Guinea Fowl Realities

by Farmer Liz
We got our ten guinea fowl keets in December the the year before last.  I have always thought that they were pretty birds, but we needed a reason to get them and when I found out that they were supposed to eat ticks, that was ideal.  Any natural method of reducing our paralysis tick numbers instead of using chemicals on the animals has got to be worth a try.

All went well at first.  For the first few weeks the keets were just like chicken chicks, but when they out-grew the brooder box and we put them out in a cage it soon became evident that they were very different to chicks.  The first thing we noticed was their tendancy to fly, particularly when we opened the door of their cage to top up food and water and they all tried to fly out!  One did manage to get out and fly up over the water tank and into another paddock.

When we moved them into a chicken tractor Cheryl somehow managed to get one of them out the back of the tractor and ate it, so we were down to nine.

When the guinea fowl were big enough, we started to let them free-range, so they could start their work of eating the paralysis ticks.  This was mostly successful except that the guinea fowl occasionally decide not to go back into their tractor at night.  Over the last few months, on the nights when they have not all gone home, we have lost six guinea fowl to night predators (probably foxes).  The guinea fowl are very easily spooked by any changes in or around the tractor, unfortunately the whole idea of the tractor is that it moves to fresh ground quite regularly, which seems to upset the guineas.  The chickens also developed a habit of standing in the guinea tractor, which the guineas don't like either.

I did hope that the guineas would move out of their tractor and live in the trees.  So far they just camp on the ground.  We have a routine of going outside around dusk and herding them into their cage if they haven't gone already.  This is a very slow process as they don't react well to being herded, and they have to check out the door of their cage very carefully before going inside.  Cheryl sometimes indulges us and sits long enough to be a help on one side of the door so that they don't walk right past it.

We have got to the stage, with only three guinea fowl left, that we would rather keep them locked up (and move the tractor along for them), than let them out and deal with the nightly herding exercise.  But if they are locked up, they are not eating paralysis tick.  What else are they good for?  You can eat them, but they are quite small, so I think we are better off eating chickens for the effort involved in plucking.  We have been collecting their eggs, which are smaller than chicken eggs, and we have eaten a few and hatched the rest.  You probably think we are mad, but at $10 a keet, we can at least make our money back!  So far we have hatched 14 of them and sold seven.

And now we're not sure if we want to keep them or not!

This hasn't put us off guinea fowl completely.  I think they have potential, and we have learnt so much about their habits and personality.  They do not do well in tractors, but if we can build them a fixed pen or get them to live in trees, maybe they can live at Cheslyn Rise, live in the trees and eat the paralysis ticks.

I have been asked if they do eat paralysis ticks.  Its pretty hard to tell, I don't watch everything they eat.... and we found a tick on Cheryl last year, which was one since we've been here.  And I think some of the chickens that died last year may have had ticks on them (but I didn't find any).  So its hard to know if they were eating them or not!

People also complain about the noise of the guinea fowl.  They do get a bit painful, and we did move their tractor away from the house.  As the numbers dwindled, the noise was less annoying....

Have you or do you keep guinea fowl?  Any thoughts on our experience with them?

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