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