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Guinea Fowl: Everything You Need to Know About These Unique Birds

Guinea Fowl: Everything You Need to Know About These Unique Birds

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Guinea fowl are one of the more unique barnyard birds. You can still find many of their species in the wild, but the primary species of domesticated guinea fowl is the helmeted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris).

Guinea fowl are part of the same scientific family that includes pheasants, turkeys, chickens, and grouse. However, they have many unique characteristics and requirements. One particular aspect you should know about before investing in guinea fowl is their lack of intelligence. It can end up influencing their enclosure and where you keep them.

This article takes a look at the ins and outs of the guinea fowl species. By the end, you will know everything you need to know about the breed, its history, and what they are like to own.

Are Guinea Fowl right for your flock?

  • Guinea fowl are highly effective at reducing pests and are a great addition to organic gardening
  • They are great at spotting predators like hawks, helping to keep the entire flock safe
  • Guinea fowl can be very loud and obnoxious and are not good for small backyards or urban settings
  • They are also known to roam a large area and may visit your neighbors
guinea fowl

Background & History of the Guinea Fowl

There are a total of seven to ten species of guinea fowl. Most of the species originally come from West Africa. These birds are likely the original ancestors of the domestic stock kept on most farms today.

All of the guinea fowl species fall under the classification system in the Numida genus. These original N. meleagris are probably the beginning of our domestic breed, although some scientists say that it was the N. ptiloryncha found farther East than the helmeted guinea fowl. 

Either way, since their original importation as a poultry bird, we have tweaked the domestic variety of guinea fowl to be better on a farm and provide more meat.

You might be wondering how the odd-looking bird from West Africa came to be a common poultry bird around the world?

guinea fowl

The guinea fowl’s history is somewhat difficult to track from the beginning since they have been a delicacy for such a long time. They were well-known to Romans and were often the highlight course of their luxurious feasts. 

The next great movement and integration of the guinea fowl as a game bird came hundreds of years later. There are two common beliefs for how the bird arrived across the ocean. One belief is that the birds came along with the first translocation of slaves across the Atlantic. They thrived in the Jamaican habitat since it was so similar to their own hot and humid climate.

The other idea is that the Spanish brought them over during their conquests in the Americas in the early 1500s.

It was only 150 years ago that settlers first described the birds in the area as wild game birds even though they were hunted in Africa long before then. Since then, they have also become part of farm life across North America and Europe.

The breed has had to adapt to a variety of climatic conditions. Luckily, they are incredibly hardy to both the heat and cold. The only adaptation they haven’t formed is preserving their body heat through their legs like other common poultry birds.

Guinea fowl in snow

Temperament & Behavior

Guinea fowl are not a suggested breed for those that live in suburban or urban areas since they are boisterous birds. These birds are scared by almost anything and will run around trying to escape while simultaneously sounding an alarm. 

Their typical call is harsh, loud, and repetitive. The birds sound the call over almost anything at any time of day. Even if you are willing to host the birds on your farm, any nearby neighbors are not likely to appreciate them.

When the male guinea make their alarm call, it sounds like a “chi-chi-chi” or a “kek-kek-kek.” The guinea hen makes a sound more like “buck-wheat buck-wheat.” They are also quick to defend themselves and their flock. They fly into a flurry flapping their wings, scratching and pecking at the intruder.

Guinea fowl are a highly social breed and do best in a large flock. The flock does not need to be all guinea fowl, they do very well in a mixed flock of backyard chickens or other birds.

While guinea fowl and chickens generally get along, during the breeding season a guinea cock may become more territorial. Guinea fowl and chickens can also cross breed and produce offspring.

guinea fowl

It is also good to note that this breed of bird prefers to roost in trees at night in the wild. On farms, you will often see them perched high in trees or inside of a barn.

Beyond being loud and easily frightened, these birds also lack any measure of intelligence. This dullness often affects their actions and temperaments and means they need a bit more monitoring than chickens or other farm animals. That means making sure that they don’t get stuck in strange places. When this happens, they can panic and end up hurting themselves.

