On a recent visit to a nearby farm, we met our first Guinea Fowl. There were 2 males, with their exquisite speckledy feathers and striking blue heads, shepherding a little flock of keets (guinea chicks) about the garden – sadly the hen had recently been taken by a fox but the males stepped up to the mark and were enthusiastically practising hands-on parenting.
We were utterly enchanted! They were so pretty and different – their bodies are very very round and their heads are like tiny blue periscopes with red trimmings – and they are very independent. They will amble about your garden all day, eating bugs and weeds without causing damage to your plants, and then at night, if trained, will return to a little house to safely roost. They also, apparently, make for a delicious roast.
Once home, I jumped on Gumtree and searched for some of our own. There were not too many about and most were tiny keets, requiring weeks of care in a heated brooder box – something we didn’t have. But then I found 12 in nearby Moruya that were already 4 weeks old. They were still living in a brooder box but did not need extra heat as their feathers were already fluffing out nicely.
That weekend, Julian and I knocked up a brooder box – using two Ikea Gorm bookshelves as our base structure – and the following Tuesday Noah and I made the trek north to collect our new feathered babies. The lovely owners also had a pair of Appleyard Duck breeders that they were looking to rehome as they were focussing on Muscovies – who were bullying the Appleyards. “No problem!” we said delightedly “We’ll bring extra boxes!”
Oh it was such a funny pick up :-) The farm was lovely – an old establishment with a dear little wooden farmhouse and beautiful orchard with ducks, chickens and guinea fowl roaming everywhere. The keets were in a guinea pig house – transferring them into our big box, laid with pea straw mulch was filled with unstoppable laughter. Keets are like feathered popcorn! You open the lid and pow! They shoot up into the sky every which way. The owners and Noah were darting about plucking up the little keets as they landed whilst I was in charge of opening and slapping back down the box lid. We were beside ourselves!
Then the farmer collected the Appleyards – a much more dignified affair. They are majestic ducks – beautifully feathered and calm, with sweet faces and exaggerated waddles. On our journey home their boxes were quiet and still – the keets’ box bumped and clattered and cheeped all the way home as 12 little popcorns boinged about all over the place :-)
After almost 2 weeks in their brooder box it was obvious our funny little keets needed to move to bigger quarters. So, yesterday the 3 of us set to transforming the unfinished chicken tractor into a guinea keet home.
Since it was such a hot day, we rolled the tractor on logs into the shade and set to work. One side panel of mesh was cut out and turned into a wooden framed hinged door. We added another panel of mesh to the triangular end.
Julian removed the corrugated metal panels that provided the little, dry sleeping quarters and we popped in struts and gum tree roosts. It’s possible Julian got a bit carried away when searching for good roost material – so we added the lovely big twisty end of the branch as a bit of play equipment for them.
Do you see how the bark has crinkled in the bend of the branch? Looks all the world for like the back knees of over worn stockings doesn’t it – truly beautiful how something so very hard can be so flexible and tactile.
The whole process was such a lovely family affair. That’s certainly an aspect of our new life on this little farm that I love. Our cottage is so small and the farm so remote (well, not really by Australian standards, but certainly by inner suburban Melbourne standards!) that we just gravitate so easily to doing things together. It was a blissful afternoon of building and chatting and laughing in the loveliest of settings …
Thankfully, we finished all the essential bits in time to transfer the keets from their brooder to their new a-frame home just before the sun began to set. And oh how the loved it!
Noah and I carried the brooder across the top field (where the sheds are) and down into the fenced cottage garden (where all our poultry live). Then we once more played the highly entertaining game of “stop that keet from popcorning up up and away!”
They are dear little birds – so warm and feisty, so pretty and full of character and purpose. One by one we dropped them into their a-frame – at first they all scurried into the shelter at the back. But once they were all in and felt a little more confident, they began toddling about – pecking at the grass with amazed delight, checking out the play branch, eating and drinking. In a completely anthropomorphic way I am sure they couldn’t believe their world could be so beautiful!
One brave little critter – he is the biggest with a beautifully striped head – popcorned up to the roost and strutted back and forth, stretching out his feathers whilst cheeping down to his mates – you can see him in the fifth photo down from here.
And of course, they popcorned over and over again. Finally they have the room to do what it seems they love doing best. Oh they were so funny!
At one stage, one was like a domino. She popcorned up into the sky and triggered all the rest, one after another – the whole a-frame was chaotically filled with little outstretched wings and fluttering orange legs and feet zooming up into the air and down again. Sadly I didn’t have the camera – but you can see one little lavender one doing it in the left hand corner of the fourth photo down from here.
Being the rather anxious type I am, I dreamt about our little keets all night long – and not nice dreams. Oh no. In the vignettes that woke me up every couple of hours, there were foxes sneakily digging under the electric fence and then under the a-frame and demolishing our little flock, or the little birds were all shivering to death in the cool night air, or had tipped over their water and were dying of thirst.
Of course none of these things happened – though I am never dismissive about the very real risk of foxes – and this morning when I went down in the early, mist swirling hours before the sun had properly risen, there they all were, cheerfully bopping about the place. Phew!
One day we hope to have all our poultry free to roam all of the garden – not just within their electric fenced fields. Both Julian and I love the notion of looking out from the verandah and seeing ducks waddling past to the pond, chickens snoozing in the shade, and guinea fowl roosting in our trees. Before that happens we will need many more hours of work on the cottage fence, new gates and – if Noah and I get our way – a lovely brave and diligent Maremma to guard them all.
Until then we will potter along with our timber and screws, mesh and corrugated, building our little flocks homes and nests and shelters, and delighting in their antics.
This farming life sure is good.