Raising Guineas | Pros and Cons of the Guinea Fowl

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My grandpa and grandma McDaniel had the best farm to visit growing up. My grandma loved chickens and birds in general. Peacocks? She had them. Chickens? For sure. Ducks and geese? One of our most cherished photos of her where she’s holding her favorite goose. Ostriches, rheas, emus, oh my? You got it! And guineas? Yes! They were one of the funniest birds at my grandparent’s house. Loud and always on the hunt for something, it was always hilarious to watch the guinea hens and cocks strut about the yard. 

And don’t ever try and sneak up on one. It’s impossible. They can hear better than a guard dog, and are louder too.

Should you have guineas as part of your flock? 

While they can be highly beneficial to a homestead, there are definitely a few things to consider when having these feathered friends on your land.

Why have guineas in the first place?

Guineas are omnivores with a diet that includes both plant and animal matter. While they are primarily known for their excellent foraging skills and preference for insects, seeds, and vegetation, guinea fowl also consume small animals and even reptiles. I’ve witnessed them murder a toad before. They’re merciless.

This omnivorous diet contributes to their effectiveness in pest control, as they actively seek out and consume various pests like ticks, grasshoppers, spiders, and small snakes. Their natural behavior of scratching and pecking exposes them to a diverse range of food sources. 

Guineas are one of the best fowl at bug population control.

They seek out ticks, fleas, and all the bothersome bugs most people try and avoid. Because we live in the forest and this homestead was not maintained well before we got here, it’s a bugs haven. And since I want this to be my family’s haven, the bugs and I have a conflict of interest.

I like to do things as organically and naturally as possible, but the bugs were sooooo bad when we moved in that we brought out the chemicals and had someone spray our home, inside and out. This was needed at the beginning because I didn’t want my kids getting bit and stung constantly. Tennessee is home to some intimidating bugs. I also didn’t want our cats and dog infested fleas and ticks which would then take months to combat and get under control.

However, now that we’re gaining a bit of ground on the bug front, we’ve cut down on the treatments and chemicals, and are raising our little guinea keets to take over the job for us. They’re actually better at it anyway.

What else do guineas keep away you may be wondering? Snakes, mice, rats, lizards, and more. It’s like having little raptors running around, and I 100% approve.

Guineas work as a team, meaning you need at least 10-15 for them to work properly

Teamwork makes the dream work, and guineas agree. They work as a group to notify and keep each other safe, and to gang up on larger predators, either killing them or forcing them to leave. It’s recommended to start with about 15 because some will die off from predators or simply being dumb. (guineas are not the brightest of our feathered friends) Someone once said that guineas look for ways to kill themselves, so be prepared.

Why have guineas? One word: bugs. Guineas are one of the best helpers for bug control. They eat ticks, fleas, and all the bothersome bugs.

How do you train guineas to stay on your property?

When they are still young (4 to 6 weeks old, or a bit older if you’re adding them to an established flock.) start transitioning them to your coop with an outdoor enclosure. Keeping them with chickens and other fowl is completely fine, just make sure your coop can hold the quantity comfortably.

After the transition time of introducing young guineas into the flock, keep them in the enclosure for a few weeks so they understand it’s home.

Once it’s been established that the chicken coop is home, it provides food and water, shelter, and meets their needs, and you can begin to release them to the great outdoors. The best way is at first, let them go a few hours before dusk, so they have a short window to explore before heading in to roost. Slowly, release them earlier each day until you reach the time you’d typically let them out.

You might still have to go guinea hunting and heard a few back in the evenings. If you don’t care that much and just want them to do their thing, that’s fine too. Depending on the predators in your area, it may or may not be an option. Also, some will go rouge, disappear, or die. Be prepared. There truly is no “domesticated guinea”. They are a much wilder bird than any chicken, and you’ll be hard-pressed to get one to enjoy being held or eating from your hand. It’s simply not their nature, they truly are unique birds. 

