Guinea Hen: All You Need To Know (Complete Care Guide)

Guinea hen’s popularity seems to be on the rise.

These peculiar looking birds are quite the talk of the town wherever they are seen. They are a strange looking bird to be sure, once seen, never forgotten.

They are dramatically different to chickens in personality and habits, however if the owner is prepared they can make a wonderful bird.

They are not for everyone, but if you think you might be interested keep reading to learn their history, how to care for them, egg laying ability, expected temperament and much more!

History of the Guinea Fowl

Wild Guinea FowlThe Guinea fowl belong to the Numida family – they are related to pheasants, turkeys and other game fowl.

There is some evidence to suggest that Guinea fowl were known as far back as ancient Greece around the 5th century BC. The Romans brought them back from their African campaigns and tried to domesticate them. They were semi-successful in this venture, raising them on farms.

Romans were able to raise them but never really tame them.

The home of the Guinea fowl is Africa where they run wild in large flocks. Some were taken to Jamaica about 200 years ago, during the slave trading era and they became part of the landscape. To this day you can find Guineas running wild in Jamaica!

Guineas were first introduced to Europe back in the 1400s and made their way to America with the early settlers and slaver ships.

Appearance of Guinea Hens

Guinea FowlThere are several different types of guinea fowl but the most often seen and ‘domesticated’ is the helmeted guinea fowl.

The types are:

  • White breasted – mainly found in West Africa. Due to habitat loss it is considered a vulnerable bird according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
  • Black – confined to central Africa.
  • Vulturine – largest of the Guineas. Has a very striking appearance, can become quite tame. Needs large groups to thrive.
  • Helmeted – most common ‘domesticated’ type. Has a central knob on the skull leading to the ‘helmet’ appearance.
  • Plumed – little is known of this bird which is found mainly in central Africa.
  • Crested – the most aggressive type; may chase people including their owners. Has a ‘curly mop’ on the head.

Guinea fowl come in a variety of colors including: pearl, white, royal purple, coral blue, buff, chocolate and bronze to name a few. However, not all of these colors are recognized in the official standards.

In the US only the helmeted Guinea fowl is recognized. The colors of the bird that are recognized are: lavender, pearl and white.

Australian standard allows lavender, pearl, white, cinnamon and pied coloration.

The Guinea is about the size of a large chicken and when fully grown will weigh around 4lb. Head and neck area is bare skin, which helps to regulate temperature. The coloration of the skin is a combination of blue, red and black hues, giving it a somewhat clownish appearance.

With short, rounded wings and a short tail, it looks oval shaped.

Their beak is short but curved and very stout. The wattles on the male are larger than the female, although some do not have wattles. These birds do not reach sexual maturity until their second year making it very difficult to sex these birds.

Each gender has a different vocalization so this can help differentiate the two. The female will call what sounds like ‘buck-wheat, buck-wheat, buck-wheat’, the males will only emit a ‘chi, chi, chi’ sound.

Temperament and Disposition

Two Guinea FowlGuineas are highly social with their own kind; where one goes, they all go. If one gets lost it will call out until the flock comes to find it.

They can co-exist with other species such as chickens, but care must be taken with male Guinea fowl. They can become very territorial and will run off any roosters in your flock. They can be bullies to smaller birds and the pecking order can become very brutal, but if you raise them with chicks this is usually less of a problem.

Since they are semi-domesticated at best, it is not unusual to find them roosting in trees, or other high places come dusk.

Many folks entice them into the coop each evening with fresh water and a feed/cracked grain mix. They apparently dislike entering a dark place, so a low output light bulb should be kept on until they are all settled in.

If you do decide to keep your guineas in confinement, they need 2-3 square foot space per bird. Any less and they are likely to become stressed.

Remember, these are semi-wild fowl and do not generally thrive in confinement.

These birds are monogamous and mate for life in the wild. Occasionally there will be a philanderer, but it is the exception not the norm. In a small farming situation the ratio of male to female is often 1:5 and this seems to work well.

Eggs Laying and Mothering Ability

Guinea Hen All KeetsGuinea fowl are seasonal layers. They will lay daily between March/April to September/October depending on your location; on average a hen will lay around 100 eggs per season.

