October 8, 2013

Adventures in Guinea Wrangling

Every species of animal we've brought to our homestead has truly enriched our lives. I'm not just talking about them as producers of things we need: eggs, milk, meat, manure, rodent control, etc. Those are the primary motivators, for sure, because we are a working homestead rather than hobbyists. We agreed from the beginning that every animal should have purpose and that we, in turn, would not keep more animals for which we and our land can provide. In addition to their natural gifts, our critters give us a sense of routine and purpose, which is invaluable. But also, each species adds it's own unique personality to the homestead. Each is endlessly fun and fascinating. Our guinea fowl are no exception. They are not only excellent insect eaters but top notch in the entertainment department.

I did my homework before we got them and, in the beginning, set out to "train" them to roost indoors at night. This is sort of a no-brainer against predator loss from owls, raccoons, etc. Unfortunately, guineas are notorious for not cooperating. Even so, I am happy to report that my guineas do indeed go inside at night to roost! However, in compliance for this I am expected to follow a couple of rules.

1. Be on time. Like all other animals, guineas like routine. In fact, if you've every tried to change your routine with your critters, then you know it's easier said than done. It's always best to determine what the routine will be before the animals arrive, and set up their care in a manner that facilitates both animal and human.

My chores begin at first light, when I let the chickens out of their coop first, and then I let out the guineas. I check water and feeder levels, toss some scratch into the chicken yard and give the guineas some "treat," i.e. white proso (parakeet) millet. They clean that up, pour out the door, and fly up to the top of the roof of the buck barn. After their morning conference, they set up a squawk and fly off the roof and into the corn patch. They look like ducks coming in for a pond landing.

After evening milking and before dusk, I make my final check on the guineas and put them up for the night. They are already in the barn but when they hear the gate, a few heads poke out the door to make sure it's me, then they run excitedly back inside. They have been visiting their mirror while waiting, but are eager for their evening treat. Once again I check water and feeder levels, and give them a generous sprinkling of millet before closing them in for the night.

One evening, Dan took me out to dinner. It wasn't a late night out, but we didn't get home until after dark. I was a little concerned about the guineas, so I immediately went to check on them. I arrived by flashlight at the buck barn and was alarmed to discover it was empty. I called in my customary "guineaguineaguinea," and heard a many-footed something thundering from one side of the tin roof to the other. I went out, shined the flashlight up to the roof, and there they were; ten guineas all peering down at me. However, I could not coax them down for anything. It didn't matter how much treat I sprinkled on the ground, they were staying put. Eventually I had no choice but to leave them there.

I was relieved to see them still up there the next morning. They flew down when I arrived, gobbled up their treat, and went on about their guinea business. Happily there were still ten, but I was worried this would set up a new pattern, that of sleeping on the roof instead of coming inside to roost.

That night I arrived "on time" and they were waiting for me inside. It's been like that every night since, unless I arrive too early. Then they all run out again as if they aren't ready to go to roost. As long as I arrive just before dusk, they are ready to bed down and I know they are safe for the night. Lesson learned.


2. Dress appropriately. Appropriately to an animal does not mean the same thing that it does to a human. To a human it means to dress according to the situation. To an animal it means to dress as expected. Part of the routine is you, the keeper, showing up as they expect to see you.

Usually I do all my chores in work clothes, an old t-shirt with optional old jacket and an old skirt or old jeans. If, for example, when it's raining hard and I wear a poncho to do chores, I can expect some nervousness amongst our animals until I call to reassure them. Once they recognize my voice they calm down. Not so with the guineas. One rainy evening I arrived in a red poncho which sent an immediate alarm through the guinea ranks. I tried to reassure them it was me but, they were in such a frantic panic, they couldn't hear my voice. I thought I was going to have ten guinea heart attacks and ten dead guineas! Lesson learned.

I suppose it might be argued that the guineas aren't the ones who are trained, rather, I am. Actually I have no problem with that! As long as they're safe and healthy, I'm willing to do whatever it takes. No matter who's in charge.


