Guineas are bizarre birds, no question. They have blue faces and bony knobs on the tops of their heads, and they make an incredible amount of noise. It is nearly impossible to talk over as few as three guineas all squeaking and chattering at once.
That said, they can be great helpers in the garden or field as they patrol for insects. Guineas have a keen instinct for hunting up their own food, and they are willing to walk surprising distances all day to do it. Grasshoppers beware!
Getting Your First Guineas
Probably the best place to get your first guineas is from a reputable hatchery. Both chicks (called keets) and hatching eggs can be sent to you by mail. Sometimes farm supply stores have guinea chicks for sale, but keets from a good hatchery are often healthier. Reputable hatcheries will also offer replacements in case something goes wrong.
With guineas, as with most things in life, it is generally best to start small. Guineas are noisy and extremely difficult to tame. If you’re not used to them, only a half dozen can be quite a handful! So unless you are planning on eating guineas or guinea eggs, an order of keets may be a little too large to start. The hatchery will probably have to send at least 30 keets in the box in order that they stay warm on their trip!
If 30 guineas sound like a little too much, you may just want to buy a dozen hatching eggs and incubate them. It’s more work, but hatching your own eggs is a truly delightful experience. Just be sure to carefully follow the instructions that came with your incubator.
Caring For Baby Guineas
Before your guineas hatch or arrive in the mail, you will need to have a brooder box set up. This can be a cardboard box, a wooden box you build, or even a water tank for cattle to drink out of. Fill the bottom with pine shavings or wood chips, then cover everything over with newspaper or a similar type of paper to keep the chicks from eating their bedding. Set up a heat lamp at one end of the brooder and place a thermometer underneath it. Put a chick waterer at the opposite end, and sprinkle some feed over the paper. Chick feed for chickens will do, but game bird starter is ideal.
When the guineas are ready to be placed in the brooder, do not just drop them in and walk away. Take each keet individually and dip its beak into its water a couple of times, then into its feed. Baby guineas aren’t too smart, and they need to be taught how to eat and drink in this manner.
Now comes the everyday maintenance. Make sure the guineas always have food and cool water, and keep an eye on the thermometer. It should read 95°F the first few days, but you will want to gradually decrease that temperature to match the temperature of the outside air. A decrease of a degree a day is about right, but let the keets be your guide. If they are piled up under the light, they are too cold. If they are scattered around the edges of the brooder, they are too hot.
The newspaper can be removed from the brooder after the first couple of days, and the keets should then be provided with a regular chick feeder. Also, you will want to place some type of screen or wire cover over the brooder to keep the guineas from escaping once they start testing their new wing feathers!
Caring For Adult Guineas
Once the guineas have their feathers and are no longer relying on the heat lamp for warmth, they are ready to move outside. You will need to have some type of shelter for them, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate. A portable chicken-wire house with a roof and maybe one or two covered sides for shelter from sun and rain will work fine. This mobile home will also have to have a door so that the guineas can be locked in at night. They may have the wild instinct to forage, but they don’t seem to have much sense when it comes to hiding from predators. Also keep them locked up for their first few days out of the brooder so that they have a chance to get used to their new home.
In the winter, the guineas will need warmer housing, although this still doesn’t have to be elaborate. A simple chicken coop will do, or you could just stack hay bales all around their mobile home for insulation. Guineas don’t need central heating, just shelter from snow, ice, and biting winds.
Adult guineas require very little care. They must be contained at night, let out in the morning, and watered and fed daily. A pan of grit, a handful of scratch grains, and a modest amount of feed will do. Chicken feed is not ideal for guineas; it seems to have more calcium than they need. Game bird feed is preferable. The guineas should be started on adult feed at about ten weeks of age.
One warning: Do not feed your guineas fruit or vegetable scraps. They will acquire a taste for fresh produce that will be the undoing of your garden!