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Guinea Fowl; the unexpected boon

Before becoming a farmer, I had only seen a tick once, when I was a kid. It was on my dog. It was gross. Then we moved to beautiful Nova Scotia. And after the initial ticks-on-me-paralysis wore off, and I was able to venture outside, I amassed an arsenal. I tucked my pants into my socks, my shirt into my pants, and used the tallest boots I had. Then I bought white coveralls, since it's easier to see them & harder for them to get in. I bought Off spray that is unsafe for children, but works on ticks. Yikes! I bought what I called "cancer" pants, hoodie, scarf, and shirt that had been treated with Permethrin (again, not safe for kids). I tried so many things. But everytime we came in, we had to get naked & very personal. It was exhausting and ticks are fucking nasty. Milo got Lyme disease the first month after we arrived. It was the best part about winter - no ticks!

Most people who are familiar with Guineas know a few things. They are: guineas are noisy, they travel in groups, they wander to your neighbour's, they're stupid, and they eat ticks. They are a love 'em or hate 'em kind of thing.

I am here to dispell all those rumors. Okay, they travel in groups, wander wherever the fuck they want to (yes, as a group, or in pairs), they eat the hell out of ticks, and they're noisy. I can actually hear one of my females (with the windows closed) right now. They also tell me when someone is on my property (as does the dog). If I'm out in the pasture, and I hear the dog AND the guineas, maybe also the geese, I know someone is in my driveway. But stupid, they are not. Now, when faced with a fence, they often seem to foget they can fly over it, and they pace, frantically, back and forth to try to find a hole. And in those moments, they appear very stupid. They don't seem to always know what to do in a crisis. They are smart enough to know how to avoid aerial predators. They know to roost up high, 20-40 feet up in the trees. But the most interesting of details is learning about their social structure. The society of a Guinea Fowl is a complex one. They pair off, and sometimes appear to partner swap (but usually just for a day or two). They are a flock, and function as a group. Our first flock do not spend their day as a flock. They gather for meals and to roost. They also lay communally. Our second flock functions as a group, but this may change once they sexually mature, which takes a year.

They have distinct personalities and complex relationships. Our first flock was fascinated when they saw the crate with the second flock of juveniles. And once we let them out, they pecked them away. They do not want to share their territory, and the juveniles tend to venture further out. As time passes, they are allowed to venture closer, but with constant challenge. And this works well for us, because we need them to go to the other side of the pond, and get into that pasture. As of last week, I have seen them there.

Our first flock was out in full force this spring for the first time. By the end of June, we stopped seeing ticks. I did find one on Bunny- the bottle calf, the other day. It's as if the ticks sent out a message to one another telling them to keep away. It feels like a miracle. They have given us so much freedom from illness and grossness.

But that's not the best part. The best part is watching 4 of them try to be moms, and discovering that one pair were quite good parents (they also had a nanny). Another female hung around with them, caring for the keets, for several weeks. Now they babies are 2 months old, and dad and the nanny are around a lot of the time. Mama has done an amazing job. She lost 2 out of 20 the first day. Then at 2 weeks, once they were too big to hide under mama at night, she went to roost in the tree. After 2 days, she was down to 8; the 8 that could make it into the tree. And 2 months later, those 8 babes are just the cutest. They still spend 95% of their time right next to mama. Sometimes, they all gather around her and preen her neck. When they were little, some would pile on top of her. The other guineas were shit mamas, but she is good. She heard the keets if they get separated, and always went back for them. She still does now.

I have 11 keets in a brooder that I stole from the other, crappy, Guinea parents. But I will let them all try again next year. And since they are able to replace themselves, this, too is a boon.

I don't want to get into details, but one neighbour finds them delightful and the other calls animal control. We have tried our best to control them, but they are wildlings. Unless you want to confine them, they do whatever the fuck they want. And if you confine them, not only are you giving them a shitty life, they aren't eating ticks and you are paying a lot to feed them. The only reason for that would be because they had commercial value. People don't eat them here, although I hear they are delicious.

Let's take a minute to learn about their amazing eggs. One guinea egg is appoximately 37 grams. To put that into perspective, an average large chicken egg is roughly 57 grams. A chicken egg has 6 grams of protein, but the guniea egg has 15! One tiny, little egg has 15 grams of protein! Amazing! Not only that, they are almost 1:1 yolk:white, which makes one very creamy egg. They are the perfect solf-boiled egg. They make rich baked goods, like duck eggs. Guineas only lay from April to October, and you never hear anything about their eggs. A family struggling to eat could have guinea fowl as a boon to their family. They will feed themselves when allowed to forage. They breed and replace themselves, and their eggs are incredibly nutricious. Too many males? Great! Roast guinea for dinner. (We haven't eaten one yet. I guess I will when I have too many males, but they are pretty hard to count!)

Another fun thing about their eggs: when living an unconfined life, they lay all over the place. It often feels like I am attending an easter egg hunt for toddlers. There's just eggs, on the ground, in the middle of the path, or just randomly in a pasture. But those little easter eggs are the clue. Follow the "oopsies" and you will find the communal nest someone didn't quite get to in time. And in that nest, sometimes we have found over 50 eggs (from only 10-12 females). AMAZING and fun! They keep me on my toes.

It took a year, but they started gathering at dinner time a few months ago. If we take too long to come out for evening chores, they have been known to call at our bedroom window or all come into the barn to see why, exactly, they have not yet been fed. They now come when they are called. They come running from all over, and it's a treat to see. Mama comes running with babies in tow. It's humbling to see something that is so unexpectely wild, become a little tame.

There is one- Pat; he's my favourite. (Only 3 have names.) I have a thing for the handicapable birds. He had an injury to his foot in the winter and he holds it in a fist and hops on one leg. (He can be very quick on that leg.) He is very self-sufficient, and even fought and won a mate for 2 days last month. He talks to me. He will eat from my hand; something the others would never even consider. And through watching him, the others have begun to also talk to me. They ask for treats, and seem to know when I tell them it isn't dinner, and they walk away.

sweet, little Pat

I really could go on for days. I haven't even gotten into how beautiful they are. Some look as if they are wearing heavy clown makeup, some- a lot of eyeshadow & lipsick, and some- au naturale. They vary so much. Their feathers are beautiful. We love them so much. They are so lovely. And I am grateful to them for the freedom from parasites they are giving us all (including picking through pig shit for larvae). Now if only I could get my neighbour on board, understanding they may fertilize his grass, and eat his ticks now and again, but they are helping us be able to get up everyday and build our farm to feed our community. Here's to hoping!

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Montana Pineyro
Montana Pineyro
Oct 12, 2022

Thank you! I hope he does, too. It’s lovely to know people take the time to read my blogs. I should commit to one a month. There is so much happening everyday; I wish I could share it all.


Vera Bala
Vera Bala
Oct 11, 2022

Great read - thank you for sharing! I knew nothing about guineas, amongst other things I have no clue about, maybe your neighbor will read this and will thank you one day for having them at the farm.

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