Guinea Fowl

Guinea keet in the incubator
White guinea fowl keet

Guinea fowl are a game bird and kept primarily for three reasons, eggs, meat and their ability to eat vast quantities of insects. I would add a fourth reason, their amusement factor. Pugnacious and belligerent, they are very funny too watch. There are native to Africa but were spread around Europe mostly by the Romans and taken to America with the early settlers. They are a bit unusual in that they are both easier and more difficult to keep than chickens. They seem to eat less and are generally more thrifty birds than chickens and they do not scratch in the same way as hens preferring instead to potter around looking for insects, slugs, snails, caterpillars and grubs. Some care is required and my guineas are now kept in a covered run after they ate an entire hive of bees in a neighbours allotment.

Guinea fowl eggs are smaller than hens eggs, by about a third, but have much the same taste and a surprisingly large yolk. They also have a very thick shell and require a crack with a knife to break them. Most Guinea fowl will lay about 120/140 eggs a year but if allowed to go broody they will stop laying. Guineas will also maintain this level of production for 3 or 4 years. They only seem to go broody on an undisturbed nest so as long as the eggs are collected daily they will happily keep laying. Always leave at least 1 egg in the nest otherwise they will tend keep moving their nest around.

Some people raise them for their unique ornamental value. Of the three domestic varieties (the pearl, the white and the lavender),the purplish coloured pearl is the most common. The largest member of the family is the 60 cm vulturine guinea fowl, found in tropical East Africa. They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebra, class Aves, order Galliformes and family Numididae. The Greeks and Romans are reported to be the first to domesticate guineas, taking them all over the Empire as a food source.

The Vulturine Guinea fowl:

vulturine guinea fowl

Raising guinea fowl:

Young Guinea fowl are called Keets. They are very cute, attractive and quite endearing. Keets scare easily and run very fast and have a habit of running into whatever is in their way. They have a reputation for killing themselves and do seem to get into all sorts of trouble. You can tell immediately what colour they will be on hatching and have bright red beaks and legs. The first feathers are brown and then moult to their final shade over two months.

The incubation period can be as long as 28 days , similar to turkeys but in practice hatching can be anything from 25 to 30 days. They hatch like a jack in the box and start hurdling around the incubator immediately.

Keets are more hardy than chicks and seem to shy away from heat in week or so. It is best to give them the same conditions in the brooder as you would chicks. They young Guineas really require turkey starter ration as it has a higher protein. We keep ours in a plastic storage container ( large tote) as it has solid sides, to start as they can get through surprisingly small holes and can jump like fleas. They feather up quickly but in an odd fashion, seemingly growing a large overcoat that covers them from the shoulders and hangs over the tail.

Keets can be hatched and raised under a broody guinea or hen( 18 eggs ) with a hen probably being the best method as they teach them to roost etc and behave like chickens. The guineas have a habit of leading the keets through long grass early in the morning , getting them wet and letting hypothermia kill them. They also have a habit of getting of the nest early with just 4 or 5 keets and abandoning the remaining eggs.

They are susceptible to some of the same diseases and parasites and hens but probably have more in common with turkeys including a tendency to blackhead.

Although you can keep female guineas and hens together as usual it is the males that cause problems, the males of both will fight just as cockerels do and they will try and mate with the hens which can result in sterile hybrids.

Sexing Guinea Fowl :

This should read not sexing guinea fowl, it is practically impossible before 10 weeks of age and difficult even after that. They are sexed by their call, the males have a single tone screech and they females have a two tone call. The males do start developing a little earlier and have a slightly redder face and thicker/bigger wattles.

Next to quietening guineas, the hardest problem can be to sex them. Male and female guinea fowls differ so little in appearance that many find it difficult to distinguish them from each other. Usually, sex may be distinguished by the cry of the birds after they are about 2 months old and by larger helmet and wattles and coarser head of the male. In young male guineas aged 12 to 15 weeks, the wattles are larger, curve out more and have thicker edges than the females. By 15-16 weeks the females wattles are also thickening. The adult male has a slightly larger helmet and wattles and coarser head than females. The cry of the female sounds like a buckwheat, buck-wheat or put-rock, put-rock, and and is quite different from the one-syllable shriek of the male. When excited, both the male and female emit one-syllable cries, but at no time does male's cry sound like buckwheat, buckwheat Adult guineas do make more noise than chickens and will create a ruckus if disturbed, they prefer to walk or run and are fully paid up members of the ministry of silly walks. They tend to fly only when frightened, excited or roosting.

the picture below is a male and female guinea fowl side by side.

a pair of guinea fowl

Feeding guinea fowl:

Guineas eat all insects and actively hunt for them in all nooks and crannies. They do graze but are not destructive in a garden like chickens. They should be allowed access to grass pasture and prefer to free range although we keep ours in a movable covered run to avoid conflict. I have witnessed a guinea fowl stuffing itself on a mouse so they have a varied diet. They will eat small grains not whole maize/corn. They are low maintenance feeders.