If you have ever thought about raising guinea fowls, there are a number of things you should know about them.
Most people often confuse guinea fowls for turkeys although they belong to different families. However, they are all classified as Galliformes, a group of chicken-like birds. Their native origin is Africa and they were later introduced to Europe by Portuguese settlers eons ago.
They are found in various habitats due to their ability to highly adapt to different conditions. Depending on food availability, you will find them in deserts, forests, jungles, shrublands, and grasslands. In Africa however, they are largely domesticated which has been the case for hundreds of years.
There are seven different species of this bird with the most common one being the “helmeted pearl.” Guineas are available in a multiple of colors. The birds have a bald head and neck. Most of the species have a dark gray or black layer of long feathers with white spots. Other species do not have the spots.
They are omnivorous birds, feeding on both animals and plants such as worms, insects, berries, seeds and small reptiles and mammals. Crocodiles, humans, wolves, dogs, foxes and large reptiles are their common predators.
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Purpose for Raising Guinea Fowl
They are primarily kept for their meat, eggs or attractive plumage.
Guinea fowl meat is considered a luxury. It is popularly known as “poor man’s pheasant,” because of its similar taste to the pheasant although sold at a much lower price. It is commonly found in French and Oriental restaurants. There are claims that in some restaurants, it is offered as pheasant meat.
Its meat is darker, richer and tougher than chicken meat but with fewer calories. The best meat is from a keet about 12 weeks old. The same process you use in preparation of chicken meat applies to Guineas too. You may have them roasted, fried or broiled. Their eggs are also richer than chicken eggs.
The other probable reason that farmers will give as to why they rear these birds is their ability to keep off predators from eating their poultry. They drive away birds such as hawks. They are a great option to keep away pests from your garden. They do that while still keeping your crops intact apart from the occasional pecking at a crop or two. They eat anything that moves in the grass from ticks, insects, etc.
While they may not be able to kill some predators like foxes, they do sound an alarm for the other hens to seek shelter for protection. Anything that seems foreign will attract screams and screeches from them; loud screeches if I may add. They make great watchdogs. A lot of people also testify to the fact that they don’t fear cats.
Breeding Guinea Fowls
Breeding starts the spring after they are hatched at about 26 to 28 weeks. You should expect to see about 100 eggs to start with and this will continue annually up to five years or more. The shells of the eggs are much tougher than chicken’s eggs and generally smaller in size. They are normally a light brown in color with speckles sometimes.
One cock for about five hens will do so long as the cocks are three years or younger. Expect to hunt for the eggs even if you have provided a nest already. Unless you confine them during that period, you are most likely to find the eggs in an isolated or hidden area.
Guineas do mate with chicken resulting to odd looking cross-bred birds. Although this is a rare occurrence, the offsprings that are born from this are usually sterile. Surprisingly, like humans, these entertaining birds do get strongly attached to each other. A Guinea cock and a hen will run longingly towards each other after a period of separation, for instance during feeding. While the hen is nesting, the cock will stand guard to protect its hen. It is a sight to behold.
These are the young ones and part of the enjoyment of raising Guinea fowls. They are much smaller than chicks. Guinea fowls are good settlers but terrible mothers. Once the eggs are hatched, they either carry the keets with them or abandon them completely. The former endangers the keets’ lives because of the wet areas the Guineas pass through which can result to the keets freezing to death. They also have the tendency to wander off and leave their keets unattended to.
Often in the wild, Guinea fowls can hatch up to 20 keets or more but only a handful will grow into adulthood. It is for this reason that most people prefer to take the keets and set up simple brooders or sometimes raise them with chickens. You should, however, be careful in your approach as sometimes the Guineas might take offense.
Caring for these tiny birds requires some patience which will be well worth it in the end. Watching them grow can be hilarious as they scurry around without a sense of direction. This makes them prone to accidents, injury, and sometimes death. That means that you have to constantly be on the lookout for their safety.
Brooders are basically controlled large spaces with regulated temperatures that host your Guinea fowl keets for the first two to six weeks after they are hatched. These can be plastic containers or boxes, just depends on how creative you can get. To set one up, cover the bottom with a non-toxic hemp bedding or a newspaper. It is not advisable to use sawdust because your keets might mistake it for feed.
The temperature inside the brooder should be around 35 degrees Celsius. You can achieve this by placing a heat lamp at the bottom of the brooder plus a thermometer inside to monitor the temperature. One sure sign that the keets are cold is the sight of them huddled up together with their eyes closed. It is very important they stay warm during this period of their lives.
Their droppings are fairly easy to clean as it is dry and powdery. To clean the brooders, the keets should be relocated to a safe place, the beddings removed, and the interior and bottom of the brooder wiped. Afterward, the beddings should be replaced with fresh ones. You could use the droppings as compost manure.
They grow rapidly and it may be tempting to let them out in the open. With the impending dangers that lurk outside, they may still not be ready until after six weeks. However, feel free to let them roam around your backyard or your living space.
