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Guinea Fail

 
Mike Arr
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Location: Southeast PA, zone 6b
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Hi all – I acquired four adult guinea hens on 3/6 and since the fourth one died on this week on 4/12, it has become clear to me that I am doing something wrong. I have my theories, but I wanted to post here to share my experience and see if there are any suggestions that will help me do a better job the next time around.

This is my first post – I first found permies.com a few years ago and have been spending more time here as I try to think about what to do with my 5.5 mountain acres in southeast PA, purchased last fall. My property is mostly sloped deciduous woods, with a half-acre clearing up top for the house and yard. We’re adjacent to some public land - where no hunting is allowed – so there are many deer and many ticks and to combat that I talked my wife into getting guinea hens. Gardening with Guineas was kind of helpful, but watching the evolution of this permies thread was extremely helpful and convinced me to get them: http://www.permies.com/t/12290/guineafowl/critters/Guinea-fowl-noise-crisis

My original plan was chickens – and we may do that eventually – but paddock shift described in Paul’s chicken article won’t work for our limited yard space and aesthetic desires so we intend to free range. We chose guineas because I suspected that they wouldn’t scratch up the yard and the fact that they are half wild means they generally shy away from us and not poop up our recreational spaces too much. I was pleased to find that this generally is the case.

Prior to their arrival, I built the 8’x8’x’6' pen below.


It’s enclosed with chicken wire on the top and all sides and attached to my shed which blocks the north/west winds. I didn’t know if they would use it but I thought I needed a safe spot for them to get used to the property for a couple of weeks - before allowing them to free range – so they didn’t just fly off on me. I would feed them scratch feed while they were in the pen, and they could eat bugs when they were outside. They were penned for less than a week. One guinea snuck past me on day 2, another on day 4, and I let the rest out on day 5 (they are most annoying when they can’t see each other).



Everything was going great. I figured out I had 2 male and 2 female. They were staying on the property, sleeping on top of the pen and not touching the scratch feed, so I assumed they were doing OK. A couple of weeks in, 4 went down to the road, and then after making a racket all day down by the neighbors, only 3 came back. I realized that the scratch feed was gone. There was no snow on the ground but we had a cold snap so I figure they couldn’t find enough bugs and went wandering for more, resulting in an unlucky adventure.

Question 1 – am I right about that – does anyone on permies find that their free range birds can’t find enough food when it’s below freezing, and do you supplement it (always or only) at that time?

With one female gone, I notice the males fighting a bit more, and the 3 were definitely louder than the 4. I have no interest in telling them where to be, except shooing them off the deck once or twice a day so they don’t poop it up. I left the 2’x6’ pen door open so the guineas can come and go. In advance of a sleety night, I threw a sheet of plywood on top so there was a section where they could be out of the weather. I noticed that they started using it more. Then one morning, I was down to 2.

Dead guinea #2 was the other female. No sign of feathers or a fight. Maybe she laid eggs in the woods and was snatched while sitting on them. I read about that online. On the bright side, they were significantly less annoying. Females are definitely the noisemakers of the bunch.

This lasted for a couple more weeks – me and the two guinea bros. It was fun watching them chase turkeys off the property.


Then one morning, only the guy with the white belly was left. Again, no feathers, no sign of a fight. Two days later – white belly’s gone too – but this time with a pile of feathers in the pen. I guess it was a fox or something getting to them. I suspect that when he took one down, the other birds made such a racket that he took off to finish his meal in peace. That was no longer an issue with white belly.

I know that prior to my acquisition, these guineas lived free range for two years in an environment very similar to mine, full of hawks, foxes and other predators. They roosted on a swing set in the open, and only went into the owner’s chicken coop during snow and sleet.

So here is my theory – I think I doomed the guineas by building a structure. The could go in, but when a predator joined them, they couldn’t figure how to get out of it quick enough to save themselves.

Question 2 – does that sound reasonable? Anything I might be missing?

So my plan is as follows – I am going to get guineas again. I am going to add a roof and reinforce the pen with welded wire. I won’t tell the guineas where to be, but there is a new rule. Door closes at night and opens at dawn. If you’re in, you’re in. If you’re out, you’re out.

Question 3 – will this help keep my guineas alive?

Thanks! All comments will be considered.
 
Judith Browning
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We trained ours to come in at night and we locked them in every evening and still we lost them one by one (actually three in one day that we think daytime coyotes must have gotten). The last ones (we think) were just picked off easily by roaming dogs. For some reason they had no instincts to run or fly up in a tree to escape. There was one evening that we couldn't get them in because they were disoriented by the snow on the ground...that night a fox (we found the tracks) got one.
They were doing their job for the few months we had them. We loved watching them and their voices didn't bother us (they had forty acres to roam).
Here's our story http://www.permies.com/t/26828/chickens/critters/Guinea-Fowl-Ticks-Honey-Bees might be something that helps there.

