Monday, February 1, 2010
Guinea Fowl: The Farmer's Watchdog
Guinea fowl are often called 'The Farmer's Watchdog' due to their noisy announcement of intruders, trespassers, and guests alike. Funny, from the name, you'd think farmers didn't actually keep real dogs.
Guineas are known for their noise. I've heard people say that a guinea will squawk at an intruder, at a breeze, if the sun is shining, if the sun is not shining, if the wind is blowing, if the wind stops blowing....you get the idea. They truly are noisy buggers. I even thought they were false alarm specialists for a while, myself. But it turns out that they just have sharper eyes. Chances are, if the guineas are barking, there's something amiss.
I first noticed this as I was working outside one day and was startled by the guineas going completely bonkers over something. I happened to look up just in time to see two turkey vultures land in a tree near the edge of our property. If I hadn't seen them land, I'd never have known what all the fuss was about. Just yesterday I looked outside to see a wild rabbit bounding away as the guineas announced that this is their domain. They also set up a fuss when a hawk comes around, something the chickens have picked up on rather quickly. As soon as the guineas sound off, the chickens all run to the coop.
Around here, we say, "The guineas are barking" or "The alarm is going off" when the guineas are squawking. If you've never heard them, let me tell you, they don't chirp or sing, they SQUAWK! Of course that's not their only noise. They have a pleasant chirrup that sounds sort of like a lightly blown pea whistle when they are happy, usually when they are eating. I'm happy when I'm eating, so I can understand. :)
The female guinea has a sort of two syllable squawk that sounds like "Buckwheat". That's really about the only way to tell the females from the males.
Guineas are great for gardens. They don't scratch around as much as chickens do, and tend to leave most of the plants alone. Their worst habit is taking a dust bath where I've planted seeds, but a bit of chicken wire over the dirt will keep them out. Don't forget to move the chicken wire once the plants get big enough.
They absolutely love ticks and other bugs. We find fewer ticks than anyone we know, and we live smack in the middle of the woods. There's nothing more entertaining than watching a guinea chase a grasshopper across the field. Or maybe there is. What can I say; I'm easily amused.
But be warned: guineas wander. Unless you have them in an aviary, don't expect them to stay put. I've seen my guineas take off to inspect the neighbor's property over half a mile away. Thanks to their wanderlust, we lost as least one guinea to a field sprayer. Pressed guinea, anyone? They do come home at roosting time, though. In fact, I've read that purchased adult guineas will fly back to where they came from, so it's best to start with keets.
Our guineas like to roost in trees, so we lost a few to raccoons and owls. Oh, yeah, if you have a severe fear of clowns, avoid going outside near the guinea roost at night! They sometimes make this weird noise, like an insane clown laughing from high in the tree in the deep, dark woods. *shudder*You can train them to come when you call by giving them food each time you call them. It's pretty awesome to call and have them fly right over your head! We feed ours goose/duck/chick feed during the winter, and they mostly free range during the summer, pigging out on bugs, worms, and all other kinds of crunchy goodies. Yum!
We're hoping to replenish our guinea flock this spring with some keets from the hatchery. Now that we have an incubator, we'll be able to hatch our own once we get some females. We lost our last few females when they went broody; they nest on the ground and predators sure love the easy reach. We started with a dozen keets (about five years ago) and are down to our last two guineas, both male. Our lonely bachelors tend to stay close to home now.
Overall, they are very low maintenance, and really quite useful.