Getting guineas as baby keets

Raising guinea keets usually involves acquiring them as day-old keets, often through shipping. This is the rout we took since we couldn’t find any locally. Guinea keets are precocial, born with open eyes and the ability to walk shortly after hatching, making them resilient during transportation.

Upon arrival, establish a well-prepared brooder in a safe place away from cats and other small predators with a warm, secure environment with suitable bedding, a reliable heat lamp or other heat source, and access to fresh clean water and feed. Observe their behavior, adjusting brooder conditions as needed. We use wood shavings in the brooder and coop floors because it’s less messy and easier to clean to us personally. 

As the young guinea fowl grow, is it a good idea to introduce them gradually to outdoor spaces, ensuring a secure area for exploration.

Guineas need to be allowed to free range

Guinea fowl are best suited to environments where they can freely roam, expressing their natural behaviors and instincts. Allowing guineas to free-range is crucial for their overall well-being. They serve a purpose and if you don’t let them seek out that purpose, and instead keep them in a coop, you’re doing them a disservice. 

These birds are exceptional foragers, and roaming freely enables them to search for insects, seeds, and vegetation, contributing to a more balanced diet. 

If you have a close next door neighbor though, they will make a visit. If your neighbors aren’t keen on this, you may need to reconsider adding guineas to your flock. 

Their pest control capabilities are maximized when they can actively seek out and consume various pests while exploring the surrounding area. Beyond nutritional benefits, free-ranging provides guineas with essential physical exercise, social interaction within their flock, and the opportunity to establish territories more naturally, reducing aggression, especially among males.

Guineas are mostly disease free

Vary rarely do guineas come down with illness or disease. They’re very hardy birds!

Do guinea fowl destroy gardens?

Guineas go great with gardens. Unlike chickens, which will destroy a garden in a matter of hours if given the chance, guineas largely don’t care about your garden. They’re just after the grubs. You may find one taking a dust bath in a bed if they find the room, but they won’t go pecking and scratching your precious plants to death.

How to tell hens and cocks apart

Differentiating between a guinea hen and a male guinea fowl, also known as a guinea cock or guinea rooster, can be done by observing certain physical characteristics and behaviors. Here are some key distinctions:

  1. Size and Coloration:
    • Female guineas are generally smaller than guinea cocks. Adult hens typically have a more compact and streamlined appearance.
    • Observe the coloration: Guinea hens usually have a more subdued and mottled color pattern compared to the bolder and brighter colors often seen in guinea cocks.
  2. Helmet and Wattles:
    • Look at the helmet on top of the head: Guinea cocks often have a more prominent and larger helmet than guinea hens.
    • Check for wattles hanging beneath the head: Male guinea fowls usually have larger wattles than females.
  3. Voice:
    • Listen to their calls: Guinea hens produce a two-syllable, “buck-wheat” sound, while guinea cocks make a one-syllable, trumpet-like call. The vocalization can be a helpful clue.
  4. Behavior:
    • Observe courtship behavior: Male guinea fowls may display more pronounced courtship behavior, including strutting, fluffing feathers, and making specific calls to attract females.
  5. Feather Spots:
    • Examine the feather spots: Guinea hens often have more distinct and well-defined spots on their feathers, while male guinea fowls may have more solid-colored feathers.
  6. Nesting Behavior:
    • Watch nesting behavior: Guinea hens are the ones that typically engage in nesting and incubating eggs. If you observe a bird sitting on a nest, it’s likely a guinea hen.

The easiest way I’ve found to tell them apart is the red skin that goes over their noses is much bigger in males, and the females is less pronounced. 

Observing these physical characteristics and behaviors should help you determine whether a guinea fowl is a hen or a male. Keep in mind that individual variations can exist, so a combination of these factors may provide a more accurate identification.

