Notes from Windward: #69


The Great Guinea Heist

taking custody of the eggs


     When I started incubating this spring, I collected six eggs from the nest the guinea hen had created under Todd's tarp-covered motorcycle, and left a ceramic egg in their place in hope that she would continue laying there. I was able to collect a few more eggs and transfer them to the incubator before she decided to abandon that nest and in favor of a more secluded location which was fine because Todd wanted to move his motorcycle. The guinea hen evidently decided that the skirted storage area under the 5th Wheel trailer satisfied her desire for privacy, and took up residency. From then on, anyone coming near the trailer was likely to incur the wrath of the guineas.

the guinnea hen's hidden nest

     While the guinea hen was busy laying her new nest, I took to working with the 12 guinea eggs we had nestled away in the incubator. I'm sad to report that only one of those eggs hatched. Since chicks need to be raised with other chicks, the newly hatched guinea chick went into the brooder with a group of newly-hatched of Rhode Island Red chicks, so now we have a month old guinea hen that thinks its a chicken. Guineas are very strange birds, exhibiting behavior that's very different from the ducks, chickens and peacocks that we're used to working with, so we're more than a little curious as to how this chick is going to relate to the other birds when it matures.

     Even with the low hatching rate, I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least my first attempt at hatching guineas turned out better, if only by one chick, than what the guineas did last summer. That year the guineas made a large nest--over 20 eggs--and none of them hatched. The only increase in our guinea flock last summer was thanks to Monica‚Äôs efforts at incubation.

     I decided to initially let the guinea hen lay her new nest undisturbed. Last week I ducked under the trailer to see how she was coming along, an attempt which was firmly rebuffed by the three other guineas who screamed and ran at me as though they intended to peck me fiercely.

     I didn't know if their hostility was all bluster, or if they could actually do harm to someone raiding a nest, so like a beekeeper getting ready to remove some honey comb, I donned my welding coat, gloves and safety glasses before returning. I also opened up one of the skirting panels so that the hen would have a way to retreat out of the corner she was setting in.

     As I entered, she called to her mate for help, and together they loudly screeched fowl obscenities at me as I crawled in to get at the nest. With one hand using the lid of a garbage can as a shield, I quickly transferred the eggs from the dirt nest into a #10 coffee can lined with a piece of toweling. I then quickly retreated out of the area.

dressed for raiding the nest

     I took my hastily gathered booty up to the warmerator and counted 21 eggs as I placed them into the egg rocker. With hands still shaking from the adrenaline rush, I candled the eggs and was delighted to find that over half of the gathered eggs contain healthy embryos that appear to be about two weeks along in developing.

     We currently only have the four guineas, one of whom lost a foot to frostbite last winter and I am hopeful that we will significantly increase our guinea flock with this new harvest. I know it's hard on the guinea hen to lose a clutch of eggs, but our experience has been that even the chickens lose half of their hatchlings if left to their own devices. No doubt the hen is upset to lose custody of her clutch, but since we're raising better than 90% of the chicks that hatch, we believe that this collaborative approach really is the best way to increase our flock.

July 28:

     Earlier this summer, I salvaged some eggs from under Todd's motorcycle. One lone guinea hatched from those eggs, and is now seven weeks old. It's a strange chick, but guineas are very strange birds anyway, so it's hard to tell how he's doing psychologically. No doubt he'll be happier when he has some siblings to interact with.

this year's first guinea chick

     While candling the guinea eggs captured in the Great Guinea Heist, I found that the embryos were about two weeks old by comparing them to duck embryos which have the same length of incubation. Based on that, I anticipated they would start hatching around the 25th. As that day approached I kept close watch on the eggs and sure enough on the evening of the 24th the first egg started pipping.

     Given the guinea chicks that have hatched over the last two days, I'm delighted to announce that we have tripled the size of our guinea flock.

newly hatched guinea chicks sitting in their feed pan

     Just this morning, I transferred seven hatchings to one of our commercial brooders. I added an old cookie sheet to the floor of the brooder so that the newly hatched chicks would start eating right away. A cookie sheet works great for this since chicks are born with an instinct to peck the ground for food. They need to be a few days old before they can grasp the concept of finding food inside a feeder. This wastes a bit of feed, but the faster start makes the waste worthwhile.

after something to eat and drink
it's time to explore the brooder

     Another key trick is, as you move the chicks into the brooder, dunk their beaks into the water and leave them sitting right in front of the waterer. That way they'll know that the waterer has water in it, and they'll be able to remember where it is in the brooder. Not all the chicks "get it" the first time but enough do that the slow learners can watch their smarter siblings and not go thirsty. Given the heat we're experiencing, it's important to get food and especially water into the chicks quickly so that they start off strong.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69