Our guinea keets have grown up – remember when we bought them at just 4 weeks old! Well, two and a bit months later, it was time to move on out of their A-frame and into something a bit more comfy, more suitable for cosy sleeping, and with plenty of access to lovely pasture.
We did our research and discovered (we’d kind of guessed) that guineas love to fly and thus, they love a tree house which they can flutter up to each night. Cool – building a tree house would be fun! However, being raised upon a post would limit the size we could build, and given that all 12 tiny keets have grown up into gorgeous plump fowl, complete with bizarre check pouches, black wiry mohawks and heads that are bluer by the day, it looks like we’ll need to build at least two, possibly three. How cute will that look – three little tree houses grouped in the bottom corner of the garden – Julian even wants to build them little rope gangways so they can go visiting each other like Swiss Family Robinson!
So, it was off to the workshop, paper and pencil in hand, to survey the building supplies and work out what we could build. Fox proof of course. Decent ventilation. A landing platform with a door that can opened by us from down below. A floor frame that can be mounted on a post. And perches. Guineas love to roost.
Julian came up with the dimensions for the basic design – floor, walls, and roof. My contribution was the corner door (an outdoor table top I’d bought for pennies at the dumpshop – sure it would be useful for something) with a triangular landing platform – I didn’t want to sacrifice roosting space :-) – and the little window. I wanted the window bigger so I could peer in and see what they were up to. But Julian was mindful of rain getting in – so it’s smallish.
It took a couple of days to build. And the door’s not quite finished – Julian needs to buy the supplies so that it can be opened with a pulley – which is just a bit neat!
But it was ready enough for the guineas, especially given they need to be trained to live there. You see, guineas aren’t the smartest of birds, or the homeliest, and according to our research, they would rather be like the Hamburgs and sleep in trees. All very well, but we want to keep tabs on these little birds. We want to know they are safe each night. We want to find their eggs. We want them to earn their keep as diligent pest controllers And, truth be told, we want to roast some for supper! Thus, they need to be trained to realise this is their home. This is where the good stuff is.
So the idea is, you put the house on the ground at first surrounded by an electric fence so’s that you can (hopefully) keep track of them during the day, and herd them into their house at night. Then, when they are all happy with this arrangement, you raise the house so they can (hopefully) fly up by themselves. Eventually you remove the fence and whilst they are free to wander during the day, they will (hopefully) come back each night. There’s a lot of hope ;-)
Our chickens manage this beautifully. They have complete freedom to roam the farm during the day (apart from the vegetable beds) – they have their favourite corners, trees and hideouts, and a meticulously followed routine. You know where to find them according to the time of day. Then, an hour before sunset, they are back at their house, pottering about having a nibble and a drink and as soon as the light begins to fade, they take themselves up into their house and settle down to sleep on their perches. Easy peasy.
Our ducks are pretty good too. They roam about the house garden during the day and then an hour before sunset, I usher them down to the electric fenced yard in the bottom corner – in they waddle and now, after a week or so, they simply form a single line and trot on into their lovely blue house where they nestle down into the straw, chat to each other for a while, then tuck their beaks in and snooze away.
The geese are utterly hopeless. Let’s not mention the silly geese.
And those guineas? Well, they are highly eccentric. The first night we simply transferred them via the big dog crate to their new abode and that was that. The next morning, after letting out the ducks, Julian propped open the guineas’ door and we waited excitedly on the porch to watch them explode out into the field and delight in their new freedom. They didn’t get it. They stayed in that house all day, peering out the little window and occasionally even coming close to the door to see what on earth could be out there!?!?! But they just would not come out. We felt awful – sure that their two months in the a-frame had turned them into little prisoners who didn’t have a clue how to live on the outside.
Then, just when it was almost time to start putting all the other animals to bed, out popped two guineas. They strutted about confidently, then after surveying the field, began yelling to their comrades. The rest came out in pairs or threesomes. Finally there was just one little guinea left on the inside and when she realised – poof! out she exploded. The flock was complete.
And oh how funny is that flock! They move like a school of fish. Up and down, back and forth. And if one breaks away, that’s it, the whole flock explodes, they race about yelling, then within seconds, come back to form their flock and move off once more. So funny! By day five, they still don’t come out until around midday, but then, they flock round and round the field, pecking away at the ground, squawking at the top of their lungs, and occasionally one will flutter up to the cherry tree or outside the fence. But the minute they realise they have separated from their flock, they are frantic to get back and join their always bobbing, beautifully feathered siblings.
But come bedtime …
The first night, we went down to the field as it was getting dark and really struggled to get those guineas back in their house. It took ages and eventually we were chasing guineas round and round the field – they run like the road runner – hoping they’d run at the (turned off) fence, get caught in the netting, then we could finally catch them and pop them into their house. Oy! The second night, Julian declared we should just let them be. Nope. If we gave up so easily, they would never learn to love their home. So it was back down to play chasey with the crazy birds. They would herd to a degree but then, as soon as we neared the house they would stop dead, refuse to move another step, then one would break away and we’d be off – again. Dreadful stuff.
The third night we went down a bit later, when the guineas had already formed a little pile next to the fence and gone to sleep. They were so asleep that they barely stirred when we approached and were quite groggy when we woke them up – we were able to pick up two each and pop them into the house effortlessly. Then we realised the guineas couldn’t see in the dark – they ran straight into the house and waterer. We also noticed, unlike the ducks who run away from the torchlight, these guys ran into it – they preferred the light and were afraid of the dark! So we shone the torch in front of their path instead of behind them, and lo and behold, they didn’t stop when they reached the dark house but kept shuffling forwards until eventually we’d managed to push all of them in.
Tonight, we were sitting by the fire, the wind roaring outside, lamenting that we still had to get the guineas into their house (everybody was tucked up, except of course, the silly geese) and Julian wondered whether he could set up a light in their house to attract them. A light! A light! The wonderful blog article I’d read on how to train the guineas to move into their homes had SAID to put in a light and Julian had laughed this off as way too much for the humble guinea fowl.
Rubbish! It’s not a frivolity! It’s what attracts them to their home and makes them feel secure. We could set up a little solar panel with a light attached, turn it on an hour before sunset, and hopefully, once it’s dark, they’ll all be in and then we can turn it out!!!!
So we tested it tonight. The poor little guineas were huddled next to the fence (right next to the charger – which emits a green light – duh!) so we put the big dolphin torch in the corner of their house, then gently encouraged them up and began herding them over to their house. Well. It was a miracle. They were still a little sleepy, but so comforted by that warm glow and trotted on over. We got 9 out of 12 in on the first pass, the next two went in on the second, and the final guinea ran in helter skelter when he realised he was the only one left outside in the dark. The whole shenanigans took less than five minutes.
Dear little guineas :-) With their floppy cheek pouches, vulturine eyes, blueing heads and those gorgeous, gorgeous feathers. They are truly divine – I’m so glad they are here! And isn’t that just the lesson – it pays to remember good advice :-)
Well, you know where Julian is going tomorrow don’t you. Back to the hardware store for supplies to wire up that guinea house light! And I shall paint their little door.