We recently added guinea fowl to the menagerie here at the farm. Hatching and raising our own has taught us some lessons we’d like to share. Never heard of guinea fowl? Read on to learn a little more about them.
While guinea keets (what young guinea fowl are called, like baby chickens are “chicks”) may look a lot like chicks, they are very different creatures. One of the biggest differences is that they’re tiny compared to chicks. So tiny that they can easily be trampled or get into spaces chicks wouldn’t. Our first hard lesson came when a keet inexplicably disappeared from the brooder room. While we looked everywhere, we failed to look inside the flannel pillowcase we were using to cover the “mama heating pad” setup that we utilize to provide very young hatchlings with supplemental warmth. The keets are so small that we couldn’t see any bumps or lumps that would have clued us into the situation. Sadly, by the time we finally looked in the pillowcase – hearing faint peeping – one keet had already perished and two more were trapped (but survived). Lesson 1: do not use materials a keet could climb into and become trapped in. Even though we had used a similar setup for chicks without incident, keets – unlike chicks – will climb into small, dark spaces and become trapped.
Keets are very vulnerable in their first two weeks of life, and can easily become chilled; in the wild, keets apparently have high mortality rates due to becoming chilled from walking through wet grass. After the first two weeks, though, they are very hardy birds. At the two week mark, we like to get keets out on pasture so they have enrichment and the opportunity to add greens and bug protein to their diet (to the dismay of the abundant field cricket and grasshopper populations). Our first group of keets is now about 13 weeks old and have been in a tractor with a group of Cuckoo Marans chicks for a couple of months. The mixed group gets along with a minimum of conflict, but when we tried to integrate some Bresse/Black Copper Marans chicks, the keets would have none of it, pecking the BBCM chicks. We had to remove the chicks for their safety. Lesson 2: after the first few weeks, integration of new chicks with older keets is difficult at best.
The older keets look very little like chickens now. They’ve lost most of the feathers on their heads, sporting a somewhat vulturine look, and the knobs that are characteristic of these “helmeted” guinea fowl have begun to appear. Another noteworthy difference from chickens is that guinea fowl have very strong feet and have a talent for twisting their feet like contortionists while you’re holding them. Lesson 3: handle carefully so they can’t kick you with their feet or you’ll get scratched. Lesson 4: shut any open doors when handling keets in case they get out of your grasp and exit via that door.
One other point worth mentioning is that keets, like adult guinea fowl, are loud. They will stand in their brooder and just yell at the top of their lungs for seemingly no reason at all (even with food, water, heat, and company) and for extended periods of time. Maybe some just like to hear themselves – not all keets are “yellers”. Lesson 5: while it’s still prudent to check on the keets if you hear them yelling, often they’re not in trouble and are just entertaining themselves. To be honest, their sounds are quite fascinating and even mesmerizing; they evoke images of these birds running across the savanna, making their exotic calls.
We’ll be taking steps toward free ranging the oldest keet group soon (we also have a smaller group of keets that’s about a month younger). We chose guinea fowl for their bug-eating reputations as well as their alarm-sounding behavior. Between the geese and the guineas, this is going to be a difficult place for predators to skulk around and grab birds.