Getting Your Keets (baby guineas) Off to a Good Start!
(Written with the novice in mind; however, you experienced folks just might learn something you didn’t know!)
Keets, like chicks, need feed, water, heat, light and space. And a little tender, loving care helps, too. If you’ve raised chickens before, guineas are not much different except in a few very important areas that will be mentioned below. If you’re a first time bird raiser learn as much as you can about the care and maintenance of poultry and you will be rewarded with healthy birds, a successful flock and a lot of pleasure. You’ll find some useful web sites at the end.
FEED — Use commercial game bird starter/grower (28 to 30% protein) for at least the first 6 weeks or so. You can use chick starter, but the keets won’t grow as fast as they will with a higher protein feed. Remember, guineas are game birds (from Africa originally) and should be raised like game birds with extra protein. Make sure the feed has a short shelf life – old feed will lose many of its nutrients. Use crumbles for young birds and if you want them to waste less food, switch to pellets for adults. Pellets are too large for young keets. It’s not necessary to include grit in their diet as long as you are giving them only crumbles or pellets. Use a 2 foot feeder for each 50 keets. Never let the keets run out of food. It’s not a bad idea to spread paper towels on at least part of their floor and scatter feed over it for the first week or two. The keets naturally look for stuff to peck and this helps get plenty of food in them early.
WATER — Use a one gallon chick waterer for 50 keets. For smaller numbers (10-30 or so) quart waterers are fine. I strongly recommend that you add a vitamin and electrolyte concentrate to their water from day one. (All keets from my farm are started with it.) Based on my personal experience, it will make a significant difference in the survival rate of new keets. I continue to use vitamins and electrolyte concentrate for my adult birds. (Might be overkill, but it makes me feel better and it surely won’t hurt them!) Follow the directions on the package. Change the water every day and, like feed, never let your keets run out of water. DON’T LET YOUR KEETS GET WET! Put some marbles or small river rocks in the drinking tray of your waterer to make it shallower. Very young keets can even drown in a very shallow drinking tray. I learned this lesson the hard way.
HEAT – The temperature should be around 95 degrees (F) for the first week. Drop the temperature 5 degrees (F) each week until the birds are 6 weeks old. After that, the birds should be fully feathered and extra heat is not needed. A good source of heat is a 250-watt heat bulb. (Red bulbs are better than white because they help reduce pecking.) Hang the bulb about 18″ off the floor. The heat directly under the bulb may be hotter than the keets like – if so, they will adjust by moving away to the area they like. One bulb will be enough for 100 keets.
LIGHT – If you use a heat bulb, needed light is handled. Otherwise, use a 75-watt bulb on dark days and a small light for night – 15-watts or similar – to keep them from piling on top of each other.
SPACE – In my opinion, a commercial brooder is the best space you can provide. One unit takes care of all five basic requirements for raising poultry and is, by far, the most sanitary quarters for young birds. In addition, most commercial brooders have some type of thermostat so one can more precisely regulate heat. One word of caution: If you have a brooder or a type of enclosure that has ½” hardware cloth for a floor, I would recommend that your cover the hardware cloth with paper towels for 10 days to 2 weeks and change the paper towels when they get too soiled. I’ve had very young keets get a foot caught in the ½” hardware cloth and twist a leg out of joint. After a couple of years of hatching 1,500 keets/year I got tired of dealing with all those paper towels. I built new floors for my brooders using ¼” hardware cloth and they work great – good traction and the manure drops through. The downside: after the birds are a couple of weeks or so old, the droppings get too big to easily drop through the ¼” hardware cloth and it starts to mat up. By this time the birds are large enough to safely handle the ½” hardware cloth so I put the larger grid floor back in the brooders.
