Audrey Stallsmith uses her guinea-raising experiences to address how to house these birds and keep them happy.
Like rowdy teenagers, guineas are raucous and inclined to roam, so they definitely have the potential to cause problems with your neighbors. Of course, you may be able to convince the people next door that the tick control is worth the aggravation.
However, that idea probably won’t fly once the birds begin shrieking a cacophonous chorus beneath those neighbors’ windows at 6 a.m. I also can picture a guinea, startled by a dog, flapping up onto the hood of a prized antique car, and then scrabbling and defecating its way up onto its shiny roof. Suddenly, the threat of Lyme disease won’t seem all that important.
Here are a few things to consider when housing guineas to keep them healthy and happy, and how to manage them both when they’re ranging and roosting.
Cooped Up Can Mean Ticked Off
You could, of course, eliminate some of the problems guineas could potentially cause in a neighborhood environment by keeping the birds cooped up all the time, but that would defeat the purpose of having them. Also, guineas like to run, and most chicken runs won’t be long enough to even provide them a sprint. And, unless your coop is soundproof, it won’t eliminate all of the problems.
So, I would only recommend guineas to people who are out of screech range of any neighbors. Fortunately, we live in a remote location on a dead-end road ourselves. The only time we’ve kept guineas in a coop was when we fenced off a corner of an old corn crib with chicken wire. We used that airy enclosure to confine a flock of keets for a few weeks in summer until they were old enough to release, and it worked out well for them.
Keeping Keets Happy Until They Fly the Coop
If I recall correctly, we allowed those birds—which had been incubated and kept indoors for their first six weeks—to retain their lightbulb for a time, since they considered it to be their mother. We also provided them with roosts that weren’t too high, since guineas are prone to foot injuries, and we didn’t want the young ones to hurt themselves. When mature, they can fly up to and down from high perches with no problem.
Our young guineas didn’t seem to mind the coop, probably because they always had been confined, and the new space was much larger than their earlier box and cages had been. After their release, however, I suspect they would’ve resented being returned to their former “crib.”
Although they did come back to that building, they wisely learned to roost on a crossbeam just under the roof instead of in their old coop. High perches protect them from foxes and coyotes. Other predators, such as raccoons, opossums, minks, and fishers, can climb, but such heights tend to discourage them, especially if there’s any danger of them falling into a livestock pen beneath.
The crib unfortunately didn’t work out so well for the wild turkey poults we tried to place with the keets. If you think guineas are hyper, rest assured that they’re cool and collected when compared with wild turkeys. One of those poults made a frantic escape, and another died – seemingly of shock since the guineas didn’t pay much attention to it – before we resigned ourselves to placing the remaining gobblers in a separate pen. We thus learned that mixing species isn’t a good idea unless those species have been raised together from egg-break or shortly thereafter.
My sister’s purchased keets grew up with chicks and will follow the chickens into the coop at night to roost beneath them. She admits that the guineas always are the last ones in, and she had to be stern with them a time or two, but they did pick up the habit of “coming home to roost.” If you intend to have your guineas range during the day and return to a coop at night, as she does, first keep them in that enclosure between two weeks and a month until they consider it home.
After my sister gave us four of those guineas, I knew that attempting to confine them for a long imprinting period wasn’t going to work when they already were accustomed to being out all day every day. Unfortunately, the weekend over which I did keep them in a cage was rainy, so I had to cover that cage for most of the time anyway.
The guineas we already owned “conversed” a bit with the newcomers while they were still in lockup, but assiduously ignored them thereafter. My hopes for a “welcome wagon” of sorts didn’t pan out.
New Kids on the Roost
In fact, when we released the keets into the barn, our free-ranging ducks promptly chased them out of the building. I couldn’t find the newcomers that night, so I’m assuming they camped out precariously in the weeds. They did move into the barn the following night, though. One evening, I actually caught one of them roosting on a sow’s back. When that mother pig got up, the guinea then ran into the corner of the pen and cuddled up with the piglets.
It wasn’t an ideal situation, but our hogs are accustomed to birds of all sorts coming and going and generally pay no attention to them. Also, I figured a predator wasn’t going to get at the guinea there without the piglets’ big mama having something to say about it.
Although it did take the newcomers a few days to figure things out, a couple of them occasionally made it up into the joists of the barn opposite to where our other guineas roost. But they more often remained with the chickens on a no-longer-used pipeline above the pig pens, though I was hoping that they eventually would “move up in the world.” For a week or so, all of the new guineas continued to troop dutifully after our white rooster during the daylight hours and appeared to be adapting well. As I mentioned in a previous article, being raised with other species does tend to give keets identity issues!
Eventually, we noticed that the rooster only had two guineas left, so what happened to the others remains a mystery. Since we saw no sign of blood or feathers to indicate a predator, perhaps the missing two eventually had enough of the ducks or rooster and are attempting their own version of The Incredible Journey back to my sister’s home.
We’ve learned from bitter experience that if some of our birds are entirely free-ranging and others aren’t, it’s going to be harder to keep the “nots” confined, even if it’s only at night. Having purchased heavy-breed pullets late last year, we kept them in a coop over winter and began letting them out during the day in spring.
For a while, they did return to their coop at night and laid their eggs in the nest boxes there. Eventually, however, they began to want to stay in the barn at night, as our roosters, smaller chickens, ducks, and guineas do. Although I originally made the effort to round up the larger hens and drive them back to the coop—or simply pick them up and carry them back—they learned to evade me. They usually could do that by perching at the back of a hog pen or another location where it would be too much bother for me to get at them.
These days, when I want to gather eggs, I must scramble up a rickety ladder into the hay loft to find their nests. The dog waits anxiously at the foot of the ladder, conceivably ready to run for help if I fall, though I suspect she’s actually watching for me to break an egg rather than a leg.
With their superior flying abilities, guineas are even better at evasion than chickens are. Teaching them “where home is” doesn’t guarantee they’ll return to that cozy coop forever, but at least they lay their eggs on terra firma!
Hints for Keeping Night-Cooped Guineas Happy:
- At about 6 weeks of age, switch your keets from 28 percent protein turkey starter to 18 percent protein poultry feed. Crumbles work better than pellets for them. (We actually feed ours home-ground hog feed, also high in protein.) The guineas will need water available to them at all times as well.
- If they’ve been raised with your chickens, keep all the poultry in the same coop. Otherwise, some birds are liable to pick on other birds, though you can’t always predict which ones are going to be the aggressors. At present, our Pekin ducks chase the guineas—who easily can evade them by flying—but we’ve had guineas chase ducks in the past.
- Although guineas retire early, it’s still a good idea to have a light on in their coop at the time, since they may be hesitant to enter if they can’t look for monsters under the roost. You can turn that light off once they’re safely inside.
- Finally, if you provide your guineas a bedtime treat, such as millet or meal worms, you’ll give them incentive to come home by their curfew rather than hanging out in trees with all of their wild friends.
Audrey is author of the Thyme Will Tell series of gardening-related mysteries, one of which received a starred review in Booklist and another a Top Pick from Romantic Times. Her e-book of humorous rural romances is titled Love and Other Lunacies. She lives on a small farm in western Pennsylvania.