful for my flock. There are no downfalls with him except the loud songs i hear reverberating through my house sometimes. He also will fight the littler bantam roosters, but only if they mate with a hen he considers his friend. Guineas are very smart! But one is enough for us.

Anonymous said...

No more guineas?
Sorry to hear that.

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