Beginners guide to keeping Guinea Fowl

Guineas are certainly a low maintenance poultry and will happily look after themselves to a greater degree than chickens or ducks.

headshot of a guinesa fowl

They tend to elicit a love or hate reaction in people and are seen as funny and fascinating  or noisy and disruptive.

They are of course all of these things but I love mine and would never be without them.


Guinea fowl are easy to keep if you have the space and understanding neighbours.

Feeding:

Free-range guinea fowl will find much of their own food, although a supply of feed gives them a good reason to return to their house.

They need extra food, especially in winter. Fresh greens and sprouts are a favourite. Guineas are quite big grazers and the egg shells in particular will suffer if they don't get fresh greens.

If kept with other poultry they can be fed the same rations as chickens or turkeys, and particularly enjoy whole seed feed.
guineas sharing run with hens
A container of fresh water is their only other requirement.

They are independent birds that fly well and forage for the majority of their feed if they have the space.

They will eat some vegetation, and love sprouts, the ideal guinea fowl diet mostly comprises insects and seed heads. Growers keep them as an organic form of pest control.

Ideally they should be fed a turkey or game bird starter for the higher protein content, but they can also be reared on chick crumbs.

They will also happily eat mice and frogs, essentially anything they can fit down their beak.

Origins:

Since Roman times they have been kept domestically in many countries throughout the world.

Guinea fowl originate from Africa where they are still found in the wild.

There are exotic types like the Vulturine, but the helmeted guinea fowl are the kind usually found in backyards.

Guineas and other poultry:

Guinea fowl dislike new things that they are not used to and can be bullies.

They seem to particularly pick on cockerels and new comers the most and it may be more sustained than with other poultry. They can be determined and quite thuggish on occasion.

That said I have kept many over the years with chickens, ducks and turkeys and never had any problems but then my poultry is all kept free range.

Colours:

There are over 20 recognised guinea fowl colours, although the most commonly known is the original pearl grey, a dark grey with white spots all over.

Guineas are either fully pearled with white spots all over, a solid colour or Pied with patches of white, typically on the fronts and/or wings.

The eggs and meat:

Throughout the spring and summer they are productive layers if you can locate the nests. Mine start in February and lay through until October. They lay between 100 and 170 eggs a year for 4 to 5 years.
guinea fowl eggs
Guinea fowl will lay wherever they fancy favouring dense vegetation. The eggs are glorious with larger than expected golden yolks and surprisingly tough shells. They are smaller than standard chicken eggs, more like bantams and much more pointed or triangular in shape.

Their size is a good reason to have three eggs instead of two. And they are amazing when poached.

Guinea fowl are often kept for their meat and the taste is slightly gamey but not as rich as  pheasant.

A guinea will feed two and as there is a tendency to for the breast meat to be dry I cook the legs as a casserole and the breast much more carefully.

I sell the feather to fly tiers or for use in hats or arts and crafts.

 

Understanding your flock:


You can't treat guinea fowl like chickens, although they are similar in many ways.

Chickens  have been domesticated for much longer and can become very tame whereas guinea fowl tend to be wilder and more flighty.

If regularly handled from day-olds they may be reasonably friendly towards their keepers, but as a rule they hate being picked up or even touched.

Guineas don’t automatically go into a house to roost either, much preferring to fly to the tops of the tallest trees, which can lead to many losses due to predation.


The coop:


Guinea fowl do not like dark places, so  a coop that is brighter will be better.

Guinea fowl prefer to live high up in the trees but they will be safer if they can be persuaded to live in a coop like the hens.

They are tree dwellers by nature and they will also descend at first light in time to meet returning nocturnal hunters on the ground.

Getting keets or young birds will make it easier to get them used to living in a coop.

A shed or outbuilding can be easily adapted for their use, and is likely to be more successful than a standard chicken coop.

They need more space than chickens and longer and higher perches. The higher the perches the better.

They need a door or two pop-holes to cater for the shyer guineas.They will simply fly  to the roof. Once a few have done it the rest are likely to follow and the war will be lost. You will have to resort to clipping wings.


Nesting:


Nest boxes are not needed. Guineas nest in a dip in the floor. They prefer their own spots.
guineas sharing a communal nest
The alternative method is to keep the birds in coop with a large run and then they have no choice but to live indoors.