Their eggs are smaller than chicken eggs and are very hard shelled. The eggs are light brown and speckled and are also very rich eating.

Guineas aren’t fussy about where they lay an egg, anywhere they happen to be will do. However, when they decide to make a nest you will be hard pressed to find it! They prefer woods, long grass – anything that will hide them from predators. The male will stand guard for the hen and watch for danger during the daylight hours.

Often Guineas are ‘communal’ layers; all laying in one nest until there are sufficient eggs, 50 is not unheard of! The hens can be communal brooders too, taking turns in nest sitting.

If you want to collect the eggs for hatching or eating, it is best to keep them penned until around noon time – they should have laid by this time making it much easier for you to collect them.

The eggs will be brooded for 26-28 days until the keets hatch. They must then follow their mother back to the flock.

Many do not make the journey, they are very susceptible to cold and wet before 4 weeks of age so they may die from hypothermia and predation on the long march.

Those that do make it through the first 4 weeks stand a good chance of becoming adults and becoming one of the hardiest birds around.

Diet, Health Issues and Special Care

Chicken Vs Guinea Hen Egg Size. Guinea Hen Eggs (Top Right)

Guinea fowl have resisted man’s attempts to domesticate and ‘improve’ the species very well. Because of this, Guineas have almost no health issues to speak of.

This is an extremely hardy bird in most climates but does not like the snow, wet or cold. They come from Africa originally so climate problems are to be anticipated. Being endemic to Africa, they prefer warm climates. If you keep them dry and draft free they will do just fine in their housing.

A word of caution for catching them: never, ever catch them by the legs. They can turn around so quickly that they may break or dislocate a leg.

If you are a beekeeper, you will need to protect your hives against the Guineas otherwise they will just sit outside the hives and snap up bees as they emerge.

Keets’ Diet

Keets need a very high protein feed, 24-28% until they are 5 weeks old. At 5 weeks the protein can be reduced to 18-20% until week 8. At week 8 they can be reduced to 16% feed.

The feed should be mash or crumbles, pelleted feed is not recommended. Also, medicated feed is highly toxic to Guinea fowl – needless to say, do not allow them to eat it.

Is the Guinea Hen Right for You?

They have been raised in captivity for thousands of years, but have never truly become ‘domesticated’. The Helmeted variety that is commonly kept is far tamer than its relatives, but even so it is not a cuddly bird.

They dislike being picked up and held and are likely to scream ‘murder’ if you do so – definitely not a lap bird.

Guineas are great entertainment to watch as they patrol your yard chattering away all the time. They are great at ridding your yard of ticks, insects, small snakes and rodents; outstanding pest patrol. In fact, just the call alone of the Guinea fowl deters rodents from the area.

They also make great alarm callers – anything that is new or out of place will elicit the alarm; which can be annoying or reassuring depending on the outlook!

If you live in an urban setting or have close neighbors, check the local zoning laws. Guineas are known to be loud, so there may be a ban on keeping them. As an example, our neighbor used to keep them, he lives ¼ mile away, and if anything happened in the yard we knew about it!

Summary

The Guinea Fowl is definitely an acquired taste, they are not for everyone. They are quite long lived for a bird that isn’t terribly smart; 10-15 years is the average life span.

The benefits they offer are: pest and rodent control, decreased need for pesticide use, guard bird, low maintenance, cheap to feed, and entertainment.

The negatives: noise makers, can be bullies, rotten mothers, not blessed with intelligence and taking free ranging to a new dimension.

Many folks love their Guineas unreservedly and wouldn’t be without them, others wish that they had never even heard of them!

In researching this piece, it seems that those who were well aware of the ‘Guinea life-style’ were better equipped to deal with all the quirks of this bird. In other words, don’t buy them just because they look pretty – do your homework first. They can be a challenge if you are unprepared for them!

Let us know your opinion about Guinea fowl in the comments section below…

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Comments

  1. Frank Swain says

    We had several birds for a couple of years and loved having them around the property. However our neighbors did not. The birds would roam and quite often would be on their roof at 5 or 6 in the morning and raising heck. They got along well with our chickens but would not tolerate the roosters when they were fighting. The Guinea hens would break up a fight very quickly, they ruled the roost.

