Guinea fowl can be a great addition to your flocks, providing valuable services and delicious eggs. But before you add them, there are a few things you should know. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of guineas, from their history to their practical uses. We’ll also discuss the pros and cons of keeping them so you can make an informed decision about whether they’re right for your homestead or farm. So read on to learn more!
A Brief History of Guinea Fowl
The Guinea belongs to the Numida family – they are related to pheasants and other game fowl. They were brought back to Rome by soldiers from their overseas campaigns and they attempted to tame them. While the Romans were able to succeed in raising them on their farms, they never truly domesticated the birds.
Guineas are indigenous to Africa, where they can still be found in huge wild flocks. Around 200 years ago, some were imported to Jamaica. You can still see Guineas running wild in Jamaica today!
They were first brought to Europe in the 1400s, and they arrived in America with the early settlers. The most popular and ‘domesticated’ is the helmeted guinea, which comes in a variety of colors.
My grandmother raised guineas and I have always been fascinated by their painted faces. She said they’re so ugly they’re cute. I have to admit I find it difficult to stop admiring them when they’re still enough or close enough to get a good look at.
Types of Guineas
- White-breasted – chiefly found in West Africa.
- Black – mainly found in Central Africa.
- Vulturine – This West African Guinea is the largest variety. It has a beautiful appearance and may become quite docile. To thrive, it requires a large flock.
- Helmeted – most common type. A central knob on the skull gives it the ‘helmet’ look.
- Plumed – found mostly in Central Africa.
- Crested – has a ‘curly mop’ on the head and is the most aggressive of the breed.
The common guinea fowl comes in a variety of hues:
- royal purple
- coral blue
Official standards do not recognize all of these colors. Helmeted Guinea is the only variety recognized in the United States. The recognized colors are lavender, pearl, and white.
The Australian standard allows lavender, white, cinnamon, and pied paint colors.
Features and Characteristics
You can’t expect them to be like chickens. While they are friendly to people, they’re not domesticated like chickens. They are considered semi-wild birds and will act like it.
Guinea fowl are a little larger than a medium chicken and may only weigh up to 4 pounds when fully grown.
The bare skin on the head and neck helps to maintain proper temperature. The skin is a jarring blue, red, and black combination that seems somewhat clownish.
It has short, rounded wings and a short tail that gives it the appearance of being oval-shaped.
Their beak is short but curved and very stout. The wattles on the male are larger than on the female.
Males and females of this species develop differently. Because they do not mature sexually until their second year, determining their genders by sight is difficult.
Each gender has its own vocalization which can be used to distinguish the two. The female will call out something that sounds like “buckwheat.” While the male emits a “chi, chi, chi” sound.
They are sociable with one another. When one walks away, the others follow. If one is lost, it will scream until the flock reunites with it.
Guinea fowl can live alongside other species, such as chickens. However, you must watch the male Guineas because they may become extremely territorial and will face off with a rooster which is usually the larger of the two males.
Since they are semi-wild or, if you prefer, semi-domesticated, you may often observe them settling in trees or other high locations after dark.
Many people bring them into the coop with fresh water and a little bit of feed in the evening. This works for a while but they seem to eventually stop coming in and find their own place to perch for the night.
They don’t thrive in confinement. They live to roam. If you want to keep your guineas in confinement, you must give them 2-3 square feet of yard each. They will be agitated because they are confined and more frustrated if you provide them with less than this amount of space.
These birds are monogamous and mate for life in the wild.
Guinea Hens: Eggs Laying and Mothering
Guineas are seasonal layers, laying daily between March and October depending on your climate. On average, she will lay 100 eggs per year.
The eggs are smaller than the average chicken eggs but larger than a bantam chicken egg. Their eggs, which are light brown and speckled, have very hard shells. Their shells are so hard that hikers often carry them instead of chicken eggs.
Guineas aren’t particular about where they lay their eggs. Wherever they are when they need to lay will do. When it comes to building a nest for setting, however, it’ll be a challenge to find it! They like woods, tall grass, or anywhere they feel safe from predators.
Some people try to keep their guineas in the coop or chicken yard until around noon since they probably will have laid their eggs by that time.
The hens frequently lay in a communal nest until there are enough eggs for them to set. There have been communal nests of 50 eggs found in the wild! Unlike broody chickens, they may brood the eggs communally by alternating shifts in setting.
Like chicks, it takes 28 days for the keets, baby guineas, to hatch. Once they’re all hatched, they follow their mother back to the flock and begin communal life.
The hens are known to get broody but they are not great mothers. It seems they have an attitude of sink or swim. The communal nature of the flock gives them a better chance of survival.
The first four weeks are the hardest for a keet. They are tiny and must survive weather and predators with the flock as they mature. The ones who make it to four weeks of age have almost no health issues and are very hardy birds.
What Do Keets (Baby Guineas) Eat?
If you have keets in a brooder, you will have to feed them. Keets require a high protein diet, around 24-28% until they are 5 weeks old. The protein content can be reduced to 18-20% over the next 2 weeks. They can go down to 16% feed at 8 weeks.
