On guineas

Ick, another bad picture.

Robin wanted to learn more about our guineas. I have been thinking I should do a complete post about them, so here it goes.

We decided to get guineas because we lost two hens to a hawk last year. What’s the connection? Well, guineas are the Chicken Littles of the farmyard. Anything that flies, drives, or walks by that’s out of the ordinary, they start howling. We decided on guineas over a rooster, who’d also watch out for hawks, but…well, I didn’t want to risk the idea of getting a “bad” rooster who’d attack our kid. (I also wasn’t too hep on having pecked sex-enslaved hens or being awakened by a 2:00 a.m. crowing.)

The guineas, of which there are four (three hens and a cock) are virtually indistinguishable in looks, activity and any other way from each other. They subscribe to a severe case of Group Think so if one of them is doing something, the other three will soon be doing the same. As a farm animal, they haven’t been domesticated for long. This near-wildness appealed to me if I had to continue to pen in our birds: I really like seeing the chickens walking around the farm, in pursuit of their chicken-y desires; I figured if the chickens needed to be penned, the guineas, who can fly, would still be free-ranging. Well, let’s just say that near-wildness is an acquired taste.

So, the initial reason that we got them remains. They are excellent watchdogs. They immediately notify the other birds, and the surrounding township, if anything is amiss. On Monday, for example, they were making quite a din and I thought: geez, it’s kind of late, aren’t those birds in bed yet? And I look out at the side yard and they are yelling at THREE DEER, one with a huge rack on his head. They actually chased the deer, too, once one of them turned and started to run.

Other than that, they lay their eggs in the bushes, what few eggs there are, so…if you expect to get eggs out of these creatures, you really have to work for it. They can sleep in trees, and expect to have a very high perch in the coop. They completely imprinted on the one chicken that looks like them: Letha, the Barred Rock. Anywhere their Mama goes, they go…otherwise, they’ll follow Maggie, the Black Australorps or Pauline, the white Leghorn. (Interestingly, they never follow any of the other birds, who’re all red or brown: they definitely segregate themselves with the monochrome range of the feather spectrum.) I think it was a good idea to get them and put them with the young chicks we had, as they picked up some but certainly not all of those good chicken traits, like, She is not the enemy; She is the bearer of all good treats. The guineas were the ugliest birds imaginable until they got all their feathers. Now, at least, they are mature: their heads are the only things odd-looking about them.

And from a very young age, they developed the ability to count. If one of them is not with them, they start hollering, trying to find him/her. It’s an interesting but annoying talent.

My friend Tim said he ate them a lot when he lived in Italy. He said his Italian friends told him they had them to eat small blood-sucking bugs, of which he never had the English translation. (Ticks. They love ticks.) Supposedly, their meat is great roasted. I guess I will never know. We will keep them for the rest of their happy dopey lives, I think, but…they are just so incredibly loud that I doubt Tom would ever go for getting more of them.

Would I ever get guineas instead of chickens? Not in a million years. Chickens are friendly, egg-laying, happy souls. Guineas have an amazing persecution complex, one that will probably be worn down by another 10,000 of domestication. Don’t get them if you have neighbors, period, unless your neighbors have them or their near cousins, peafowl.

5 responses to “On guineas

  1. I enjoyed reading about your guineas. A friend of mine had some for quite a few years. Something, they think coyotes, got them one winter. They are fun to watch as they busy about. Plus I think their feathers are beautiful. I have used some for decoration on various projects.

    Lisa at Greenbow

  2. Robin (Bumblebee)

    Oh El, I am so glad you wrote this. I recall fondly some guinea hens from a job at a humane society about a hundred years ago. What you describe meshes with my memories.

    So chickens and guinea hens at the same time, huh? Well, I should probably not plan to do much else in the spring but watch birds.

    I hope you write more bird tales!

    –Robin (Bumblebee)

  3. Aw…
    Ignorant, but… aww.

  4. What a great post. I love guineas and currently have about forty free ranging my farm. I only have one that looks like yours and she is called Diana. I love the way guinea fowl hang about in a group. Mine have layed loads of eggs this year but as you say you have to work to find them. Mine like to lay their eggs in the biggest patch of nettles!!!
    Sara from farmingfriends

  5. Lisa, yes, indeed, their feathers are quite pretty. I can see quite a few projects to be made with them.

    I actually think the birds are endearing, Robin, but I felt they needed a full vetting before someone goes out there and gets a bunch. They are loud and proud, especially if things aren’t going their way. But I will say that the guineas hatch out later (they’re tiny and don’t have much fuzz) than baby chicks. Baby guineas are called keets, incidentally. They’re absolutely scared to death when they’re little (and only marginally improve with age). Chicks, not so much; I had my first batch out and pecking (and rolling in) the dirt when they were barely 4 weeks old, and yes, they are a scream to sit and watch.

    MT: Thanks! And look: a new word for you: keets.

    Sara: Wow, forty of the buggers. Now that’s some spread you must have, and some patient neighbors! And I would love to name our guineas but dang I can’t tell them apart, so they’re collectively “the loud ones.”

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