Adventures in Guinea Wrangling © October 2013 

23 comments:

  1. I've been thinking about getting guineas for a while and read up them as well but am concerned about the predators. You name it, we got it. I may reconsider after reading that your training them to come in at night worked.

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  2. Oh, I needed a laugh today, and your reflection on the animals training YOU did that for me :) I often feel that way, too. They sound like an excellent addition to your homestead.
    -Jaime

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  3. I had to laugh about the poncho. For us often someone gets shy about a new hat or god forbid, brightly colored gloves! But everyone is pretty reasonable. The horses have seen many new things and after 13 years with me, rarely do anything but make note of a new article and muddy it up with nose prints. The goats have yet to learn...;)

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  4. So true. Magic would follow any medium sized person in blue jeans! By the way, you need to update your critter page for the kitties!

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  5. I'm loving your guinea stories. I didn't realize that a change in routine had that effect on them. Of course I do know how they behave when a stranger comes around. :)

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  6. Jen, what worked for me was following the advice to keep them inside their permanent home for at least 6 weeks. That meant living in a brooder box on the back porch for 2 weeks, then 6 weeks in the barn. So they didn't get outside until they were 8 weeks old. I keep feeder and water in their barn also, plus I make a point to feed their treat mostly in there. I also read they love to see their own reflection, so their barn seemed a good spot for a mirror also!

    Jaime, I love my guineas! It is so true that in the end, we have to adapt ourselves to the critters rather than the other way around. LOL

    Theresa, that's so funny about the horses having to nose everything new. But as far as goats go, I wonder if they ever learn. :)

    Barb, thanks for reminding me about my critter page. It definitely needs updating! Besides the kitties the kids have grown a lot, plus I sold Zed and Buster Brown so that's too less. And the guineas have grown too!

    Bill, in all of guineadom we're only a small sampling, but it seems that the guineas are most sensitive to change. It's interesting to compare notes with other guinea wranglers!

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  7. I love hearing about your guineas. At one time we lived in the country in a old cabin with a tin roof. A red hen showed up and decided to stay and every night she would clamber up that steep tin roof and roost cuddled up next to the chimney. Supper time conversations almost always included a giggle about all the noises coming from the roof as she settled down for the night. The roof was slick because it was tin, and it was steep, so there would be lots of squawking and scratching and sliding about. And her claws would often make the sound of fingernails going across a chalk board. We named her "Miss Easter" cause her eggs were a pretty blue/green.
    Catch ya tomorrow.
    Smiles to you.
    Linda

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  8. Delightful post! And oh-so-true! Gotta give you credit again, Leigh. You seem to have more of a handle on guinea psychology and wrangling than most guinea owners do. (Guess you have to be smarter than the guineas? In my experience, there are several species of animals out there that are more intelligent than I am!!)

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  9. I sit here with a wide grin on my face:) the thought that the guineas check in the mirror, when they go inside - reminds me of ladies after going shopping.. just a quick look in the mirror, to check if hair and make-up are alright:) and I think all animals have an inner clock that's far more accurate than a human one! our dog knows exactly, when DS should be home from school, down to maybe a minute or two. if I could teach him about weekends, that would be it:)
    have fun with your "slapstick comedy providers":)
    Bettina

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  10. Leigh,
    I don't have Guinea's, in the distant future I may. It's interesting, and educational to read your posts on them. I'll learn everything I need to learn through your experiences before investing in guinea's. I hope you don't mind me laughing with you :-)

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  11. Very interesting update! I've been wondering how your indoctrination program paid off. You are the first person I have ever heard of having this much success!
    The one and only factor that keeps me from having guineas is the noise. Quantity AND quality. I'm waiting for someone to selectively breed for the Quieter Guineafowl. Could make a fortune for someone!

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  12. While the guineas being new to the farm might seem more particular, I'm sure the other animals are set in their ways as well.

