We started keeping guinea hens about three years ago because we live in the woods, and I wanted something to eat the ticks. Guineas eat more ticks than any other bird, including chickens—probably because they come from Africa, where there are tons of ticks. (We have a few friends from Africa who always threaten to cook and eat the guineas when they visit us!)
They are goofy birds and often shockingly loud—especially when you are trying to take a nap during a Sunday afternoon and there happens to be a hawk circling above. We didn’t intend to eat them, or eat their eggs (although my daughter ate one once and said it tasted just like a chicken egg). We just wanted to have them around to eat ticks.
Our first year, we had the ugliest, most horrible pen built for them. They survived (even though it was in the wettest spot of our yard). The second year I had a “chicken tractor” built, which was a little too big for us to move around (though that’s the point of a chicken tractor; it’s a movable coop). We let the birds out during the day, and they’d go into the coop at night, happy to have a roost to sleep in (which is basically a stick that’s high off the ground, ideally covered by a roof so they can sleep without worrying about being eaten by a fox; yes, we have one of those, too). Finally, I had my dream coop built, which is both a work shed and a double coop with fenced-in areas (and it has a green roof, too!).
Maybe that’s what finally quieted them down? See, over the years they would lay eggs all over the place and then run screeching for safety in the middle of the night when something would go after them. We thought they were just being maternal since we thought we had only girl guineas. It is famously hard to tell the males from the females. The traditional way is by their “call” but honestly, when they are all chattering and hollering together, it’s almost impossible to distinguish any sound.
For the first few months, we kept the birds mostly confined in their new luxury coop because, frankly, they were destroying the vegetable garden. They would follow me down the pea aisle and eat my peas as I planted them and, even worse, scrape out the inside of all my just-ripe tomatoes. So into the coop they went.
And a funny thing happened…first, they got real quiet. No more naps interrupted (not that I have time for naps anymore). Then, just this past week, after a weekend away, we came home to a shocking surprise. I would count them if they would hold still long enough, but it looks like about 18 baby guineas! (Otherwise known as “keets.”) They are adorable! I am thrilled. They are nice and safe in their snug coop even though we have a nesting hawk family in our yard, too.
My husband goes to a local Mennonite farm to buy organic “19% starter mix” for poultry, so that’s what augments their free-range diet. (They also adore millet, which you can get at any bird-feed store).
In the fall, after the tomatoes are picked and sauced, we will let them out during the day. I’m sure they won’t all survive—over the years, we’ve lost a few from our original group. But they will eat ticks, entertain us, and in general keep us company.