Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why Kids Love Baby Birds - Gardening with Guineas

We do not like snakes eating our chicken eggs nor plagues of grasshoppers feasting in our vegetable garden. What was our solution? Guineas!

We ordered guinea keets (babies) from a neighbor (I call her The Bird Lady) who has two large incubators. She wouldn't sell them to us until she was sure we had a guinea house and understood how to take care of them. We assured her we were studying Gardening with Guineas by Jeannette S. Ferguson and had very good intentions. The book can be bought from Mrs. Ferguson's Gardening with Guineas website, Amazon (new or used) or from Barnes & Noble. It is not available in ebook format.

Mrs. Ferguson moved to a 14 acre farm filled with ticks, Japanese Beetles and grasshoppers. Like us, she did not want to spray pesticides on her land. This is in her introduction: "During a garden club meeting at a member's home, my attention wandered from the speaker to outside the window where plump, speckled birds were dashing across the yard like little roadrunners. Their little legs were moving at what seemed to be a hundred miles an hour, yet their bodies were so very still! The antics of these beautiful birds were most humorous to watch." Mrs. Ferguson's amazing Gardening with Guineas web is filled with information on raising guineas, fowl houses, movies and sound tracts of guineas, and much more.

Our son built a guinea house for us which is attached to our hen house. Finally, when the keets were a week old, The Bird Lady visited us, inspected our guinenea house, asked us what were were going to feed them, and allowed us to buy them. Sheesh. Yes, she is protective, but a bird lover, and I have enjoyed learning from her expertise.

We kept the guineas in a trough covered with wire in the enclosed barn for several weeks so that we could maintain their temperature using a heat lamp. Keets need a 95 degree brooder the first week, and for the temperature to lower by 5 degrees weekly until the keet is fully feathered at about six weeks old. The kids feed them chicken start daily and gave them fresh water. They enjoyed picking up the guineas and stroking their soft feathers. The guineas didn't mind once they were picked up although they were afraid of us initially. Guineas are not as messy as chickens, so we did not have to clean the trough but about once a week with fresh straw. Guinea guano is high in nitrates making it an excellent free fertilizer.

It was difficult to not release the guineas before the six weeks but the reason one waits is because they must learn that this is their home. They are wild birds with wings and can fly elsewhere so we wanted them to establish our farm as their home base. After five weeks we put them in the guinea house but still did not release them outdoors until they were six weeks old. When we finally opened the door, they stayed inside - for hours - but eventually ventured outside. We put lots of Chicken Start and millet (their favorite seed) leading to their door so that we could enclose them at night - away from predators. We herded them inside to help them along the way.

Note mirrors on window ledge and ground.
I put mirrors around the guinea house because they like to look at their reflection. They will find their way home if you entice them with mirrors.Yes, those are chickens in the photo on the right. Our chicken and guinea houses are attached. We may open a door connecting them eventually.

Our guineas like to sleep in a tree and aren't using their guinea house much although we occasionally find an egg in the house. More likely, they are laying eggs in the tall grass. The guineas have even ventured back down the road to visit and mate with the The Bird Lady's guineas. But they come back because we scatter chicken scratch in the morning and evening. I've added sunflower seeds and have many beautiful birds visiting our yard.
Brody holding a baby chick.

Guineas are organic bug vacuum cleaners.
Beware! Guineas are extremely noisy - screaming "Buck-Wheat! Buck-Wheat!" over and over. But I don't mind because now I don't have to battle grasshoppers while I mow, and I haven't seen any more snakes on our property including in the hen house. You may have heard me scream clear from Texas when I saw that very long, although non-poisonous, rat snake who was eating our chicken eggs.

There are some guineas in residential areas but the neighbors must be considered due to their noise. Guineas are wonderful watch "dogs" signaling to the chickens and humans that someone, or perhaps a hawk or coyote, is near.

Visiting Peacock
Spring is a wonderful time to order guinea keets and baby chicks. You should order at least twice as many guineas as you hope to keep because natural predators may attack them or some may fly away. We ordered a dozen and only have five left. Of that five, a female stays mostly at The Bird Lady's. It is mating season. She comes back occasionally to visit the others - or more likely - to eat our chicken scratch.

Gavin starting seeds for our garden.

The wonderful thing about guineas is that they are live bird vacuum cleaners. They clean our yard of bugs and snakes and are our natural pest controllers - even signaling us of danger. Some people eat guinea eggs which are smaller than a chicken egg. There is a demand for guinea meat but I wouldn't have the heart to sell them for that reason. I have never eaten a guinea egg because I hope a keet might pop out eventually. The photo shows a plastic Easter egg, chicken egg and guinea egg for comparison.  

Sometimes less is more.

For a glimpse into kindergarten, see Kindergarten: Tattle-Tales, Tools, Tactics, Triumphs and Tasty Treats for Teachers and Parents. Looking for activities for preschoolers to learn through play? The Happy Mommy Handbook: The Ultimate How-to Guide on Keeping Your Toddlers and Preschoolers Busy, Out of Trouble and Motivated to Learn. Both have been number 1 bestsellers on Amazon and make helpful gifts for parents and teachers. Also available on Barnes & Noble and Kobo. 

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  1. Your grand kids live a charmed life!! How fun!!

  2. Check out my blog for a St. Patrick’s Day necklace craft


  3. How fantastic to have all those birds in the garden. If ours were big enough I would love to have a couple of chickens.

    Thanks for linking to Science Sparks.

  4. I would love to be able to have beautiful birds like that. Our local farm store has chicks each spring and I always bring my kiddos to go and see them. Someday my husband and I hope to live on several acres so that we can have animals!

  5. We are getting chickens this week!

  6. we had chickens before we moved to HI, they were such fun! We looked in to guinea hens as well, and will probably get some in the future, once we move back to the mainland! Thanks for linking up to BTT!!

  7. Baby chicks are so cute but they grow quickly. Once I had a duck for my K classroom and we were amazed at how fast it grew. It was noisy and messy but cute. Then I had to find a home for it. A friend took it to a lake and took it out in a boat. It kept swimming back to her! Finally, it adjusted to its new home. I can tell you that our hen eggs taste really good (although not much of a money maker for Sarah). But they are fun to watch.

  8. What a great way for the kids to learn more about animals! Thanks for sharing with us at the Kids Coop.Hope to see you again tomorrow.

  9. What a wonderful learning experience! I found you thru the weekly kids co-op, thanks for sharing!

  10. Following you too. Wonderful blog you have. Thanks for visiting.

  11. Interesting birds. My son is wanting a lovebird, but I had never even heard of these.


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