Keeping a Mixed Flock – Backyard Poultry

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Keeping a mixed flock creates exciting dynamics with hens and guinea fowl hens.

Story by Chris Lesley

In the realm of well-known livestock birds, guinea fowl place, at best, a distant fourth behind chickens, turkeys, and ducks. However, just because they’re overlooked doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful, worthwhile birds in their own right.

What Are Guinea Fowl?

Guinea fowl refers to a number of species of wild birds native to Africa; the species usually kept in captivity is the helmeted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris). Physically, they resemble small wild turkeys or large partridges, with speckled black feathers and bright blue or red featherless heads. On average, they weigh about three pounds.

In terms of personality, guinea fowl are highly social birds; in the wild, they congregate in flocks of 20 to 30 birds. Unlike chickens, which can be somewhat independent, guinea fowl are completely lost without their flock; if one gets separated from the group, they’ll call repeatedly for the others until they’re reunited. Guinea fowl are extremely talkative.

Caring for Guinea Fowl

It’s important to note that, unlike modern chickens, guinea fowl are tamed, not domesticated. Fundamentally, they’re still wild birds. This has its advantages — they don’t rely heavily on their owners and are highly self-sufficient and successful foragers. They’re also hardier and more resistant to diseases and parasites than selectively bred, less-genetically diverse domestic birds. But it also means they have no interest in interacting with their owners and can wander off if not properly confined. If you don’t have adequate space to let them free range, I wouldn’t recommend keeping these birds.

Although guinea fowl are relatively common as livestock, at least among homesteaders and small farms, dedicated guinea fowl feed is fairly hard to find. Instead, as keets (babies), guinea fowl should get turkey starter. After four weeks, they can switch over to a chicken pullet feed, but they should get 18% protein instead of the 16% commonly recommended for chickens.

For the most part, after becoming independent, guinea fowl should have feed available, but they likely won’t eat much of it. This is one reason many keepers love them; not only will their aggressive foraging keep them fed, but it’ll also eliminate many weeds, troublesome insects, mice and other rodents, small snakes, and, most notably, ticks.

Both breeds like to roost, but guinea fowl will routinely fly up into your (or your neighbour’s) trees at night.

The main problem with guinea fowl is keeping them contained. They’re inveterate wanderers, especially in their quest for food, and they don’t have the same survival instincts that guide chickens back to the coop every night. (Many keepers would argue they’ve no survival instincts at all.) They’re also better flyers than chickens and will easily clear any fences you set up. This is such a common problem that feral guinea fowl populations have been established on three continents.

The best way to keep your guinea fowl safe and contained is to build a secure house and make it a place where they’ll feel comfortable. This means they’ll need lots of space, high perches, and light — like most small children, guinea fowl are afraid of the dark.

Why Should I Keep Guineas With My Chickens?

One of the biggest advantages of keeping a mixed flock is that guineas are always on high alert for danger, and their loudness comes in handy if they sense a predator or intruder nearby. The racket they make will scare off most animals looking at your flock as an easy meal.

Their thorough foraging will also help you control other pests, such as rodents, insects, and snakes. This will not only rid you of the menace of mice getting into the feed or snakes eating eggs but will also keep other, larger predators away by minimizing the food opportunities they can find near the coop.

Guinea fowl are a delicious meat birds and they’re regular layers. They don’t usually use nesting boxes and finding their eggs can sometimes be a real hassle.

Are There Risks?

In general, guinea fowl and chickens will get along well enough, especially if they’re all female. The guinea fowl may bully some of the smaller birds, but this issue can be avoided by raising the keets and chicks together from a young age, which will also make your guinea fowl more likely to return home at night as they get older.

Introducing male birds, especially male guinea fowl, can complicate things; the male guinea fowl have been known to get aggressive with roosters, in particular, and even run them out of the flock. It’s best not to keep males of both species together. If you do choose to introduce male guinea fowl into the flock, be sure to have at least five guinea hens for each male.

Adding male birds to the flock also raises the problem of interbreeding. This is quite rare but possible. It’s more common for a rooster to mate with a guinea hen. Regardless of their parentage, these mixes are unlikely to be viable. Not many of the chicks hatch, and those that do generally suffer from a variety of health issues. Birds that survive to adulthood are always sterile.

Guinea fowl are a unique and fascinating bird, and anyone willing to put in the work can mix them with their chickens, producing a flock that’s louder, hardier, safer, and much more interesting.

Chris Lesley has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years. She has a flock of 11 chickens (including three Silkies) and is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens. Her book, Raising Chickens: The Common Sense Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Chickens, is available in paperback and ebook form.

Originally published in the October/November 2023 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.

Source link

Leave a Comment