The Guinea Chronicles

Author Photo
By Renee-Lucie Benoit

We have had a recent spate of rattlesnake bites. First the chocolate lab, then our little “red” dog and then the cat. We were not sure the cat had been bitten. The vet said when a cat is bitten it is fatal and this was on good authority. Our vet has been practicing in this area for almost 50 years. He has even concocted what he calls his snake “cocktail” of antihistamines, antibiotics and steroids. Yet the cat had a suspiciously swelled up face so we took no chances. The good news is that all critters came through just fine.

However, that left us uneasy thinking about what more snakes might be lurking. What exacerbates the snake problem is the explosion of ground squirrels this year. They’re a favorite food of rattlesnakes. We had thought of guinea fowl before but had decided not to. Now we took up the idea again with renewed vigor. We had heard that guinea fowl kill snakes. At the very least, they make a lot of racket when they see one so they would serve as early warning. Before the recent spate of bites I was not sold because I didn’t want to lose any of our gopher, bull, garter or king snakes. These snakes are very beneficial. Also guineas are carnivores and prefer insects, which was a plus and a minus. I wouldn’t mind them devouring each and every hornworm they come across and leave my peppers alone, but if they laid a finger on my lovely praying mantises or froggies I would not be a happy camper. Also, we were told guineas were quite noisy. Yes, we were quite the fence sitters until the rattlesnakes started to take over.

As an aside, we had thought about how to get rid of the squirrels in other ways. Shooting wasn’t practical. As soon as you shoot at one they all go to ground so you know that shooting is a long war of attrition. They are quite prolific so you might lose in the long run with this slow method. Also with a .22 you need to have an unimpeded line of fire behind the squirrel so as not to hit anything in the background should you miss. Encouraging coyotes is out for the obvious reasons. Poison is out as we have free-ranging animals that we would not want accidentally poisoned. We decided to trap as many as we could and relocate them to the farthest reaches of the ranch where they might have new territory and a fighting chance against predators. We just did not want them in our vicinity. So in addition to that we decided to get the guineas.

We got a flock of 10. We did not and do not know what we got. Guineas are notoriously hard to sex. We were told that the males have wattles but the females seem to have them, too. Yet we were not getting them for eggs so it didn’t really matter.

One good thing about them is they are beautiful. I love their gray and striped plumage. I’m not sure I love their voices, but fortunately the pen we have them in – to get them used to being here – is far from our house near the barns. In my opinion, guineas would not be good for the urban farmer who only has a small lot and neighbors who might not enjoy their constant chatter and occasional cacophony.

I’ve been told that if they free range they are almost 100-percent free of disease. They are hardy birds that tolerate heat but not cold. So they would be especially good for homesteads in the west, southwest, northwest and south. Guineas are originally from Africa so you can see that the environment where they came from makes them suitable for the warmer clime.

Guinea Pros
Hardy in hot weather
Disease free if allowed to free range
Good snake deterrent
Like insects and protein sources
Not fond of vegetable plants

Guinea Cons
Not hardy in cold weather
Hard to know what sex you are getting
Might kill beneficial snakes and will eat ALL insects including beneficial ones

Guinea fowl are unique and beautiful and, in the right setting at the right home, these birds are wonderful and entertaining. I will update you on our little flock as time goes by. Right now they are happy in the large dog run under the trees and, while they were not sure about the hornworms at first, once one of them had a taste they all rushed in and fought over the morsels like all birds do. I think this might be the start of a beautiful friendship, Louie.

Published on Aug 25, 2015