Since they are confined, it is up to you to feed them. Scatter the feed on the newspaper and make sure you also include some water along with the feed. You could start off with mashed boiled eggs mixed with cheese, turkey starter, or oatmeal. After about four weeks, progress to mixed whole wheat with corn along with fresh greens. To avoid unpleasant surprises, get a drown-proof waterer.
Power Tip: One of the best ways to raise keets is to gather the guinea eggs and let your broody chickens hatch them, they will raise them and protect them as their own. Once the keets become adult guineas they will usually join the other guineas.
Where are the Keets Found?
It is possible to find Guinea fowl breeders with keets as little as one day old. Another option would be to arrange with the breeders for a keet immediately after they are hatched. Guinea keets are resistant to change and it might prove difficult for them to adjust to a new environment especially if they are older. Once they grow older, a coop for resting at night will do.
How to Distinguish Guinea Fowls
The best way to differentiate male and females apart is to listen to their voices. Unlike males who make a one syllable chat noise, it’s no surprise that females make two syllable calls. Other than the voices, another not so accurate way of telling them apart is their wattles. Grown female Guineas have smaller wattles compared to their male counterparts.
Sheltering Guinea Fowls
They love space and do not take well to being confined in small spaces. It is a good idea to let them roam free and look for their food during the day. However, a good shelter would do them good for their safety from dogs and other predators during the night. It does not need to be anything complicated. A simple barn or a chicken pen should house them just fine.
It is not unusual to see them staying in trees at night although this can make taming them a bit difficult. Guineas fly and that is how they make their way to the top of the trees. Allowing them to free range is likely to make them wild and catching them even more difficult.
From six to ten weeks, Guineas can be trained to find their way home. Therefore, whenever you are planning for your coop, build a big enough structure to accommodate them for that period of time. Feed them preferably at dusk daily. This will ensure they keep coming back at that time for their feed. You could also start by releasing them in small numbers. Their strong flock instinct will ensure they heed to their flockmate’s call when the night falls.
If you have chickens, you could house them together although some people worry about Guineas killing their roasters. They sometimes bite and harass them so it would be a good idea for you to have a good number of roosters in there too. These birds can be quite the bullies.
During the winter season, it is believed that once they inhale ice they might die. It is better to keep them indoors during the cold season.
Feeding Guinea Fowls
They move as a solitary unit; you will mostly see them in groups marching through the grounds. When they spot a rodent or a snake, they enclose the prey and make a feast out of it. These birds are naturally born scratchers, although not as aggressive as the chicken. Guineas are also quite noisy so it’s highly unlikely to sneak them in residences that prohibit their rearing.
Their dietary requirements are not as demanding because they handle the most part of it. Whatever you find suitable to give to chicken is feed for your guinea fowls as well. Mixed grain with plenty of fresh water late into the day will, however, encourage them to stay indoors during the night.
During fall and winter, when there is reduced forage, increase the ratio of their grains. For your penned guineas, you could use the commercially prepared feed for chicken except when they are breeding. The laying of their eggs can also be improved by feeding them game bird ration or higher-protein turkey.
How to Catch Guinea Fowls
You have to be very tactful if you want to catch a guinea fowl. The best time to do this is at night and indoors, in a coop to be precise. If not done swiftly, you will end up with feathers and a nude bird. Clap both hands against its wings rather than by the legs. The latter will work only if you are aiming for a chicken. Catching Guineas by the legs is a recipe for disaster. In the process of trying to break free, chances are they will break their legs as they whip around. A net is also an alternative option.
The Bad and Ugly of Raising Guinea Fowls
1. If you value your peace and quiet, then Guinea fowls might not respect that. They are very loud which may be a good thing at times, but it may start to get annoying over time. They will literally alert you when anything happens outside, even the slightest of noises. What’s more, once one Guinea hollers, all of them follow in unison.
2. They are mean and bullies. If they share a coop with your roasters, they will bite and chase them around. They enjoy pulling the tail feather of chicken. Keets are also not safe from the grown Guineas. You may notice with time the bullied ones may be afraid to go into the coops at night.
3. They have no boundaries. Since they can soar higher than you actually think, a fence isn’t going to cut it. They might find their way to the neighbor’s house, across the road, down the street, you name it. Once they get really comfortable outdoors, expect anything from these birds.
4. You will have a field day hunting for their eggs. They are pretty good when it comes to hiding their eggs so good luck finding them.
5. They particularly love trees, rooftops, and cars. Some of these places are beyond reach and make them susceptible to predators. You should also expect to clean some Guinea poop in those areas once you manage to get them off those spots.
6. They are extremely unintelligent. They will aimlessly go back and forth before they see an opening or a path they intend to take. You simply can’t shoo them away in a certain direction like you would chicken. So this can definitely be frustrating.
Apart from their annoying qualities, they have equal redeeming traits. With their numerous benefits, they also make for great entertainment around the home. They are very funny to watch and everyone agrees on this. If you are sold and wondering where you can get them, talk to any poultry breeders near you for detailed information. The experts will guide you accordingly based on whatever purpose you intend to use or buy them for.
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