by Cindy Gibson
It is important to train your guineas, from an early age, to be herded and to go into the coop every night. Going into the coop is important for their protection: Guineas are just not equipped to be able to defend themselves against the kinds of nighttime predators that they will encounter in most parts of the world. Training your guineas to be herded will make your cooping easier; in addition, you'll be better able to get them in if you need to; for example, in case of a weather emergency. I've twice had to herd mine in, in the middle of the afternoon, because of oncoming very severe storms. I've herded them in from over ¼ mile away.
Some people train their guineas to return home by only letting them out of the coop a few at a time, which may work, but isn't really teaching them anything. Your guineas already know they want to stay close to their flock. What you want your guineas to learn is that at a certain time of day, or when you say so, it's time to go back to the coop.
The best way I've found to do that is to let them all out, but for just a little while the first day or two (maybe an hour). Let your guineas out in the late afternoon. Then, after they've been out awhile, use herding sticks (two long sticks that make it look like your arms are really long) and walk slowly behind your guineas, gently moving them to the coop. Any kind of long pole or stick works for herding. I use 6' bamboo plant-stakes found in the garden department of home improvement stores. At first, the keets are going to not respond to the herding sticks and you may have to actually push the keets with the sticks to keep them moving. After just a couple of days, though, they respond to the presence of the sticks. Guineas and other ground-grazing birds have a built-in instinct to respond to "pressure" from the rear. This instinct ensures that, as they're grazing, the birds at the back of the flock will get some food. Otherwise, those at the front would linger until all the food was gone, and those at the back wouldn't get much. This same process is at work in flocks of geese and other birds.
Repeat this process, extending the amount of time outside, until your guineas are out the whole day.
If possible, start by having their free-range time in the afternoon so your guineas start to associate lowering light levels with going back into the coop.
Before long, your guineas will be returning to the coop on their own. There will probably be some slip-ups, however. They may range out and be away from home when it starts getting dark. Their instinct may be to hunker down under a shrub or in some tall grass. This may happen a time or two, so be ready with your herding sticks to go guide them home. When my guineas are first learning this process, I try to find where they are an hour or more before sunset, just in case they don't get back on their own.
Also, when they're teenagers, your guineas may go through a rebellion period, just as all teenagers seem to. They will decide that the roof is far more fun than the coop. This will be the time you'll need to really reinforce the training, and be ready with herding sticks and even a ladder to make sure that all go in at night. If you let your guineas get away with staying out at this point, before long, part or all of your flock will be roosting outside at night.
The benefit to this program is that, if you should be unable to make it home before dark, you'll likely find all or nearly all your flock has put themselves up for the night, and all you'll have to do is close up the doors. Those who haven't gone inside are sitting nearby and can be herded in with herding sticks and a flashlight to help them see where they're going. Guineas can't see well at all at night.
Other factors that will help you in training your flock to go into the coop:
It's helpful for you to have a light (on a timer) inside a coop, which turns on an hour before sunset. Guineas hate going into a dark building. Their instinct tells them to go toward light, and it's more light at the top of a tree or rooftop than on the ground, so they'll fly up to roost. A light inside the coop will help tremendously. A red light, instead of a white one, will help settle them (red light doesn't interfere with melatonin production, which is the sleep-hormone). If you don't have electricity in your coop, or can't run an extension cord, get one of those battery-powered tap-on closet lights and turn it on before sunset. There may be some solar lights that would work, too, but I haven't researched whether they would come on in time.
Also, make your coop as easy to access as possible. Have more than one door, if you can. Have your doors at ground level, or make sure your ramp is big and easy for them. Having a small or high door or a skinny ramp just makes it harder to go inside, which makes it harder to train your guineas and gives them more opportunities to "miss" going in the door. Avoid high doors, as you want your guineas calm at herding time. If they need to fly to get in, they may just as well fly to trees or rooftops as to the coop entrance. Herding should be a slow, calm process.
Speaking of coop doors, it helps if you have more than one door, or if your door is very large. In every guinea flock, there will be one or two self-appointed door-bullies. They think their job is to stand inside the door and harass every guinea coming in. The birds lower in the pecking order, or the less self-confident birds, will soon become reluctant to go in at night and may start roosting outside in preference to going through the abuse. It is harder for the door bullies to "guard" the door if it's a big door, or if there is more than one door.
It is a good idea to put out treats in the coop area, when you first let them out in the morning and in the late afternoon. This gives the guineas something to look forward to and pleasant associations with the coop yard. In fact, putting treats out randomly throughout the day will keep your guineas coming home to check for goodies. It also makes you the "Food Goddess" (or "Food God"). It's always a good thing to have your flock respond positively to your presence.
I start this gradual-release training when my keets are 4-5 weeks old, but I live in an area with long stretches of warm, dry weather, almost no daytime predators, lots of ground cover - and I'm fortunate enough to work at home, so I can keep an eye on things. You may want to wait until your keets are closer to 6-8 weeks old. I recommend against keeping them cooped up for 10 or 12 weeks or longer, just because guineas are very athletic birds and they need exercise. Also, I find training youngsters much easier than training older birds. Keets are less likely to run or fly from you at the first herding try than older guineas are.
Good luck with training your flock. Go to our Message Board if you experience problems not mentioned here, or if you have more questions.