The Guinea fowl we know here in Australia is the Helmeted Guinea fowl (Numida meleagris). There are two other species not found in Australia to our knowledge: the Crested Guinea fowl (Guttera pucherani) and the Vulturine Guinea fowl (Acryllium vulturinum).
All three hail from Africa—the Helmeted Guinea fowl we have here is a domesticated bird that has been bred for centuries as a table bird, and differs slightly to the wild species. They are gallinaceous birds, or galliforms, a group of heavy-bodied, ground-feeding birds. Other galliforms include the chicken, turkey, partridge, pheasant, grouse and New and Old World quail.
“Guinea” in the name refers to Guinea on the west coast of Africa, but the wild species is found over most of Africa. The ancient Greeks and Romans are believed to be the first to domesticate Guinea fowl, and the birds were known to other parts of Europe by the Middle Ages.
As table birds, the taste is described as gamey and with a taste between chicken and turkey. It is apparently quite common in French and Italian recipes. The eggs are also eaten.
Guinea fowl spend their time walking about keeping in contact with their group members with a semi-frequent contented “Chuk!” sound. The slightest upset, however, to a Guinea fowl’s routine causes the whole group to emit loud piercing calls. Usually this is where it ends, but sometimes it goes further—one group was personally witnessed by us to surround in a semi-circle and herd away a very large and mature tiger snake(!)*, and on another occasion another group was observed running at and chasing away a fox stalking one of the chickens late one afternoon.** (They received extra feed that evening!)
* Please note regarding snakes: We’ve only seen this once, and we do not guarantee that Guinea fowl will protect against snakes, attack snakes, or otherwise remove them from your property. This coming summer looks to be a particularly awful season for snakes and we too are seeing metre-plus browns occassionally. Guinea fowl are known to eat snakes, but these would be small, recently hatched ones. You could perhaps regard Guinea fowl as a means of keeping future snake numbers down, but even this is not assured.
** Please note regarding foxes: A fox is more likely to take a Guinea fowl than be deterred by them. Guinea fowl are not the brightest of birds and go into an absolute unthinking panic that only worsens the situation if under threat. Even when there are no threats to them they appear unable to think their way out of a problem! A typical example we see over and over again is where they happily walk through an open gate to get to the other side. They then see their pals being fed on the side they had just come from, and for the life of them they cannot work out that they only need backtrack to go back through the gate to join their friends. They literally pace up and down alongside the fence in an agitated state, looking for a way under, when if they just walked a little bit further...or flew over for that matter!
For more assured chicken protection we’d recommend alpacas. The reason the fox was even there that day was because we had moved the alpacas to the other side of the property, and it was just luck the Guinea fowl were around and cranky enough to chase it away. We moved the alpacas back, and never saw the fox again. We no longer breed alpacas, but do have some wethers for sale, and can source others if required. Please contact us for more information.
But where people are concerned, whilst Guinea fowl are also noisy when strangers are around, they aren’t aggressive in any way, just noisy! And once the family dogs get used to them, the Guinea fowl will walk all over them! Having said that, constant supervision is recommended for dogs experiencing Guinea fowl for the first time until everyone learns to get along with each other. If you trust your dog(s) around your chickens, they will come to accept Guinea fowl the same way.
Guinea fowl are omnivorous and will eat seeds, greens, insects, ticks, snails, spiders, worms, frogs, lizards, small snakes and even small mammals. Some people find their birds to be good mousers. It’s a shame harmless frogs and lizards make the list, but if they eat ticks, grasshoppers, locusts, snails, slugs, newly hatched poisonous snakes, well...!
One thing to especially note is that whereas chickens will destroy a garden if permitted to roam free, Guinea fowl rarely, if ever, harm any plants or garden beds and have always roamed freely through ours eating snails, slugs and insects they find. This is another good reason to familiarise your birds and dogs—you don’t want your dog picking off any bird wandering through your garden minding its own business when you’re not around.
Guinea fowl have proven invaluable in keeping ticks at bay in tick areas, and they will eat swarming locusts, though of course they can’t cope with a bad swarm. We have seen them jump into the air to catch locusts on the wing.
Guinea fowl are highly gregarious, forming flocks of up to 20 to 25 birds. They are extremely hard to sex physically, but can be distinguished more easily by their cry. The male will only make a one syllable cry, while the female will make a two-syllable sound in addition to the one-syllable one. Many sources describe the two-syllable sound as “buck-wheat buck-wheat”, but to us it sounds more like “come-back come-back”.
Guinea fowl are not suited to small lots like suburban blocks. In addition to being somewhat noisy, they have a large range and can easily walk 10km or more in a day. Guinea fowl can fly short distances, but prefer to run from danger. They will fly up into tall trees to roost at night, though they seem to have to psych themselves up to do so! Some stand rigid, as if composing themselves with a “I think I can I think I can” look about them, while others prefer to tackle the job by gradually moving to higher and higher positions until with one final burst of effort they launch themselves almost vertically into the air to reach a branch 8m or more from the ground.
Breeding season is from November to February/March. Domesticated free-range Guinea fowl are not the best of mothers and if you can find the eggs they are best collected and incubated in a chicken egg incubator. Natural hatching does have a higher success rate if the birds are confined to a coop. Hatching is 26 to 28 days from incubation.
A keet is a Guinea fowl chick. They are able to follow the mother (or if hatched in an incubator, get around) and feed themselves within hours of hatching. They are able to fly within two weeks. Of all the colours Guinea fowl come in, only the Grey Pearl wild type colour changes as the keet grows. These keets are born a striped brown but develop the grey pearling by week two.