Every animal on our homestead has a purpose and the guinea fowl are no exception. But you might be surprised at what that purpose is! Raising guinea fowl is not overly hard but it does come with some unique and sometimes funny challenges.
I have to say that guinea fowl have been an interesting addition to our homestead and I don’t think I’ve ever met a more useful, yet arguably dumb, farm bird in my entire life. Quite a contradiction right? Keep reading to find out what I mean!
Raising Guinea Fowl On The Homestead.
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What Are Guinea Fowl?
Guinea fowl are a type of gamebird that was brought to the Americas by early settlers. Originally from Africa, they belong to the same family as chickens and turkeys (Galliformes). Historically they were prized for their lean dark meat, rich eggs, and ornamental feathers. While there are several types of guinea the most popular for homesteaders is the helmeted guinea.
Guinea fowl come in a variety of colors although the typical pearl grey is the most common. The guinea’s on our homestead are pearl & pearl pied (pearl with white patches).
So You Got Guineas For Meat And Eggs? I thought you said I would be surprised!
Not so fast my friend! While we certainly could eat our guinea’s and their eggs we got them for an entirely different purpose. In fact, our guinea’s and their eggs are far more valuable alive than they are in our freezer or fridge, and here’s why!
Guinea’s Are Excellent Watchdogs
While the roosters are pretty good at keeping an eye out the guinea fowl are far more observant. They notice anything out of place on the farm almost as soon as it happens. They spent three days yelling about the bows I put up on the front porch for Christmas and they raised this alarm less than 15 minutes after I finished putting them there.
If you are highly averse to noise then you probably don’t want guinea’s, but we have roosters so adding another noisy bird was hardly a concern. While they tend to alarm about mundane things like the Christmas bows fairly often they also tend to spot hawks and predators long before the roosters do!
And They Work In Tandem With The Roosters!
Thankfully the roosters are smarter and when the guinea’s alarm they tend to go and check things out. If the guineas are screaming about nothing the roosters go about their day if the guineas have spotted an actual problem the roosters join in the alarm and everyone runs for cover.
I used to respond to all of the guinea’s alarm calls but I have learned to only run out the door now if the guinea’s and the roosters agree with one another. The guinea fowl early warning system has saved our flock from many a hawk attack this year!
Guinea’s Are Pest Exterminators Extraordinaire!
After a few months of raising guinea fowl on the homestead, I quickly learned they when they are not looking for things to yell about they are endlessly hunting for food and they love bugs, mice, and snakes.
Ticks, in particular, are some of their favorite and since we have plenty of ticks in our woods guinea’s turned out to be an effective way of controlling them around the yard. And while they will scratch and dust bathe in freshly turned dirt (so you should probably protect your new garden for a bit) for the most part they are more interested in bugs than plants and tend to cause less damage to gardens than hens do.
And while some guineas develop a taste for veggies they are also pretty easy to keep out. Guinea’s can fly so you would think a simple fence wouldn’t be enough. You would be wrong. Guinea’s are also very very dumb. They only tend to fly when frightened and for only short distances, they are more likely to spend hours running up and down a fence than they are to try and fly over it. For the most part, a chicken wire or poultry mesh fence would be enough to dissuade them from your new garden until the plants were big enough to be of no interest.
So What Do You Need When It Comes To Raising Guinea Fowl?
Baby guinea fowl are called keets and they are adorable little balls of fluff. Keets need pretty much the same care as a baby chick. An incubator if you choose to hatch them yourself and a brooder box, heat lamp, water, and chick starter. Guinea keets, like ducks, should not be fed medicated chick starter and, like quail, do best on gamebird feed. Gamebird fed can be difficult to find however so a non-medicated chick starter is perfectly fine!
While you can often switch chickens to pelleted food when adults I have found that my guinea’s don’t really like it – so we stick with a Flock Raiser crumble (it’s much easier to feed all the birds the same type of food then buy many different kinds).
Guinea keets should be kept under a heat lamp until fully feathered, just like chicks and just like chicks, the heat lamp should be moved a bit further away each week to encourage this feathering.
Moving Them Outside
When you are ready to move your babies outside it’s important to provide them with a safe place to finish maturing. An enclosed coop works best. Unlike chickens, Guineas are less inclined to return to the same place every night to sleep. If left to their own devices they tend to prefer roosting in trees a decision that makes them lovely meals for any owls in your area. In order to imprint on the coop as ‘home’, they should be locked up for at least 8 weeks before you give them free-roaming rights.
Even then you might have to herd them back in for a few weeks until they get the hang of things. Our guineas learned how to get out of the pasture within a couple of days but every night I had to go out and herd them back to the gate where they could slip under the fence. This went on for weeks before they figured out how to go home. Never mind that it was the exact same way they got out! Again Guineas are not the most intelligent of birds. And we kind of cheated when it came to raising guineas!
How Did you Cheat?
We raised our first set of guineas with chicks. Guinea fowl are very flock-oriented so when they are raised with baby chickens they tend to bond and consider the chickens part of their flock. This has a few advantages!
- They end up less wild – Raising guinea fowl on your homestead is basically like coercing a wild bird to stick around for food and shelter. They are almost impossible to catch once you let them go and if they feel like it, they will take off never to be seen again. If you raise them with chickens some of the chicken’s personality tends to rub off on them. I can’t pick up my guineas and catching one outside of when they are roosting at night would probably require a net but they will come up to me and I can herd them around without causing a screaming flight which is helpful!
- They Come Home At Night – Since they are bonded to the chickens they want to stay with the chickens and the chickens come home every night without fail and they bring the guineas with them!
Overall I have to say that raising guineas on a homestead is both highly entertaining (guineas get themselves into all sorts of funny situations – like getting stuck on the coop roof for two days because it couldn’t figure out how to fly back down) and useful! I expect that our homestead will always have some guineas!