Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Day With Guineas

by Pa Rock
Poultry Provocateur

I am beginning to develop a sense of why so few farmers bother to try and raise guineas.  The birds have two admirable qualities that should place them in high demand on most small farms, yet they remain fairly uncommon - at least in these parts.  Guineas do eat ticks and chiggers - and that's not just a rural legend.   They walk the property in a pack from sunup until sundown carefully eyeballing the ground for the tiny parasites - as well as any other bugs that stumble through their line of vision.  They establish a route, and each day they work their way down that established paths with a ruthless determination.  Last year I had guineas on the place throughout the summer months, and during that time I encountered absolutely no ticks or chiggers.

The other things that guineas do so well is they make noise.  Whenever something unexpected happens on the farm, night or day, a flock of guineas will set up a racket that is impossible to ignore.  Everyone within half-a-mile will know that something is amiss at the farm where the guineas live.

I have also heard reports that guineas are good to eat, but I have never tried one.  Unfortunately, some of the predators of poultry in this vicinity would appear to be in general agreement with that assessment.

I am currently on my third attempt at raising guineas.  Fifteen or so years ago I bought some guinea chicks for my little farm in Noel.  I got them at the local feed store and basically just turned them loose with the chickens.  They did fine and grew to maturity.  The guineas soon learned that they did not want to stay in the coop at night with the chickens, and they would roost in the very tops of the tall pine trees that were abundant on the rocky patch of hillside that I called a farm.  Several times they would come walking out of the woods to show off a dozen or so baby chicks, but something always managed to get those chicks before they could reach maturity.  The first generation, however, survived and did fine.

Here at my new Roost, I decided to try raising guineas again.  The local feed stores do not handle guineas, but last spring (2014) I found a producer in northern Arkansas who sold me twenty chicks.  I started them off in my chick nursery - sort of a brooder attached to a big wire enclosure - and when they developed feathers and the ability to fly, I released the birds to make the Roost their own.  They survived the summer, but began disappearing in the fall.  By the end of October, predators had gotten all of them - as well as all of my turkeys and most of my chickens.  Although I have plenty of tall pine trees on this property like in did in Noel, the guineas never figured out that they could make relatively safe roosts for themselves in the treetops.

After the predators began their rampage, I hurriedly converted an old garage into a chicken coop that could be secured at night.  The hens who survived, the smart ones, love their new home.   But the new ones, the ones I got as chicks this spring, would much prefer to sleep outside.  Each evening I have to struggle to herd the little chickens into the coop with the older birds.

I also decided to give guineas another try this year.  I bought twenty-five from a different breeder - hoping to get a smarter strain of bird.  The little guys were in their nursery over a month and had developed both feathers and flight by the time I released them yesterday morning.  Up until yesterday the little outlaws had busted out of the nursery in ones and twos at every opportunity, but when I threw the door open at dawn yesterday and invited the entire group to experience the glories of freedom, they just stood around looking as if something must be skewed with the universe.  Eventually, though, they began stumbling out where they formed into a group in the grass and started walking the place - as guineas do.

I was in the house for a couple of hours, giving the guineas plenty of time to become accustomed to their freedom, before I went back out to check on their progress.  When I finally did go back outside I discovered that they were nowhere to be found.  Great, I thought, the guineas first day as free birds and they have all moved to the neighbor's!  But, a few more hours later and they were back.  (I only mow about half of the ten acres, leaving the rest to be bush-hogged by a friend twice a year.  The part that the farm that hasn't been mowed yet is a tall wall of grass, weeds, and sprouts - and the guineas had been out in all of that exploring as they took their initial walkabout.)

The second crisis occurred just at dark.  Farm birds instinctively look for someplace to roost as evening falls.  In addition to all of the trees, the little guineas had several other good options, including the enclosed area where they had been raised up to that point.  (I had left the door open for them.)  But instead of the old pen - or the covered coop area or the chicken house itself, the little guineas roamed about on the ground almost acting disoriented.  I tried to shoo them toward a safe area, but herding a flock of guineas is not a task that can be accomplished by one person.  Finally, well after dark, I gave up and wished them well.

This morning they were still out there walking and squawking - so perhaps at some point during the long night they discovered the safety of "up."

Up, guys, fly up!   Be survivors!  Let's show the folks around here that guineas do make sense on an Ozark farm.

No comments: