I love my guinea fowl!! They have turned out to be the defining feature of my pet zoo. They are such personable, colourful and entertaining creatures! I used to think guinea fowl were just polka-dotted chickens. Boy was I wrong! There is nothing remotely chicken-like about the guinea fowl. They are independent, enterprising, cheeky and incredibly LOUD. I live in fear that the people living closest to the pet zoo will start complaining en masse about the noise and I will have to get rid of them. For a start, I wouldn’t even know how to catch them.
The guinea fowl are they only animals that are ‘allowed’ out of the fenced enclosure. Actually, there isn’t much I can do about it. They are excellent flyers and as soon as they are big enough, they are on top of the fence and out into the wide world! They are very good at noticing and escaping from predators and I very rarely lose one. When a predator approaches, they immediately fly up and back over the fence, raising high alarm. They never stray far and always come back. They do not sleep inside but feel safer in trees or on top of the fence. Sometimes it seems as if they never sleep, I hear them calling at all times of day and night.
So what’s a guinea fowl, really? Guinea fowl originate in Africa and have been domesticated there before they were introduced to other parts of the world. There are several species, but the type most often kept is the helmeted (pearl grey) guinea fowl. The domestic helmeted guinea fowl looks a little different from the original wild helmeted guinea fowl; the face is white rather than bright blue and there are different colour varieties.
Guinea fowl have lots of good qualities. They are pretty, interesting and fun to watch. They are also famous for gobbling up huge amounts of pesky pests, most notably ticks, while leaving most of the vegetation alone. They eat pretty much every creepy crawly they can find. I have also seen them catch mice and small snakes, which brings me to the next advantage: the watchdog function! They raise a deafening alarm at anything threatening or out of the ordinary, such as snakes, dogs, predators, intruders and anything else they find suspicious. Often, one of them will sit in a tree on the lookout while the rest forages. When they see something new, they will approach it cautiously and surround it, a very entertaining sight:
And yes, I have to admit that many people will see this as a major disadvantage to guinea fowl – the incessant screeching..! They are always making noise. There is the alarm screech, the lookout shout, the contact call, the general chatter… I thought roosters crowing would be a problem, but they have nothing on the guinea fowl. Also – to the chickens, they are mean bastards. They chase them and pull out tail feathers. I’m sure the chickens wouldn’t mind if the guinea fowl all got run over by a car. Oh, and they teach my new peafowl bad habits: the peas have started flying over the fence and sleeping in trees…
Although I haven’t tried it, apparently guinea fowl are very edible and taste like a cross between chicken and pheasant. The eggs are also edible, but they have a very hard shell and are hard to crack. I also haven’t tried to eat the eggs, because I wanted to hatch them! The female obliged, she settled down on 15 eggs and hatched an equal amount of chicks (keets) after 28 days. The male was always standing watch over the female sitting on the nest. After the keets hatched, the male and female raised them together, always staying close to each other. They were a real family unit. Even now the keets are all grown up, they are always together and the big male still retains the role of protector, chasing away any chickens or cats that come too close to his brood.
Lastly, a bit of myth-busting: I have often heard guinea fowl described as stupid birds, often falling prey to predators, and bad mothers, not brooding or leaving the nest before all their keets have hatched. I have found this to be not true at all! On the contrary, they are very clever, watchful and form tight family bonds. Male and female guineas mate for life and watch out for each other. If this bond is broken and the male is separated from the female when she is brooding, I can imagine her panicking and leaving her nest. They love their freedom and when they are caged, they are often stressed and don’t behave naturally. I prefer to run the risk of occasionally losing one to a predator than to lock them up and make them all unhappy. My dream is to breed lots and lots of guinea fowl and have a humungous flock that roams all over the kibbutz, functioning like a natural bug- and weed-eating machine, so eventually pesticides and weedkillers will not be necessary anymore! Shhh, don’t tell the gardeners! 🙂