We had quite a lot of guinea fowl keets this spring. All of those keets were hatched by chickens. For some reason, whenever a guinea hen was brooding, the hatch failed. All through the season, more chickens kept trying to sit on guinea eggs, but I took them away. We have quite enough hen-hatched guineas by now, thanks girls!
But when a guinea hen started sitting on a clutch of eggs about a month ago, my heart lifted. One more chance for keets naturally hatched by their own mum! I decided to leave her. She was joined by another guinea lady soon, and (sigh) by one of the hens.
The last time something like this happened, it went quite spectacularly wrong. The keets kept dying mysteriously straight after hatching, and the guinea fowl absolutely refused to be moved to a safer place. In the end, the hen (Zita) got all the surviving keets, because she was the only one who accepted being moved to a cage. All the keets that hatched out in the open under the guinea mums, ultimately died. The guineas gave up. Their hatch had failed.
I have a nasty feeling that the peafowl killed the keets as soon as they showed their faces.I have since realised that they are extremely interested in chicks and eggs. A little too interested. I have caught them pecking open eggs and eating them. No doubt they thought the keets were tasty snacks, too.
Anyway. These guinea ladies are sitting in a reasonable place, between the fence and some straw bales. There is a narrow path for them to go in and out, but the peafowl can’t go in there. Still, when the keets started hatching yesterday, I found a few dead ones, some of them still half in the shell. I am saddened and mystified. Why do they die..? Last year, our guinea hen hatched every single one of her eggs perfectly, in the same month, under the same conditions.
Fortunately, not all of them died. This morning, we counted eight keets alive and kicking, including one precious white one. But we were worried. They were too exposed. Would the guinea hens now agree to being moved to a safe cage with their brood..?
The answer was no. With a lot of effort, we managed to close one of the ladies with the keets in a cage, where she screeched and ran up and down. Hoping the others would return to the remaining eggs, we left. But when I returned later, there was chaos. Some of the tiny keets had slipped out through the holes in the fence. The mum still made a racket and paced up and down, ignoring the babies, who were trying desperately to keep up with her. The chicken hen had returned to the eggs, but the other guinea hen just wanted to get to the babies.
Sighing, I gave up and opened the cage door. The guinea was out like a shot, babies tumbling around in her wake, and ran to her girlfriends. And then, this was what happened:
Can’t you just hear the ladies going: “Oooh look at those little cuties!! Their little legs! Their tiny beaks! They’re gorgeous! Just precious!”
They surrounded the keets, chattering tenderly, heads low. All the ladies immediately started pointing out bits of food for the keets, who were quick on the uptake. The guineas seemed to be taking their babysitting task seriously. The males hung around, ferociously chasing off any chickens or ducks that might wander around too close to the family.
The keets ate and drank. From a puddle on the ground. Not from a nice clean feeder and waterer. Then the two mothers took them to rest (finally!) in the original nesting spot, where the chicken was still keeping the eggs warm. When I checked this evening, they were all still there.
I give up. Guineas are not to be messed with. They do what they want to do, not what the humans think they should do. And what they want is to be in that spot, with their family surrounding them. That feel safe that way. Even if we know they would be safer separately in a cage.
There is little information about domestic guinea fowl nesting and raising their own babies. You do hear a lot of complaints about them being bad mothers and crazy birds. I wonder now if maybe we have our expectations wrong? We expect them to behave like chickens. To brood quietly in a suitable nesting box, then to raise the chicks single-handedly, calmly accepting all sorts of human interference.
What if guinea fowl brooding habits are different from those of chickens? They seem to prefer sitting together on a huge collection of eggs than alone on a small clutch. They go mental if they are separated from the others. Last year, our guinea roo never strayed from the side of his brooding mate, and if he did, she called him back with panicky, high-pitched squeeks. When the keets hatched, both parents raised them. They do everything together, so maybe also hatching and raising keets? After all, it takes a village to raise a child. Maybe it takes a flock to raise a keet.