The Kids Have Left Home... Well the Guinea Kids Have

Around the Greer Farm we are accustomed to sharing our space with a most unusual fowl.

If you could roll back the into time it would not be an uncommon sight to see on each farm homestead free ranging birds that look like Adam and Eve had something to do with designing them. Perhaps evan a cave man. Prehistoric looking French Guinea fowl were welcome guests. They roamed around eating bugs (fire ants) and sounded alarm when strangers were near with a strange noise.

La Pintadera Hatchery in Quebec says these are "ancient birds native of South Africa from where they spread all over the continent, excluding desert regions, up to the Mediterranean sea. For a long period of time, the guinea fowl, and its eggs, was one of the main dish of the Africans. It can explain why this bird is more resistant to hot weather than the chicken."
"In a natural environment, the guinea fowl is monogamous. The female usually lays 12 to 20 eggs. During broodiness, the gregarious male jealously protects the females. It is hard to distinguish between the male and the female since they both have the same plumage."

"If a predator happens to pass by, the guinea fowl runs so fast, it's as if it wasn't touching the ground at all. It can also fly several hundred meters. The guinea fowl eats seeds and weeds and grows fast. It stays on the ground all day but likes to perch when the night comes. The guinea fowl is able to hear unusual noise or movement coming from far away, it then starts to scream very loud. That is why it is also known as the farm-yard sentry. If the guinea fowl is kept in a reserved clump or outdoor, it can become turbulent and even quarrelsome. Therefore, it keeps its nervous and hasty natural temper when raised in the wild."

We got our first birds ten years ago that were already grown. We did not have a clue what to do with them so just opened the cage and let them out. They immediately flew off into the woods never to be seen again. We have since learned that if you import them, you have to get them used to you and your place before release. It is best to start with chicks.

Our next attempt was more successful. We bought chicks a few days old from Horaney's feed store in Longview and raised them into a cage until almost grown. These did well, but our yard dogs did not like them roaming around outside of the chicken yard. Most, over time, were killed. We finally taught the dogs not to chase them and kill them.

Guinea's have strange reproduction habits. Several hens lay their eggs in the same nest. The nest is usually in some obscure place that you would never easily locate. The hens and males take turns sitting on the eggs. I have seen up to 30 eggs in a single nest. In any case, the ones that survived the dogs had babies. That got us on the road to a successful flock.

Over the years we have had as many as forty and as few as three, but every year a new clutches are born. You look out and it looks like large bugs scurrying across the yard, but its day old chicks. They are very small. Guinea fowl are good guardians of their chicks, but terrible parents. If there is a lot of dew or rain they do not try to keep them warm and dry. They just continue on their normal way and the chicks die off one by one due to exposure and lack of care. Some years we would capture the little chicks and place them in a cage with a mature fowl (never sure if it is a male or female) and raise them until they can take care of themselves. While the chicks are in the cage, the flock hangs around outside it and squawks attempting to protect the babies.

Last year we got down to four birds. Not sure if we had any females, I worked with a friend and we obtained fertile eggs, hatched them out and had a clutch of fifteen to add to our flock. I was surprised to one day see lots of small birds on the front lawn and realized our own birds had raised a clutch too. Of this group, seven lived to maturity.

For six months, the birds raised from the fertilized eggs lived in the barn and stayed in the chicken pen. No matter what I did they would not join the yard fowl. Yesterday I was in the yard and suddenly all fifteen took flight and went over the fence into the trees. they watched to yard fowl below them and after a time swooped down and joined them. I have no idea why they waited so long to join the flock or why it suddenly happened, but the kids have left home finally.

If you are curious what they taste like, its similar to pheasant. The meat is all dark and very moist with lots of flavor. You can buy it at Central Market in Dallas for about $20-$25/bird or you can raise your own for maybe $3-5 to maturity. We did a taste comparison a few years ago between a store bought bird and one we raised. Ours was by far the best tasting. If it was not so difficult to raise them, they would make a great addition to the variety of food you have. I am sure they are very healthy and a good addition to your diet.

If you want to raise your own, start with chicks when its warm enough outside for you to be comfortable in a T shirt.