A Few Fun Facts:

  1. Impressive Foraging Range:
    • Guinea fowl are known for their extensive foraging range. They can cover a wide area while searching for insects, seeds, and other food. The typical foraging range for adult guinea fowl is around 2 to 10 acres, depending on factors such as habitat and available resources.
  2. Keen Foragers:
    • Guinea fowl have a natural instinct for foraging and are highly skilled at finding and consuming a variety of insects, including ticks, grasshoppers, and even small snakes. This behavior makes them valuable for pest control on farms and homesteads.
  3. Nomadic Walkers:
    • Guinea fowl are nomadic walkers, and they can cover considerable distances during their foraging expeditions. On average, guinea fowl can walk about 2-5 miles in a day. This wandering behavior is part of their natural inclination to explore their surroundings in search of food.
  4. Vocal Communication:
    • Guinea fowl use a variety of vocalizations to communicate with each other. While foraging, they may make specific calls to alert the flock about the presence of predators or to coordinate movements. Their communication skills contribute to their effectiveness as a social and vigilant group.

Are guineas good mothers? 

The behavior of female guinea fowl regarding nesting and egg care is . . . interesting. Guinea hens are sometimes referred to as “lazy mothers” due to a behavior known as “egg dumping.” This term describes the tendency of guinea hens to lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, particularly those of chickens, and then abandon the responsibility of incubation and chick-rearing.

Here’s a more detailed exploration of this behavior:

  1. Egg Dumping:
    • Guinea hens may lay eggs in the nests of other guinea hens, chickens, or even in secluded spots around the homestead. This behavior is not limited to their own nests, and they may deposit their eggs in communal locations.
  2. Communal Nesting:
    • Guinea fowl often engage in communal nesting, where several hens share a nesting area. This can result in a mix of eggs from different individuals in one nest. The communal approach to nesting may provide some level of protection for the eggs and chicks.
  3. Abandonment of Nests:
    • After laying their eggs, guinea hens may show little interest in incubating them. They may leave the eggs unattended, relying on the natural environment or other birds, such as chickens, to incubate and hatch the eggs.
  4. Nomadic Lifestyle:
    • The nomadic and independent nature of guinea fowl plays a role in their approach to nesting. Guinea hens may prefer to continue foraging and exploring rather than investing time and energy in nesting activities.
  5. Survival Strategy:
    • Egg dumping could be seen as a survival strategy. By dispersing eggs among different nests or locations, guinea fowl may increase the chances of at least some eggs successfully hatching and producing chicks. This strategy is reminiscent of their wild instincts, where the survival of the species is prioritized over individual nests.
  6. Social Dynamics:
    • Guinea fowl are social birds that often form close-knit groups. The communal nesting behavior and egg dumping may be influenced by their social dynamics, as they share the responsibility of incubation and chick-rearing within the flock.

Baby guinea fowl are called keets. Guinea fowl keets are tiny little things at hatch time. They do however grow to be the standard size of average chickens. 

Understanding this laying behavior provides insight into guinea fowl in the wild. While it may be viewed as “lazy” from a human perspective, it reflects their instincts for survival and reproduction within a communal and nomadic lifestyle. For those raising guinea fowl, being aware of these behaviors can help in managing nests and ensuring the successful hatching of eggs. Often it’s best to find a broody hen to place a clutch of eggs under if you want to hatch them yourself. Or get an incubator.

Can you eat guineas?

Guinea meat is known to be very tasty and enjoyed by many.

Be warned, they are loud

Yes, guineas are a loud bunch. They don’t care if it’s a deadly predator or a friendly neighbor, they’ll alert you in exactly the same way each time. Screaming and clucking. Great for knowing when someone or something is on the property. Not great if you live in an area with a noise ordinance. I wouldn’t recommend guineas for a backyard bird. Or if a high maintenance neighbor is particularly close.

Guineas make great flock guardians

Guineas are exceptional flock guardians, known for their vigilant and watchful nature. 