Sooo, with that said and if you don’t own a commercial brooder and/or you don’t want to spring for a couple of hundred bucks to buy one, here’s what you do: make a circle of cardboard about 2’ tall and 5’ to 8’ in diameter. The cardboard helps cut down drafts on the floor. You need about ½ square foot per bird. (Remember how to figure the square footage of a circle from your high school geometry? Another reason to spring for a brooder – no math! And if you later decide you don’t want to raise any more birds, you can always sell it on Craigs List or on Ebay.) Your keets need enough space to get away from the heat if they want to. Hang your heat bulb in the center and place food and water about half way between the center and the sides. Use paper towels or old cloth towels on the floor. Do not use newspaper or any slick surface. Guineas have weaker legs than most other types of poultry and a slick surface can result in splayed legs, which is very difficult to correct. (Note: While I’m on the subject of guinea legs, NEVER pick a guinea up by its legs. It’s very easy to pull a hip or “knee” out of joint.) Don’t use wood chips or sawdust on the floors as the young birds will eat it and it can cause digestive problems or even be fatal.
This will work for about 4 to 6 weeks when your keets will be flying over the wall – and they may do it sooner! You can put some type of cover over the brooder while you build your growing pen! And that’s a whole ‘nother subject. This piece is about getting them started, not finishing them off – so, you have 4 weeks to research and plan your next move.
Miscellaneous notes, in no particular order:
Rear-end “pasting up” – Sometimes young birds will have manure stick to their butts. Guess what? You get to clean it off! If you don’t, it will kill ‘em. It’s important to check them daily for the first week or so. After that, there shouldn’t be any problem. (Now, don’t mistake the remnants of the “umbilical cord” which is right below the vent, where the poop comes out. Sometimes the droppings can collect on the cord, but is not blocking the vent. The cord will eventually fall off by itself. If you pull too hard on the cord, you can injure the keet.) To remove the droppings, hold the keet in your left hand, if you’re a righty, (I’m sure you lefties can figure out what to do without detailed instructions since I’ve been told you’re smarter than we righties are.) and with your right hand dampen the dried manure with a warm, moist cloth and it will come off easily. You can pull it off dry more quickly, but you’ll take some down with it. I would think the keet would prefer the former if given a choice. So you thought you were done with this when you got your last kid out of diapers?!
Keet Behavior – Keets will often be running around and suddenly stop, sit down and almost instantly go to sleep with their beaks resting on the floor. Sometimes they’ll even lay down on the sides and go to sleep, or on their bellies with their legs sticking straight out to the rear. Not to worry, this is normal. Often, they will try to dust themselves (like their adult parents) when there is no dust. They will lay on their sides, flap their little wings and scratch frantically with their feet. If you didn’t know better, you would think they were having an epileptic fit! If you hear a single bird chirping loudly, usually something is wrong – it may have gotten its leg caught in something or its head caught in a feeder or it got out of the brooder and wants back in with its flock mates.
Floor covering – Never use hay or straw on floors or nesting boxes at any age. When hay or straw gets moisture on it, even from droppings, it can grow mold and/or fungus that can be harmful, even deadly, to birds. As birds get older and you move them out of the brooder, use pine shavings (the same stuff horse people use in horse stalls) on the floor.
Guineas as pets – Since guineas are game birds they are wilder than most other domestic poultry. As a result, if you want a “pet guinea” it’s going to take more effort and it’s well worth it. You need to handle the bird or birds at least 4 times per day for 15 minutes to a ½ hour at a time, each. (For sure you’ll be checking their little butts for pasting!) Give them a treat, such as white millet or a bit of apple. Let the apple bits turn brown before you give it to them. The more attention you give them, the tamer they will be. The pets will sit on your shoulder, ride on your arm and fly to you when you come outside.
If you just raise your guineas normally, they will come when called and will hang around you, just not too close. It’s fairly easy to train them to come into a poultry house and/or roosting area at night. We let ours out during the day and get them inside their house just before dark. If they are left outside overnight they are ideal targets for a hungry owl.
After 4 weeks – Your guineas are going to need more food, more water, a safe place to roost and more fresh air. So plan ahead.
Eggs – Guinea eggs are very tasty. It takes about 3 guinea eggs to equal 2 normal size hen eggs. And they’re wonderful in pastries.
http://www.guineafowlinternational.org/ – This is an excellent source, and they also have an active message board.
http://paraguin.netfirms.com/ – A variety of information about guinea fowl, chickens and pea fowl.