February 2015
Simple Times

Guineas … My Latest Love on the Homestead

Their distinctive feathers are favorites by many who use them for tying fishing lures.  

"That has to be the most annoying noise I’ve ever heard," my niece Jeanne Wood said as she sat in my yard with my grown kids.

I sat there puzzled for just a minute.

There were roosters crowing, chickens cackling, goats baaaaing, cats meowing, dogs bouncing and barking ... ahhhh ... she had to be referring to the guineas!

Just like practically everything else on my homestead, I seldom notice any of the noises unless the animals are sounding some sort of alarm. But the guineas are "alarmed" at just about everything!

My journey with the guineas began in late spring. I’d heard adult guineas are bad to roam and I’d seen that myself.

When my son Nathan bought his first home on the outskirts of the small town of Altoona, a male and a female guinea were included in the bargain (because nobody could catch them). He fed them and kept water outside for them, but it seemed they just cruised through their home base when they had nothing else to do.

When Nathan bought a house here on the farm about 7 years later, at least one of those guineas was still roaming Altoona!

I wanted guineas that would STAY here on the farm and provide some semblance of insect and snake control.

My research in Mother Earth News, Backwoods Home, Backyard Poultry and on the Internet suggested that if they were raised from small chicks they MIGHT be less apt to roam.

But I didn’t want as many as most hatcheries sold in their minimum order (although they can be ordered through your local Quality Co-op when they are selling chicks in the spring).

I discovered on Facebook a woman in the Moody/Odenville area who had guineas for sale. She graciously delivered the 10 little peepers to me because she wanted to see my farm’s little general store.

I had thought they were going to be a little bigger. Although they were fully feathered, they were still too small to go in the isolation room in my chicken sheds. So, of course, they spent their first three weeks here in a giant washing machine box under a heat lamp on my back porch. (If I had a dollar for every critter raised in boxes on that back porch, I’d be sitting pretty!)

The first night they chattered so weirdly that Nathan and his wife Kim said all the way to their house they sounded like mini-car alarms! But after a few nights they quieted some.

I then kept them in the isolation room in the chicken sheds (a large area where they could see the other chickens come and go, but where no other birds could peck whoever is currently in the room).

After three more weeks, one morning I cautiously opened the door to allow them to free range in the large fenced area on that side of the shed. After a little apprehension, they sauntered out and then chattered at everything that moved.

By the next week, I was allowing them free range of the entire farm!

The first couple of nights most of them went back inside their room for me to safely shut them in each night.

But, by the end of that first week, all 10 of them were roosting each night in the tall pear tree that stands above my front goat pen. (That’s where the hatched-on-the-farm roosters and a couple of game chickens also roost.)

They are generally safe there and they’ve roosted there every night since!

They are great alarms! Evidently they can hear or sense coyotes coming through about five minutes before I hear the yipping and yapping, so I have time to grab whichever flashlight currently has a good battery and slip on some shoes before the coyotes race through the pasture.

Guineas are known to be great at insect control, especially ticks; they are often brought in to areas plagued by Lyme disease, I really hoped they would help with snake control since I’ve had a major problem with snakes, especially in the bunny barn, the past 4 years.

There are mixed ideas about guineas and snakes from the "experts." Some say young guinea keets will just gather around a snake, sounding the alarm with a special kind of chattering. Others say older guineas will kill even large snakes, and there are some pretty graphic videos on the Internet to prove that.

I’m not certain if they are the reason but I do know I have not seen a single snake since the guineas began free ranging!

Probably the biggest expert on these weird fowl that likely originated in Africa is Jeannette Ferguson. She bought guineas about two decades ago, to rid her garden of Japanese beetles and grasshoppers, because she wanted beautiful flowers to enter in her area’s garden club competitions. Evidently they worked for her because she’s since won more than 100 prizes for her lovely flowers! And she also noticed the side benefit of finding fewer ticks now - even though she lives in an area prone to tick infestations. (And, guess what, they are said to LOVE to eat fire ants!!!)

Since Ferguson had trouble finding information on guineas when she first began researching them, she wrote her own book, "Gardening with Guineas," that is available on her popular website www.guineafowl.com.

You are supposed to be able to tell males from females by the wattles on their necks and their different way of chattering their call that sounds something like "buckwheat, buckwheat." But I haven’t been able to tell the difference in any of mine.

They still travel mainly in a pack. If you see one, you’ll see all of them. There was one slightly smaller one that was always bringing up the rear and I surmised she might be a female. But, as they’ve grown older now, they’re all about the same size.

Guinea eggs are edible and some folks love them. Usually they don’t start laying until the next spring after they are hatched. They don’t make very good mothers (too busy chattering and nosing into whatever is going on all around them), so if you want to hatch out some yourself you either need to gather the eggs and hatch them in an incubator or under a brooding regular chicken. But like everything else there are exceptions to that rule and one of my friends had a guinea mother hen who hatched out her own brood last spring!

So if you don’t mind their noise (and you don’t have close neighbors who might object!), I’d recommend my new noisy friends to every homestead!

Suzy Lowry Geno lives a simple life at Old Field Farm in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.