It was a chilly mid-March weekend in Warrenton, VA (just outside of Washington, DC), when guinea fowl owners from all over the United States got together to learn more about their flocks. Homesteader Harvey Ussery and "Chicken Doctor" Peter Brown were the featured speakers.
Harvey Ussery has a definite point of view when it comes to his chickens and guinea fowl: He sees them as useful members of the farm family, not only for eggs and/or meat for the table, but as workers in the farm environment. He has discovered ways of taking advantage of their natural behaviors to serve his purposes, such as tilling, composting, manure management, fertilizing, and insect reduction. At the same time, by employing non-traditional housing, feeding, and ranging practices, he has been able to improve their health and immunity without use of medications.
His overall philosophy is: Animal husbandry is more successful the closer it is to mimicking natural animal behavior. The philosophy is applied to the full extent of the flock, from housing and feeding to hatching and raising keets and chicks.
Harvey's articles appear in Backyard Poultry, Mother Earth News, and other publications. Many of his articles also appear on his very informative website, www.themodernhomestead.us.
Peter Brown, aka "The Chicken Doctor," comes from a different background and with a different point of view. Owner of First State Veterinary Supply, Peter is a poultry scientist who has helped thousands of poultry-keepers with in-person and phone consultations when their birds are having problems. He discussed many of the common ailments seen in the backyard flock and both medical and "alternative" natural-product remedies and preventative measures.
He also brought a fascinating slideshow of embryonic development, which was available for viewing throughout the day. The slideshow will soon be available on DVD. Peter Brown's online store and information about one-on-one consulting is available on his website, www.firststatevetsupply.com.
Armed with almost more good information than we could absorb, the group went out to Harvey's homestead farm on Saturday, braving outdoor temperatures in the 30s, to see his guinea fowl and chickens at work brooding and tilling. Sure enough, there were areas of beautifully tilled soil, with ample organic matter worked in, waiting for spring planting - all the work of the poultry. Harvey said he has long since given away his power tiller and has been letting his flock do the tilling work for him.
His greenhouse is partly dedicated to growing sprouts and shoots so that the birds can enjoy healthy greens during the winter, and underneath the floorboards is an earthworm farm, providing year-round protein (and "clean, healthy" worms) for the poultry.
The annual GFIA Conference is a good opportunity for meeting fellow guinea fowl enthusiasts and making useful contacts. Several conference attendees have been in touch with the conference speakers for help and advice, and several of us have made changes to our housing and feeding, based on information presented.
Conference Attendees Holding "Wobble Head Guineas"
Made by Bill Stevenson
All conference photos courtesy of: