We first decided to add guinea hens to our flock last summer, and I wrote about some of the reasons we did so in our Post “First Line of Defense – Guinea Fowl”. One reason I didn’t list was unexpected for us, and it has turned out to be the most important one – they are very entertaining! While they can be a lot of work – they are messy when raising them in the brooder, impossible to catch, and some evenings they can be difficult about going into the coop (my hubby is best at that job, they will often follow him right in); we feel they’re worth it. Not only do they do their jobs of alerting us to predators and eating bugs, they are fun! I recently said that I had a few stories to tell about these crazy birds, so I wanted to start a series of some of those different tales.
Story 3 – Nesting Guinea Hens – A Learning Curve
One thing became clear when our two female guinea hens started laying eggs – we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. Finding detailed information even on the internet was difficult, and all we could do was put bits and pieces of information together, use our best judgement, and hope for the best. That didn’t necessarily work out that well, though we did end up being able to grow our flock like we hoped to.
I’ve told parts of the story along the way. We lost our female Violet, most likely because she and her mate Harry tended to go off on their own. We’re pretty sure a fox took her, in the middle of the day, probably when she was on the nest she had started.
What became interesting to us was the fact that when our other female Henrietta took over the nest, and later a new nest when we emptied the first, she and her mate, Pumpkin Pied, didn’t go off on their own. Most of the time, ALL of the four males watched over her. The second nest was right next to our house and deck, in the “barn garden.” We felt that was so much of a safer location than the first (which had been behind our garage and barn, out of our sight) we decided we would let her continue to lay and see how it went. At first I marked some of the eggs, so we could steal the fresh ones for eating, but later on she spent so much time there we didn’t want to disturb her.
We did have second thoughts the first night she wanted to stay on the nest and wouldn’t come off to go into the coop with the boys. We had let it go so far by then, we decided not to mess with nature, and just let her do her thing. There is a motion detector light right there and we moved one of our flashing red predator lights closer as well. She was so well hidden in the flowers even we couldn’t see her much of the time, so we really did feel she was safe there.
In the end, I still feel we were right about that part; the nest was safe. In the mornings she would start calling from there, and we’d let the boys out of the coop to watch over her. I still had many nights of getting up when I’d see one of our outside lights on, but it was never the one near her.
Other than the boys constantly being so close to the dog fence, and us having to be very careful about letting Luke out, it was fun to watch their antics. Throughout the day , the boys would randomly put out their alarm call, as if to warn off anyone who was even thinking of coming near. If they occasionally wandered off, Henrietta would call them back!
She would leave the nest a few times per day to eat and run around with the boys a bit. We did notice that on rainy days she didn’t come off as much though; we wondered if she felt she had to stay there to keep the eggs dry. One time I snuck over when she was off to try to count the eggs, and she came marching back over, and walked right in front of me back onto the nest. That’s pretty good for birds that mostly avoid getting too close to us. Another time, I peeked in on her and tried to give her a treat that I’d been giving the other birds. I’m pretty sure she gave me the evil eye!
I had marked on the calendar when she started staying on the nest overnight, so we’d have an idea when she might start hatching eggs. We really didn’t have a clue what we were going to do if she did; since most of what we read said guinea fowl don’t make good mothers. They are also an African bird, and the baby keets need to be kept warm and dry, not an easy thing when there is wet, dewy grass around.
As it turned out, we never got to that point. We were down to what we figured would be her last week, when I got up one morning and didn’t hear her calling from the nest. I thought it odd, but still went and let the boys out after feeding Sam and Luke. I got more concerned when I still didn’t hear her, so I went to check the nest.
She wasn’t there. There were no signs of trampled vegetation near the nest, all the eggs were intact, and there were no feathers scattered around. I texted hubby at work. I had a bad feeling, but we still held out a little hope she’d show up. It had been raining that night, so I delayed my walk with Luke a bit, waiting for things to dry a little. In our usual walk along our trails on our property, we ended up finding Henrietta’s feathers in more than one place: down by the vegetable garden, out behind the coop, and in between those two locations. We then knew she was truly gone, though Luke helped me track the feathers just in case. We didn’t turn up anything but small trails of feathers.
All we can do is speculate as to what happened, and the best guesses we have are that she knew there was a predator in the area and came off the nest to lead it away from her eggs, or the possibility that she sometimes came off the nest at night to eat bugs or get a drink, and we just never realized it.
We decided to let nature take its course without considering the fact that nature is oftentimes cruel. So we took things back into our own hands, and put the eggs in the incubator. After a long, agonizing, and sad week of waiting and wondering if we could make Henrietta’s hard work pay off 9 eggs hatched! We had seen the movement of eggs the same day we put them in, but didn’t realize it could still be several days before the first “pip” (egg cracking). We had missed that part when we incubated the first eggs.
While we don’t plan to keep this batch of keets, we are pleased there will be more offspring of hers and Pumpkin’s for others to enjoy (our first 6 from incubation are theirs as well, so we have some). As of this posting, we only have 4 sold so the story is still playing out. We may end up with more guineas than we bargained on. We will deal with it if it comes to that, and it may be the chickens and Luke that are less happy about it than we are!
One thing is clear to me now that this is all behind us. There are probably a lot of people besides us who are still trying to make sense of what these mostly wild birds are up to. I hope next nesting season (which won’t be until spring with the newbies), we will start to get it figured out better.