Growing up, I remember my mother always having Guinea fowl feathers in her hair, and seeing the little paintings she made of them around the house. She thought they were wonderful, always pointing them out when spotting them on the road. Since she passed, I have always been reminded of her when spotting a guinea fowl or finding a feather. In one of the many conversations my fiancé and I have had, we found our mothers had a mutual love for these beautiful creatures, and since we had both lost our mothers to terminal illness, we thought that raising guinea fowl on our homestead one day would be a lovely ode to them and a beautiful reminder for us.
After doing some research we learned that guinea fowl are excellent for pest control on the homestead. They are well known for eating grasshoppers, beetles, frogs, ticks, and any other kind of crawly thing. Our particular climate in eastern South Africa has a dense tick population that spreads an often, fatal disease in ruminants, so raising guinea fowl would be generally helpful. They could also be very beneficial to the safety of our chicken flock by alerting us of any predatory intruder and have been known to even attack snakes! Our research did not come without caution, though. Many homesteaders often regret raising guinea fowl due to their incredibly noisy nature and utter lack of respect for boundaries. They are competent fliers; no fence is too high for them and they much prefer being out in the wild.
With all this research under our belts, we were quite sure that we would like to see guinea fowl roaming around on our homestead. We decided that we would apply the idea of them being born into our chicken flock, so they can call it home, but we were adamant that we would not restrain them from their natural urge to roam freely as they grew older. We wanted wild guinea fowl that were still fairly tame and knew where home was. We began to ask around to see if there was anyone we could find nearby that may be able to supply us with some fertile eggs, as we had also learned that it is better to raise them from young since they are prone to migrate back to where they believe home is.
As it was the wrong time of year for guinea fowl to be breeding, most people were not selling. But a fellow homesteader a few hours’ drive away offered us some eggs once hers had started laying, as she had wild guinea fowl all over her farm. This was perfect. It gave us some time to settle into our new life with so much happening around us. We live off the grid and don’t have an incubator, so we knew that we would be using one of our broody chickens to hatch the eggs when the time came. There wasn’t much information online about using chickens to hatch guinea fowl, but we had successfully hatched three turkey eggs under one of our broody Boschvelder hens, and with the incubation period being similar, we figured we had nothing to lose.
We were so excited when we received a message in early November that we could collect a few guinea fowl eggs. A few turned out to be 22! We would need at least two broody hens to hatch these babies. We suspected that we had four broody hens, but none of them seemed resolute in their broodiness. We hoped for the best, sending all the broody vibes we could into the universe. After bringing the eggs home, we waited a day before deciding which hens were the most likely to stay sitting. The chosen ones were Emma and Michelle. We were elated at the prospect of soon having our own flock of guinea fowl to roam the homestead. We put 10 eggs under Michelle and 12 under Emma.
About a week later, we had a few days of terribly wet, stormy weather. Emma simply decided she was done, and off she walked to re-join the flock. We tried setting a different broody hen on her nest, but she sat for a day and quickly realized broodiness was not for her. We were worried that these eggs would not survive if we didn’t act fast, so with no other options, we snuck as many more eggs under Michelle as she could handle and said a sad goodbye to the ones that would not fit. We didn’t want to overcrowd her and risk complications. This amounted to 16 eggs in total—they fit beautifully snug under her.
We thought this actually quite fitting as Michelle was the only chicken we had that would resemble a guinea fowl with her beautiful black and white coloring, and we giggled at the sentiment that these keets would recognize her as their mother for this reason (we know it’s absurd—it doesn’t work like that). For the next 27 days, Michelle barely moved. It was as if she knew how important these particular eggs were to us. She was incredibly strong and often wouldn’t even get up for food and water, to the point that we were quite concerned for her health on some days.
Then, finally, one Tuesday morning, while doing morning chores in the coop, we discovered a tiny striped chick peeking at us from under Michelle’s chest, and soon after another 3. We were not quite prepared enough for how utterly adorable they would be. By the following day, all 16 of Michelle’s eggs had hatched, and we couldn’t be prouder.
We started them on a mixture of scrambled eggs for protein, grated onion for some natural antibiotics, and a little bit of chicken starter feed. As soon as they started getting up and about, they were unstoppable, so energetic! We tried to count them every time we checked on them and quickly noticed one was missing. We realized our fencing holes weren’t small enough—these keets were so tiny! One must have escaped. After reinforcing the fencing, all was well for a couple of days.
It was adorable watching them hop into and out of their coop and over their little obstacles in their run. They loved feeding time and their chirps were mesmerizing. We were truly in love. After a few days, we noticed another one was missing and could not find it anywhere. We were completely boggled, as it could not have escaped and there was no evidence of a predator. The following day, yet another was gone.
