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Guinea Fowl Realities

We got our ten guinea fowl keets in December the the year before last.  I have always thought that they were pretty birds, but we needed a reason to get them and when I found out that they were supposed to eat ticks, that was ideal.  Any natural method of reducing our paralysis tick numbers instead of using chemicals on the animals has got to be worth a try.

All went well at first.  For the first few weeks the keets were just like chicken chicks, but when they out-grew the brooder box and we put them out in a cage it soon became evident that they were very different to chicks.  The first thing we noticed was their tendancy to fly, particularly when we opened the door of their cage to top up food and water and they all tried to fly out!  One did manage to get out and fly up over the water tank and into another paddock.

When we moved them into a chicken tractor Cheryl somehow managed to get one of them out the back of the tractor and ate it, so we were down to nine.

When the guinea fowl were big enough, we started to let them free-range, so they could start their work of eating the paralysis ticks.  This was mostly successful except that the guinea fowl occasionally decide not to go back into their tractor at night.  Over the last few months, on the nights when they have not all gone home, we have lost six guinea fowl to night predators (probably foxes).  The guinea fowl are very easily spooked by any changes in or around the tractor, unfortunately the whole idea of the tractor is that it moves to fresh ground quite regularly, which seems to upset the guineas.  The chickens also developed a habit of standing in the guinea tractor, which the guineas don't like either.

I did hope that the guineas would move out of their tractor and live in the trees.  So far they just camp on the ground.  We have a routine of going outside around dusk and herding them into their cage if they haven't gone already.  This is a very slow process as they don't react well to being herded, and they have to check out the door of their cage very carefully before going inside.  Cheryl sometimes indulges us and sits long enough to be a help on one side of the door so that they don't walk right past it.

We have got to the stage, with only three guinea fowl left, that we would rather keep them locked up (and move the tractor along for them), than let them out and deal with the nightly herding exercise.  But if they are locked up, they are not eating paralysis tick.  What else are they good for?  You can eat them, but they are quite small, so I think we are better off eating chickens for the effort involved in plucking.  We have been collecting their eggs, which are smaller than chicken eggs, and we have eaten a few and hatched the rest.  You probably think we are mad, but at $10 a keet, we can at least make our money back!  So far we have hatched 14 of them and sold seven.

And now we're not sure if we want to keep them or not!

This hasn't put us off guinea fowl completely.  I think they have potential, and we have learnt so much about their habits and personality.  They do not do well in tractors, but if we can build them a fixed pen or get them to live in trees, maybe they can live at Cheslyn Rise, live in the trees and eat the paralysis ticks.

I have been asked if they do eat paralysis ticks.  Its pretty hard to tell, I don't watch everything they eat.... and we found a tick on Cheryl last year, which was one since we've been here.  And I think some of the chickens that died last year may have had ticks on them (but I didn't find any).  So its hard to know if they were eating them or not!

People also complain about the noise of the guinea fowl.  They do get a bit painful, and we did move their tractor away from the house.  As the numbers dwindled, the noise was less annoying....

Have you or do you keep guinea fowl?  Any thoughts on our experience with them?

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  1. I had to laugh when I read you were hearding guinea fowl, that is something I thought impossible. I only had 4 of them and they were very independent to say it nicely. It took an ice storm to get them to roost anywhere near the chickens. They eventually all got killed by predators. We never replaced them and our chickens are in a confined area because of predators and I haven't seen an increase in ticks. They probably eat them but they seemed intent on just eating chicken feed and making a lot of noise. I did several paintings of them so got my money back that way.

    1. haha, yeah herding is a lose term with guineas, as soon as you put on too much pressure they just fly up in the air squawking! I bet you did some nice paintings though :)

  2. It is funny how these great plans end up going a different direction than you expected. All you need is to get one really smart guinea fowl who teaches the others to roost in the trees . I have a game bantam here who seems to have 'jungle fowl ways' and much prefers living in maybe if you got one chicken/bantam like that , that you house with the others , she will teach them. Or you could go into the guinea fowl business and sell them as you breed them up .

    1. haha, smart guinea fowl, that's funny Kim! well we are raising the latest keets with the chicks, so thought maybe they will teach the keets some manners, hope its not the other way around though! Unfrotunately the guinea market seems to have crashed, that's why I'm stuck with the last seven keets!

  3. Not sure if you already have this link, but I found it while looking for an old blog.

    The old blog I was looking for spoke about the best housing designed for guinea fowl. As they like to roost high in trees, they need a high (permanent) coop if they are going to return to it at night. They also don't like solid walls on their encloures, because they like to survey their surroundings. Walls make them feel like they can be cornered.