Their keen instincts and acute awareness of their surroundings make them excellent protectors for a variety of domestic flocks. Whether integrated with chickens, ducks, or other poultry, guineas have a natural ability to detect and alert the flock of chickens to the presence of potential threats, including predators. Their distinctive calls and vocalizations serve as an early warning system, signaling danger and prompting the entire flock to take evasive action. Guineas are particularly effective in pest control, targeting insects and other small creatures that may pose a threat to the flock. 

With their protective instincts and remarkable communication skills, guineas contribute significantly to the safety and well-being of the flocks they guard, making them valuable additions to a homestead or farm.

They will not be tamed

A guinea flock, unlike other traditional homestead birds, exhibit behaviors more characteristic of wild birds, and their disposition tends to be less docile and friendly. They will not become your best friend.

While they contribute significantly to pest control and flock protection, the important thing to remember is guineas maintain a certain level of independence. They are naturally wary and do not readily seek human companionship or affection. 

Guineas retain their wild instincts, preferring to roam freely and exhibit behaviors reflective of their wild counterparts. This includes their strong inclination for flight and perching in trees at night to evade potential predators. While their distinctive calls serve as an effective communication tool, their interactions with humans are often marked by a more reserved and cautious demeanor. Understanding and respecting their wild tendencies are essential when keeping guineas, recognizing that their unique qualities contribute to their effectiveness as both pest controllers and guardians of the homestead.

If you must catch them for preforming medical tasks or check the well-being of your guinea fowl, the easiest way is going to be attempting to catch them at night while roosting, using a large fishing net. Alternatively, you can try to sneak up on them and grab both their legs at the same time so they can’t get away. Unless there is an issue, try to leave the adult guineas alone as attempted catching and touching can cause undo stress on the birds. 

Can you eat guineas? What about the eggs?

If you want, you can enjoy both! Guinea fowl meat is known to be very tasty and enjoyed by many. The eggs are also edible, though they don’t lay nearly as much as a chicken. Don’t get some thinking they’ll give you reliable daily eggs. They are very seasonal egg layers so don’t count on them for regular egg production. 

Guinea Eggs:

  1. Size and Color:
    • Guinea eggs are smaller than chicken eggs, typically about two-thirds the size.
    • The eggshell color varies but is often distinctive with a pale beige to light brown color, sometimes featuring speckles or spots.
  2. Shell Texture:
    • Guinea eggshells are generally thicker and harder than chicken eggshells, providing a more robust protective layer.
  3. Flavor:
    • Some people describe guinea eggs as having a richer and more intense flavor compared to chicken eggs. The taste can be influenced by the guinea fowl’s diet and the conditions in which they are raised.
  4. Nutritional Content:
    • Guinea eggs are nutritionally similar to chicken eggs, containing protein, vitamins, and minerals. However, specific nutritional content can vary based on factors like diet and living conditions.
  5. Incubation Period:
    • The incubation period for guinea eggs is around 26-28 days, while chicken eggs typically hatch in 21 days. This longer incubation time is important to note if you plan to hatch guinea fowl eggs.

By keeping this in mind, you should be able to distinguish guinea eggs from chicken eggs. I figured it out quickly and was able to sort and sell the guinea eggs to locals wanting to start their own flocks. Keep in mind that individual variations and environmental factors can influence egg characteristics. 

Most guineas won’t fly up into nest boxes. Only one or two of ours do. The rest of them lay in the duck box we made on the floor of the coop. A duck box is enclosed on all sides but one, allowing for protection and safety while laying eggs and provides the guineas a suitable environment for their needs. You’ll often just find eggs laying around the yard too. Be prepared.  

Are guineas for you?

Only you would know! I hope the info above will help you make an informed decision. If you’re like me and bugs are a huge issue, there is a big chance that guineas could be an asset to your farm and yard. Out of the 25 keets we purchased our first year, we still have 16, which is a good number going into year three. Our free-ranging guinea fowl have done a great job keeping the ticks, spiders, and more down around our farm and they will continue to be a staple in our flock!

Other articles you may enjoy:

Painting a chicken coop: How and Why

How to keep backyard chickens

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