Considerations Before Deciding to Own Guinea Fowl

Guineas are not for everyone, but sometimes they are the perfect addition. What do people need to consider before they decide to own guineas?

by Elizabeth Cleveland

Things to consider before getting guinea fowl:

1. They are just like having any other pet--they need shelter, protection, food and housing. This does cost money and time. Guineas need green foods all year round. Lettuces, collards and spinach can be added to their diets during winter months if you live in an area where nothing green is available. Anyone who believes (and I ran across quite a few people like this myself this year) they can just let them range, roost in trees at night, and do their thing with no intervention, will not have those guineas very long.

2. Though they are not as destructive as chickens, they most definitely DO scratch, which can damage some plants, foliage and surroundings with their dust bathing and appetites. This does need to be mentioned and owners should be prepared. This is not to say that the benefits do not outweigh the negatives, BUT to lead others to believe they are no trouble this way is really deceptive. It helps if you dedicate an area of soft dirt or sand for their dusting; they will be less likely to choose your favorite flowerbed.

3. They do free range at some distance. Fencing without clipping the flight feathers of one wing is not a guarantee they will stay put. Clipping wing feathers increases their chances of losing their lives to a dog or other predator. If living on a road, be prepared to lose some if not many guineas, as they seem to be attracted to the pavement and traffic--showing little fear of cars. Make sure your neighbors know and do not mind you having free-ranging guineas BEFORE you adopt in order to avoid nasty confrontations down the road.

4. Be prepared to search for missing guineas through the laying season. Females may sit on four to forty or more eggs (usually several guinea hens will contribute to the nest, and sometimes more than one guinea hen will brood the eggs). Be prepared, too, for the guinea mom who struts home with babies in tow! They will need a place to stay that will keep them safe from predators and older guineas. In other words, be prepared to build additions or new coops or a separated area within your coop at any given time while keeping guineas!

5. Consider all predators when releasing guineas--especially young ones. It is a FACT that younger guineas will be less experienced and smaller in size when dealing with predators. I have noticed guineas at 1 year of age and more flying more often and looking more often into the skies for predators. This seems more the exception rather than the rule with younger guineas. At the same time, young guineas seem to know to stay under or near ground-cover at first, so be sure there are grasses, shrubbery or trees for them to hide under.

6. Be prepared for the changes in season. If you live in a climate with snow, be prepared to cover over yard areas, as many guineas simply do not like the snow. Or, you can shovel paths or a clearing for the guineas. During very cold weather, they may need a heat source from a light or even a heat lamp when temps drop to 30 or below. They will need fresh water, so a base heater for the waterer might be needed.

7. Know that when you have a predator problem, you will continue to have one until you remove the problem or fortify the house. Understand what predators live in your area and how you might deter their visits. Ensure the guinea home is safe from the start; as once a problem begins, it can get costly both in dollars and lives. And, if this does happen, the quicker solutions are implemented - the sooner one sleeps peacefully at night.

8. Something should also be said about the integration of birds - guineas already living with you with new guineas, chickens living with you and adding guineas, etc. There is always adjustment time and a possible necessity of separate areas. This is something that is rarely spoken of but a real part of owning birds.

9. Establishment of the pecking order in the flock can be harsher than you might think and should also be a consideration in owning guinea fowl. I do not think everyone is properly prepared for the extent of this natural mechanism. I am not sure it would change a person's mind, but I can say for myself, I had NO IDEA it would not necessarily be a peaceful process, was worried so much of the time in the beginning that everyone would be okay. There are times, too, when one male is simply too aggressive and will need to be removed from the flock - perhaps isolated for a week or two (he may lose his dominant place in the pecking order during that time) or even permanently removed for the good of the flock. There are times when one is shunned. This is a very stressful situation too, as the lone guinea will call and call for his flock, but they will harass him and chase him away. For that guinea, make sure he can get into the coop safely at night (either first or last) and give him some hiding places in the coop - a shelf to hide under or a corner protected by an extra piece of wood. It's uncertain why the group will occasionally shun a particular guinea fowl; but perhaps there is a deformity or disease that they are aware of which we can't see, and they are driving him away for the good of the flock.

by Cindy Gibson

As with anything else you do in life, you should figure out what are your goals (why do you want guineas) and then what do you need.

It seems that most people get guineas for bug control or (in some cases) snake control. And a few people get them for nostalgic reasons, because their parents or grandparents had them.

In talking to people in my own rural area, a lot of people assume that what works for chickens is going to work for guineas. A lot of people don't realize that:
- guinea fowl wander farther than chickens do
- they need a larger coop than comparable numbers of chickens - about 3-4 square feet of area per guinea fowl (if they are free-ranging during the day; more if they're to be cooped all the time)
- a light in the building will help a lot with training them to go into the coop at night, as guinea fowl do not like to go into dark buildings; a tap-on closet light will work if there is no electricity in the coop
- guineas need training to go into the coop at night; it's not instinctive for them as it is for chickens
- guineas need food and fresh water every day

So, you need enough acreage, a good-size coop with light (and perhaps a timer), and the time for training and providing care.

In addition, you need to look at the rest of your family for compatibility issues, particularly dogs. Do your dogs show an interest in birds, or in chasing things? If so, they probably will not mix well with guineas. In that case, you'll have to make a choice either to not have guineas, or to keep them separate. Guineas and dogs can be kept separate by keeping either penned, or by alternating the pen-time. In my case, the dogs get some free time in the morning before I let the guineas out, then the dogs stay inside during the day while the guineas free-range, then the dogs get to be outside after the guineas are in their coop for the night.

Also, consider what your likely predator problems are and how to discourage them. Motion-sensitive lights, dogs on patrol, a low electric line around the base of your poultry yard are ways to discourage nighttime predators. The wire on your coop should be galvanized rather than chicken wire (too many predators can tear through chicken wire). To help with daytime predators, a little landscaping should provide enough ground cover for the guineas to get under in case of hawks. Guineas should not be let out of their coops at sunrise, and especially not on foggy/rainy days, as coyotes and other nighttime predators tend to stay out during those transitional hours, especially during times when their food is scarce or when they have babies to feed.