It’s not recommended to give pelleted feed to guineas. We don’t use it for chickens either because it can cause damage to their crop. Medicated feed is also extremely harmful to guinea fowl.
If your hen hatches them out, she will teach them to eat bugs. If you want to help them out and scatter some feed for them, I’m sure they’d enjoy it.
Reasons People Love Guineas
I’ve often been asked, “What is a guinea fowl good for?” These are the answers I usually give.
- Tick Control
- Yes, both chickens and guineas will consume ticks. However guineas take a search-and-destroy attitude toward ticks, scouring the bushes fields, and woods to gobble them up. This benefits us in helping protect our children and pets from tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease.
- Predator Alarm
- Guinea alerts are unmistakable and loud. They alarm everyone that danger is close. They are very alert to predators and anything that seems out of place. They are as good or better than most watchdogs.
- Guineas are at war with snakes
- The guinea fowl will begin to make their screaming alarm sounds to let you know a snake is present. They can actually kill small snakes. This usually deters the snake, especially if the guinea hens surround it, as they are known to do while screaming their heads off.
- Pest Control on a whole new level
- They love to consume fire ants, earwigs, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles, and yes even stink bugs. They’ll eat almost everything except ladybugs, and adult tent worms, and I haven’t seen mine eat love bugs which is a bummer.
- Guinea fowl eggs
- Guinea eggs are small, hard-shelled, and sort of triangular. When you crack them, they shatter like porcelain. Guinea eggs also have twice the protein of regular chicken eggs!
- These guys with their clown-like makeup and funny sounds and personalities are very entertaining to watch. It’s like having a circus sideshow in your backyard.
- Cold and Heat Hardy
- They thrive in the heat but for a bird originally from Africa, they are extremely cold hardy. Harsh winters don’t seem to harm their health or desire to hunt bugs.
- Low Feed Bills
- Guinea will pass up feed to find a bug any day of the week. Just let them go in the morning and shut them up at night, if they will come down from the tree tops.
- Guinea meat is very tasty
- Guinea meat is delicious roasted. It tastes like a gamey chicken. If you want to raise them for meat, it’s best to teach them to come to the coop at night. If not, catching them for butchering will be like harvesting a wild turkey or harder. We don’t eat our guineas because we prefer to have them in large numbers for bugs, snakes, and as watch animals.
- Disease Hardy
- Guineas don’t seem to ever get sick. They are very resistant to common poultry diseases. The only time I remember losing guineas was when they started a nest in the woods and a predator found them at night.
They are not for everyone
This brings me to what you must consider before deciding to add guineas to your homestead.
- Guinea hens will hide their nest
- You will either have to not let them out to free-range until after noon or play an Easter egg hunt every day. They are great at finding new places to hide a nest full of eggs.
- Guinea hens hide to hatch eggs
- If they do squirrel away enough eggs, they will try to hatch them in their secret spot. You may not miss one hen and since they often take turns setting, you won’t know until they show up with keets. 28 days of setting in an unprotected spot allows predators to eat both the birds and the eggs.
- Guineas can be loud
- If you live on a small piece of property or close to neighbors who already don’t like hearing your rooster wake up the Sun, then you might want to skip the guineas or buy your neighbors some quality earplugs.
- One guinea sounding an alarm will trigger a chain reaction in the flock until they are all screaming with no off switch.
- Guineas poop where they are standing
- If you keep Guineas around barns, your house, or vehicles they will end up leaving their mark on everything. And remember these birds can fly higher than chickens so they could drop a surprise anywhere.
- Guinea fowl can be aggressive
- Guinea fowl are known to be bullies of other little chickens. A Guineas’ favorite game is to sneak up behind a chicken and pull its tail feathers.
- Guineas fly
- If they decide they want to sleep in the top of your oak tree instead of the coop at night, good luck trying to change their mind. Even if you have hatched them out with a broody hen, they will eventually join the guinea flock. You may still have trouble herding them or enticing them to come to a coop at night.
- If you pressure them too much, they will take to the skies. Unless you have a homestead jet pack you might as well give up on the idea of herding them in the right direction.
- Guinea fowl think differently
- They seem to struggle with simply going into an open gate or entering a coop that doesn’t have any light on. They will not go into dark places.
- If you want them to enter a dark barn or coop, you’ll have to turn on a light first. This is part of the reason they roost before dark, even more so than chickens, they like to see where they’re settling down for the night.
- Guinea hens are not great mothers
- Guinea fowl roam and wander
- They feel like 1/4 of a mile is not too far to find the perfect bug. If that means walking into your neighbor’s garden or down the road to find it, so be it. It doesn’t seem to take them long to march a great distance on their bug hunting journey each day.
- They eat the flying insects you want to keep
- If you are a beekeeper, guineas can pose a significant danger to your hives. They’ll sit outside of hives, and snap up bees as they emerge. You’ll want to protect them from the guineas.
We’ve talked about some of the benefits of having guinea fowl and some of the reasons not to. You’ve learned a little about their history, their features and characteristics, and the different types of guineas. We hope you’ve found the answers you’re looking for to make an informed decision about raising them yourself.
Do you have experience with keeping guinea fowl? Share your tips and advice in the comments below.
As Always, We’re Here to Help.