Raising Guinea Fowl
Native to Africa, but now found around the world, the guinea fowl is an odd duck. Or is it a chicken? Turkey? Although this game bird with a featherless head, bright red wattle and polka-dot plumage belongs to the same order as those other domestic fowl, it has more in common with pheasants or partridges. A tendency to roam and unwillingness to be tamed have kept these exotic birds from widespread domestication. They can be noisy, cantankerous and experts at hiding their eggs. So why is their popularity growing as a backyard bird?
These ranging fowl are very good at one thing: foraging. Although supplemental feed or scratch is recommended, they fend for themselves quite well feeding from the fields. Devouring pests such as wasps, lice, snails, ants, grubs and expertly keeping tick populations down, guinea fowl are a friend of the farmer or backyard gardener. Requiring little maintenance, they patrol the yard and keep bugs at bay without the need for pesticides.
Guinea fowl also produce a hard-shelled egg roughly half the size of a chicken egg that may be used for culinary purposes, if you can find them. Unlike chickens, guinea fowl do not gravitate toward provided nesting boxes. Instead, they will seek out secluded locations, allowing a clutch to grow to twenty or more eggs before going broody. Some circumvent egg loss by keeping guinea fowl confined to a coop until late afternoon before releasing them to forage, but for many, collecting guinea fowl eggs makes every day an Easter egg hunt.
Because they are noisy by nature, guinea fowl have another unexpected advantage. Quick to cry out when predators (or even unfamiliar people) are on the premises, some people will add a few guinea fowl to an existing chicken flock to serve as “watchdogs.” Working socially, their cries of warning are effective and they have been known to band together in efforts to drive off approaching predators like dogs, foxes or snakes.
If noise isn’t a problem, guinea fowl can be a novel choice as backyard poultry. Entertaining to watch and an effective defense against garden pests and disease-bearing ticks, adding guinea fowl to an existing chicken flock has its benefits. In some cases, these aggressive birds may turn on roosters or alpha chickens, but they will usually share a coop without complaint.
Left to range freely, guinea fowl will roost high in tree tops to avoid predators, but to maintain the safety of the birds and increase the opportunity to collect eggs, confining them to a coop or run at night is recommended. Guinea fowl are slow to adopt a new home in which to roost and they should remain confined to their new digs for four to six weeks before allowing them to range. Even then, birds that have reached adulthood before purchase may fly the coop at first opportunity, in search of their former home. Because of this, it is easier to establish a flock with “keets” (baby guinea fowl) and allow them to mature on site.
Chickens are more reliable and guinea fowl are probably not the best choice for hobbyists new to backyard poultry, but for those seeking an exotic alternative to the same old flock or who need some assistance with pest control, guinea fowl may be worth the effort.
But if you’re in it strictly for the eggs, stick to chickens.