Congratulations and welcome to the wonderful world of Guinea fowl! Here are some tips about your new feathered friends to make sure they have the best rearing to provide you with many years of tick control and humorous hijinx.
WARMTH and SAFETY:
Keep them around 90 degrees for the first week of life, then reduce the temp by 5 degrees each week until you reach 70-75 degrees constant temp (no need to cool them if the ambient temp is above 75, but do pay attention to night temps which dip substantially). At age 6 weeks they can usually maintain their internal body temperature, but if rearing in winter, be careful and make sure they are fully feathered.
Keets, due to their leg structure are very fragile until 12-16 weeks. They need to be on a non-slip surface (paper toweling, rubber shelf liner or large flake pine bedding) to prevent splay leg which they are prone to. Never use sawdust or fine bedding – some will choose to eat it, causing growth problems. They should be kept in a cardboard box when quite young and transferred to a wooden floor of a brooder or coop. No poultry should ever be kept on a slippery (metal, plastic) surface, but sometimes folks get away with it in chicks without repercussions. The hip and knee joints of keets are much weaker, so it is essential they get the grippy surface they need. No matter what type of heat you use, be sure to have a digital thermometer on the floor of the keets brooder to check the temperature. Too hot and you can fry new chicks and keets. Too cold and they will fail to thrive. If they are huddled beneath your heat source, they are too cold. If they are are all squished to the far corner away from the heat, the heat source is too hot. They should be active and spread around randomly. Be careful if using heat lamps, they can cause fires. NEVER use plastic to house any poultry – it is dangerous around heat sources and causes fires.
THEY JUMP! Higher than chicks normally do. And they will fly before you know it. You may need to put screen on the top of their box to prevent them escaping when they are only a few weeks old. If they jump out of the box it can cause grave injury.
Treat their water with Corid until 12 weeks of age. It is available at Tractor Supply (in Charlottesville and Ruckersville) and Southern States Co-op on Harris Street. For liquid Corid, the dosage is 1/2 tsp per gallon of water for preventative in babies. (It is a lower dosage than the 2 tsp/gal you will find online if you suspect coccidosis in a mature flock of poultry). All birds, regardless of age, require fresh water daily. Dump, wash the waterer and replace with fresh water every day. Coccidia is present in the environment and can be a threat to young chicks. By they time they are 12-16 weeks of age they will be strong enough to sustain coccidia exposure and build up immunity to it. Adult birds should never need medicated foods. If you can't find Corid, or prefer to medicate via feed, you can feed them medicated chick starter. Do NOT give them medicated water AND medicated feed -- one OR the other. Stop all medication around 12 weeks.
Guineas need 24-26 percent protein. Turkey or game bird grower feed has that amount for chicks. Do NOT feed any bird under 16 weeks anything labelled "layer feed." The calcium is too high for a bird that is not laying and will cause abnormalities in growth. Until 16 weeks, all birds should receive something labelled as "STARTER" because the calcium, phosphate and protein is all for a growing bird. After 16 weeks and no later than 18 weeks, you can transfer them to something that is "maintenance" or "layer." We like the game bird feed because it has high protein, but it's not always readily available. In a pinch, they can survive on layer feed if you get the layer feed that is the highest in protein (closer to 20 percent). We have had the best luck finding poultry feed selection at Tractor Supply in Ruckersville, but Tractor Supply in Charlottesville and Southern States on Harris Street also have options. If you go to Southern States on Harris Street, be sure to talk to them about what they have. They have LOTS of different feed available in the on-site warehouse, but only stock a small percentage of their products on the store floor. Always give fresh water each day and wash the waterers to prevent slime from building up.
Keep them inside a coop or in a safe, enclosed pen until 12-16 weeks of age. Don’t range them until they’re full-grown. The best protection from predators is a solid floor building with lots of ventilation. We use Sweet PDZ granular on the floor. Up to 16 weeks of age, use LARGE pine bedding on top of the Sweet PDZ. After 16 weeks we use straw on top of the sweet pdz. Scrape and replace PDZ and bedding once a week to avoid ammonia build-up.
Once they are roaming for all day and only in the coop from sundown to sunrise, you can clean the coop as you see fit – depending on the size of your coop and your flock. Do watch for the ammonia smell and clean if you detect that. Bedding, droppings and sweet pdz is compostable and excellent for gardening.
TIPS ON TRAINING:
At 16 weeks they will be “full grown” with flight feathers and able to flee from predators fairly well. Provide outdoor roosts for safety. These can be made from branches fastened to trees at various heights (about 5-6 feet high), can be PVC fastened to 4x4s, anything to get them higher than a predator might want to jump. Roosts can be pre-existing, like the top-rail to a cattle fence. To train them to come home, release ONE guinea. Provide it with kibble and a waterer outside the coop. It SHOULD just run back and forth outside the pen, wanting to come back in with its friends. The other guineas will look at it and call to it. If it runs off, that one didn’t have homing instinct. Try the next day with a different guinea. When you bring the guinea in at night, bring in the kibble and water to prevent attracting raccoons or other dangerous predators to the feed at night.
Once you have a guinea that remains outside the pen during the day and wants to go back in at night, continue releasing one guinea each day in that way (it doesn’t have to be the same guinea). For one week, release only one guinea each day and return it and its food to the coop. The next week, release 2 guineas each day and return to the coop (if you have to go find them, go find them, but return 2 to the coop each night). The next week release 3 and return them, the next week release 4 and return them, etc. When you are fairly certain all the birds have had some time being out during the day and returning at night, you can roam them confidently, HOWEVER, ALWAYS LEAVE 2 birds IN THE PEN FOR THE DAY with plenty of ventilation, fresh food and water. If you have 20 birds, you can range 17 or 18 for the life of your flock but leave 2 or 3 inside each day (doesn’t need to be the same ones, ideally should be different birds left inside each day). The ones inside the pen are like a homing device for the roamers. In the event a guinea gets lost, the sound of its home will give it the best chance of returning.
Be prepared to lose some guineas. There are flocks of feral guineas roaming Earlysville from ones that didn’t come home. If you lose some, think of it as contributing to the flea and tick control of the larger community (that’s what we have done with the 3 that didn’t return). Some folks online who use them for flea and tick control don’t bother trying to return their guineas each night and just buy 25-50 guineas each year and hope for the best. Some have better luck than others with that approach.
Regularly check your coop. All poultry is literally “sitting ducks” in Central Virginia. Ferrets, minks, rats, will dig under 2x4s that make your outdoor run. Poultry with access to their outdoor run can be picked off by raccoons grabbing the heads through the chicken wire. Motion active spot lights can help deter some pests, urine (coyote, wolf or even human) can sometimes help, buried hardware cloth for the walls of an outdoor run can help. There is no perfect solution and what works for one person, might not work for another.
Our guineas are the best flea/tick/fly control we've had. We were skeptical at first, but have seen a great reduction in the amount of horse flies and the only thing different we've done is have pods of free roaming guineas about the farm. We hope you enjoy them and that they bring you many years of pleasure!