We have friends who have guineas and they survive well in the woods, hatch out new broods and I think, still must have some survival instincts. Ours were bought from someone who raised a lot of poultry and several generations of hatched, penned up birds who maybe have lost some of their survival skills, I don't really know.
 
Alder Burns
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I've tried guineas several times in several settings, and known others who have had them too. Two hints.....it's hard to get them to come back into a shelter at night....if you can succeed at this that's half the battle. For some reason they like to roost up on top of stuff, usually right under the exposed sky, and in that situation owls will snatch them one after another till they're gone. If they would just roost lower in a tree or among branches or something, that would help, but they really like the ridge of a building or a fence or something like that.
The other thing is, as one friend in Georgia told me once, "it takes about 20 of them to make up one brain!". In other words I think there is a kind of critical mass, and a larger group means more eyes in all directions, more noise and clamor if something attacks or bothers them (meaning that a predator is more likely to be intimidated or confused), and more tolerance of some losses assuming that some successful nesting is happening. But I can't imagine the noise that twenty guineas would make!
 
Su Ba
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When I lived in NJ I had guinea hens. My initial attempts at having them consisted of flock numbers under 6. Over the course of a year, all the birds disappeared, sometimes leaving telltale feathers behind, sometimes not. I tried for two years in a row then gave up for awhile. I know that one of the birds was hit by a car, another taken by a large hawk. But other than these two, I never knew what got the others.

After a few years I tried again when a person gave me about 30 adult birds. Instant flock! I kept them in a coop/pen arrangement for a couple of weeks before accidentally releasing them. I had intended them to be free, but they managed freedom before I was ready for it. The flock did fine. The slept in a large tree every night. They foraged for themselves (they ranged over many, many acres) but I did throw about handfuls of grain near their sleeping tree every evening. I had those birds for about 8 years and lost one now and again, about 3 or 4 a year. But the fledged babies kept the flock size up. When I moved, the house buyer wanted the birds. Perfect arrangement.

I'm guessing that there is a critical size that the flock needs to be in areas with predators. I had hawks, owls, coyotes, bobcats, and loose dogs occasionally.

Yes, they're noisy. But I loved them anyway. Luckily my neighbors liked having them run the neighborhood too. I was often asked to bring the flock to a neighbors property for bug clean up, but these birds had a mind of their own. I was never good at herding them anywhere. Several of the neighbors started enticing them with food, so eventually the flock had a regular path that they followed while doing rounds through the neighborhood. They foraged for free handouts. It was not uncommon to see the flock a half mile away. But they always returned to their sleeping tree each night.

Where I live now, they wouldn't be appreciated by most of the neighbors. So alas, I don't have any. But I really enjoyed the time I spent watching my flock. Good memories.
 
Mike Arr
Posts: 7
Location: Southeast PA, zone 6b
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Judith Browning wrote:
We have friends who have guineas and they survive well in the woods, hatch out new broods and I think, still must have some survival instincts. Ours were bought from someone who raised a lot of poultry and several generations of hatched, penned up birds who maybe have lost some of their survival skills, I don't really know.


Thank you Judith. That's what bums me out about losing my four... they had proven their ability to survive free range for a couple of years at their prior location, so they were probably about as smart as guineas get... but unfortunately, the environment at my place must have put them at a disadvantage. I see adult guineas come up for sale every couple of weeks on craigslist. They usually sell fast. As with the first batch, I am going to try to buy them locally as adults (versus keets online) if I can find some that have already survived a similar environment - hopefully that, along with some other changes, will improve survival.

Alder Burns wrote:
For some reason they like to roost up on top of stuff, usually right under the exposed sky, and in that situation owls will snatch them one after another till they're gone. If they would just roost lower in a tree or among branches or something, that would help, but they really like the ridge of a building or a fence or something like that.


Thank you Alder. I was thinking about building a roost on top of a 12' 4x4 pole back in the woods behind the shed to put them out of reach of the 4 legged predators, but that wouldn't help against owls. At their prior location they would roost on top of the kids' swingset and were OK - but they had 8 birds so maybe the higher numbers helped. I think we could handle the noise of 6, maybe 8, but 20... that's not going to work. We're probably settling for the best tick eating chickens we can find at that point.

Su Ba wrote: They foraged for free handouts. It was not uncommon to see the flock a half mile away. But they always returned to their sleeping tree each night.