We decided to strip down the whole nest to find where they could be getting out and there, we found the 2 little corpses, flattened underneath the bedding where they all slept. We felt awful. Who knew something like this could even happen? But these little babies were so tiny, they must’ve gotten tangled in the straw and ended up underneath all the others. We replaced the bedding, made sure everything was flat and safe and all was well. We had 13 Guinea fowl keets growing up with their chicken mom. It was so wonderful to see her teaching them and protecting them.
Once we integrated them into the flock, they were accepted with open wings, but Michelle also played a pretty mean bodyguard mamma! She didn’t let anyone get near them, except for Billy, our main rooster. He would often call them over when he found a snack. It was truly amazing to watch these odd little creatures become a part of the chicken flock.
For the first while, they slept in their coop that we had repurposed from an old dog kennel and spent their days in the run with the rest of the flock, however, one day, one of our silkie hens, Alaska, decided she would go broody… and that the dog kennel was obviously the most suitable place. Being the enablers we are, we popped a few of her eggs under her and let her be, meaning Michelle and her keets needed to move into the big coop. It only took a couple of unsettled nights before they would roost on the highest roost snug between their foster mom and dad.
Watching them grow is truly the most rewarding thing to witness—the way they stick together, take on the mannerisms of Michelle, their dust bath rituals, the way their little peeps and sounds mature with time, and the way they all snuggle up under mom. They were growing fast. Soon it was time to let them all out with the rest of the flock to forage. We started with just an hour or two a day while we kept watch over them. Our flock responds to our call when it’s time to come home. We call “Chicken!”, and they all come running or flying from all over. The guineas soon fell into this routine too, and after watching them for a while and knowing how close they stayed with mom, we decided it was safe to leave the gate open for them during the day.
Of course, the first day we did this, we immediately regretted our decision. Michelle came back with only 11 babies… 2 were simply gone. So, we went back to keeping them in and letting them out under our watch, but soon they discovered that they could fly! They certainly impressed us with their incredible flight skills at such a young age. Our coop fence is very high and none of our chickens had ever managed that feat, but we found ourselves chasing small groups of keets back into the coop after flying out. Sometimes they would stroll into the house for a visit, or they would go too far and wander off without mom and within a few days, we lost another baby.
We realized that the main cause was that they were being separated from their flock every time some of them flew over. We needed to do something to ensure they stayed together, while at the same time NOT keeping them cooped up. What a mission! We were constantly on standby to make sure that if one flew out, we would immediately let the others out to join it, and if some came in, the same thing. You can imagine how exhausting this was, but we kept on and it worked. What helped tremendously is that they were trained to our “Chicken!” call. What is cuter than calling into the bushes and, within minutes, a group of young guineas comes running in the hopes of receiving a snack?
Soon, our now 10 guineas were not so little anymore, and it was awfully funny watching them still try to squeeze under Michelle to cuddle. Normally a chicken mom would leave her chicks to their own devices from around 5-6 weeks, but for some reason, Michelle just wouldn’t let go of her babies. We were getting worried that they would struggle with their independence if they didn’t start to look out for themselves soon.
This was a very tricky decision, as we wanted to keep the coop as their home base. We had been thinking about downsizing our chicken flock a bit to reduce some stress levels amongst the hens, so we decided that Michelle would be happy living with our farmstead neighbors who just so happened to be on the scout for mature hens. They live only a 5-minute walk from us so we would still be able to visit her. We know how happy and healthy their other chickens are, which settled our minds that she was going to a great home.
At first, after Michelle left, the guineas were very confused, and we felt so sad for them. They slept in the coop with Billy and the others for a couple of nights, but one evening, right before a hefty thunderstorm, we noticed the guineas were not in the coop. We were making sure everyone was safe before the storm hit and we couldn’t find the guinea fowl!
We tried calling, but as it was already getting dark, we knew they wouldn’t answer. Then we heard something in the tallest trees right next to the coop, and there they were… all 10 of them, snuggled in the trees, bracing themselves for the storm. We were so proud; our babies had finally flown the coop! In our opinion, they couldn’t have chosen a worse night, and we were incredibly concerned that they wouldn’t survive the storm. But alas, nature reassured us once again that She knows best, and when we woke up the next morning, they were flying down one by one to greet us and get involved in morning snack time.
Raising guinea fowl is guaranteed to be an interesting experience, whether you hand raise them in a brooder, make use of a surrogate hen, or buy them as adults. Either way, they are quite possibly the most entertaining birds to keep around the homestead, while also playing a vital role in pest control. They can be incredibly low-maintenance animals or they can be as much work as keeping chickens or turkeys. Whichever way you want to raise them, we believe every homesteader should raise guinea fowl at least once.