The year of years.
Our wedding year.
And the year we got guinea fowl.
I made the decision to purchase guinea keets last fall, when I found the yard overrun with ticks and the house overrun with ladybugs.
I’m all for lady bugs – I think they’re very valuable members of the ecosystem, but I don’t want them inside my house.
I scoured the Internet on tips for how to get rid of them without hauling in pesticides, and a lot of people told me to get guineas.
Sure, I thought. Makes sense. Plus, since we already raised chickens and pigs, I thought guineas would be a great natural progression.
So…I should have done more research.
Fast forward to the end of the summer, and we had 2 out of 12 guinea fowl left, and the 2 that we had really weren’t doing so well.
Would I raise guinea fowl again?
Absolutely. I learned a lot in the process – particularly about what not to do – and my goal is to pass that knowledge on to you in this article.
So without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about raising guinea fowl.
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What are Guinea Fowl?
Guinea fowl are poultry that, though related to turkeys and chickens, are not members of the same family. Although chickens are members of their own family, turkeys and guineas occupy their own families.
These birds are native to Africa and known for traveling in large groups. They were first introduced to Europe by the 15th century explorers and then arrived in North America along with the first settlers.
These birds have a unique appearance. Although there are seven types of guinea fowl, the helmeted pearl style is the most common, which causes a guinea to have a featherless face, red wattles, and blackish-grey polka-dotted feathers.
4 Top Reasons Why You Might Want to Raise Guinea Fowl
They Eat Bugs and Even Snakes
Most people decide to raise guineas because they are so good at eating bugs, snakes, and other nuisances. They will chase bugs all over the place, eating ticks June bugs – anything else you might have crawling around. A lot of people get guineas specifically to get rid of ticks.
They are allegedly also quite good at keeping pests out of your garden. Instead of using chemicals or relying on your chickens in your garden (who will often tear things up and eat plants, too), consider guineas. They usually don’t scratch and destroy things quite as much as chickens do.
They even eat snakes, as I mentioned, which is something your chickens probably won’t do (unless the snakes are small). I’ve heard of guineas going after larger fare, too, but I wouldn’t necessarily put all your eggs in that basket (no pun intended).
They Are All-Hours Alarm Systems
Many people, us included, thought it would be a good idea to raise guineas to help serve as an alarm system. I’ve read so many success stories about people doing this, so please, if you are considering raising guineas for this purpose, don’t be deterred by the story I’ll tell later. They really are quite terrifying, and can often intimidate even human intruders. Yes, that includes the UPS delivery man.
Guineas lay eggs just like chickens do. They usually start laying at 26 to 28 weeks old, but usually only lay in the spring. They will generally produce about 100 eggs in a season. They stop laying at around five years of age.
While they are laying, however, you will receive an ample supply of light-brown, speckled eggs. The shells of these eggs are curiously tough, and the tip of the eggs will be more pointed.
Guinea eggs are smaller than chicken eggs, but there are tons of recipes you can use them in. Here are some suggestions:
Guinea eggs are also almost always fertile, so you might want to consider raising guineas simply to sell the fertilized eggs.
Did you know that you can even eat guinea hens? It tastes much like pheasant and is commonly used in French cuisine. It is darker and richer tasting than chicken yet contains fewer calories and less fat. Guineas have smaller bones than chickens, so while you won’t necessarily get a super dense stock you will get a lot of extra breast meat.
Here are some of the best guinea recipes:
Incubating Guinea Fowl Keets
You have two choices when you decide to raise a flock of guinea fowl – you can either incubate eggs yourself or raise them up as keets.
If you incubate them, you can purchase fertilized eggs from a local hatchery that specializes in them. However, I don’t advise incubating guinea and chicken eggs at the same time.
The reason for this is that developing guineas have different needs than incubating chickens. Guineas will need to be kept at a consistent temperature of 65 to 68 degrees while they are in the egg, and they’ll need 28 days to hatch – an entire week more than chickens.
Once they hatch, though, you can treat them just as you would any other young poultry. Make sure you leave them in the incubator until they’ve dried off, and then you can move them to the brooder box with a heat lamp.
Raising Guinea Keets
Once your guineas have hatched, you can raise them right alongside your hatched chiscks, ducklings, or other poultry. They need to be fed differently, though, as they need starter game bird feed – don’t feed them chick starter as this doesn’t have the nutrients they need.
You can leave them in the brooder box until they no longer need the heat lamp or plate – or I recommend using this heat plate, which makes it so much easier to control temperatures in your brooder and also helps your birds feather out more quickly, in my personal experience.
They will usually need a minimum of four weeks in the brooder. This could take more or less depending on your climate where you live as well as your specific population of guineas. However, you don’t want to rush them – make sure they are absolutely ready to go outside before you move them.