  2. Austin M. Mgabhi says

    Thank you for the information about these so lovely birds Guinea Fowls.This highly appreciated.
    Could you also kindly make available such information on other birds species such as turkeys, ostriches and others.

    Kind regards

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Austin,

      If this is something other people would be interested in, we can certainly do this yes.

      Claire

  3. Clydene Blocker says

    We have two guinea fowl, male and female. I wouldn’t be without them. They are excellent guards and have accepted the chickens as their fate in life. They do well together. But you are right. Anything new and unusual in the yard is cause for alarm. Even a fabric santa tied to a tree at Christmas can cause the guineas to scream in alarm. Funny, though. Very entertaining creatures. Still have not been able to understand their fascination with their own image in a mirror or window. They seem to love their image. Why? I do not know. If I looked like that, a mirror would be the last place I would want to stand in front of.

  4. Charlene Hewitt says

    I have 11 chickens, ones a rooster, also 2 guinea hens, with them. All summer last year they would Roost outside, when winter was approaching, i let my chickens out to roam, the ,guinea started hanging with the chickens and now they Mingle and Roost with the chickens every night so far so good thank you

  5. Mary says

    When our chickens were around 6 months old we acquired 6 Guinea hens. We had no idea which were male or female. They are definitely entertaining, especially when they run backwards. We kept the Guineas in a separate screened area for 6 weeks, next to the chicken run so that they could get to know each other. Once they were free to be together they became one happy family. The Guinea hens will not go into the coop at night, even when it’s snowing or raining, and roost on the top of the fence surrounding the coop. So far they have survived the winter snow and horrendous rain storms. We’re looking forward to our first hatching of keets. So far, lots of eggs, but no keets.

  6. Annabel Baker says

    We are new to raising both chickens and guineas. Can someone please provide insight into how far they can be expected to wander once we let them begin free-ranging?

  7. Shameka Antu says

    Thanks for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research about this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I’m very glad to see such excellent info being shared freely out there.

  8. Susan says

    I’ve had guineas for years and love them. I was even able to tame a blue guinea once. They keep down ticks and mosquitoes as well as alert my free ranging chickens to predators. Unfortunately, I’ve lost a few to hawks but my biggest problem has been them wandering across the road and getting hit by cars. Any recommendations on dealing with this other than confinement? I’ve got 5 acres of land but they like to wander.

  9. Julie C. says

    We bought fifteen day old chicks (all hens) and 10 keets a week later back in March of this year. We kept them next to each other but in separate enclosures until they were about 4 and 5 weeks old. We then put them together for 2 weeks before releasing them into a coop with a nice size run. We had no problems with them getting along. A couple of the hens were a bit bossy until the Guineas were as big or bigger than them. After about a month, we slowly started releasing 2-4 birds at a time for about 45 min. to an hour and then ushered them back into the coop. We now let all of the birds out every morning and put them back in the coop every evening around 7:00 p.m. All we have to do is call to the Guineas and they come waddling together as one big group and enter the coop. The chickens, who we thought would be easier to work with, take much longer to gather up and we always have 2-3 stragglers even though we put a special treat in the coop every evening to entice them but we eventually get everyone in the coop. Guineas are not for everyone but as long as you don’t mind their “chatter” and have patience, you will probably grow to love them as much as we do. I will admit that we have a driveway that is over 550 feet long, our house is surrounded by trees on three sides, and no visible neighbors so we haven’t had any problems with them disturbing anyone else.

  10. Karin says

    Omg. I love my guineas. I got four meets in March. I spent hours reading about how to raise them. They are coop trained which is neat. They have free roam of our fenced in back yard. When I let the chickens out the guineas do their single file March into the chicken yard to inspect. All the birds take dirt baths together. One hen has chosen to roost with the guineas. They guineas are so entertaining. I have been finding guinea eggs around the yard. Isn’t it an odd time of the year for them to be laying? Thanks for your very informative site. Karin

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