Saturday, August 4, 2012

Guineas' Farewell Extravaganza

Our first attempt at raising French Guineas was a mild success.  It was not warm and fuzzy, but cool and easy for me to manipulate a sharp blade across their necks.  On one hand these semi-wild birds were quite excellent in that they require very little feed input, but their management, for me, has had severe drawbacks.  I've read that they obtain 90% of their diet from forage, which I believe considering how little commercial turkey food they consumed.  We started them to control the tick population on our wooded property.  They have a wide range, eating greenery and bugs along the way.  Their antics are endearing as they are curious creatures of habit.  I never minded having them in the yard.  Even the noise was tolerable.  They are hardy and have out-flown a neighbor fox on several occasions.

Putting them away for the night was where our story becomes ridiculous.  I discovered that they wouldn't return to their coop in the evenings to roost.  In the beginning, I tried chasing them in, which was fairly useless and frustrating.  Then I would entice them with dinner, shaking a coffee can of pellets and rounding them up from the neighbor's yard.  They liked to be together, follow the leader and do whatever the hell they pleased.  If lead bird wasn't ready, then they would all walk up to the door, check out the situation and then turn away, one at a time.  All I could do was wait, coerce and curse.  If I left the door open with food in the coop, then they would go in to eat and be back outside before I could close the door.  Leaving it up to them was not an option, because they would choose to roost in the trees and be taken in the night, by predators, one at a time.  Every day has been a struggle for me.  I let them out in the morning with full knowledge that it might take me 2 hours to get them back in at night.  I've chased and caught the noncommittal stragglers in a fishing net for the past week.  This exhaustion weighs on my energy to do other chores, like milk and feed our 12 goats, 2 pigs, 10 layer chickens, 26 meat chickens, cat, two children, and a hungry full-time working husband.   

So on the hottest day of the year, I am more than happy to put an end to our Guinea adventure by killing, scalding, plucking, gutting, and freezing them all.  All except for the one bird that flew over my head and scratched my back on her way to freedom.  If she returns to live with the chickens, we will extend a rare pardon and try Guinea eggs.  I think she's seen enough and will take her chances in the wild.  Good luck and good riddance!


  1. But did they clean up the bug situation in your garden and surrounding property? How were they on Japanese Beetles?

  2. I won't know if they knocked down the ticks until fall, when they begin biting us again. My feeling is that their range was so wide and varied, that it would be hard to notice a difference in a single area (garden). We have our garden fenced to keep out deer, so the Guineas only went in there a few times, crushing plants on their way. Our grape vines are covered with beetles and the birds had full access to those. Maybe our problems had to do with them being juvenile birds. A well-trained older bird that has a full season to eat bugs may be a better approach. My fear was that our flock would not make it to maturity.

  3. I have read that they will return to a coop in the evening if they are trained to know they will get millet when they are inside. Did you try this?

  4. We tried millet, but they were so terrified of us from the beginning that it didn't seem to help. Handling each bird more than once a day was too time consuming and stressful. It felt like we were really working against their natural instinct. I think we will try again with a different management system. This year they were either in a shed or enclosed run when they were young. As they outgrew the run, I let them completely out to free-range. It was a big transition and didn't leave much error for training. Next season they will have a large attached fenced area to their coop, so when they are strong enough to fly over the four ft fence, I know they can escape the neighbor fox. The weaker birds that stay behind during the day will help call the others back in the evening.

    They really are amazing birds and an excellent option for homesteads that need to minimize commercial feed purchases for their "pastured" poultry. Our (15) 17 weeks-old Guineas dressed at 3.5 to 4 lbs. and only consumed ~150lbs of turkey feed.