The Guinea Fowl

keeping and raising guineas

About the Guinea:

Guinea fowl are a game bird and kept primarily for three reasons, eggs, meat and their ability to eat vast quantities of insects. I would add a fourth reason, their amusement factor. They are endemic to the continent and rank among the oldest of the gallinaceous birds. They are an insect and seed eating ground nesting bird that spends most of their day browsing grasslands and undergrowth. In the wild they are seen in flocks of up to 30 individuals

T
he Greeks and Romans are reported to be the first to domesticate guineas, taking them all over the Empire as a food source.

 

Pugnacious and belligerent, they are very funny too watch, I spend far too much time watching mine make mischief. There are native to Africa but were spread around Europe mostly by the Romans and taken to America with the early settlers. They are a bit unusual in that they are both easier and more difficult to keep than chickens.

 

They seem to eat less and are generally more thrifty birds than chickens and they do not scratch in the same way as hens preferring instead to potter around looking for insects, slugs, snails, caterpillars and grubs. Some care is required and my guineas are now kept in a covered run after they ate an entire hive of bees in a neighbours allotment. Guinea fowl eggs are smaller than hens eggs, by about a third, but have much the same taste and a surprisingly large yolk. They also have a very thick shell and require a crack with a knife to break them. Most Guinea fowl will lay about 120/140 eggs a year but if allowed to go broody they will stop laying. Guineas will also maintain this level of production for 3 or 4 years.

 

Colours:

People who keep Guinea Fowl like to specialise in one colour whilst others prefer a mixture. The birds come in a large range of different types and 21 different colours have been identified, they fall into 3 groups:

 Fully Pearled with small white dots all over.

Partially Pearled with white dots in some areas.

Solid Colours and no dots at all.

 I have Pearl Grey, Pearl Lavender, Royal Purple, Pearl Buff, Chocolate and White.

Birds can also be Pied which is when a guinea has a coloured back and white front and sometimes it extends to the wings. There is an excellent colour chart with photographs on the Guinea Fowl International association page available from my links page.

 

History:

Guinea Fowl come from Africa and have been bred for food in many countries for hundreds of years. There are even drawings of them on the walls of the pyramids. The many different varieties have been caused by cross-breeding over the years.

In African countries Guinea Fowl are still seen in the wild, hunted in the same way as pheasant or partridge are in the UK. I have seen a flock of escapee guinea near stock reservoir in the forest of bowland in England so they are adaptable and will breed in the wild here if allowed to.

The domesticated Guinea Fowl which are popular in this country are called helmeted Guinea Fowl (numida meleagris). The rare varieties are crested Guinea Fowl and vulturine Guinea Fowl, see more below, but these are not available in the UK.

Wild Guineas are strong fliers and domestic ones have not lost the ability. They have no trouble getting into the tops of tall trees

They only seem to go broody on an undisturbed nest so as long as the eggs are collected daily they will happily keep laying. Always leave at least 1 egg in the nest otherwise they will tend keep moving their nest around. Some people raise them for their unique ornamental value. Of the three domestic varieties (the pearl, the white and the lavender),the purplish coloured pearl is the most common.

The largest member of the family is the 60 cm vulturine guinea fowl, found in tropical East Africa. They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebra, class Aves, order Galliformes and family Numididae.

 

The Vulturine Guinea fowl:

vulturine guineas in the wild

The vulturine guinea is the largest (60 to 70cm) member of the family and the most striking by a country mile. It is a gregarious bird and forms flocks out of the breeding season finding protection in numbers. Like others is has a naked unfeathered head although it does have a crest of brown fluff. It has a longer neck and legs than the standard bird.

The long neck projects into a cape of long, glossy, blue and white hackles. The breast is cobalt blue, a rare colour in the bird world and the rest of the body plumage is black, finely spangled with white. The wings are short and rounded, and the tail is longer than others in the family. It lays less eggs and has a smaller brood size than other guineas, usually 4 to 6 cream coloured eggs.

