By Jeannette S. Ferguson
Moving to a home with some land in the country has its advantages. It is quieter, peaceful, no fumes from cars, buses or trucks, no smog, fewer neighbors, fresh air, room to run, freedom to play loud music, room to have big parties with plenty of parking space, more than a few pets/animals, plenty of room to grow corn or huge veggie gardens, and most of all—room for thousands of flower specimens and numerous gigantic flower gardens. I was able to fulfill a dream and had the room to construct a hobby greenhouse.
The greenhouse made it possible for me to grow the unusual plants I could not purchase locally and gave me a very pleasant way to enjoy fine gardening in the great outdoors during the coldest months of winter. Gardening under glass in the winter made flower gardening year-around a fascinating, wonderful hobby for me.
Shortly after moving here, well over 20 years ago, I joined the local village garden club. After attending my first flower show as a member, I decided to become even more involved with the club by participating in our local flower shows. I started dozens of seeds of nearly every type I could get my hands on and filled my greenhouse benches. By May I had created several new flowerbeds around the property and was ready to relocate the hardened plants to them. By June my yard was top notch, filled with color, and I was so ready and eager for that first flower show.
However, along with the house in the country came several pests, a lot more than one would find in the city or in the suburbs. The ticks, insect bites, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles and other obnoxious bugs were making me miserable, and those pests were destroying my flowers as soon as they would bloom.
It was a nightmare. I was devastated. It was tough to see my beautiful flowers destroyed within a very short time period just prior to the first flower show of the season by grasshoppers, insect bites to the leaves, or filled with Japanese beetles. You see, to enter a flower specimen, leaves must be attached to help identify the flower, and a flower must be in perfect condition. Jackie Miller, then president of the Waynesville Garden Club, drove to my home in the country in disbelief, to see the damaged flowers for herself. Jackie lives only four miles away in a small community and her rose gardens and other flowers were in great shape. She was shocked to find flower after flower that did not meet the standards for entry. I will never forget the look on Jackie’s face while walking through the gardens in search of just a few possible entries. If the flower was nice, the leaves were filled with holes. If the leaves were okay, the blossom was stuffed with Japanese beetles or had insect bites from some other pest. I was unable to enter the fair.
Later that season, one of our garden club meetings was held at the home of another member. During the meeting, I was distracted by something outside the window, something that looked like the cartoon road-runner bird. It was racing across her yard, body still as can be, but feet moving so fast that I could not focus on them. Others in the room may have been tuned into the speaker and laughing at whatever was being said at the time, but I was focused on these birds and my laughter was directed at what was going on outside that window. I could hardly wait until the meeting was over to go outside for a closer look at these polka-dotted characters. I left that meeting with a smile on my face and six eggs in my pocket.
About a month later, peeping was coming from the inside of my hobby-sized incubator. This was the beginning of a long and fulfilling experience.
Prior to keeping guinea fowl, we raised chickens and a few ducks. The chickens had to be kept inside their coop with an attached, poultry yard. When left out to range about the yard during daytime house, it never failed; the chickens would destroy my flower gardens. You see, chickens tend to scratch for food under the surface. They would scratch anywhere on the property, uprooting grass, flowers, or whatever was in their way. Chickens did a great job producing eggs for the table, our purpose in keeping them, but helpful gardeners they are not. Ducks were fun to raise, but their droppings were very messy…and were kept confined for that reason alone.
Guinea fowl can be housed with chickens, but a fence will not confine them. They fly higher and range farther than chickens. Unlike chickens, they tend to pick bugs and insects from within their reach and do not normally scratch for food and worms like chickens do. Guineas tend to dust bathe by finding a soft, bald spot on the lawn (or unmulched spot in a flowerbed). We actually put up a play area for the flock, complete with roto-tilled soil for dust bathing, a mirror for them to admire their plump, speckled bodies and bat their long eyelashes at themselves in (yes, they know they are beautiful and enjoy reflecting in mirrors), and a special miniature bird feeder to encourage them to return often for special treats throughout the day. Guineas can be seen walking across the property in groups, pecking at insects and bugs with nearly every step they take. It is not uncommon to see them following the riding mower around the yard, grabbing bugs and insects stirred up by the mower. They also eat weeds and weed seeds, making great little garden helpers. The droppings from guinea fowl are dry and seem to quickly disappear. The droppings are full of nitrogen, which helps to fertilize the yard.
As time went on, I noticed a decrease in problems. We had very few ticks that following spring, fewer bugs, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles and other obnoxious insects that had been destroying my flower gardens. I discovered that the guineas would kill small snakes, warn us about predators or visitors (and anything else that was new or strange to them). The feathers from a pearl gray guinea fowl are absolutely the most beautiful of all and can be used in flower arrangements or crafts. Guineas can even be trained to come when you call, and can be tamed enough to hold and pet. The best discovery was that my perennials were blooming and they were no longer bug infested. Not only was I able to enter the flower show, but I won five rosettes and 102 ribbons for my flower specimens and arrangements. I give full credit for my success to these entertaining birds. The solution to my problems was and still is, gardening with guineas.
Before you run out and purchase keets (baby guineas), fertile guinea eggs or older adult guinea fowl, there are some important factors to take into consideration. First, you must make certain that you live in an area were you are permitted to keep poultry. Proper housing should be in place to provide a home base for your trained flock to return to roost each and every night – a home that is dry, draft-free and predator proof. The house should have proper feed as well as fresh water available 24/7. Guineas cannot see very well in the dark. To allow them to roost in trees is not only inviting predators for a free, midnight snack, but will also encourage the guineas to have all night parties, singing by the light of the moon or at the crack of dawn when your neighbors will prefer some peace and quiet. While chicken roosters have a very loud crow, it is the guinea hen (female) that is the more talkative in a flock of guineas. If you have close neighbors, you may want to be certain that they will not mind visitors on occasion, visitors who will also eat their ticks, bugs, and weed seeds. If they do not approve of the “singing of guinea fowl”, you might opt to keep only guinea cocks (males). Unlike keeping too many chicken roosters that will often fight to kill each other, a flock of guinea cocks can get along just fine.
Many organic gardeners are now into keeping guinea fowl because of their ability to rid a property of bugs and insects without the use of toxic chemicals. Guinea fowl are not for everyone, but those of us who do keep guineas, cannot imagine living without them.
The GFBA webpage (www.gfba.org) provides a list of backyard guinea fowl breeders that you can contact to request adult guinea fowl or to be placed on their breeding list for eggs or keets. It also provides a list of hatcheries that sell guinea keets.
Jeannette Ferguson is the President of the Guinea Fowl Breeders Association (GFBA) and author of the book “Gardening with Guineas: A Step by Step Guide to Raising Guinea Fowl on a Small Scale.” Get your copy online at the Backyard Poultry Bookstore.