Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ayam Mutiara

Guinea Fowl

Numida meleagris

A lone male Pearl Guinea calling
Photo courtesy of Bill and Sue Tivol

These very noisy birds look like a bunch of AWOL army helmets as they run across the yard. They are said to be good for controlling the Lyme Disease-bearing deer tick. I don't know any research on this, but lots of folk believe it and I sure hope it's true. They certainly range well and eat lots of small things. In fact, if you keep bees, you don't really want to keep guineas. They'll stand by the hive and snap up the bees as they come out. I haven't yellow jacket nests out in the field since I've had these birds.

(For more info on guineas and Lyme disease see: Duffy, David Cameron, R. Downer, and C. Brinkley, 1992. The effectiveness of Helmeted Guineafowl in the control of the deer tick, the vector of Lyme Disease, The Wilson Bulletin, 164(2): 342-345.)

Guineas often lay their eggs out in the fields and hatch their young by themselves. If you do find the eggs and wish to incubate them, the time period is 26 to 28 days and you treat them like chicken eggs. Young guineas are called "keets." Being native to dry areas of Africa, they are very susceptible to dampness during their first two weeks, and can die from following the mother through dewy grass. After two weeks of age, they are probably the hardiest of all domestic land fowl.

Sexing guineas is not easy to do by looking at the birds, although in older adults the helmet and wattles of the males are usually larger. The easiest way to sex them is by voice. Both males and females make a single syllable, machine-gunlike alarm call, but only the females have a two syllable call. It sounds like they're saying "buck-wheat."

When you get new guineas, don't let them out right away or they may well disappear down the street. The best way to acclimate them is to pen them where they can see the area where they'll be living. After they've been penned a week or two, let one out. Guineas hate to be alone, so that one won't go far, but it will learn its way around your place. After a few days, let another out to run with it. If they stay around it's usually safe to let the rest out soon thereafter. I use this same method with Peafowl, letting a new hen out before the male as the hens are more social.

Do not confine male guineas with chickens if there are roosters in the same flock. If the birds have free range during the day it's OK to keep them in the same coop at night, and even for a while if they're confined because of a blizzard or something, but the male guineas will run the roosters ragged and keep them from food and water. I lost my first 2 favorite roosters this way until I learned what was going on. Female guineas do not cause the same problems.

Here's an SPPA article on Guinea Fowl

Domestic Guinea Fowl are found in many varieties, including Pearl (the wild type), White , Buff Dundotte, Royal Purple, Porcelain, Slate, Chocolate, Violet or Mulberry, Lavender, and Coral Blue.

A Pearl Guinea hen with a mixed brood of Pearl and Lavender keets
Note the bright orange legs on the keets

There are several other species of guinea fowl in the family Numididae, including the Vulturine Guinea (Acryllium vulturinum) and the Crested Guineas (Guttera spp.)

Guineas have also hybridized with other fowl in captivity.

A typical Guinea nest
Photo courtesy of Cilla Taylor

A bunch of various Guinea keets: day-olds, one month and 10 weeks
Photos courtesy of Dana Manchester