Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Truth about Guinea Fowl

Are you considering getting a flock of guineas? (Do you have masochistic tendencies?)

Guinea fowl are commonly used to control tick and mosquito populations on farms around the world. They will also kill and consume snakes - even poisonous ones. These birds truly excel at keeping large areas clear of biting critters of all sorts.

If that is what you need, guineas may be for you... but there are some things you should know before purchasing keets (young guinea fowl).

 Oh sure - they're cute now...

Guineas originated in Africa. There are a number of varieties and colors. Most have a bony growth on their head. An extra-large growth gave the Helmeted Guinea its name. And the more I learn about guineas, the more I am convinced that the term "bone head" had to have been coined by someone who owned guineas.

Guineas are NOT chickens. While they are classified as "domestic" fowl (because so many people think they own them) they are very wild-natured and flighty. Much like your neighbor's annoying, yappy dog that barks incessantly for every leaf that falls off a tree, guineas will sound a raucous alarm at the slightest thing. The sound resembles somebody using their fingernails to try to energetically remove the paint from a chalkboard... but amplified to a decibel that could peel the paint off your walls.

Guineas are heavily reliant on their flock. Heaven forbid they somehow get separated from their flock. This happens all the time among my own flock of guineas when one or two forget where the door to the coop is and run back and forth along the wire screaming for the rest of the flock to come save them. It can take most of the day for them to figure out where the coop door is.
(They've only been living in that coop for their whole lives, so... )

While attentive to potential dangers (like a new flower blooming in the yard or a saber-toothed tiger swallowtail butterfly) they don't possess much forethought and will often attempt to roost in strange places right out in the open where any passing raccoon or owl could easily pick them off as they sleep.

While chickens will return to their coop night after night to roost, guineas may or may not... and usually not in the case of my own flock. Either they will suddenly make a group decision to perch on the side of an above ground pool with their butts hanging over the water you spent the day getting clean for tomorrow's picnic (as one of my friend's flocks did) or they may carry out a hostile takeover of your chicken coop, going so far as to boot the chickens they don't care for right out the door.

With such unpredictable roosting behaviors, I personally choose to round my guinea flock up each evening and herd them back to their coop. This is one of the most effective workouts I have found for myself yet. I could put an AQHA champion cutting horse to shame with my guinea-herding moves! As talented of a guinherd (it's like a shepherd but for guineas) as I am, once or twice a week they will evade me and race back across the pasture and I will have to run after them and start over. I can't tell you how fun I find this. (Because I don't.) You may wonder why I go to the trouble of chasing them each and every night? I worry about predators taking them and losing all the feed, time and effort I have put into these little freaks birds. If anything is going to eat them, it better be myself and my family!

Another difference between guineas and chickens is their mating behavior. When one keeps and breeds chickens, it is common to have one rooster to every 5-10 hens. You'd think that would make a male of any species a happy camper... but NO! Guineas are monogamous and  mate for life. If you want to keep a flock long-term, you really need to have a 1:1 ratio of males and females or inevitably some errant male will become a serial rapist and all your females will go into hiding... or leave.

Guineas do lay eggs, but usually only in the spring (their season can vary depending on your location in the world). As for how those eggs taste, most guinea "owners" never find the nest to find out. When it comes to nest-building, guineas have mastered the art of finding a place YOU will never stumble upon... but all-too often located right outside of a fox's den. Once there are 20-30 eggs in a nest, a guinea hen or two may decide to go broody. They generally do a good job of sitting, right up until they are consumed by the fox. It is not uncommon for multiple hens to brood together. Their mates will often stand guard over them throughout the day (your best chance of finding their nest is to follow the mates) and once it becomes dark, the mates will wish their ladies luck and abandon them to go roost where they can poop in your pool or on your car.

If a guinea hen or two is fortunate enough to survive brooding a nest of eggs, she will inevitably lose all of her keets on the march back home. Keets are very sensitive and becoming soaked through in dewy grass can be their end. Or mom will proudly parade them about for a bit and then fly up and roost in a tree, forgetting completely about the keets she just spent weeks in peril to hatch. Or she'll leave them out in the rain, or fly off without them or abandon them when she sees a hawk.

Adolescent guinea keet - starting to lose its down and grow in spotted adult plumage.

Your best bet for hatching more guineas is to lock your flock in a coop during egg season and provide them with nest areas. If you accidentally leave the coop door ajar, there is a good chance you won't see the hens again for almost a month... or ever.

Don't try to buy full-grown guineas from someone who has become tired of them. While they have limited flight capabilities and even more limited intelligence, guineas fancy themselves the homing pigeons of the poultry world and the minute you let them loose, will leave. They won't make it home and you will never locate them. Ever.

If raised from keets, guineas can be tamed... somewhat. 
The ramifications of taming a guinea may haunt you for the rest of the guinea's life.  
In my daughter's case, they decided to roost outside her bedroom window and alert her to every passing car, deer or squirrel... all night... because they loved her...

In short, guineas are idiots.

But... since our current guinea flock has been free ranging (and it took them 4 days to figure out how to go out the coop door) none of us have had a single tick and our dog has not required any measures to keep fleas at bay.

It's also fun to tell visitors from the city that these strange looking birds are a group of zombie chickens that showed up after a full moon one Halloween.

If I can add one more redeeming factor, guineas are delicious! The meat is juicy, tender and flavorful. It is a flavor and consistency somewhere right between chicken and turkey. And for what ever the reason, it seems that the dumber the bird, the better they taste!

