A confusion of guineas
Updated: Jan 16, 2021
Most people are familiar with the concept of working animals; guide dogs and draft horses spring easily to mind. On our farm, we’ve slowly been accumulating working birds. And loud ones! For the past year our ducks have been watched over by White Chinese Geese who are known for their aggressive and territorial nature. They’ll certainly tell us if anything gets near the ducks.
In the Smoky Mountains, the story goes, moonshiners used to keep guinea fowl as an alert to help protect the stills. They had to come a long way to end up there. Guinea fowl are indigenous to North Africa, and were domesticated earlier than the fifth century BCE. On the famously epicurean tables of wealthy Romans, guinea fowl were praised for their distinctive flavor. Slightly smaller than a chicken, guinea fowl are very fine boned – with as much as 70% more meat per pound than a chicken. The flavor is also deeper, richer, and darker, closer to pheasant than a chicken. It’s no wonder they’re a delicacy around the world.
But one can also speculate easily that the other reason so many people have been interested in keeping guinea fowl is the reason we’re interested in keeping them now; guineas are powerhouses when it comes to pest management. Guineas not only eat insects (and lots of them) but they’ve been known to go after snakes, mice, and even small rats.
Guinea fowl are currently experiencing a rise in popularity with the resurgence of pesticide-free agriculture and is a welcome addition to many homesteads. Guineas love to eat insects, and they have a prodigious appetite for them. The internet abounds with stories of homesteads saved from tick infestation by a flock of guinea’s enthusiastic management.
Eating insects means that a guinea’s diet is high in protein. All that protein makes for pretty delicious eggs, which we expect the guineas here to be laying next summer. While they’re managing our insects, they’ll lay eggs higher in fats and protein than chicken eggs. Compared to chicken eggs, guinea eggs are a little bit smaller with a higher ratio of yolk to white, which gives them a distinctively creamy texture. I’m excited to see how they do in Shaun’s soon to be traditional devilled-egg off.
They might not be as familiar as chickens or turkeys, but the guineas are a welcome addition to our farm.