The guinea is one of the most unusual farmyard birds, and the most useful. Some have described the guinea as ugly, and annoying, and to be honest growing up I felt the same way. My Dad always had a pen of guineas in the barn and their loud “screech” sounds vibrated around the stone walls of the basement and pounded my head. Our neighbors weren’t too fond of them either, when they would got out they liked to fly way up to the peak of the barn (three stories up) and “screech” so loud everyone in Niagara County probably heard them.
Now that we’ve sufficiently turned you off from raising the guinea, let us convince you why you want them. Guineas are amazing bug eaters, especially of the tick which in turn helps in preventing Lyme disease. They forage amazingly well and are hardy, finding their own food, and roosting far above ground to keep them safe from fox, coyotes, and other predators. Not only do they keep themselves safe, their loud sounds also help protect their barn mates by keeping watch for predators and helping to deter them. While we do not have personal experience with free ranging them we have read many tales of guineas killing snakes and de-bugging gardens without harming the plant.
The guinea originates from Africa, and is very hardy. Guineas lay a slightly smaller egg than the chicken, which is quiet pointy and pale cream in color. In our area Guineas do not start to lay until the weather is warmer, usually May, and they continue to lay until August. Unlike chickens that peak at age 2 for laying, guineas will lay well up to age 5. Keets (baby guineas) hatch in about 28 days, and are full of spunk and vibrancy. If your female guinea sets and hatches her own keets, be mindful of allowing them to wonder in the wet dew grass, as that can kill baby guineas faster than anything.
The guineas appearance always seemed vulture like to me, with their funny heads many refer to helmet like; and big wattles. Typically the male has larger wattles that flare out, while the female’s wattles are small and close to the face, however this is not 100%. Both male and female guineas make a single syllable call, however the females also make a two syllable call “buck-Wheat”. Guineas come in a variety of colours, pearl being the most common with their dark bodies and white dots all over.
Keeping guineas is very easy. If you have plenty of land you can easily free range them, although make sure to keep your guineas cooped for a couple weeks so they know where home is. If you are like us and have close neighbors guineas can easily be kept in a coop like chickens. They need a roost, and a diet of grower pellets, and corn is sufficient, although they do love fresh vegetables such as tomatoes. Typically guineas even ones raised from hatching aren’t tame nor liked to be held. Guineas can be nervous and flighty. If you need to catch your guinea we recommend using a fish net to capture them, and be careful of their wings when they are frightened and flapping their wings, the tips of the feathers feel like razors cuts. Most people will recommend you keeping your male guineas and roosters away from one another, we have successfully co-cooped them, however due to the guineas flightiness we did see a drop in our hens egg production when cooped together so we now keep them separate unless we have an extra rooster we need a pen for.
Guineas can also be used for meat, and as we discovered this fall they are delicious! Guineas are a dark meat with less fat and fewer calories than chicken, and they are supposed to dress out to 75% of their live weight which is slightly better than the average chicken. We will be looking into the larger meat breeds of guineas for the future, but until then this is the recipe we tried at a dinner party and everyone loved it.
Roasted Guinea Hen with Mustard & Herbs
Makes 6 servings
8 minced garlic cloves
1lb fingerling potatoes
1 bay leaf
6 tbsp butter
2 ½ tbsp. whole grain mustard
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
6 medium shallots
½ c chicken broth
Sprigs of thyme, tarragon, parsley *the recipe calls for four sprigs of each however I just grabbed a handful of what we had in the freezer, and sprinkled some dried tarragon on as well
Fill a saucepan halfway with water and bring to boil add garlic and simmer five minutes, add potatoes, bay leaf, and salt to taste, simmer 10 minutes or until potatoes are mostly cooked.
While melting 1 tbsp butter, mash together the mustard, chives, 5 tbsp butter, salt and pepper to taste. Reserve 1 tbsp mustard butter for sauce
Remove any excess fat from your bird, rinse, and let drip dry. Run your finger underneath the skin of the bird to loosen, and drizzle the mustard butter between the skin and the meat. Season the bird with salt and pepper and put a handful of your herbs inside. Brush the melted butter over the bird.
In a roasting pan drizzle oil to coat the pan, then place the birds breast side up, and place potatoes and shallots around them, as well any extra herbs. Cook at 425 for 50-60 minutes basting the birds every so often.
When the birds come out of the oven skim fat from the pan juices and discard. Add chicken broth to the remains of the pan, and boil until it is reduced. Stir in tbsp. of mustard butter with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve and enjoy