Wow, that's cool. That's really my dream scenario. If I could only pull it off with 6-8 birds versus 20 that would be perfect. I was also throwing some feed around their pen and it seem to help them go to the same spot every night. My next round of efforts will be to increase the chances that they survive the nights. Thanks for sharing!
 
John Polk
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I kept them in a coop/pen arrangement for a couple of weeks before accidentally releasing them.

I think that keeping them locked up for several weeks (4-8?) is critical.
Until it gets impressed into their brains where 'home' is, they seem to wander around in a state of "I'm lost".

 
Mike Arr
Posts: 7
Location: Southeast PA, zone 6b
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Take 2: On Friday I acquired 7 new one-year old guineas - six pearls and a lavender. I haven't figured out the male female ratio yet. They all seem to be doing fine and the flock is dropping a couple of eggs per day.

Unlike the first batch of 4, which lived/slept entirely free range, these 7 dutifully went into the barn every night. The former owners decided to sell them out of courtesy for their neighbors. The guineas were spending too much time on the neighbor's window sills admiring their reflections.

I hate the thought of confining them to the pen for 3-4 more weeks. It's 8x8' so there is plenty of room for the seven of them, but the yard is full of bugs and all they get is feed. I raked a pile of dry leaves into the pen and it must have been full of bugs because the guineas were delighted to peck through them. I also threw in some vegetable scraps last night which they mostly finished by morning. Any idea as to what else I can feed them to keep them healthy and happy as they settle in for the next few weeks?

 
Bryant RedHawk
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In our research on Guinea Hens we have found some tried and true details;

Guinea hens are slow to imprint new surroundings, if you don't keep them indoors for a minimum of six weeks, do not expect them to always come home at night, they won't.

Just like chickens a come home dinner treat will help entice them (meal worms work great) to settle into a daily routine, but this is going to take at least 6 weeks of daily re-enforcement.

If you buy keets, the same time period is required, for training/ imprinting and you don't let keets out until they are fully feathered out.

Chicken wire, in my experience is only good for keeping rabbits out of your pen, every predator can simply rip it to shreds. The best thing I've found for coop wire is 1/2" hardware cloth (wire mesh) this is stout enough that a coon or fox can't grab it and rip it open.
You also need this wire to go either down in the ground a foot or leave enough at ground level to spread away from the actual pen around 18 inches, this discourages digging under to get at the birds.

By the way, chickens when raised with guineas will help the guineas learn where home is, both will need to be started around the same time.
Roos will follow the guineas when they go foraging and guineas will travel up to a half mile from "home" during a foraging trip/
 
Mike Arr
Posts: 7
Location: Southeast PA, zone 6b
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Thank you Bryant.

I originally enclosed the entire structure with chicken wire because I thought it would only be a temporary quarters for the first batch while they acclimated to the property. Now that it is becoming permanent, I reinforced the pen with a layer of 2" welded wire all the way around, so every side now has 2 layers of chicken wire under one layer of welded wire, screwed tight to the boards. I also added a sturdy door and a corrugated polycarbonate roof. I still have one point of weakness, one side of the pen does not have 18" of wire at ground level - thanks for the reminder - I'll fix that today and then hopefully the structure will stand up to predators.

One interesting thing I did with the first batch was to set up a cheap, solar powered flood light that charged during the day and lit up the pen entrance (and waterer/feeder) in early evening. Along with evening feeding, this seemed to encourage them to go into the pen at night. That configuration isn't working anymore since there is a roof, but I am trying to accomplish the same thing with a solar powered flagpole light.

They have now been in the pen 7 full days, eating mostly unappetizing Purina protein mush, scratch feed and a vegetable scraps. I feel bad - it's been gray and raining for a couple of days and that is expected to continue for several more days. It has to be stressing them out. They didn't drop any eggs yesterday. I'm very tempted to let them out. I'll get them some meal worms as Bryant suggests.
 
Carl Nutter
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Location: Sherwood, United States
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Mike Arr wrote:Thank you Bryant.

I originally enclosed the entire structure with chicken wire because I thought it would only be a temporary quarters for the first batch while they acclimated to the property. Now that it is becoming permanent, I reinforced the pen with a layer of 2" welded wire all the way around, so every side now has 2 layers of chicken wire under one layer of welded wire, screwed tight to the boards. I also added a sturdy door and a corrugated polycarbonate roof. I still have one point of weakness, one side of the pen does not have 18" of wire at ground level - thanks for the reminder - I'll fix that today and then hopefully the structure will stand up to predators.

