Welcome to Current Homesteading, your resource for all things related to your homestead. From gardening to guinea hens and fencing to fish, we will cover it all. For our inaugural article, let’s kick it off with one of the topics mentioned above: guinea hens. This week, we’ll discuss specifically why you may want to consider keeping a flock of these loquacious fowl—next week, we’ll follow up with the particulars on how to care for them.
Few people know much about guinea hens, and those who do often mistake them for merely ornamental avians. Ask any old farmer with a flock, however, and you’ll find they are far more than that. In fact, guinea hens can act as everything from pastoral pest control to barnyard bodyguards, and have done so since their introduction to the North American continent by some of the first settlers. Indeed, their utilitarian history with humankind extends even further than that, with some evidence even being found of their domestication in 5th-century-B.C. Greece.
Guinea hens have a voracious appetite, and will eat everything from vegetation, to insects, to rodents, to small snakes. An intensely social animal, guinea hens are pack hunters, and will march in military-style lines through a field, devouring anything on their expansive menu of edibles. Should they find one of the larger treats on their menu such as a rodent or snake, for instance, they will close ranks, then kill and devour it as a collective. As such, guinea hens can be useful for deterring small rodents, and even more dangerous unwanted pests like copperheads.
No slackers, guinea hens will be quick to fill the insect-controlling void left behind by any rodents they run off. Many a crop has been saved by guineas’ love of potato bugs, grasshoppers and beetles of all kinds. Further, if you happen to live in one of the 41 states currently inhabited by the brown marmorated stink bug (much less one of the six absolutely infested by them), you’ll be happy to know the birds devour them like popcorn. Indeed, most every common bug is on the guinea-hen menu, including the dreaded tick. In this time of rampant Lyme disease and Alpha-gal syndrome (a development that may prove even more troubling for my fellow carnivores), a well-staffed group of guineas can drastically cut down on the tick population, decreasing the prevalence of tick-borne illness wherever you allow them to range.
Still not convinced solely on the birds’ merits as natural-born exterminators? Don’t worry, their uses continue. As mentioned, the birds make excellent guardians for your other animals, generally chickens. While they may seem clumsy and oddly proportioned, the birds’ suspicious temperament and shrill-yet-concussive calls make them perfect for guard duty. At the first sign of trouble, be it a hawk or a fox, their shriek will give early warning to any nearby chickens (or other such animal), allowing them time to flee to safety. Even better, as guinea hens can fly up to roost in trees, they themselves usually far outstrip any ground-based threat, and live to run another day. In other words, if free-ranging chickens are your thing, guinea hens are a veritable necessity, particularly with the continuing spread of the coyote nationwide.
Meat and Eggs
Finally, though in this author’s humble opinion it’s the birds’ least useful quality, the guinea hens can be used for their meat and eggs. Though I myself have never tasted the meat of the bird, from what I understand it is a lean dark meat, similar to its cousin the pheasant. In fact, their meat can be found on the menu at many upscale French and Asian restaurants as a luxury dish, and is known elsewhere as “poor-man’s pheasant.”
In terms of egg production, the hen’s seasonal laying schedule (generally sometime in March to early October) means it cannot hold a candle to the common chicken as far as volume is concerned. Nonetheless, the tiny eggs (about half the size of a chicken egg) are delicious, and will be laid at the rate of around one per day throughout the season.
That’s about all the space we have this week folks. I do hope you’ve enjoyed this first foray into the humble guinea hen. If this sounds like a bird you’d be interested in for your homestead, tune in next week for information on how to properly care for the critters!
A humble homesteader based in an undisclosed location, Lars Drecker splits his time between tending his little slice of self-sustaining heaven, and bothering his neighbors to do his work for him. This is mainly the fault of a debilitating predilection for fishing, hunting, camping and all other things outdoors. When not engaged in any of the above activities, you can normally find him broken down on the side of the road, in some piece of junk he just “fixed-up.”