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April 28, 2013 / 74

Herding Guineas

Herding guineas. Bet you’ve never heard of them. Herding guineas are birds that herd. And although I’ve never heard of such, we have four of them.

In most of the books we bought or read about raising guineas before we bought and raised ours, they had elaborate plans for guinea houses and fences and all things that would make a guinea’s life wonderful and keep them home. All those plans and elaborately exactly measured structures looked to me like a lot of work.

Here on The Farm, we have a lot of work to do already, so if we are going to add a new animal, it has to conform to our way of life or it will not last.

In the case of livestock, we agree to feed it, water it, protect it from most predators and sometimes from its own stupidity, and the animal agrees to provide something of value back to the farm that’s providing its living.

All we expected from the guineas when we bought 30 of them was that they grow and eat bugs (hopefully from the garden – but eating ticks from the woods is fine too) in the spring and summer and fall.

We fed them. We watered them. As long as they stayed within a reasonable area of the farm yard, we protected them from predators. Little did we know that one of our dogs was just biding its time to make the reversion from “pet” and guard dog to predator. (It never bothered the chickens, so we didn’t expect trouble.)

We expected to lose a certain percentage to wild predators – like eagles – and we did. (Lost a chicken to an eagle a few weeks ago.)

The dog that caused all the trouble is gone, and after the attack, some of the birds decided that they could do better elsewhere and packed their bags and moved out.

So between predation, some sickness when they first arrived as chicks and such, of the original 30 birds, we now have 4.

As to the proposed special highly engineered, measured, and elaborately and expensively constructed guinea house and pen? Our guineas sleeps wid da chickens!

The two kinds of birds have worked out their own living arrangements. We have a three cell chicken barn, each cell about 10 feet by 12 feet with a good sized roost in each and a ground level hole in the dividing fence so they can circulate, or so we can sort them as required. (One cell is reserved for newly hatched chicks.)

But guineas are not chickens, and chickens are not guineas. So the chickens sleep in one cell, the guineas in another cell (with an occasional single hen in with the guineas who tolerate it.)

The daily routine goes like this… I open the ramp and let them out.  They run around all day eating bugs and some plants. The chickens are banned from garden areas (they scratch up the plants and destroy them) while the guineas are more than welcome as they don’t scratch. The guineas are careful of the plants and eat the bugs (like flea beetles) off of the leaves and stems.

Sometimes the guineas decide to fly up into the huge oak tree just outside their barn. In warm weather they sometimes sleep there.

But every night just before sundown they pay their rent and feed bills and do their duty by providing “something of value.” They herd the chickens into the barn.

It’s really something to see. They remind me of border collies. And they use different strategies. One evening, there were about a half dozen chickens still running around outside. The 4 guineas formed a curved line with the barn at the center of the inside of the arc, and then just started slowly, slowly moving toward the ramp. They were pecking at bugs, and just acting pretty unconcerned and unaware of the chickens, but they were slowly moving in. In the herding business I think they call that “putting pressure on the herd.”

Pretty soon the chickens started to notice the guineas, but the guineas just continued to pressure them. Soon one of the hens decided she wanted to go in. Up the ramp she went. Then another went up the ramp. The guineas were closing in a bit more quickly then and a couple more decided it was time to go in. Finally they all went in and the guineas followed them.

One evening there was a chicken that was waaay on the other side of the barn. After the rest were in the barn, one of the guineas flew up into the tree and started squawking. The other three moved around the barn and spotted the stray, and spread out, letting it “volunteer” to go past them and into the barn, then the lookout in the tree came down and they all went in.

Another evening there was a short-lived rebellion in the chicken ranks. One chicken decided (?) to stay out a bit longer. One of the guineas charged her and started pecking and grabbing the hen’s tail feathers. The chicken squawked and complained, but by turning the hen’s rear, the hen was guided toward the ramp – which as soon as the guinea let go of her, she ran up it and into the barn. Then the guineas calmly went in.

Sometimes when everyone is in, the hens sneak back out and have to be reherded. Last night, I saw something new. Once the guineas got the chickens into the barn, two of them took station inside in front of the ramp door and stood there facing inward like a couple of sentries. Once I closed the ramp, they went on over to their own area.

I’m really glad I didn’t build the guinea coops as suggested. By not being separated, my guineas have turned into herding-birds, and I saved a chunk of money!

But this morning, I saw something new.

Some of the guineas went wild last year, and our girls were left without any boyfriends. An eagle got the last guy.  Like geese, guineas are monogamous. Last fall one of the wild ones came home to show off her 9 chicks to our girls. We tried to catch them so we could protect them, but she avoided the barn. She stayed too long and the local predators got them all in only 3 nights. Then “mom” just hung around with the others for a couple of weeks, sleeping in the barn, eating their chow and I presume gossiping. Then one morning she left and didn’t return.

This morning I saw our herding guineas come out of the barn and take a long curving flight around the grain bin, circled the front yard, and landed at the edge of the woods a tenth of a mile up the road. I hope they come back. They can even bring a boyfriend! Or five! And they could teach the guys to herd chickens. We might need them. (We’re expanding the flock this summer.)

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One Comment

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  1. Liz Bennefeld / May 1 2013 12:49

    Oh, that’s fun! I didn’t know that one could keep guineas as farmyard birds. It is amazing, herding the chickens.

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