    I know that Lilly has a certain schedule. If we don't get up to let her out of her "bedroom" on time she lets us know. She doesn't need to go outside, she doesn't need food or water...just to be let out. At dinner she has to run from the kitchen to the foyer to greet my husband. And if we take too long in eating (we're talking too much) she starts complaining. Lately that is getting more so, I'm attempting to break that habit.

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  13. Guinea fowl are VERY entertaining (occasionally bordering on exasperating lol) , gotta leve em !

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  14. I was just thinking that it has been AGES since I've seen a post from you on my reading list, so went searching for your blog. I got a page that redirected me here; guess I missed the moving notice! Glad to find you, though; now to catch up on what's been happening on your five acres!

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  15. It's amazing to me, how just a slight variation in their routine will throw any animal off. I found out the same thing when I cared for the landlord's chickens a month ago. I went over one night too early to put them to bed, and they refused.
    Thanks for sharing what you have learned Leigh! I always learn so much from you.

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  16. Linda, thanks! So funny about your red hen. I've sometimes wondered how animals decide a certain thing and have been amazed at how difficult it can be to dissuade them!

    Mama Pea, thanks! I don't know about guinea psychology, but I did take care to research them. I also read that successful animal trainers (Hollywood trainers) work with an animal's natural tendencies and that cooperation is never 100%. You have to admit, animals can do things we humans couldn't.

    Bettina, guineas lend themselves to humor, LOL. I agree about animals' inner clocks and dread changing back from daylight savings because I tend to go by the clock while our critters all go by instinct!

    Sandy, our guineas are the most fascinating critters on the place. Yes, do your research. It makes a huge difference to understand a species natural tendencies.

    Quinn, a quiet guinea! Now that would be something. It's true they can be noisy. Of course the more there are, the louder the noise gets. :)

    Renee, that is so true. I find that my cats think I'm supposed to be up by a certain before sunrise o'clock and will wake me up if I don't get up! There are no sleep in days around here. Most annoying. :)

    Benita, yesterday I was trying to lure a couple of stray guineas back to our side of the fence. There's a small drainage ditch that goes under the fence and I sprinkle "treat" on both sides and through the ditch. To keep the others from eating their way out, I gave them some treat too. They scarfed it down and then came running up and began squawking. Loudly! I couldn't figure out what was going on, then it occurred to me they were likely demanding more!

    Willow, they are extremely entertaining. And, I agree, exasperating! But we do love em. :)

    Michelle, so good to hear from you! Yes, switching the registration of my domain name from google created a few problems. That warning message alarmed me the first time I saw it. Concerned me too because I didn't switch blog hosts; my blog is still hosted by google's blogger. I've always valued comments from my readers and hate to lose anyone. I'm so glad you came to check on me. :)

    Stephanie, I know! Everything has to be done as expected! :)

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  17. so funny! Ducks seem just like that - if my mom isn't careful about how she does things then the ducks freak out and won't come near her. One time she tried to feed them out of a pink bowl instead of the container they were used to and it was a circus, they wouldn't eat!
    Then another time there was a garden hose lying on the ground between their path and the feeder - again all kinds of drama and they would go near it. sigh.
    They are super cute and fun birds but sooo particular about everything.

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  18. LOL. This post made me laugh so much. I knew the guineas would be entertaining. You just can't help loving them, right?

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  19. Katy, thank you for sharing about your mom's ducks! I enjoyed that. :)

    Cecilia, you can relate, right? I agree, guineas are great. I am so glad we got some. They never fail to bring a smile to my face.

    Cloud, thanks!

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  20. Ha, ha - The Shepherd has a neon yellow rain coat that I gave him for Christmas last year so he could work at customers who had flower beds or yard close to busy roads - didn't want him getting run over - but to the sheep, when he is in that coat, he is the hoary monster- it may be the crinkle of the nylon too - but they HATE that coat. Funny critters. T.

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