Give them as much space as possible, but roof the run or they will fly out (unless you clip their wings). It is said that fertility drops when guineas are kept confined, so they are probably much happier if allowed free-range.


Collecting eggs:


You will need to spy on your guineas carefully to spot where the females are nesting.

Guinea fowl will share  a communal nest with males keeping watch.

As with chickens, they usually lay a clutch of eggs and then go broody, but if eggs are collected regularly the birds will keep on laying.

They do not like their nesting being disturbed.

If they see you take the eggs guinea fowl will quickly find a new and probably even more inaccessible spot to nest. Leave a few pottery eggs in their nest and collect late in the day.

 

Getting your Guinea fowl:


Young keets or hatching eggs are the best bet as fully grown birds are difficult to settle in a new environment and are likely to remain a handful to deal with.


Incubating your eggs:


Guinea fowl eggs take 26-29 days to hatch and can be incubated in the same way as hens’ eggs.

Bear in mind that the shells are particularly strong, although healthy keets should hatch without difficulty.


Brooding:


Guinea keets are brooded just like chicks or naturally with a broody guinea hen or chicken.

Guinea hens generally don’t make very good mothers and a turkey hen is a good substitute mum if available.

Turkeys tend to stay with their youngsters longer than chickens do.

Keets are sturdy, lively and agile. This is because in their native environment they need to be quick on their feet. Make sure their pen is escape proof and cover it with mesh to stop them jumping out.

Depending on the weather, the keets can be moved to their outdoor quarters when fully-feathered (about six to eight weeks) and fed on growers’ pellets.



Sexing:


You can not tell males and females apart until they start calling at around 12 weeks. It is not easy to sex them and takes time.

The females make the classic two-tone sound (‘go-back, go-back, go-back’) which has been likened by some to a saw cutting metal, while the males just have one shrill note.

The females can also call on one note though, so care is needed before deciding which is which.

Adult males are usually larger with bigger wattles and head furnishings.

Keeping them in their coop for a month will help encourage them to come home to roost when given a wider range.

Leave the feed and any treats in their house, and persuade them further with a treat of corn in the evenings.


Guinea training:


Pinioned Guineas can be herded but it is probably a bit like herding cats. Much better to train with food and raise them with a chicken mom to instill the desired behaviour in the first place. This is mine that have been raised by Light Sussex all roosting together in a coop.
guineas sharing the roost with chickens


Health problems:


Adult birds are hardy and seem to avoid many of the health problems that plague chickens and some other poultry. Mine have never ailed much at all.

They are liable to catch the same internal and external parasites and the treatments are the same.


Handling guinea fowl:


Guinea fowl are tight feathered and difficult to catch and hold. When picking one up it is best to get a hand underneath with the legs between your fingers and the other hand over the top to stop flapping. Then tuck it tightly under the arm.

Use as little light as possible.

The only time to catch guinea fowl successfully is when they have roosted in the coop for the night.

They are strong and panic easily. Never grab a leg or feathers you could injure the bird or more likely just end up with a handful of feathers.



The dust bath:


They still hunt and scratch about although not as much as chickens do.

Guineas love a dust bath and prefer them to be communal, it's not usual to have a dozen all trying to get in the same hole in the ground.


Guinea fowl as guards:


Guineas dislike new things and noises. They will make a ruckus at anyone or anything they are not used to.

This makes them ideal as guard dogs.

They will sound the alarm if unknown people or predators are around and have even been known to gang up on animals.

Most predators and burglars dislike having attention called to their presence and tend to leave but not always.

Mine will surround and honk at my spaniel when he is about but he's used to it now.

They tend to see everything as a threat and can make considerable noise. They also do not give up after a few minutes like chickens might and may go on for ages.


Guineas as pest and snake control:


Guineas hate snakes and will surround and may kill them. If you have ever seen it happen they just annoy and peck the snake to death. They may even eat the little ones.

They will eat all insects and caterpillars they come across which makes the excellent for controlling pests.

This is not likely to be an issue in the UK where we only have 2 types and they are all rare but it may be useful in other parts of the world.

Life with guineas is never boring!