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    Are Guinea Fowl Right for You?

    Authored by Jodi Helmer

    When it comes to poultry, chickens and ducks get all the attention but guinea fowl deserve some love, too.

    Guinea fowl are among the oldest species of domestic poultry. Native to Africa, the birds are known for their large bodies, short and rounded wings and small heads with bare skin. All three varieties have bare necks; male guineas have larger wattles than female guineas.

    Guinea fowl varieties

    Helmeted guinea fowl

    The most common species of guinea fowl is known for the red or blue skin on their featherless heads. 

    Helmeted guinea fowl come in three colors: pearl, white and lavender. The pearl color, which is made up of dark grey feathers with pearly white spots, is the most common. Lavender guineas have light grey or lavender feathers with white spots; and white guineas, also called African white guineas, have pure white feathers.

    Crested guinea fowl

    This species hails from South Africa and earned its name for the mop-like plumes of black feathers on the tops of their heads. Their plumage is black or dark grey with white spots.

    Vulturine guinea fowl

    A lack of cold tolerance means that it’s rare to see this species of guinea fowl in the United States but the birds, which have helmetless heads and a vulture-like appearance, are common in regions of East Africa.

    Guinea fowl facts

    If you’re considering adding guinea fowl to your homestead, here are three things to consider:

    Guineas are a multi-purpose species:

    Guineas are raised for meat and eggs. Their eggs are smaller and pointier than chicken eggs and have a higher protein content. Most guinea hens will lay more than 100 eggs per year, but they need some help to keep a consistent nesting spot. Instead of removing the eggs daily, leave a handful of eggs in the nest to encourage guinea hens to return to the same spot.

    Guineas are also meat birds; it takes 14 to 16 weeks (about 3 and a half months) for the birds to reach market weight and their meat is leaner and drier than chicken and closer to the flavor of wild game; the meat from a guinea fowl is often compared to pheasant.  

    Guineas are independent:

    Guineas prefer to free range and will happily forage for most of their food. The omnivorous birds eat diets that consist of insects, slugs, worms, caterpillars, grasses and weeds—but the birds might not be content to stay close to home in search of their next meals. In fact, it can be hard to keep free ranging guinea fowl around.

    It’s best to get guinea fowl as babies, called keets, and keep them confined in a coop for several months to increase the odds that the guineas learn where their home is and remain in the area. They are strong fliers and will easily soar over fences, roost in tall trees or perch on rooftops; clipping their wings to keep them from flying off.

    Guineas are great for pest and predator control:

    Thanks to their voracious appetites and cooperative hunting practices, guineas can chase down insects, snakes, mice and even small rats, supplying effective, chemical-free pest control. 

    Guineas also excel at predator patrol. While foraging, the birds will sound the alarm if they spot cats, dogs, foxes and hawks; their high pitched noises are effective for scaring off potential predators. The hens start “talking” around eight weeks of age and make a two syllable sound that sounds like “buckwheat, buckwheat.” 

    On the downside, guineas can create quite a ruckus and the noise could annoy the neighbors.

    Raising guinea fowl

    Guineas and chickens require similar care.

    Although guineas are hardier than chickens, both poultry species require similar care: Keets are raised in brooders with a temperature starting at 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first two weeks and lowered 5 degrees Fahrenheit per week until the birds are fully feathered and ready to go outside. 

    When allowed to free range guinea fowl are excellent foragers that will need limited supplemental nutrition but confined guinea fowl should eat a commercial poultry diet. Do not feed guineas medicated diets because the coccidiostats in the food are toxic to them. Like chickens, guineas should also have access to free choice grit and oyster shells.

    Guineas are flock animals and should be raised in social groups. There is no ideal number of guineas but it is essential to provide them with a flock of feathered friends for adequate socialization and security.

    Keeping guineas might be similar to keeping chickens—and the birds share a pasture, coop and feeders with chickens—but the distinctive-looking birds keep many of their wild instincts, making them independent, hardy additions to your homestead.

    More about game birds