South African smallholders might consider following the examples set by southern and West African small scale farmers who farm guinea fowl as a small commercial venture.
The main reason for this is that guinea fowl are more resistant to poultry diseases than chickens. Smallholder farmers have limited resources and little access to veterinary support, so the birds’ hardiness is an advantage.
In Ghana the World Bank has been supporting guinea fowl farmers though a capacitation framework. In the northern part of the country, guinea fowl production accounts for 7% of total poultry production. However, little work has been done on genetic improvement, so poor hatchability and the high mortality of keets continues to restrict the farmers.
In Botswana the department of agriculture is also encouraging young farmers to grow guineas.
In the USA these gamebirds are becoming increasingly popular among keepers of small and backyard flocks.
In South Africa, the helmeted guinea fowl, also called impangele birds or tarentaal, is the most common breed of guinea fowl in South Africa. Their feathers are dark grey with white spots. They have a red-coloured wattle on either side of their short beaks. Their bald faces and necks are covered in blue skin. They have a dinosaur horn-like casque on their heads.
Conformation of Guinea Fowl
Generally, they reach approximately 58 to 64cm in length and can weigh up to 1.8kg.
There is little difference in looks between male and females, but their calls are different.
There are a number of reasons for keeping guineas.
They are pest control experts and eat a wide variety of insects, as well as mice. They are good at clearing up ticks and grasshoppers, so are useful on your plot among crops and livestock. Nut farmers in KwaZulu Natal have had success in using a flock of guinea fowl to keep down stinkbugs, thrips and macadamia nut borers. They are surface eaters, so don’t go scratching in your garden like chickens do. However, don’t allow them into a vegetable patch with tender seedlings.
They are also very good at warning of intruders, be they predators or people. Their warning cries are extremely loud. Indeed, their loudness is sometimes used as a reason not to keep them.
Many fans find the constant communication and chattering through the flock to be most charming.
Like chickens guinea fowl have strong personalities.
They are hardy and do well in most climatic regions. If they are free range they don’t require much feeding, as they are devouring the bugs on your plot.
The meat and eggs are delicious and nutritious.
If you decide to keep guineas, prepare a coop for them. It’s important for them to understand that the coop is where they sleep at night and where they should lay their eggs. This is to prevent them from roosting in trees, where they are more vulnerable to predators. Broody hens can be very secretive about where they lay their eggs and sit on them, but they are not very successful at keeping their babies alive once they have hatched. So it is better for them to use the coop.
Perching bars should be provided for guinea fowl, as they prefer to roost. This allows them to fluff their feathers to allow air in to help cool their bodies during the summer and allows the warm air from their body heat to warm their legs and feet during the winter. So they need enough room to be able to do this.
If you want to provide nesting boxes you can use the ones that are available for chickens or you can build something bigger. When a guinea hen is broody she might be sitting on up to 40 eggs.
Cover the floor with absorbent bedding material such as wood shavings, peanut shells, chopped hay or straw. If the litter is kept dry, it can stay in place for several months. Guinea fowl droppings are drier than chicken manure, so there is less of a problem with mould.
It is best to get them while they are young keets, so that you can train them to lay eggs in the coop and to return to the coop at night.
Because the parents are not always effective at keeping their keets safe, keepers often put the eggs under broody hens or put them in an incubator.
It is also recommended that you do not try to rear them with your chickens, as they can be quite aggressive.
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