Got ticks & bugs?

By Jeannette Ferguson

February 7, 2013

Got ticks? Got obnoxious bugs and garden pests? Tired of insects destroying your flower beds and leaves and gardens? Just maybe guineas are for you. Years ago when I was unable to participate in the local garden club flower shows, I discovered guineas to be the solution to my problem. Just over a year after raising guineas, not only was I able to enter flower shows, but I won 102 ribbons and several rosettes that first season.

While busy eating up insects and other bugs, these guineas make a lovely sight.
While busy eating up insects and other bugs, these guineas make a lovely sight.

Guinea fowl range across the property taking bites of weed seeds, insects, grasshoppers, Japanese Beetles and other obnoxious bugs with nearly every step they take. They prefer selecting pests that are on top of the ground or on plants and leaves within their eyesight and reach. Guineas can often be seen darting across the yard after a moth or other flying insect. Many people keep guineas because they eat ticks, alert them to strangers, or kill many types of snakes.

I also keep chickens but have been unable to free range them because of the damage they would do to the flowers and flower beds-mostly due to scratching for bugs and insects beneath the surface, or scratching to dust bathe and in the process, pulling up plants-roots and all. So the chickens are confined to their house with attached poultry yard while the guineas are permitted to free range by day and return to roost inside their safe house with the chickens by night.

The farmer’s watchdog

Guinea fowl are very entertaining to watch as they patrol across the property. Typically, the birds forage for food as a group or in small groups within eyesight of each other. They emit a low-level warble sound, not unlike chickens that is only audible when listening close by, i.e., within a few feet. Occasionally the birds will be disturbed either by some abnormal activity or sound or when they get separated and need to locate each other. During these times the birds can emit a louder sound as an alarm signal. This alarm call is what gave them the title years ago, “the farmer’s watchdog”. Guineas can be seen following a lawnmower that stirs up bugs. They can be seen chasing each other like little roadrunners during mating season, and can be heard giving the dickens to anything or anyone who is strange or unusual to them by sounding their “alarm call” that usually lasts for about 20 seconds at a time. Guineas can be trained to come to you when they are called. For the person who cares to put some effort in to taming a guinea as an animal to be held and petted, that too is possible.

If you want an unusual, spotted bird that can alert you to intruders, can make gardening more pleasant by eating bugs, insects and ticks, can entertain your family and visitors alike, and can supply you with beautiful feathers, eggs and/or meat, guinea fowl might be for you.

Before purchasing, consider this…

But before rushing out to purchase hatching eggs or keets (baby guineas), there are a few things to consider…

Unlike chickens, guinea fowl can run faster, fly higher, range further, and “sing” louder than most poultry. Guinea fowl can be very difficult to catch unless they are trained. They can fly up onto the roof of a house or high up into a tree. Although they are not as loud as peafowl, they are more “talkative”, especially during that first year of life when everything they see and hear is new and unusual to them.

If guineas are not trained to roost inside a poultry shed at night, they will take to the trees and have all night slumber parties, talking into the wee hours-especially during a full moon.

A guinea hen, the female adult guinea, makes a two-syllable sound, “buck-wheat, buck-wheat”. She can also imitate the call of the male guinea cock’s one syllable sound, “chi-chi-chi”. However, a guinea cock cannot imitate a guinea hen. This is the easiest way to identify if a guinea is male or female. Adults can be vent sexed, but keets are sold only as straight run, unsexed. The sex of a guinea keet cannot be identified until it is around eight weeks old when it begins making either the one or two-syllable sounds.

Guinea Fowl will dust bathe to clean their feathers, and they will normally select a place that is free from grass like a bald spot in the yard or freshly tilled soil. Covering the soil in flowerbeds with mulch can help to discourage them from selecting those areas. At my place, there is a special area in the back yard near their house that we keep tilled especially for dusting, and our flock seems to understand and enjoy this area that is softer and easier for them to make their little pits to dust bathe in.

While guineas can rid the vegetable gardens of unwanted pests, it is best not to allow them into that area until plants are established and well rooted in the spring. After a long winter without greens to munch on, guineas can get themselves into trouble by following the owner across the garden – pecking at the nice green onion sprouts as they are planted only to have the owner finish planting the row, turn around and see the onion sets scattered behind him. Later, guineas might peck at a few tomatoes or other veggie, but the benefits of keeping guineas far outweighs any damage they might do. In most cases, planting a few extra plants will make up for any losses.

Many people keep guineas because they eat ticks, alert them to strangers, or kill many types of snakes. Others like the assistance they provide in the garden, chomping up weed seeds and obnoxious bugs with every step.
Many people keep guineas because they eat ticks, alert them to strangers, or kill many types of snakes. Others like the assistance they provide in the garden, chomping up weed seeds and obnoxious bugs with every step.

Check into the rules and regulations where you live to see if you are permitted to keep poultry. If you have neighbors and you want to garden with guineas and allow them to free range by day, make certain your neighbors are knowledgeable about the benefits of having guinea fowl around, and ask if they will mind visitors. Guineas can fly over any fencing and will surely get curious about the grass that might be greener on the other side. There are things you can do to encourage your flock to stay on your own property, but the occasional visit to the neighbor’s side of the fence must be contemplated.

If “noise” is a concern, you might consider keeping only guinea cocks. Although they can be just as loud as guinea hens, they do not “sing” as often. And unlike keeping too many chicken roosters that sometimes fight to kill, other than an occasional darting or peck demonstrated by the pecking order, guinea cocks do not fight to kill each other.

Like all animals, guinea fowl need care

They need predator-proof housing, proper feed and fresh water.

Predator proof housing for guineas is extremely important. Housing provides a safe and secure place for guinea fowl to roost overnight. Guinea fowl cannot see well at night, and if left to roost in trees they will eventually become a midnight snack for hungry owls, raccoons or other overnight predators. Dry, draft-free housing will also keep them safe from frostbite during hazardous winter weather. Guineas will come to know their house as the place they can find food, water and safety. Proper housing should be considered and constructed before you get guinea eggs to hatch, guinea keets to brood, or older guinea fowl to raise.

Keets are raised on starter feed, turkey starter with amprolium (a coccidiostat) has the high protein content needed for these fast-growing birds. Adults can be fed a chicken layer ration or a gamebird feed. Feed and fresh, clean water should be available 24/7 inside their poultry house – guinea fowl will not overeat.

Eggs, keets and older guinea fowl can be ordered from Guinea Farm, the world’s largest guinea fowl hatchery (www.guineafarm.com). 30 keets per order is the minimum order so the keets will stay warm during shipment. Keets are available in 22 different varieties.

Eggs and keets can also be purchased from local breeders within your state. A guinea fowl breeder’s list is located online at www.guineafowl.com/GeneralStore/breeders.html. The list is larger during breeding season, generally from March through September in most areas of the USA. You can also order eggs or keets from a National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP)-registered flock outside your home state, as indicated on the breeders list.

Learn more about guineas at…

The Guinea Fowl Breeders Association is for anyone interested in guinea fowl. This is an Internet group that meets annually to learn more in-depth and up-to-date information about keeping and raising guinea fowl. Details at www.gfba.org

Throughout the year, members hang out online at a Guinea Fowl Message Board and help others with questions, comments and answers about keeping guinea fowl at www.guineafowl.com/board.

Here you will also find links to hundreds of photographs of brooders, housing, guineas and even a guinea fowl color chart and sound files to help you identify the birds in your flock.

Gardening with Guineas is a step-by-step guide to raising guinea fowl from egg through adult and is available through the Backyard Poultry Bookstore.