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
The 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
There 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
Guineas 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 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
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 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!
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…