Category Archives: Guineas

Guineas again? Not so much

We’re down to 12 guineas from the original 30.  The last few casualties could have been raccoon or our not-dog Lady.  We don’t know if her owners have been feeding her since she was banished from our yard, and we’ve caught her chasing the guineas before.  We’ve started feeding her again as we don’t have the guts to have a sit down with her owners or the stones to call in some sort of authority.  So maybe as long as she’s fed she won’t be tempted to snack on our exotic fowl.  Or it really was a raccoon.

The good news is these stupid birds have finally taken to roosting in the trees in the fenced pasture, so now they have Scout the Great Pyrenees to protect them from raccoons, and foxes (and fencing to protect them from Lady).  The bad news is that the noise level of these birds is completely out of control.  At dusk, they squawk and shriek their little faces off.  Between the smell of the pigs and the noise of these banshee, our neighbors must hate us.

Unless I don’t find a single tick all summer, we won’t be doing guineas again.


Turns out guineas can’t read

Now that the guineas are free to roam by day, they are getting more adventurous…

They ran everywhere today.  Up the driveway to the front yard.  Around the house to the back entrance and into the pasture.  You’d hear this weird, high-pitched squawk and then see these bald-headed birds dart about the ground in the line and stop in a huddle.  Guineas are so weird.

That being said, I think they actually enjoyed themselves today.

Adventures in Day Ranging

Our goal with all the poultry is to day range, whereby we let the birds do their bird thing, wandering around their section of the property during the safer daylight hours, free to forage for grass, eat grubs and bugs and other assorted natural goodies, poop all over the place and scratch it back into the ground as fertilizer, and generally act like birds instead of zoo captives.

The upsides are a plenty:
1. We think it’s more humane.  The chickens get to act like chickens, pecking and scratching.  The guineas have enough space to really fly around.  The ducks and geese can get their fill of pond-side greenery.

2. The birds get more variety in their diet beyond their grain-based feed, so their eggs are tastier for us (and have that tell-tale dark almost burnt orange yolk).  There’s also supposed to be some science saying that pasture-raised birds lay eggs higher in brain-building omega-3 fatty acids, but I’m too lazy to provide you with a link.

3. All this foraging means the birds eat less feed, which saves us money.  Also on the budget front, their homes don’t get dirty as quickly when they spend their days outside, so we don’t have to clean out their houses as often or pay to replace their hay as often.  Also, pasture-raised birds are said to get sick less often (as they aren’t just pecking around on ground they’ve all been pooping over), so hopefully we won’t lose any birds to disease.

4. My personal favorite, this place just feels more like a farm when there are chickens in the pasture, and ducks and geese wandering the front yard.

There are also downsides, the biggest one being day ranged birds are more vulnerable to predators (hence Scout).  The other biggie we’ve found this past week is that it’s kind of a pain in the ass to round up birds each evening, something that has not been aided by the Fall Back of daylight savings, meaning I don’t get home until past dusk so poor Will is left chasing guineas around their enclosure in the dark.

Here’s how it’s going so far:

Chickens: You guys rock.  Once the frost melts, Will opens up the hoop house and the ladies hop outside and start exploring.  We have a “yard” fenced for them a la electrified poultry netting since they are our most vulnerable birds (still relatively small and not so good in the flying department).  Some of the hens can still fit through the holes of the netting and slip outside into the wide wide world, but so far they keep coming back.  And, as long as Will waits until the sun starts to set before heading back to the hoop house, everyone puts themselves away, hanging out on the roost when the doors get closed for the night.  Easy!

Ducks and Geese: The ducks get locked up in their house at night, which doesn’t have food or water in it, so they are the very first chore every morning.  Once Will opens the doors and refills their water and food, he leaves the gate to their yard open and the geese and ducks eventually end up wandering our front lawn.  The geese look like they are duck shepherds, waddling tall as the quacks scurry about.  Sometimes the ducks and geese will put themselves back in their yard, but often it involves some chasing.  It still beats the days when we’d have to catch the ducks and toss them in their house (they put themselves into their house at night, finally!), but it’s not as easy as the chickens, or when we just kept everyone in the yard.

Guineas: These birds are a whole different ballgame.  As you may recall, we had a jail break when we first moved the guineas to their current enclosure in the lower yard, so we’ve been pretty gun-shy about letting these birds loose.  While flipping through a copy of Gardening with Guineas trying to determine how big a house we need to build them, Will read something about starting to day range your birds around six weeks.  Yeah, ours are eleven weeks old.  Opps.  So the next morning during chores, we head down to their enclosure and leave the door open, waiting for a mass exodus.  Within minutes, all 15 birds are perched on the bottom wooden strip of the doorway, careening their heads around, but not a single one would venture across the threshold.  Not one bird left that first day.

On the second day, the door was again left open, and by around 4 PM all the birds were outside the enclosure.  They explored for about a half hour and were back home.  Sweet!  The third day, not so much.  They left earlier in the morning and spent most of the day outside, popping back in during the late afternoon to snack on some feed.  They again headed outside, and outside they stayed.  At dusk, Will tried to herd them back, but that devolved into a twenty minute chase where the guineas would run along the railroad ties lining their enclosure, only to go wide just as they reached the side with the door, making it completely impossible for Will to chase them anywhere but back around again.  He gave up when all the birds took flight and proceeded to roost on top of their enclosure.  And that’s where they slept, with Will muttering all night something about what do I care if we don’t have any guineas left tomorrow.

Again, are you seeing why most farms don’t raise these birds?

Since that night we’ve had two nights where they made it back inside and one where they again opted for the penthouse.  So yes, day ranging in this case is decidedly more difficult for us.  Of course, the whole reason we have guineas is so they can eat bugs, so they won’t do us much good if we keep them locked up.  Assuming we have any left come spring.

