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Raise guinea fowl for meat birds, slower growth than chickens, but more meat per bird.
Story and photos by Sherri Talbot
For homesteaders interested in raising guinea keets for meat, there’s far less information available than those for breeders raising meat chickens. However, guinea fowl are more self-sufficient than chickens, eat more ticks over a wider range, can be cheaper to feed, and lay eggs that remain fresh longer. This can make them an attractive option for homesteaders looking to raise their own poultry meat.
The West African Helmeted guinea fowl (N. m. galeatus) are the most common domesticated guinea fowl, with the unique-looking birds raised in many parts of the world for their eggs, organic insect control, and meat. In Africa, wild guinea species are hunted and domestic guinea fowl are usually raised in a semi-free or free-range style. In some African countries, where raising domestic guinea fowl are common, farmers often allow the guinea fowl to free range during the day, using handfuls of whole grains to coax them back in to be locked up for the night, reducing losses from predation.
French Pearl guinea fowl are the largest of the helmeted variety and most commonly used for meat in countries outside of Africa. There’s little difference in the size of males and females, with butcher size being between 4 and 4 1/2 pounds at around 12 weeks. In all types of guinea fowl, the growth rate is slower than most domestic meat chickens, but the meat-to-bone ratio is about 80%— higher than the average broiler. Guinea fowl tastes similar to other game birds but can be dry. Guinea meat provides higher vitamin and protein levels and lower cholesterol than domestic chickens.
From Free-Range to Caged
Free-range raising in the case of guinea fowl involves leaving the birds to find their own food and shelter, providing them only with water, perhaps occasional feed, and allowing the birds to forage, mate, lay, and rear their young with little human intervention. You need the least infrastructure and cost but usually will face low production due to lost birds, eggs, and young.
In semi-free environments, guinea fowl are kept in a coop-type environment — much like chickens — with an indoor area, roosts, and an outdoor run. Birds in this environment can have their wings clipped to prevent them from flying, but in typical meat operations, birds undergo pinioning, in which a piece of the wing is removed to permanently prevent flight.
In an intensive meat-production environment, birds are kept indoors in close quarters. In industrial breeding operations, they’re usually kept in cage batteries. Closely packed birds panicking and causing injury or death is combated by keeping buildings dark and providing roosts to keep the birds more relaxed.
Most homesteads are unlikely to raise guinea fowl in an intensive environment, so free-range and semi-free will be appropriate methods.
For those looking to raise guinea fowl, the easiest way to begin is with eggs or keets. Eggs can be hatched in an incubator or under a broody hen. The thickness of guinea fowl eggshells can make them hard to candle if using an incubator.
Buying adult guinea fowl, while it may seem like a shortcut, is often a waste of money, because guinea fowl tend to not transfer well to new areas and may decide to take off. Keets raised by broody chickens are more likely to stay close to home.
Guinea fowl tend to walk more than fly, but they can fly and tend to prefer a wide area in which to range. Some method of prevention is needed if farmers — or their neighbors — don’t want the birds wandering. Keeping them close also makes it easier to collect eggs but reduces the guinea fowl’ effectiveness at insect control.
Guinea fowl have a great ability to forage for themselves, which reduces costs for the breeder. Keeping them penned into coops or runs requires more feeding on the part of the farmer and increases the cost of raising the birds.
Guinea fowl are monogamous when given the option. This can be complicated, given the difficulty of sexing guinea fowl, and means keeping an equal number of males and females in the breeding stock to maximize fertility. In some studies, fertility was retained with a 5-to-1, female-to-male ratio; but with a higher ratio, fertility rates declined.
Free-range guinea fowl are likely to be less productive breeders because they change their laying spots several times over the year and are more likely to lose keets to dampness, predation, weather, and disease or parasites.
A Hardy Bird
After they reach adulthood, guinea fowl are extremely hardy. Despite being originally from Africa, they’re able to tolerate a wide variety of temperatures, though they do fare better in warmer weather. This reduces the need for expensive housing and reduces feed costs thanks to the guinea fowl’s natural ability to forage. Adult guinea fowl are also less prone to disease and parasites, making this less of a concern for those who choose to free-range.
For small homesteads, individual decisions for how to raise your guinea fowl will vary, depending on your situation. However, in balancing cost with production efficiency, the African semi-free method may be the most practical. Finding and collecting the eggs multiple times a day can be burdensome but should result in plenty of fertile eggs and a higher hatch rate than leaving them to the guinea fowl hen (or predators). Hatching eggs in an incubator or under a broody hen will also result in a larger hatch and a higher survivability rate.
Moreki, John Cassius and Radikara, Malebogo Virginia. (2013). Challenges to Commercialization of Guinea fowl in Africa. International Journal of Science and Research. Vol 2:11, p 436-440.
Moreki, JC. (nd) Guinea fowl Production. Poultry and Rabbits Section, Division of Non-Ruminants, Department of Animal Production. Gaborone, Botswana. Retrieved on June 25, 2023 from https://www.academia.edu/download/79451732/MDIwMTM1MjY_.pdf
Nahashon, S.N., Aggrey, S.E., Adefope, N.A. and Amenyenu, A.. (2006) Modeling Growth Characteristics of Meat-Type Guinea fowl. Poultry Science Vol 85: 5, p 943-946. https://doi.org/10.1093/ps/85.5.943.
SHERRI TALBOT is the co-owner and operator of Saffron and Honey Homestead in Windsor, Maine. She raises endangered, heritage-breed livestock and hopes someday to make education and writing on conservation breeding her full-time job. Details can be found at SaffronandHoneyHomestead.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SaffronandHoneyHomestead.
Originally published September, 2023 and regularly vetted for accuracy.