    I think the trick is to provide everything they like in nature, but build it into a permanent coop, so you can manage their safety with predators. I've also read if you make it a nightly routine to feed them something yummy in their coop, you won't have much trouble getting them to return to it.

    Sorry to hear of your losses, but its great you're still looking to make it work.

    1. thanks Chris, I think we need to think some specialised guinea housing instead of making them live in chicken tractors! Teaches us that all poultry are unique :)

  4. Liz, I'm so sorry to hear of your bird losses.

    We were thinking of one day getting some Guinea Fowl after we heard they are good at keeping snakes away (or at least making so much racket that you knew something was up). Ticks haven't been a problem here so far - it must be too cold though apparently they are moving further into our area now.

    I hadn't realised how complicated they were to keep, and with the absence of any larger trees here and a small block it may not be the greatest idea. Or maybe just a couple of them.

    This is why I love your blog. You always provide the details honestly and it is such an interesting read.

    1. Thanks Tania, I don't know about snake alerts, because they make so much noise all the time, we used to run outside when we heard them squaking, but I've never seen them with a snake! The noise might be a bit much on one acre unless you have very tolerant neighbours :)

  5. Guinea Fowl do make a racket when there is a snake about. They follow it and annoy the hell out it including pecking. This can be a good and bad thing. An irritated snake is not a happy encounter. But at least the Guinea Fowl have informed you of its presence.

    We have only had luck keeping them in a permanent pen when they were raised by a chicken mother. They come into the permanent chicken enclosure for food which enables us to trap them if we need to do so otherwise they seem happy to roost in nearby tall trees.

    We did dress one spare male and it was I understand quite good eating.

    They have personalities and build long term relationships both with their own breed and with their chicken mothers. One such example is here

    I couldn't imagine HHF without these nutty little beings.

    1. thanks John and Jean for sharing your experience, I think the guineas are just misunderstood at our place :)

  6. I was so glad to read someone else finds Guinea Fowl flighty and independent. I have 4 (with 4 keets inside the house in a makeshift brooder box), living with my chickens, bantam rooster and two Muscovy ducks. All my birds live in a 12m by 6m yard. It is covered with a combination of netting and shade cloth. There is a roosting area with nesting boxes. The Guinea Fowl roost with the chickens and often lay their eggs in the nesting boxes along with the other eggs, otherwise they lay on the ground. The roosting area is covered with recycled corrugated iron on three sides.
    I read and followed that you should keep the Guineas where you want them to come home to for eight weeks before letting them out. I did this and have never had trouble getting them to come back, often they return during the day to lay their eggs.
    I believe a regular feeding routine just before dusk encourages them to return.
    Thanks, I LOVE your blog - you are living my dream.

    1. Thanks Lizzie, it sounds like you have a good set up, I wish our guineas would learn to lay in a nest....

  7. We got guinea fowls about a year ago as young keets to keep snakes and foxes at bay. We kept them locked up in a chook house for 3 months to 'home' them and then let them out. For the first little while we would lock them up at night, but then they chose to roost way up high in a gum tree above the chook yard. They race over to greet me at the gate morning and night to eat chook food, even though they can fly over! They're extremely territorial and wary of all things new, so I imagine that moving them around the farm would be unsettling for them. They're beautiful, quirky and noisy, but lots of fun to have around and we haven't had a snake or fox around the chooks since their arrival - I've heard that if they make a racket, you take notice because something's up.

    1. Thanks Bridget, that's so funny, ours will walk up and down a fence for ages before they remember how to fly over! Ours make a racket daily, so I'm not sure that they are effective guard guineas :)

  8. We are down to one guinea and my husband can't wait until that bird dies. They scream like howler monkeys, are ridiculous, and will eat bugs - in your neighbor's yard. But. I kinda like them. When they are happy they sing the most adorable song. Have you tried clipping their wings to keep them "grounded?"

    1. oh poor lonely guinea! I'm not sure I want them grounded, I want them to fly up and live in the tree so we don't have to look after them. Did you clip their wings? I have caught one once while trying to herd them at "bedtime" and it went mental! They do not appreciate being handled!

  9. My family had a few guinea fowl when I was a teenager, and I remember really liking the sound of them. Unfortunately, I do also remember them being not the brightest of birds. They have such a small head, so that brain must be relatively pea sized!)

    (also thank you for the lovely comment on my blog- I'd love to do a guest post some time :-)


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