Raising guinea fowl:

Young Guinea fowl chicks are called Keets. They are very cute, attractive and quite endearing but keets scare easily and run very fast and have a habit of running into whatever is in their way. They have a reputation for killing themselves and do seem to get into all sorts of trouble. You can tell immediately what colour they will be on hatching and have bright red beaks and legs. The first feathers are brown and then moult to their final shade over two months.

 

Before you get guinea fowl:

There are a few things you need to think about before you consider guineas and make no mistake Guinea fowl are more difficult to keep than chickens. I have listed the cons first.

1. They are noisy and will make a ruckus at any hour of the day or night which may annoy your neighbours. Some people like this as it is a deterrent for burglars and predators.

2. They tend to be monogamous and choose a mate for the breeding season which means breeding them is more expensive as you need more males. The breeding ratio is 1:1

3. They fly very well and do whenever they want to so wing need clipping or birds need to be pinioned. It is actually illegal in the United Kingdom to free range guineas that have not been pinioned. And a vet has to do it, you can't.

4. Guineas are far more likely to disappear in spring into the hedges to make a nest and be broody.

5. Like any other poultry they will need feeding, housing and protection. These things cost you money and time and guinea fowl probably more so initially.

6.They range much further than other poultry.

7. They eat more greens and these will need to be provided during the winter months by growing fodder or sprouting seeds.

 

There are a many plus points to keeping guineas:

1.They are not as destructive as chickens but definitely DO scratch, which can damage some plants, foliage and surroundings with their dust bathing and antics.

22. They are less feed intensive and generally more thrifty than chickens. Mine seem to prefer whole grain feeds which are cheaper.

3. I have found them to be more hardy although they really do not like snow.

4. The eggs are amazing with really firm whites and large yolks for the size of egg. Hands down my favourite egg.

 

How many Guineas should you get?

 

You can keep as many you need for eggs or meat. My recommendation if you want them purely for eggs is a flock of no more than 30. do not stock them at more than 30 birds per acre. In nature they flock to this number of guineas out of the breeding season and feel comfortable in groups about this size. More may cause fighting. I currently have an egg flock of 27 and they get on just fine with no males in the group.

Keep less if they are confined, they seem to get on each others nerves if locked in. Consider six or eight to be the limit if they are not to be ranged.

 

Keeping guinea fowl with other types of poultry.

 

I've found keeping Guineas in small numbers is not a problem. They can be kept with other poultry but bear in mind the males will scrap with roosters on odd occasions. 

I have a guinea housemuch higher perches made of tree limbs.  

Sometimes Guinea Fowl are wild and flighty, this can be true if you buy them as older birds. If you can buy young Keets or raise your own under a broody hen) then they will quickly get used to you and are nearly as tame as hens althoughthey do not like being handled and will kick, scratch peck and wriggle. They are surprisingly strong.

Mine happily feed around my feet but if I try to pick one up all hell will break loose.  If you do have to handle your Guineas I find it best after dark when they are in their house, using as little light as possible. The Guineas have very close feathers and are much more slippery than a chicken so you will have to hang on tight and hold the legs when you do manage to grab one.

Guinea Fowl can be very noisy when upset particularly around strangers and predators. They are as good as geese as an early warning system.

Incubating guinea eggs

The incubation period can be as long as 28 days , similar to turkeys but in practice hatching can be anything from 25 to 30 days. They hatch like a jack in the box and start hurdling around the incubator immediately. Keets are more hardy than chicks and seem to shy away from heat in week or so. It is best to give them the same conditions in the brooder as you would chicks.

They young Guineas really require turkey starter ration as it has a higher protein. We keep ours in a plastic storage container ( large tote) as it has solid sides, to start as they can get through surprisingly small holes and can jump like fleas. They feather up quickly but in an odd fashion, seemingly growing a large overcoat that covers them from the shoulders and hangs over the tail.

