Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pasture ornaments and hawk watchdogs - guinea fowl

This picture is pretty much the normal state of affairs for the guinea fowl.  This one is screaming at me while I'm taking photos -- even though I've fed and provided for it virtually its entire life.  They're pretty paranoid fowl, and they'll take turns in the flock.  one or two will screech and the other ones will all do what they normally do.  If they know you eventually they'll decide, as a flock, that you're ok and go about their normal paranoid business. 

Guinea fowl are a nice complement to having a free-range poultry flock.  for me, they act as an early warning system for airborne threats to the flock.  Hawks, eagles and airplanes all get a warning screech from these air wardens of the barnyard, and the other poultry take cover when they call the warning.  They aren't much into eating plants -- which means that that actually do better than chickens in the garden (not to say they're above lifting a tasty lettuce leaf though...)  and they LOVE bugs and foraging.  They have a range on my farm of around 3 acres; mostly they're hanging around the buildings and corral, but now and then I'll see them a couple of hundred feet out, foraging in the pasture. 
They're sunning themselves against a little outbuilding I built, using the wood wall to warm themselves further on this chilly winter day.  The whole flock is there and still, which is unusual.  They're usually roaming around looking for threats, eating random things, and terrorizing the chickens and turkeys.  They are the mafia; they work together as a single unit, the whole flock defending any member.  If you pick a fight with a guinea fowl, you are fighting with the whole flock in a matter of seconds. 

When you're mixing different breeds of fowl, you have to watch the guineas and make sure that the other fowl have a way to get away.  Once they've decided that a particular bird has annoyed them, the flock of guineas can be a relentless foe, and they can and will kill a larger bird if it cannot retreat.  They are not particularly aggressive; on my farm it's usually the young roosters who size up a guinea fowl in their little rooster brain and figure that they are bigger and can beat it easily.  They rooster doesn't really understand the concept of teamwork, but the guinea fowl do. 
I can imagine them in mugshots, with the case number underneath them.  "Wanted for feed theft, feather plucking and unprovoked screeching".
I've got my eye on you

You can buy guinea fowl keets at several national hatcheries, or sometimes at feed stores in the spring.  they tend to appear later than chickens, so look for them in May or June.  They are very independent, and mine make a very good living eating the food spilled from the hog feeder and foraging of the vegetables that I feed the hogs.  I do provide a secure roost for them and I keep an eye on them.  I lost a guinea fowl earlier this year, in July, to an unknown cause; it turned up dead one day, but the other 7 have been doing well. 


StefRobrts said...

That first picture is hilarious! A friend keeps trying to talk me into getting guinea fowl from him, but I don't think the neighbors (we have a small acreage) would appreciate the screeching!

Joanne Rigutto said...

I love my guinea fowl, and what you say about them being the poultry mafia is absolutely true.

Out of all the birds I've had in the last 20 years (pheasant, quail, partridge, chickens, turkeys and guinea fowl) the guinea fowl are my favorite. They have so much personality. Watching them is like watching slap stick comedy.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree on all accounts. Our 5 did fine for a long time. If you (or other birds) didn't bother them, they didn't bother you. I eventually got tired of them screaming the entire time I was outside doing anything within eye shot and they went in the freezer.