One interesting thing I did with the first batch was to set up a cheap, solar powered flood light that charged during the day and lit up the pen entrance (and waterer/feeder) in early evening. Along with evening feeding, this seemed to encourage them to go into the pen at night. That configuration isn't working anymore since there is a roof, but I am trying to accomplish the same thing with a solar powered flagpole light.

They have now been in the pen 7 full days, eating mostly unappetizing Purina protein mush, scratch feed and a vegetable scraps. I feel bad - it's been gray and raining for a couple of days and that is expected to continue for several more days. It has to be stressing them out. They didn't drop any eggs yesterday. I'm very tempted to let them out. I'll get them some meal worms as Bryant suggests.



Mike,
Great discussion on ticks and Guineas. I was wondering if Bantam chickens would be better for getting rid of ticks? They are small and they do a lot of scratching. Has anyone had any experience with ticks and Bantam chickens? They would not require as much care as a Guinea.
Quails are natural tick repellent birds. But, there are just not many left in the wild any more!
 
Mike Arr
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Location: Southeast PA, zone 6b
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Carl - sorry I don't have any experience to respond meaningfully, but I do appreciate your suggestion of quail. I remember seeing them in the PA woods in 20 years ago, and I know there are a lot of conservation efforts to bring them back to the northeast - I also see them for sale on craigslist quite a bit, but don't know if they would behave the same ways as wild quail... I plan to look into this some more. My criteria are: 1. tick eating; 2. free ranging; 3. minimal scratching; and am open to anything that fits that description.

Here's an update on my Guinea adventures:

5/22/16 - Acquired 7 new guineas - caged them up as noted above

Days 1-5 - batch laying 2 eggs per day, guineas eating scratch feed, purina protein mush and vegetable scraps - no bugs - several days of rain and temperature swings, guineas starting to look miserable

Days 6-7 - no eggs, still miserable

Day 8 - 4/30 - finally a sunny day, I let all 7 guineas out, they almost immediately made a lemming-like run down our 300 yard driveway to play on the road - I am worried about them getting run over and that they are not familiar enough with the property to find their way back so I spend all day trying to round them up to no avail, giving up after many hours when I see one killed by a neighbor's dog and the other six fly up into the trees - in the afternoon 6 come back, but go walking past the property in the other direction - I can't catch the damn things - I hear them squawking in the woods all day, finally roosting on an abandoned structure on the neighbor's land at sunset - I think they look vulnerable, try to encourage them to come back up the hill to my property - they take off in the opposite direction - i'm pretty angry, depressed and sure I doomed this batch as well... good luck guineas

Day 9 - 5/1 - no sign of guineas in the morning - leave for the day - we return at 3pm and 4 guineas are back in front of their pen - I approach the pen, 3 go inside and 1 runs out - I shut the door, notice we have one egg in the pen

Day 10 - 5/2 - one guinea survives the night on the swing set - 3 remain inside - second egg collected - I figure out that I have 3 cocks and a hen

Day 11 - 5/3 - I let another guinea out - third egg collected - towards the end of the night they both go back into the pen - buy a small incubator on the internet

Day 12 - 5/4 - I let 2 male guineas back out, keeping a male and female inside - what's interesting is that they go no further than 5 yards from the pen - they seem to want to stay close to the female and tend to fight over her - this of course doesn't help me out much as I need them to do laps around the property eating ticks - my first batch were doing that by Day 3 - these guys either stay very close to the coop or go running off the property to their demise - they both go back inside at the end of the night - fourth egg collected

Day 13 - 5/5 - another miserable grey cold rainy day - wondering if the guineas are getting stressed - let two males out, they stay close to the pen but return in the evening - incubator arrives along with the 5th egg, and all 5 go into the incubator

Day 14 - 5/6 - same routine - but no egg today - more stress due to unseasonable weather?

Day 15 - 5/7 - decide the female needs to get outside - I let her and another male out the door while keeping 2 males inside - here's where I notice something different - the pair go much further from the pen - they actually cover about 50% of my desired tick clean up area - the 2 penned males are very unhappy about it - I build a nesting box - at the end of the day they go back into the pen - no egg

Day 16 - 5/8 - 2 males out, male/female in - they don't go further than 5 yards from the pen - one refuses to go inside and sleeps on top of the pen but survives - i get an egg - not in the nesting box

Day 17 - 5/9 - 2 males out, male/female in - they don't go further than 5 yards from the pen - both go back into the pen at night - i get an egg - not in the nesting box

Day 18 - 5/10 - let all 4 guineas out at 2pm - as on Day 8, they make a lemming-like b-line down toward the road - I'm not chasing them this time - in about an hour they come back and spend a lot of time toward the edges of the property - not in the yard where I want them, but at least they are not in a danger zone - they choose to come back into the pen at 5pm so I take advantage of that and close the door