You should also note that you aren’t just getting a “unique-looking” version of a chicken when you adopt a guinea fowl. Guinea fowl have not been domesticated to the exact of a chicken. They may eventually become hand tame, but they will very rarely be as docile as chickens.

It is partially because of their lack of intelligence and partially because of their wild nature that they have unique personalities. They are a never-ending source of entertainment on a homestead.

guinea fowl

Guinea Fowl Breed Specifics & Traits

Guinea fowl are easy birds to identify and have stuck around because of their usefulness on the farm. They are quite hardy, and it is easy to keep them in a wide variety of climatic conditions.

Purposes of the Guinea Fowl

The guinea fowl have three potential purposes on a farm. You might be familiar with the term “dual-purpose” when it comes to chickens and other poultry, but “tri-purpose?” We don’t use the term officially with a guinea fowl, but the idea is there.

The two are similar in the way that a chicken can be useful. They are quite stout birds with plenty of meat. Guinea fowl meat is a dark variety and quite the delicacy in Europe that are often sold in high-end restaurants due to their rich flavor. Interestingly, guinea meat is healthier than chicken with fewer calories and fat.

If you decide to use them for meat production, you should harvest them between 12 and 20 weeks old. The idea is that any guinea fowl over 35 weeks old would be similar to eating leather.

Guinea fowl also lay enough eggs to qualify them as good layers. The hens typically lay around 12 to 30 eggs in each clutch. When they lay eggs in a nest, it is called a “clutch” of eggs since they don’t lay daily throughout the year as chickens do. The average clutch tends to be around 15 eggs, and guinea hens won’t start to get broody unless there are close to 30 eggs in a nest and only during certain times of the year. 

guinea fowl

Hens usually begin laying in the spring and will continue for several months, stopping as the weather begins to cool.

Guinea fowl eggs are slightly smaller than a chicken’s egg. They range from light brown to dark with speckles and a pointy tip. When you break them open, you will find they have a very thick shell as well. The eggs are edible and taste very much the same as chicken eggs.

Guineas are not as compliant as chickens in that they rarely lay their eggs in a coop. You should expect to add a new hobby to your list when you start raising guinea fowl: tracking down their nests.

Finally, the third use guineas have on the farm is to serve as the watchdog. One of the primary, and perhaps only, benefits of them being so loud and flighty is that they are often the first to spot predators. They will immediately sound the alarm, whether it is a stranger walking around or a raccoon in the trash.

Even though guineas don’t have an overwhelming amount of intelligence, they are very aware of their surroundings. Since they can recognize people and vehicles, they will only sound the alarm when a stranger approaches or an odd-looking tumbleweed drifts past.

Many homesteaders keep a couple of guinea fowl in with their chickens. They are much better than roosters at spotting predators, especially hawks. Their alertness helps to keep the entire flock safe.

One great benefit to guinea fowl is their effective organic pest control. Guineas can almost wipe out populations of insects like ticks, grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders, and scorpions. They even eat snakes and garden slugs! Luckily, they do all of this without scratching at the ground or pecking at plants like chickens will do.

Overall, guinea fowl have quite a few benefits and purposes that benefit the systems in place on your homestead. What’s more, they are also low maintenance compared to many other similar species.

guinea fowl feathers

Size and Appearance of the Guinea Fowl Varieties

The guinea’s appearance varies based on the species. Some of the wild varieties like the vulturine guinea fowl are very colorful and bright. However, the birds that we typically keep in domesticated captivity today do not range much in their appearance.

Domestic guinea fowl typically have gray feathers with tiny white spots that cover their whole body. There are many color varieties, including purple, yellow, white, and blue, although the grey pearl guinea is the most common. Funnily enough, they also have beautiful long eyelashes. Jealous yet?

It is not easy to distinguish the sex of a guinea fowl based on their appearance alone since they look practically the same. Typical males have larger waddles than the female guinea and sometimes a more prominent horn. Otherwise, to tell the difference, you will need to sex them.