Keets can be hatched and raised under a broody guinea or hen( 18 eggs ) with a hen probably being the best method as they teach them to roost etc. and behave like chickens. The guineas have a habit of leading the keets through long grass early in the morning , getting them wet and letting hypothermia kill them. They also have a habit of getting of the nest early with just 4 or 5 keets and abandoning the remaining eggs.

My preference is to raise guinea keets under broody hens as then they learn to roost in coops and to behave more like hens which has many advantages.

They are susceptible to some of the same diseases and parasites and hens but probably have more in common with turkeys including a tendency to blackhead. Although you can keep female guineas and hens together as usual it is the males that cause problems, the males of both will fight just as cockerels do and they will try and mate with the hens which can result in sterile hybrids.

 

Sexing Guinea Fowl :

 

This should read not sexing guinea fowl, it is practically impossible before 10 weeks of age and difficult even after that. They are sexed by their call, the males have a single tone screech and they females have a two tone call. The males do start developing a little earlier and have a slightly redder face and thicker/bigger wattles. Next to quietening guineas, the hardest problem can be to sex them.

Male and female guinea fowls differ so little in appearance that many find it difficult to distinguish them from each other. Usually, sex may be distinguished by the cry of the birds after they are about 2 months old and by larger helmet and wattles and coarser head of the male. In young male guineas aged 12 to 15 weeks, the wattles are larger, curve out more and have thicker edges than the females.

By 15-16 weeks the females wattles are also thickening. The adult male has a slightly larger helmet and wattles and coarser head than females. The cry of the female sounds like a buckwheat, buck-wheat or put-rock, put-rock, and is quite different from the one-syllable shriek of the male. When excited, both the male and female emit one-syllable cries, but at no time does male's cry sound like buckwheat, buckwheat.

Adult guineas do make more noise than chickens and will create a ruckus if disturbed, they prefer to walk or run and are fully paid up members of the ministry of silly walks. They tend to fly only when frightened, excited or roosting. The picture below is a male and female (pair) guinea fowl side by side.

 

Feeding Guinea fowl:

Guineas eat all insects and actively hunt for them in all nooks and crannies. They do graze but are not destructive in a garden like chickens. They should be allowed access to grass pasture and prefer to free range although we keep ours in a movable covered run to avoid conflict. I have witnessed a guinea fowl stuffing itself on a mouse so they have a varied diet. They will eat small grains not whole maize . They are low maintenance feeders.  

Mine have never seen snake as we live in the depths of the Yorkshire Dales and there are not many about. They will eat small snakes and kill bigger ones.

They will hunt high and low for any insects, mine cost me a fortune once when they spent the morning hoovering up all the bees from a hive in the allotments next to me a few years ago so do keep an eye on them.

Their need are similar to that of a chicken, I have seen them eat pellets but if they have the choice they eat grains.

1. Fresh water daily

2. Grit and shell, the same as for chickens.

3. Greenery or pasture

4. Whole grain feed with some higher protein additions like safflower or buckwheat.

They produce less eggs per year than chickens and they are smaller so their feed requirements are much less.

 

Housing and nesting for guineas:

 

Guineas like to roost up high so the bars should be in the roof of the shed. Your covered run will pepend of where you live in the world and which predators you need to keep out.

They're not fussy about where they lay their eggs and you'll find them under bushes or even on open ground. It is not uncommon for me to find 6 or eight birds in a heap in the corner of the shed all laying and egg in a communal nest so do not expect the same of them as you do your chickens.

When broody and they decide to build a nest it will likely be a well hidden spot  in some long nettles or thorns or somewhere equally inaccessable!  Here they scrape a shallow hole in the ground and will lay an egg in the nest almost every day. The nest may be used communally and it is uite common for a guinea to try and sit on 30 or more eggs in a heap. this is one reason some people see them as poor mothers.