For almost as long as we’ve been here on the farm, guinea fowl have been a part of our domestic critter population.
The first group of guineas arrived one summer many years ago from an area poultry breeding and hatchery business, where we also acquired a few white turkey poults. The turkey youngsters became quite tame by the time they were grown, hung around the yard and barns most of the time, with the gobblers becoming quite aggressive, and large, by late in the fall of that year.
Their final appearance was on our Thanksgiving table and those of our employees, hastened by their determination to roost on the bannister of our back porch. Bird droppings are annoying and messy to clean up after, so you can imagine the results of a couple of roosting, full-grown turkeys.
And, they were delicious.
On the other hand, the guineas were fiercely independent, spending most of their days roaming the fields and the meadow. In a year or two, they had multiplied so much that they were becoming problematic and we had to reduce their numbers. Milk inspectors frown on poultry roaming in and around dairy barns, especially when they take to perching on the stainless steel milk pipelines.
We’ve had guineas pretty much ever since then, although we were down to one lone bird two years ago. Purchasing a half-dozen young ones from a friend two years ago regenerated the flock and brought company to the single, lonely guinea remaining.
Since then, weather and foxes took their toll on our tiny flock of these semi-wild and goofy birds.
This past year, our guinea population remained at two, including one younger one and one so old it could probably sign up for Medi-Bird retirement benefits (if such a thing existed).
So, early this year, I stopped by a local feed and farm supply business that annually offers a wide variety of domestic poultry, including guinea keets, which is what the young guinea chicks are called.
I tried to look up the origins of the term “keet,” but my internet research provided no answer to that mystery.
Anyway, I put my order in early.
Where to raise these tiny hatchlings was the next question, the obvious answer being in the safety of our old farmhouse. One day as I pondered what to use as a temporary, keet facility, I remembered a dog crate The Farmer had used long ago as a shelter for a domestic wild turkey he hoped would nest in a meadow enclosure.
A fox promptly found its way into the enclosure and the turkey was long gone, but the dog-crate shelter remained. I hauled it to the milk house on my Gator, gave it a thorough cleaning with the pressure washer and a diluted bleach solution, then set it outside to dry and air out until keet delivery day arrived.
Before picking up our half-dozen keets last week, we hung a light high in the crate and put down paper and clean shavings. I fished out of storage the glass poultry watering bases stashed in the basement years ago.
On asking a friend, Beth, who manages the farm store, what I needed to know about raising guinea keets, she promptly told me not to put them on shavings for a couple of weeks. Apparently these little guys might eat the shavings and die from ingesting them. Guinea keet lesson number one: no shavings.
Our neighbor, Jonathan, who also works at the farm store, put a big bag of medicated poultry starter feed in my trunk and I tucked the box into the back floor of my car, which I’d warmed up on the way, since it was a chilly, gray day.
Back home, the first job was to remove the shavings from the crate and replace them with clean paper. As the tiny, brown-and-black striped keets huddled at the back of the warm crate, I finished the moving-in with water and feed.
As with all infants, the keets do three things: eat, sleep and poop. And, as with all caretaker-moms I perform the role similarly: feed, clean and change. And, I make frequent chick-checks.
They’ve regenerated my respect and appreciation for all professional raisers of newborn poultry.