Unfortunately, when it comes to sexing guinea fowl, you will likely have to wait. When they become adults, the males and females have different calls. Even still, adult guinea fowl can be hard to tell apart. Keets and immature birds can’t be sexed any other way than a blood test.

There are also two relatively common hybrids of a guinea fowl. Breeders can cross them with either a chicken or a peafowl. If breeders cross them with a chicken, they are called a “guinea-hen.” When breeders cross them with a peafowl, they are called a “pea-guinea.”

guinea fowl

Hardiness and Health

Even though they come from hot and humid climates in Africa, Jamaica, and the West Indies, guinea fowl are amazingly cold hardy. They can survive in temperatures below freezing but will sleep inside when it begins to snow. Rain tends not to bother them, so they will continue to sleep in trees during inclement weather.

Even though they might spend most of their time outside, they do need constant access to their coop as well as clean water. Giving them these things will cut down on disease dramatically.

When temperatures begin to dip below freezing at night, especially if it is snowing, it is best to herd your guineas into a chicken coop to keep them warm. Their bodies are well-insulated, but they lose a lot of heat through their legs.

Guinea fowl are the most vulnerable when they are first born, similar to many animals. A baby guinea is called a keet (just as a baby chicken is called a chick). Otherwise, guinea fowl are more tolerant to diseases typical in other kinds of poultry. Keep an eye out for:

  • Respiratory diseases like coryza
  • Bacterial diseases such as salmonellosis
  • Coccidiosis protozoa
  • Parasites

You can easily avoid most of these common illnesses by giving the flock plenty of space and feeding them healthy, fresh water. Poor hygiene is the primary causal factor in these diseases, so proper care is the best way to equip them against sickness.

guinea fowl keets

Eggs and Guinea Keets

Guinea eggs are about 25% smaller than a chicken egg. Guinea hens lay them in clutches, or large groups all at once, hiding their nest in large patches of grass to “protect” them from predators and the farmer. Since they rarely nest in the coop, you will notice the moms disappear, only to reappear later with a bunch of babies.

Guinea fowl keets are incredibly sensitive to dampness and will die if left wet for too long. Protect the young guinea fowl by keeping them in a brooder box for the first six weeks of their life. Once they are fully feathered, you can begin to move them out and transition them into the main flock.

guinea fowl eggs and feathers

Where to Buy Guineas

You can typically buy guinea fowl from your local feed store. Most places have keets in and guinea varieties each spring to early summer as the guinea hens begin to lay their eggs. The other option is to purchase them from an online hatchery. The closer to you, the less likely you will suffer any deaths in the purchase order, so search for hatcheries in your general region.

Keets typically cost between $3 to $6 each if you get small orders of them at once. It also depends on what colors you want since the standard colors will often be cheaper. Sometimes ordering them in bulk will decrease your overall price per keet.

We highly recommend Cackle Hatchery. They have a great selection of guinea fowl in a wide variety of colors.

guinea fowl

Summary

Owning guinea fowl is quite a commitment since they are not as amenable and quiet as many of the docile chicken breeds we have today. Instead, be prepared to have to work hard to train them to listen so you can herd them, especially since they fly better than chickens.

As long as you don’t have neighbors that will mind, these noisy birds produce plenty of meat and eggs to make them worth your while. While they might not be suitable for an urban backyard flock or for certain owners, they can be an incredible asset on a homestead, large scale agriculture, or in the cannabis industry.

FAQ

What is a guinea fowl good for?

One of their primary uses is effective organic pest control. Guineas can almost wipe out populations of insects like ticks, grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders, and scorpions. They even eat snakes and garden slugs!

Can guinea fowl live with chickens?

Guinea fowl are a highly social breed and do best in a large flock. The flock does not need to be all guinea fowl, they do very well in a mixed flock of backyard chickens or other birds.
While guinea fowl and chickens generally get along, during the breeding season a guinea cock may become more territorial. Guinea fowl and chickens can also cross breed and produce offspring.

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