Raising Guinea Fowl: A Low-Maintenance Flock

Compared to chickens, guinea fowl are low-cost and low-maintenance, and do a standout job as chemical-free pest control.

  • A domestic guinea hen lays seasonally, just as her wild cousins do.
    Photo by Fotolia/Jamie Wilson
  • Of the seven species of guinea fowl, the "helmeted pearl" is by far the most common. It has a white, featherless face, bright red wattles, and gray polka-dotted feathers.
    Photo by Fotolia/Martina Berg
  • Because guineas prefer freedom to regimentation, they have not been commercially exploited and "improved" as have chickens and turkeys.
    Photo by Fotolia/Krzysztof Wiktor

Like officious little men in baggy gray suits, the guinea fowl scuttle up and down our driveway. Since dawn, they've been scouring our orchard for beetles, locusts, spiders, and ticks. Now they are ready to patrol our yard and garden for ants, cockroaches, flies, wasps, termites, cutworms, grubs, and snails. The guinea fowl are relentless in their pursuit.

I can remember a time when my husband and I had no guineas. Our former flock had roosted in trees and nested on the ground where, one by one, they had fallen prey to owls and foxes. While we were guinea-less, our potato crop was denuded by potato beetles, our hibiscus hedge was decimated by locusts, and we lost several fruit trees to flat-head borers. We soon realized that our "little gray men" had given us far more than just a pleasant diversion (and occasional good eating). So we got a new crew to work our land, and I hope never to live without these little guys again.

Raising Guinea Fowl

Many people have never seen, much less heard of, guinea fowl. Visitors, on spying their first guinea, invariably ask "What is that—a turkey?" Nope, but not a bad guess. Like turkeys, guineas are Galliformes, a group encompassing all chicken-like birds. But while chickens are members of the pheasant family, turkeys and guineas each have a family of their own. Native to Africa, they are known for traveling in large, gregarious flocks. Guinea fowl were introduced into Europe by 15th century Portuguese explorers, and then arrived in North America with the early settlers. There are seven species of guinea fowl, of which the "helmeted pearl" is by far the most common, and certainly the weirdest looking, with its oddly shaped helmet, white, featherless face, bright red wattles, and gray polka-dotted feathers.

Ask those who keep guineas why they have them and you'll get a different answer every time. Chicken and turkey farmers keep them to ward off poultry-eating predators. Ranchers turn them loose to discourage rattlers and copperheads. Country dwellers like the way they gobble down disease-carrying ticks. Orchardists use them to drive off marauding birds. Farmers put them to work patrolling for row crop pests. Guineas do all this without damaging crops. Sure, they'll take the occasional peck at a cultivated plant, but they much prefer insects, weeds, and seeds.

Free-ranging guineas spend most of their days foraging. They work as a team, marching chest to chest and devouring anything they startle as they move through the grass. When they discover a special treat—a rodent, for example, or a small snake—they close ranks, circle their prey, and move in for the feast. All the while, they keep up a steady stream of whistles, chirps, and clicks, a sort of running commentary on the day's hunt.

But these little foragers have their faults. Like chickens, guineas are natural-born scratchers—I once watched a week-old guinea scratch vigorously in a saucer of starter mash while others stood by trying to catch bits of mash sailing through the air. Nevertheless, a guinea doesn't scratch as enthusiastically or as persistently as a chicken, and is far less likely to dig up garden seedlings, although they are attracted to freshly worked soil and will spend hours digging holes for luxurious dustbaths. Once I acquired a whole flock of guineas simply by arriving on the scene moments after they had devastated a friend's blossoming snap beans.

6/13/2020 8:22:35 PM

mpower, you have to observe the birds during the day. Females have a very distinctive cry when they are laying. (you can find it on YouTube) Note where the cry is coming from and check the area discreetly AFTER the hen has moved on. Once you have found the nest, let the hen(s) continue to lay eggs until she does not return to the coop/roost at the end of the day. Then, go get the hen and return her to the others. Collect all of the eggs and enjoy! Repeat. (Hens will not go back to the same nesting site if they know it has been discovered.)

8/13/2019 11:26:28 PM

How do you control your flock population? If you only want a small flock of guineas, but have the potential for a bunch of keets to hatch...it seems like your population can easily get out of control. Do you ever take eggs out if you find a nest - if you can even find a nest? Seems like that won't work well. Any measures you can take? Also seems like it might not be easy to rehome the babies.

8/7/2019 8:54:28 AM

I have LOVED my 4 guineas since I got them a month ago. Now at 8 weeks, they are irrepressable clowns who hang together in a coop/run and follow their "mom" chicken everywhere she goes. While they are not as fond about getting close to me, they will take food out of my hands if mom starts doing so (but watch out because those little beaks are not the most discerning between snacks and fingers). I am coop training them so I have some prospects of their coming in at night, as we have multiple predators who would love to grab one. While I have met people who can't stand the noise, I found the reports of this to be very exaggerated... I love their little clicks and whistles, which would never bother anyone. Even when they sound their alarm cry, I can be right next to them and still not want to run away- I'm grateful they give us warnings about things we can't even see at first. They don't pay attention to people driving onto the property because they have had no bad experiences with them. Hawks are a whole other story and I am sure they will save many chickens by letting them and their rooster know something is coming in. They are gregarious, they love each other to death, and they are wonderful with the hen who raised them. I see no down side, unless something gets them in the night- you can't help but get attached to these little old "ladies!"



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