So... got ticks? Don't mind dealing with a bird who will never win an intelligence contest (unless there is a "Lack of" category)? Then give guineas a try. If you don't like them, you can always eat them... or gift them to someone you don't care for as a practical joke. (But don't blame me in the 1 in-a-million chance one of them finds its way back to you.)



  1. Great article! I lived where guinea fowl were wild snd plentiful with few natural predators. Everything you say is true, especially the noise that is loud and incessant and abandonment of the babies. I guess they must get it right sometimes because there were no shortage of them and still the fleas and ticks flourished :'(

    1. LOL - yes, the mothers must be successful every now and again! I have a feeling the do better in hot, dry areas where the keets aren't as prone to getting wet and chilled.

  2. Great article! Very clever and informative...and timely! I have been giving some thought to adding a few guinea fowl to our menagerie, but you've made me re-think this plan. Up to now, my only concern was in how they'd get along with my cats and dogs. The furry ones are mostly intimidated by the feathery bunch, including my 93 lb pit/mastiff. Thanks for the info!

  3. I started with 7. Hawks took 3. The hawks migrated. The final 4 did well thru the winter. Wouldn't ever go into their coop, instead roosting on the top of our chain link dog run, even in freezing rain and snow. The the fox showed up. Now down to 2 males which actually has worked out kinda well. They don't seem as noisy or as protective since there is no girl. But the best thing for our very small guinea flock was to bring home a livestock guardian dog to protect them. Lucy has bonded with the 2 boys and they can almost always be found roaming our acreage together.

  4. No fleas or ticks here this year after getting a few keets then being "gifted' 3 adults. I haven't had nearly as many yellow jackets either. Downside is the constant noise. They run with my only surviving bronze breasted turkey who has his own annoying vocabulary. I don't know which breed is dumber. They do the coop fence run. "Oh No ,She moved the door" panic at every feeding and the turkey runs with them.

    1. I want turkeys next spring. Does that make me crazy?

  5. This article is spot on....I got 2 week old guineas and raised them with my chickens. They are crazy birds! They would come into the coop to roost at night and knock the chickens off the roost, peck at them, and try to fly to the ceiling. Left a couple out of the coop one night and they woke up the neighbors screeching at 4:30 in the morning. Gave all mine away to a nephew who ate them. I was not sad.

    1. LOL! I hope you got some of that meat. It's GOOD!

  6. This article is HILARIOUS!
    Some friends of ours used to keep guineas and the "help! I can't find the door!" act is classic. I am very impressed that you can heard them in the coop at night. They are so flighty...and very fast!!
    Thanks for an entertaining read! Off to peruse your blog!

  7. Great article! Everything you say is so true but I still love my guineas.

  8. Ha, ha. Zombie chickens. I'm going to use that on my flock of 5.

  9. Love this! I'm going to re-post and link back to you. Thanks!

  10. I have 25 young keets and they are truly awesome birds. but..... some of the weirdest or dumbest too. Fun to watch and easy to maintain. I built them a great guienea house and kept them there to establish their territory and worked but they stay out a night and come back, on their, in the am to roost in their house. dumb or what.... LOL All my animals are free rangers, as God intended, even my dogs so the alarm of the guienas are truly welcomed. My female ducks are much louder then the guienas at many times.

    I have tried to herd them in at night but no luck, too many and they spread out between them into the tall field grass.

    To those looking into Gunieas don't be too shaken by posts of their loudness as they are truly nature's watch birds....

    Happy Guniea Trails and God Bless!

  11. We kept a dozen or two free range chickens when I was a kid. I say dozen or two, because if you start with two dozen, they will find creative, or just plain dumb ways to kill themselves, until about a dozen 'smart' ones survive. I am pretty well convinced that chickens are the stupidest thing alive on Earth, with the probable exception of Donald Trump. Now you claim that their relative is even stupider? Well, I will reserve judgement until I can see them for myself.

  12. Yes, they are dumb! I love them. My daughter hatched out chicks and keets. They grew up together and share a coop. I have a light which I turn on before dusk and then turn off at night. The chickens and gunieas return and roost in the coop every night.They are about 3 months old. I'm hoping that they will continue to do this. I've never had Gunieas before, so this is all new to me.I ended up with 2 cocks, 3 guniea hens,3 roosters and one hen. The roosters will be leaving us soon. Hope the gunieas don't miss them.

  13. We also raised our chicks and keets together and they share a coop. Out of the guineas, we ended up with 1 cock and 4 guinea hens (plus the 6 chicken hens). They are almost exactly one year old. We our lucky because our guineas have been laying since this past fall - they laid all winter like clock work. It's beginning of March and we are still getting 4 guinea eggs a day, which they lay in the coop in the nesting boxes. We let everyone out in the afternoon for free range time, and they all pretty much stick together. I am convinced that the guineas think they are chickens. When it starts getting dusk, we round them up by shaking a bag of their favorite treat: dried mealworms. It's true that they are not very bright, but I wouldn't trade my guineas for anything!

  14. i have afew. been in the cage for 2 months and decided to try lettin one out. from that i foumd that it flew away and ghessing wont come back. not prepared to let the last 4 out now as im questioning if thwyll stay

    1. Try letting them out together and put feed out for them. After 2 months they should be OK. Guineas like to stay together and get upset when they are separated from their flock.

  15. I would put up temporary fencing add plastic netting to the top and let them transition slowly.. Unfortunately there will be losses they are far more "wild" than chickens and not as smart

  16. My friend has her broody hens sit and hatch her guinea eggs. The guineas grow up more like chickens and are quite like chickens, only giving alarm to predators. Giving it a try


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