Over the past few months, we’ve gotten to know a thing or two about farm life with Guinea fowl. They are not our favorite bird on the farm but they are interesting, none the less. They differ from more common poultry species in more ways than one.
- Noisy. Guinea fowl are very loud, vocal birds. We live on 10 acres, with a decent amount of privacy, but I’ve wondered what the neighbors really think about our Guineas. (At times I hope they don’t realize all the racket is emanating from our farm, which I know is futile.) When we walk across the homestead, the Guineas will begin to sound the alarm, their little hairless necks outstretched, their beady eyes fixed upon us and their beaks repeating the same siren over and over, as if we are a sudden threat they haven’t seen every single day of their lives. Maybe they’ll eventually grow comfortable with our presence? They are equally watchful of other predators and the chickens respond to their calls, seeking cover when one sounds the warning call.
- They fly. Our domestic chickens, turkeys and ducks can’t fly. They can run while flapping their wings, but they don’t make much vertical progress. Guineas can actually transport themselves into trees and on roof tops. They love doing this, too. For some reason, they enjoy scratching and sliding across the top of our metal barn roof. I think they are taunting the chickens. 🙂 Although they can fly, we usually see them on the ground, foraging and dust bathing. They never attempt to leave our farm.
- They learn. Since we raised the Guineas with chicks, our Guineas are a bit less wild than Guineas raised separately. They’ve been chicken-ized, so to speak and each evening they would join the chickens on the roosts in our coop. We knew we had a good thing going as many people can’t get their Guineas to roost in a coop. As long as the Guineas were in our coop at night, they would be safe from nocturnal predators. One evening, the back door to the coop was closed, which happens to be the entrance the Guineas are accustomed to using. Since they couldn’t get into the coop via the back door, they decided to go rogue and roost in the trees. Once they’re up, there’s no getting them down. All we could do was hope they would use the coop the following night and we made sure the back door was open. No such luck. They continued roosting each evening in the treetop. Alas, they had discovered wild living and we were not going to be able to reign them back in. So be it. We accepted the possibility they were going to get picked off one by one. A few uneventful weeks went by, until one day, unsurprisingly, I stumbled across one beautiful, white polka-dotted Guinea wing lying under a tree. Something had finally killed a Guinea. “One down, thirteen to go,” I thought. However, since that night, our Guineas have returned to roosting in the coop! Could they have been scared enough from the attack to make the decision to seek shelter each night in the coop? I’m very astonished that those little bird brains could put two and two together. Or is it purely coincidental? You be the judge! I’d like to think they learned a lesson about living the wild life and decided to return to the safety of the fold.
There are plenty of ways these birds behave similarly to chickens and turkeys, too. They will establish the pecking order just like chickens do. I’ve read Guineas can be bullies, which we’ve seen on occasion. Every once in a while, a group of Guineas will gang up on a chicken and pull out some feathers. The chicken appears relatively unharmed by these confrontations. They’ve never gone after one of our older chickens nor have they challenged the turkeys, so they seem to know their limits. They are by no means at the top of the pecking order. (That position resides with our turkey, Lucky. She’s the matriarch of the barnyard and she makes sure all new-comers know it.) I’ve also seen the Guineas scuffle a bit amongst themselves, though usually they get along fine.
We are interested to see if we notice a difference in our wood tick presence next spring. Guineas are reputed to be skilled tick hunters, and that alone would be reason to keep them on the farm. Last spring we couldn’t walk through the woods or stray one foot from the mown grass surrounding our homestead without finding wood ticks all over us. We would happily trade our wood tick population for the Guineas’ vocal outbursts. We enjoy watching them forage in tight groups, their bodies resembling soft polka-dotted turtle shells. They add some visual interest to the barnyard and as long as they’re pulling their own weight with tick service, they’ll continue to have a place in our flock.