Training Domestic Guinea Fowl 101
By Mel Dickinson – Guinea fowl are crazy. I always describe them as the wild toddlers of the flock. That being said, we would never be without guineas on our farm. They’re my favorite! Keeping free-range guinea fowl takes time and patience but is worth the effort.
We added our guineas early in our homesteading ventures. To be honest, I had no idea what they were when I ordered them. I was at the local feed mill placing a chick order for the first time ever and came across guinea fowl on the list. I didn’t know what they were, but from the description, they sounded like something we needed on our farm. So I ordered 21 of them — what can I say, I was a crazy chicken lady from the start! I went home, told my husband what I did, and then we looked them up to learn what keeping free-ranging guinea fowl was all about. It was a steep learning curve, but well worth the wild roller coaster ride.
We keep guinea fowl to control insect pests because they are fantastic foragers. They’re the first ones out in the morning and the last ones back at night. They’re the hardest workers on the farm and cover a ton of area every day eating ticks and other insects. Guinea fowl are often referred to as the watchdogs of the flock. If anything, or anyone, is out of place they will alarm the whole farm (and all the neighbors). Guineas are also known to keep away small snakes and are excellent mousers.
Keeping guinea fowl has its benefits, but there needs to be some planning when adding guineas to your farm or homestead. It is not recommended to do what I did and order them on a whim. If you do not have any prior experience with them, I suggest finding an online video to learn how to raise guineas and know what’s in store for you and the neighborhood. They are loud and make noise often, but that is part of their benefit and charm.
Here are some tips for raising guinea fowl.
If planning to keep free-ranging guinea fowl it is strongly recommended to start with baby guineas, known as keets. Adults can be difficult to keep around, they do not like to be moved, and need to learn their home before they should be allowed to free range. Starting with keets allows for easier training and they are similar to raising chicks. Keets differ because they grow faster, need to be fed a game bird starter to meet their higher protein needs, and will have their first set of feathers by one month of age. Once the keets have their feathers, they are ready to be transitioned from the brooder to the coop.
Keeping Domestic Guinea Fowl in a Coop
Some people keep guineas and chickens together while others have separate coops for them. We have always kept our free-range guinea fowl with the chickens. That being said, our coop is designed with guinea fowl in mind. They like to roost higher than chickens. We always make sure to provide the highest roosts possible to encourage them to return at night. We also keep more chickens than guineas in our flock to prevent issues between them. The one time we had an equal number of guineas and chickens we had problems between the roosters and male guineas. When this occurred, we culled the male guineas, left the guinea hens, and no longer had any issues in the flock. The adult guineas share food and water with the chickens without any issues.
Training Free-Range Guineas
Keeping guinea fowl safe involves a lockdown period. Once keets are moved into the coop, plan to keep them there for at least two to four weeks before letting them free range. During their lockdown weeks, take time to train them to the sound of treats. Just like chickens, guineas learn the sound of a bucket full of scratch or a bag full of mealworms. To do this, make sure to shake the bucket or bag of your treat of choice before and as you feed them. They will become familiar with the sound and will come running whenever they know they’re about to get some tasty goodness! Not only will this help lure stubborn guineas back into the coop once they’re allowed to free range, but it will also help occupy some of their time during this lockdown period.
After two to four weeks of coop confinement, it is time to start the process of training free-range guinea fowl. The trick is to let them out one at a time. Even if they have been trained up to this point, letting them all out at once does not guarantee they’ll come back at night. Guineas like to stick together. However, if you let one young guinea out at a time, they’ll be more likely to come back to the coop to roost with the others at night.
This part gets tricky. There needs to be a way for the lockdown guineas to stay in, while the free-range group being trained has the ability to go in and out of the coop as they please. We have done this two different ways. We have kept lockdown guineas in large wired dog cages during this training period. We have also made a completely enclosed temporary run inside the coop for the lockdown guineas. While both ways worked for us, time and space issues determined which method we used.
Be prepared for a lot of noise and confusion during this training period. Use your best judgment when deciding when and how many guineas to let out at a time. For example, the first few days we will let out one young guinea each day. If they are coming back at night without issue for a few days, we may decide to let two to three out at a time. On the other hand, if we are having issues with the newly released guineas, then we won’t let any more out until we feel they have been properly trained to return to the coop at night. Each group we’ve trained has been a little different, so we make adjustments as necessary.
When keeping free-range guinea fowl, be mindful that you may successfully train them to come back to roost in the coop, but they know no boundaries when they are out foraging. Guineas fly, hop fences, and roam. Some breeders offer a pinioning service before shipping out keets. This is removing a pinion from the keet’s wing to prevent it from ever being able to fly. This is a permanent, controversial practice, but some guinea owners swear by this method. Clipping wing feathers is another way people try to prevent guineas from being able to fly over fences and wander. Guineas are fast and difficult to catch, so if you choose this method, be prepared for an eventful time. We have not used either of these practices with guinea fowl. Instead we accept the fact they fly over fences and go wherever they please during the day. This is a personal decision that each guinea owner must make for themselves and their situation.
A final consideration when training guineas is attempting to get them to lay in the coop. Guinea hens are prolific, seasonal layers and lay delicious little eggs which hens often lay outside of the coop. You can try to train them to lay in the coop by keeping your guineas contained until after they lay their eggs every day. Do this for a week and hopefully, the hens will continue to lay in the coop and maybe even the nesting boxes if you’re lucky! Our guineas go on long streaks where they’ll lay in the coop and then one day just stop and go lay outside again. While we love guinea eggs, we keep them mainly for tick and pest control, so we don’t push the egg training here.
Guineas are always an adventure. They’re the nosiest, craziest, hardest working bunch on the farm. I absolutely love them! They’re not for everyone and they take extra time, effort, and considerations. For us, the benefit of having them out-weighs all the chaos they cause around here. So if you’re up for some farm fun and have your patience cap on, go ahead and give keeping domestic guinea fowl a try!
Originally published in the October/November 2018 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy./**/