It was my ‘first sight love’ of Guinea fowl, at a friend’s house. Once seen, never forgotten -they look peculiar. With their unique personalities and skill set , they make excellent pets. Guinea fowl are relatively easy to keep, provided you have plenty of space. Although guineas are typically quiet, they can be very noisy if disturbed. The birds sound an alarm whenever anything unusual occurs around.
Sometimes called “pet speckled hens” or “original fowl”, they are chicken-like African birds ; and bear some resemblance to the American turkey as well . Ground-nesting birds of this family resemble partridges also , but with featherless heads. It has a horny growth on the head, white-spotted feathers, and fleshy cheek wattles (loose folds of skin). The wings are short and rounded, and the tail is likewise short. Guinea fowl may be trained to go into a coop (instead of roosting in trees) when very young .
And all that aroused my curiosity to learn more about the bird:
- Helmeted guinea fowl are the most commonly domesticated. Although the history of their domestication is unknown, there is evidence that domestic guinea fowl were present in Greece by the 5th century BC.
- Feathers from the pearl variety are often used for ornamental purposes.
- Keeping guinea fowl is also an effective means of pest control. Guinea fowl is one pet that can help guard your garden efficiently. Guinea fowl have been known to scare off rodents, cats, and ferrets. The head and neck area of guinea fowl is bare skin, which helps them regulate their body temperature. Guineas are vigorous, hardy, and largely disease-free birds. The birds are equipped with strong claws and scratch in loose soil for food much like domestic chickens, although they seldom uproot growing plants in so doing.
- Except for twice-daily feedings, Guineafowl are remarkably care-free. Their diet consists of a variety of animal and plant food; seeds, fruits, greens, snails, spiders, worms and insects, frogs, lizards, small snakes, and small mammals. They are independent birds, self-sufficient. They are hardy and low maintenance and are adept at foraging for their own food.
Guinea fowl are useful and exotic pets. My passion for pets and an urge to domesticate birds prompted me to persuade my elder brother, Sat Parkash, in J&K Revenue Service , to get me a pair of ‘RamChakores’ (in local parlance) ; who procured the duo from the Kathua area. In India, Pearl guinea fowl are most common among village stocks and usually referred as the ‘local’ breed.
- Like with any new animal, it is important to prepare the housing before arrival. I took to studying the needs and habits of Guineas:-
- Though Guinea fowl are often left to fend for themselves, it is wiser to provide a shelter to protect them from high winds, rain, cold, sun, and predators. The shelter can be a purpose-built facility specifically for guineas.
- They seem to retain some of their wild behavior, Guinea fowl are remarkably care-free ; and do not have specific housing requirements. They are pretty tough birds and do not require a heated coop.
- The floor of the pen should be covered with an absorbent bedding material such as wood shavings or chopped hay or straw. If the litter is kept dry, it can stay in place for several months. Guineas prefer to roost, so it is important to provide perches. Insulation tends to keep moisture in more than it keeps cold out, and allowing moisture to accumulate in the pen can lead to respiratory problems among birds.
- Guineas can survive longer without food than they can without water. Even ice cold water actually helps to maintain the body temperature in our guinea fowl during winter.
- Yes, they do fly and will often fly up into trees or rooftops to roost. You can clip their wings (I never did), and this will restrict their flying. But it’s important to train them from young to think of the coop as home.
- Guineas are unable to see in the dark. Guinea fowl have been reported to have lived to be 17 years or older, but unfortunately, more lose their lives to predators than to old age. Guineas can survive longer without food than they can without water. Even ice cold water actually helps to maintain the body temperature in guinea fowl during winter.
- Unlike chickens (which generally do best with one rooster for a flock of hens, guinea fowl do well with one cock for each hen.
- Keeping unfrozen water and feed available round the clock are important factors to keeping the birds healthy and safe while confined.
- Guineas are also very good runners and prefer to move on foot, including when escaping from predators.
- Just to provide enough space for the expected guest birds; & with their comfort level in view, I crafted a coop; with a suitable bedding.
- Guinea fowl, however, are not great mothers. During the laying season, it is common for an adult guinea hen—to produce an egg a day; and should be collected daily, if you can find their eggs. The hens have a habit of hiding their nests, until large numbers of eggs have accumulated.
- We were taken by surprise when, one fine morning, our gardener came across lot many eggs scattered around in the bushes and tiny hideouts in the campus; I still remember, 40 to count. Their eggs are small, dark and extremely thick-shelled.
- There were many suggestions to hatch the eggs under a broody chicken. Taking to the hatching of the eggs, courtesy ‘Saini Poultry Farm Matour’ in vicinity, was a coincidence; virtually with no outcome.
- Sexing the birds is not as simple as telling a rooster from a hen chicken, the two sexes are mostly identical in appearance; though each sex has a different call which can be used to differentiate between female and male.
- Each evening, we used to shut the coop after their last feeding ; letting them loose In the mornings.
- They would raise an alert when we had visitors as quickly as any watchdog.
- Guinea fowl play a pivotal role in the control of ticks, flies, locusts, scorpions and other invertebrates. My dogs remained free of ticks, even from ears and feet. I hardly saw the little pests around. Guineas kill and eat mice and small rats.
- In 1987, on my promotion as Superintendent Engineer, I shifted from Dharamshala to Dalhousie, stock lock and barrel. All our pets; including pigeons , tortoise &the fish, angora rabbits ,lovebirds and the dogs formed a part of the fleet. I was apprehensive about my guinea fowls:
- That they get confused by the snow, having learned that the sky is bright and the ground is dark.
- We cannot assume the birds can eat snow in place of drinking water. It takes a lot of snow eating to be equivalent to drinking water.
- That there were owls in the region and could get Guineas that were roosting in trees.
- If you live in an area where winter temperatures drop below freezing, guinea fowl can get frostbite and lose toes, or worse.
Fortunately, the birds survived the harsh winter .
With increasing changes in natural landscapes and habitat conversion due to the diminishing areas they use for roosting and nesting ; many forest dependent bird species appear more vulnerable to extinction.
Guinea Fowl is protected under Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the WBCA (Wild Bird Conservation Act).