My mother had a thing for guinea hens. These odd-looking African birds with their beautiful gray bodies, spotted feathers and curious white turkey-like heads were the only ones in our neighborhood. Maybe Mom was way ahead of her time, because guineas are renowned tick eaters and thus a valuable protection against Lyme disease in humans and pets. These noisy birds may be the salvation of your home or homestead too.
Guineas are present in every African village because they’re genetically programmed to alert to snakes both venomous and benign. I’ve seen cactus wrens in the desert surround a rattlesnake squawking like crazy to drive it away. When guineas encounter a snake, they act the same way by ringing the predator and making so much noise the whole neighborhood knows it’s there. Snakes are rather shy creatures and quickly slither away from this noisy limelight.
Guineas let you know whenever there’s an intruder or something unusual going on outside, which is a great benefit to moms too busy inside to be watchful. When they raise the alarm, you will know to check the kids.
This is the beauty of a bird that is still half wild, maintaining its self-sufficient instincts while prowling your yard and garden for ticks on ground, deadwood, shrubs and trees. There is no better way to keep grasshoppers and tent caterpillars and other very damaging insects from the vegetable garden because guineas don’t eat the plants and are less prone to scratching damage to roots and seedlings than chickens. They are more tolerant of extreme weather, both heat and cold, are nearly free of diseases that plague poultry and are less demanding about their diet. In Africa, guineas are raised like chickens for fresh meat.
With guineas in the yard, your pets and kids will be naturally protected from venomous snakes and disease-carrying ticks, but be advised — your neighborhood will never be the same. Guineas are famous for their loud crowing, which you can hear on YouTube videos. It sounds like “buck-wheat buck-wheat,” making these birds as problematic to urban agriculture as any rooster. However, the African bird’s eggs are coveted by backpackers because they’re less prone to breakage than hens’ eggs.
At first, Mom let our guineas roam freely. A few hens were led by a single male named Renfro. Guineas love to chase other guineas and go after virtually everything that runs from them. Our family dog discovered this and together she and Renfro would chase each other all over the backyard for hours on end.
At night they flew up into our trees to roost beyond the reach of dogs and other predators, so we had no worries about a coop. If disturbed after dark, they make enough noise to wake the dead, so nobody could creep up on our place unnoticed.
Problems began when Renfro decided the neighbor’s tree down the street was a better roosting place. It was right outside the master bedroom, so the neighbors were not pleased with being awakened late at night or early morning. They were also unhappy with the guano spattering the ground below. Apparently it became a huge bone of contention with my parents, who were loathe to pen up their guineas.
You may be able to find breeders of guineas locally by asking around at feed stores. Otherwise you can buy day-old babies called “keets” online for mail delivery. Guinea Farm in Iowa deals in guineas exclusively at www.guineafarm.com. Check out Murray McMurray Hatcheries, Murraymcmurrayhatcheries.com, the largest chicken breeder that also sells guineas and other exotic birds.
Above all, those who live in tick country deserve a more efficient, non-toxic method of tick control. Guineas can clean out your yard and the neighboring woods too, offering nature’s way of protecting the entire family, pets and livestock.