Overall, I’d call day ranging a tentative success.

Without Incident

I feel like it’s bad luck to say anything, but lately the farm has been without incident.  No dead poultry.  No middle of the night husband running downstairs with rifle in hand.  No injured animals.  No drama.

It’s awesome.

I talk a lot about the ducks, because they’re kinda high maintenance.  But the guineas have been surprisingly easy as of late.  They don’t drink  much water, so Will only fills it once a day.  They aren’t too messy, so we haven’t had to change the hay lining their enclosure.  And they put themselves to bed, first roosting on the branches nailed inside their enclosure, then moving into their house when it gets dark.

They are even starting to look like adult guineas… they’re heads are getting ugly!

A rough week

Over the past week 6 ducks were killed and at least 8 guineas.  The ducks appear to have been another dog attack, whereas the guineas we suspect raccoons.

Can I take a moment to complain about chicken wire?  It is entirely useless, but for the sole purpose of keeping chickens in.  Dogs can simply push through it and raccoons, it turns out, can tear it like paper with their nimble little hands.  Oh yeah, and they fit through the hog wire and like to rip the wings off the guineas but not actually eat them.  Nature is cruel.

So now the old chicken coop is reinforced with both hog wire on the outside (for the dogs and fox) and rabbit wire on the inside (for everything smaller).  Plus the rail road ties to keep anything from digging.  And we’ve ordered some crazy solar-powered device that emits a blinking red light to make predators think that there is another predator nearby.

Speaking of crazy, Will has nearly lost it.  At the sound of a quack or a chirp he goes tearing downstairs to patrol the property.  He hasn’t had a full night’s sleep all weekend.  I’m beginning to grow concerned.  I expected farming to be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be so stressful.

The great guinea escape

This morning, we decided to move the ducklings into the duck house and the guineas into the newly predator-proof chicken coop.  With all of our energy spent trying to keep dogs, fox and hawks out, we failed to consider keeping the birds in.  This was our Achilles heal.

Will dug out a foot deep trench and reinforced the entire enclosure with hog wire earlier this week, so we wouldn’t have to worry about how easily the chicken wire of the original structure seems to tear.  Unfortunately, after Will carried down the first half of the birds from the shed, we quickly learned that panicky 3 1/2 week old guineas can push right through old chicken wire and walk through hog wire like it was a doorway.  And so began the scramble.

First, we tried chasing and catching the birds that escaped, but for every one we caught, two more would sneak through another hole.  Then the efforts turned to catching those left in the enclosure and locking them in the actual coop.  The scene was quite ridicules; Will armed with a garden rake hunting through thicket on a mission to find guineas, me half herding guineas and half herding Alston, Alston calling “here peep, here peep.”  In the process, I watched four fly across the creek as I attempted to grab them.  By the end, we managed to get 11 into the coop, and we had no idea how many were on the lam.

Will promptly headed to the local co-op to purchase railroad ties, which he used to line the outside of the coop.  This provides almost a foot tall wall where the chicken wire is most vulnerable.  He then tacked the chicken wire to the railroad ties to be sure there were no guinea-sized gaps.  We spread hay along the inside perimeter to remove any temptation for the birds to poke their heads out of the holes of the chicken wire and inadvertently find a weak spot.

Then it was off to collect the rest of the guineas.  Let me take a moment here and speculate on why guineas are not the new chickens.  These birds are impossible to catch.  First off, they can fly.  Not like a chicken can fly, I mean for real like a sparrow can fly.  Second, they are completely skittish.  You can hold feed in your hand and chickens will saddle up for dinner.  Guineas run and hide, and they are crazy good at it.  Once they find a good hiding spot, these otherwise obnoxiously loud birds don’t make a sound and stay perfectly still… for practically a half hour.

So as I was saying, we go back to catch the rest of the birds in the shed, none of whom are in the bedded area we set up.  Boxes, paint cans and bookshelves were moved, and Will and I were shouting instructions to one another like we’d just come under fire.  After fifteen minutes, we caught 10 more birds, putting us up to 21.  Considering we’d had two fatalities, that meant 7 birds were missing.

We dropped off the second batch and watched again how different guineas are from chickens.  When we moved the chickens to the enclosure, they happily scratched away at their new, larger space.  Instead, the guineas proceeded to run the perimeter and test the fencing the entire way, in search of an escape.  So far they haven’t found any.  We fed and watered them and headed back to the shed to double-check that we hadn’t missed any – turns out there was one more hiding, meaning we have 6 escapees.

I’m hoping that later tonight at least 1 or 2 of them will come out of hiding now that all their siblings are barking up a storm.  Not that we’ll be able to catch them or anything.

Guinea and Duckling Update

Let’s start with the quacklings.  Righty’s leg has completely healed and we’ve taken off his (her?) bandage.  The runt is still very small compared to her siblings, but she is growing (at three weeks she’s as big as the others were at one week).  And the other one is normal and boring, which is probably ideal.

The ducklings are still shacking up with the guinea keats in the shed.

And everyone is getting along quite lovely.

As for the guineas, they are feathering up super fast compared to the chickens and ducks.  We did lose another one, unfortunately.  His (her?) breathing was quite odd, so we brought him inside, away from the others in case he was sick.  He made it through the night, but passed later this afternoon.  I’ve been told by other folks who’ve raised guineas that to only be down 2 so far is a good yield for these fragile birds, which is some consolation I suppose.

Next week, we will probably move the ducklings to the duck house and the keats to the old chicken coop.  Will spent today digging a trench around the enclosure to bury hog wire a foot deep and reinforce the entire exterior.  He then went the extra mile and filled the ditch with broken glass and dirt, to further deter any potential predators.  Shy of a bear, I’m pretty confident the birds will now be safe.