Caring for Guinea Fowl
Guineas are easy to care for in that they don’t need a coop, and will instead roost in the trees. However, if you want them to come home and roost – whether to keep the eggs in one place or to protect them from predators – you need to train them to a coop.
When you first move your guineas outside, I recommend training them to a tractor or a coop. Don’t let them free range when you first introduce them to the great outdoors, as they need to adapt to the outsdie world. They also need to know where home is!
When you add guineas to your flock, keep them in the coop for six weeks. Then, let them out one at a time. They won’t go very far, and they will explore the areas around them but will return to the coop in time to roost. Make sure they have plenty of food and water there, following the same procedures you would when raising other types of poultry, like chickens.
If you don’t want to leave guinea fowl in the coop with your chickens, you do have another option. You can build them a simple shelter to guard against night time predators. It just needs to be a south-facing shed with three sides. The other side should be covered in wire. The coop should provide roosting space, too.
Adult guinea fowl are very self-reliant, and will find most of their own food. They will graze for most of their food, like bugs and insects, but you can also supply them with additional game bird feed to make sure they’re getting all the proper nutrients. They’ll need plenty of water, too, of course.
Keep in mind that despite all of their positive qualities, guinea hens are not great parents. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure you provide appropriate precautions for this. A mother hen will not necessarily care for all of her keets, so you will need to do it for her.
6 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Getting Guinea Fowl
Wing Clipping is Necessary
You absolutely must clip the wings of your guineas unless you are keeping them in a covered run. This isn’t just for your own convenience- it’s also to keep them safe. If you’re not sure how to clip wings, be sure to check out this tutorial.
You Should Train Them to their Housing
Guineas travel together, and while they don’t need a coop, it’s a good idea to train them to have the same daily patterns as your chickens. If one goes, they will all go. Because your birds won’t leave each other, they will follow each other no matter what.
Training them to a pen, coop, or run is definitely a good idea, as it will keep them where you want them to be. If you need to catch your guineas, good luck -they are incredibly fast and you probably won’t be able to catch them unless they are already locked up for the night.
Free Ranging is Very Free
A guinea knows no borders – even if that means crossing into your neighbor’s lawn. It doesn’t care if its wandered off into no-man’s land – if there’s a tasty morsel on the other side, it’s going to check it out.
Guineas will free-range their way right onto private property, into the road, and into a million other places where they should not be. You’ll want to make sure you are on good terms with your neighbors, and if not, you better make sure you clip your guinea’s wings and confine it within a covered run.
They Are Incredibly Loud
You probably already know this, and in fact, many people choose to raise guineas simply for the reason that they supposedly repel predators.
There’s a lot of truth to this. Guineas talk. They talk a lot. They talk all the time.
I was never really annoyed by it – our house guests were occasionally perturbed – but we actually ran into a unique problem with our guineas’ chattiness.
You see, a lot of people raise guinea fowl to help deter predators. Because they scream when anything comes close, they can alert you to the presence of a threat so that you can address it.
However, the problem that we had was that our guineas screamed…all the time…so we never knew if a predator was nearby, or if ol’ Karen the Guinea Hen was just in one of her moods.
They also screamed when we weren’t there.
Part of me wonders whether this was where our predator problem began. This may be me jumping to conclusions, but we never had a single predator problem until we added guineas to the farm. 12 guineas later and we were down 20 chickens…and 10 of the guineas ended up being killed by a fox, too.
So just remember – the guineas are loud, and you need to take the time to figure out what the various noises mean. We didn’t, and it came back to haunt us.
You Need to Handle Them Differently – And They Aren’t All That Tame
A guinea is not a chicken, which may sound obvious, but really – pay attention to this. You will need to care for your guinea fowl differently than you care for your chickens.
Chickens are much more trainable and more domesticated than guinea fowl. It can be difficult to train a guinea to a coop, and they can also be quite aggressive. They are far from tame, even if you train them, and you’ll also need to handle them differently.
For instance, you can’t pick a guinea up by the legs like you might a chicken – they have very fragile bones and can easily be injured. Instead, you must lift them by clamping their wings to their bodies and lifting them bodily.
They Like to Be Boss
Your guineas will prefer to be the dominant birds in yoru coop. Instead of allowing the chickens to reign supreme, the guineas will be top boss. You may have some squabbles between your dominant guineas and your roosters when you first bring them home.
With that said, we will probably attempt to raise guineas at some other point in our homesteading career. We are focusing on expanding our sheep and pig production right now, so poultry is at the back of our to-do list. However, I’d love to hear any suggestions you have for raising guineas on your homestead!
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