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Gardening with Guineas.

Gardening with Guineas, by Jeannette S. Ferguson; 131 pages, illus., $14.95; FFE Media, PO Box 804, Waynesville OH 45068; www.guineafowl.com

We've been looking for an informative, readable book on guinea fowl for many many years. At long last, someone has written that book.

Gardening with Guineas is a brief but comprehensive and detailed handbook on these interesting and useful but under-appreciated birds by a writer who knows and loves them. It contains everything you'll need to know to raise guineas successfully. What's more, it might very well convince you that you need some guineas, even if you didn't know it.

Why would anyone "need" a bird that is perhaps best known for its raucous cry and its "wildness?" To eat ticks! For some people, that's reason enough.

But they also dine on potato bugs, moths, slugs, aphids, Japanese beetles, grasshoppers, and other creepy-crawlies. And they'll do this in your garden, without scratching out seeds or seedlings or eating the plants. (The author notes that they will, however, eat tomatoes, if they once learn how.)

They kill snakes, and chase robins and other birds away from cherry trees and strawberry patches.

Noisy? Mostly when there's a good reason--such as a hawk or other predator, or a human stranger. Wild? Not if you follow Jeannette Ferguson's advice about handling them frequently from Day One on--and training them with treats of white millet!

She is first and foremost a gardener, who got her first guineas specifically to debug her flowers. But for homesteaders, the meat, which is quite unlike chicken, is another good reason for raising guineas.

The author covers the breeds, classifications and terminology; hatching--in an incubator, under a guinea hen, or a chicken; feeding, at various ages; training; right on through recipes for the delicate, gamebird-like meat.

Just one small tip made this book worth reading, for us. That was on sexing these birds. Hatcheries don't even bother. They only sell straight-run (unsexed) keets (day-old guineas). For years, we had been told that the females have a call that sounds like "buck-wheat, buck-wheat," while the males cry "chi-chi-chi-chi ..." One problem is that the females also call "chi-chi-chi" when alarmed. And in a moving flock of birds that seemingly all look alike, often all screaming in unison, how can you even tell who said what?

Ferguson says that by 12-15 weeks of age the cocks develop larger and thicker gills (which until reading this book we called wattles). "The adult guinea cock will have gills so large they hang outward and down, appearing to cup under. By a year old the guinea cock stands out with his larger gills, one-syllable sound, a slightly larger helmet, and slightly longer legs than those of the guinea hen. There is no way to mistake a male guinea from a female at this point."

Just a bit skeptical, we went out to the guinea pen. Sure enough: once we knew what to look for, we noticed a definite difference! This was valuable information because we had been intending to butcher a couple, but it turned out to be even more profitable than we'd expected. Of our eight guineas, only three are hens, and killing the wrong one would have been a minor disaster in terms of increasing the flock.

Of even greater potential profit was the advice on training guineas to come into their house at night. In our first experience with guineas, about 45 years ago, the birds roosted in trees (or on the barn roof). The only way to harvest them for meat was with a .22 or shotgun. The hen-raised keets seldom survived, even the adults soon disappeared, and the flock died off. This was repeated several times in subsequent years. Eventually we gave up on guineas--until now, when we were just about to repeat the same old mistake.

Jeannette Ferguson says that by training the birds to go into the coop at night, losses from owls, other predators, and bad weather can be minimized. By keeping them confined until about noon, or after they have layed their eggs, nests hidden in the weeds and eggs and keets lost can be eliminated.

The guineas will still pick up as much as 90% of their diet on bug patrol, which is yet another attraction to the self-sufficient homesteader.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Belanger, Jd
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 1, 2000
Words:717
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