Got Bugs & Obnoxious Pests? Need a good watchdog? Get Guineas!
Jeannette S. Ferguson
Helmeted Guinea Fowl are now known as THE poultry of choice for protecting your family, friends, livestock and pets from ticks and Lyme Disease. (Wilson Bulletin 104:342-345). Farmers and market gardeners alike are keeping guinea fowl as an organic way to control pests, to help rid their gardens and property from grasshoppers, Japanese beetles, insects, weed seeds and other obnoxious bugs without the use of toxic chemicals.
Guinea fowl are still also known as being "the farmer's watchdog". Whenever something strange or different is in the area, the guineas will let everyone know by alerting them with a very loud alarm call. Other animals/livestock on the farm will learn about this warning call that will often protect them from attacks by predators or poachers.
Guinea eggs can be used on the breakfast table or in recipes and are very tasty! But considering that most people can sell their hatching eggs for anywhere from $1 each up to $24 a dozen, most think twice before making a guinea egg omelet. As for their meat, guineas are served in specialty restaurants and rank high on the menu, right up there with pheasant and game birds (although they are classified as poultry).
Guinea fowl are very entertaining birds. It is very relaxing to sit back on a lawn chair and watch them as they walk about on range, pecking at a bug or insect with every step they take. They will range in groups, but usually within eyesight of each other. Often times you will witness the pecking order or the mating game, the leader will dart at another, or a male will chase another - looking very much like the road-runner cartoons, one chasing the other at top speed around the barn or house with only their legs seeming to move. Fun scenes will make for good memories and stories to share, such as watching guineas follow the path of a riding mower as it stirs up tasty moths and bugs, or watching the guineas as they "chew out" a stray cat or set off their alarm at an overhead hot-air balloon, or even giving you the dickens for wearing a new coat or hat - just remember never to go near them with an umbrella!
As with keeping most animals, there are a few disadvantages in guinea keeping, too. The call of the guinea can be annoying to some people. During that first year of life, when virtually everything they see out on range is new to them, they will call out to let you know something is wrong! This may be the first time they see a predator, the family pet, an unfamiliar face/person, or a leaf falling from a tree! Yes, all of these things are new to a young guinea at first. But relax, after the first year of life, as the guineas mature and become more familiar with their surroundings and caretakers, they will quiet down. There may even be times when you do NOT hear them, you will get concerned and go out looking for them! To keep a quieter flock, do not raise keets every year, but only when you want to increase the size of your flock. If you want a quieter adult flock, keep guinea cocks and no hens. Although the guinea hen is as loud as the guinea cock, the guinea cock "sings" only when there is need to sound off his alarm. The guinea hen will sometimes chatter for no apparent reason.
Although guineas do not dig/scratch like chickens do for food and worms, etc, they will find a bald spot on the lawn and make pits for dust bathing. Providing a special "playground" for them to frequent for snacks, water and bathing while on range will help to combat that problem. Raising a few extra tomato plants to make up for any the guineas might taste while on range is a good idea. The positive aspects of having guinea fowl in the garden far outweighs any negative ones.
As more and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of keeping guinea fowl and learning how to keep them at home, keeping and raising guineas for both pest control and profit is becoming more and more popular. The key words here are "learning how to keep them at home", especially when they are being raised as an organic means of pest control. Our ancestors biggest complaint was that they could not keep their guineas at home. They would release their guineas to free-range by day, only to have them fly away, get taken from their nests by predators, or become a midnight snack for an owl, raccoon or other predator while they roosted in trees at night. The book, "Gardening with Guineas: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Guinea Fowl on a Small Scale" tells how to avoid these problems. This book outlines the steps necessary to train your flock to roost inside a dry, draft-free, predator-proof henhouse by night.
During a recent trip to Africa to see the guinea fowl on range in their homeland, it was amazing to see them just about everywhere. They were not only seen on a safari along with giraffe, zebra, lions, rhinos and more, but were seen in housing areas, on a golf course, in the botanical gardens, and in the inner cities - running about just as robins and other common birds do here in the USA. They could be seen along the roadside, cars would slow down or stop to let them cross. Guineas are a common part of the sounds of Africa and it is both natural and wonderful to hear them. I heard no complaints from any of the locals.
But here in the USA, as with any breed of animal, some people like them, others do not. Keeping in mind that guinea on range should not have clipped wings so that they can get up to a tree or housetop to get away from predators when on free-range, they can also fly over any fence and may very well wander onto a neighboring property. If you have close neighbors, it would be a good idea to discuss your intentions and the benefits of having guinea fowl around with them prior to getting eggs to hatch or keets to raise. If someone in your family complains about the "singing of the guinea", you might want to purchase a pair of earplugs or two. It is far better to have guineas around and not hear them than to not have them around at all. "The world would be a very silent place, if no bird sang except those that sang best".