Day 19 - 5/11 - I try to let the female out but get 2 males instead - she's burring her eggs in a clutch in the corner of the pen - i will stop trying to convince her to lay in the nesting box - later that night we are giving our kids baths and my wife finds a tick crawling on our 5 month old (thankfully not biting, just crawling) - we really need to get these guineas patrolling the area - my wife thought 7 was too many, and then 4 was too many, but now she is more open to more

Day 20 - 5/12 - I try to let the female out but get 2 males instead - they go back in when i come home from work - no idea if she laid an egg but the female seems to be managing and rotating the eggs in her clutch - we candled the guinea eggs tonight and they all seem to be developing; I have never incubated before, but internet wisdom tells me that they take 28 days and I need to get them into the hatcher at 23 days to be safe so that is my plan. Maybe the female will hatch some on her own as well.

So that's where we are - I am going to make a real effort to get the female out more often so they patrol a larger area. The map below shows my situation - I'm trying to get them to patrol the green area - when I let out the males they only cover the blue area - when I let out one female and a male thy cover the pink area - and when I let all four of them out they go everywhere except the green area and die.



I have no illusions that I have any idea what I am doing so am happy to consider any advice given... thanks!

(edited to fix failed image link)
 
Ghislaine de Lessines
Posts: 196
Location: Vermont, annual average precipitation is 39.87 Inches
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Our previous set of guineas rarely even left the coop so you are one up on me there. I currently have 24 eggs in my incubator but by the time they hatch, are feathered out, and the 6 weeks of keeping them enclosed are passed we'll be at the end of summer. I found a tick crawling on me yesterday. But, I am thinking long term so I am hoping to have better luck this go around. We are hatching our own this time so that's a help!

I think your strategy of letting only a couple out at a time is a wise one. I don't think the lack of an egg was a sign of being miserable though, at least not due to the rain or being cooped up. Most fowl seem to have a period of not laying after they have been moved to a new home. The first few eggs were already in her system from her old home, then the stress of the move caused no eggs to develop for a little while.
 
Mike Arr
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Location: Southeast PA, zone 6b
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Thanks Ghislaine - I hope your hatch went/is going well. I'm in it for the long haul with guineas also, but after picking about 5 ticks off of us in 5 days, I broke down and sprayed our yard with hopefully only mildly toxic organic gic - EcoSMART 32-oz Mosquito & Tick Control at Lowe's - the active ingredients are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (2.0%), 2-Phenethyl Propionate (3.5%) and several different herb (peppermint, rosemary) oils. Three bottles at $12 each covered our yard and we haven't had a tick on us in 10 days. I'll probably do one more round in a week (before a party) which will hopefully knock the tick population back enough for the guineas to handle it from then on. I've heard it takes about a year to eradicate the ticks.

It's now been over 6 weeks since I bought this batch of 7 one-year-old guineas. I'm down to three males, having lost a female in the middle of the day - probably to a fox - a week after my last post. I am pleased that they are basically doing what I want them to. They patrol the yard all day and they all go back to the coop most nights so I can shut them in. Sometimes one or two or of them will roost in a tree, but so far they all survive those nights.

Some of my observations so far are as follows:

- When there are more males than females, the males can be rambunctious

- I think my system of only letting half the guineas out at a time helped to imprint their surroundings, but it caused different males to be with the female for extended periods of time which led to major violent fights among the guineas afterwards

- As noted earlier - interactions with the female certainly had in impact with respect to distance the guineas traveled from the pen - I think it also had something to do with them running off the property (which hasn't happened since)

- Once the last female was gone - the males chilled the heck out

- When I had six pearls and a lavender - the lavender was always ostracized to a lower roost (so guineas are racist)

- One of my 3 males has an injured leg - he hops so is a bit slower than the others - but he hangs out with them until night time, when he always must be on a lower roost

- There has been a fox coming around during the day - they all seem to be aware of him and even peg leg can fly up to get away from him - I think they are only vulnerable if the fox finds them in the pen when the door is open. I may have to start closing the door during the day to prevent this - that's where I currently keep their water - but I'm afraid if I start doing that they won't come in at night any more.

Last week I hatched 2 keets from my first batch of 5 eggs, and I have 7 more eggs going into lock down tomorrow. Pretty low hatch rate on the first batch, but I hope I can correct some newbie mistakes and do better on this one.
 
Ghislaine de Lessines
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Thanks! We had 23 out of the 24 eggs hatch which is amazing. One has a cross beak and about 4 have splayed legs issues which may be fixable. Next up for us is a bigger broader since I didn't expect so many to hatch!
 
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