Something different in garden and aviary
Gordon M Duncan
Many South Africans are familiar with the Crowned or Helmeted Guineafowl; either as a roadside bird or a game bird much loved by hunters. What most of us don’t know, however, is that the familiar bird that we all know, is only one of 7 species and a number of subspecies found throughout Africa. These are:
. The Black Guineafowl, (Angelasters meleagrides) from S Cameron to C Zaire. I cannot say that these birds are not available to us in South Africa, but I have certainly never seen them offered for sale. If any reader knows of stock in South Africa, he or she should write to Avizandum and let other readers know.
. The White-breasted Guinea-fowl, (Angelasters meleagrides) from Liberia and Ghana. Their availability is, to the best of my knowledge, as for the Black Guineafowl.
. The Helmeted Guineafowl*, (Numida meleagris), ranging over most of Africa from Arabia to Cape Town in 22 subspecies. This is also the wild ancestor of most domestic Guineafowl, which come in a bewildering array of mutations and colours. The domestic varieties sell from about R100 – R250 per pair depending on the rarity of the mutation, while the true wild birds, on permit, sell for about R75 per pair.
. The Plumed Guineafowl, (Gut-tera plumifera) from Cameroon, Gabon, N Angola and N Zaire in 2 subspecies. Their availability is, to the best of my knowledge, as for the Black Guineafowl.
. The Crested Guineafowl*, (Guttera edourdi) is found from Central Africa to KwaZulu-Natal and comprises 9 subspecies. These birds are quite rare on permit and I believe that you would probably have to pay at least R400 per pair if you were able to locate them. But this really is a guess on my part.
. The Kenya Crested Guinea-fowl, (Guttera pucherani) is found from Somalia through Kenya and Tanzania to Zanzibar. Beautiful birds, superficially similar to our local species, they are unfortunately prohibitively expensive. When available, imported birds sell for as much as R3 500 per pair.
. The Vulturine Guineafowl, (Acryllium vulturinum) comes to us from Uganda, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. As can be seen in the photograph, this is a truly unusual, exotic and beautiful bird. These birds cannot but captivate anybody who likes the exotic. They are expensive at about R1 600 per pair, but not excessively so. They are well worth the price!
The Guineafowl marked with an * are indigenous and you will require a permit from your local Parks Board or Department of Nature Conservation to keep them in captivity.
Unless you live in the country where noise is not a problem and have the space to offer them separate accommodation, avoid the Helmeted and the Domestic Guineafowl like the plague. They are noisy in the extreme and are impossible bullies. They will kill any bird weak enough to allow it, and will bully even larger birds into a decline. I had a pair of silver domestic Guineafowl, at the liberty in an area of 10 000m². This area they shared peacefully with Peafowl, Sonnerat’s Junglefowl and domestic poultry until they came into breeding condition. Within less than a week they killed three Bantam hens and a Junglefowl cock. They even attacked the Peafowl. As I did not have separate accommodation to offer them, I disposed of them post haste! Every bird is an individual with its own character. Perhaps I was unfortunate with my pair, so by all means try them if you wish, but proceed with caution.
Should you decide to keep the domestic Guineafowl, please remember your moral and legal obligation to keep them in covered aviaries or to keep both your breeding stock and their offspring pinioned. If allowed to go wild, they will interbreed freely with the wild Guinea-fowl, causing irreparable harm to the wild genepool.
With the exception of the two indigenous species and the various domestic varieties, the only Guineafowl that the South African Aviculturist is likely to be offered are the Kenya Crested and the Vulturine. These are both very beautiful and exotic birds, which fortunately are well-behaved and easy to keep.
Except in the case of babies being reared in a brooder, ground birds are not suitable for permanent housing in cages. A good minimum size shelter and flight pen to house them would be 4,5m long by 1,2m wide and 1,5m high. A greater height is desirable from the point of view of the keeper. A minimum height, which allows you comfortably to move about without bumping your head, is therefore recommended. Natural or artificial cover as well as facilities for scratching in the earth and taking dust baths should be provided. Concrete floors are unnatural, unsuitable and to be avoided. This size enclosure should comfortably house a maximum of 6 Guineafowl.
Guineafowl are tough and hardy birds. They can take any amount of cold that our climate can throw at them, but damp, draughty conditions are deadly. They will almost certainly succumb to coccidiosis or ‘sniffles ‘ if housed in permanent damp conditions. A dry shelter where they can escape from the rain, fitted with one or two sturdy perches is absolutely essential. The ground on which they live must be well drained to prevent it from developing into a bog in rainy weather. If you live in a damp area, it may be a good idea to raise the area in which the aviary is to be built by spreading a good layer (about 30cm) of builder’s rubble and covering this with good gardening soil. This elevated area can then be planted with lawn grass, shrubs and small trees and will never develop into a bog.
The Guineafowl can happily share their aviary with perching birds, as long as you take care that none of the occupants are small enough to be mistaken for a tasty insect! Newly fledged waxbills and finches are particularly vulnerable. Anything from the size of a common budgie is probably safe. Because the Guineafowl perch at night, there may be some consternation at roosting time from the smaller birds at first, but they will soon get used to their larger companions.
If pinioned, Guineafowl can also very easily be kept at liberty in a paddock or even in the garden. All that is required is a secure fence or wall, at least 1,5m high and somewhere that they can escape from the rain. Do be aware, however, that any trees or shrubs against the wall will provide a ladder up which the Guineafowl can climb and escape. Make sure that they are protected from stray (or your own) dogs. With such large birds, cats are not usually a problem, but a dog infected with bloodlust can decimate your entire stock in a very short time.
Even the fanciest of Guineafowl are easy to feed. A basic diet of poultry layer or breeder pellets should be offered ad lib in a dish where the rain cannot spoil it. In addition, a small handful per bird, of mixed grain scattered amongst the grass where they have to search for it can be offered every day. A little fresh green food and fruit will be welcomed if available, but is not absolutely essential. Anyway, birds housed in planted enclosures can select green food at any time that they feel so inclined. Offering green food and fruit regularly may help the plants to suffer less damage. At liberty in a garden, there is so much green food that you will not even notice that they have eaten any, and the damage will be irrelevant.
Guineafowl can only be sexed by their behaviour or surgically. There is no definite difference between the sexes. Particularly with the expensive species, it is therefore essential that you buy only surgically sexed birds. For breeding they can be housed as single pairs or in small groups. Be extremely careful when introducing a strange bird to an established group; an all-out attack on the invader could follow. And never have extra males in a group. They will cause endless problems, constantly fighting for a female.
Properly housed and fed, your Guinea-fowl will almost certainly breed for you. The female will scratch a rudimentary nest under a small shrub or between tall grass. There she will lay between 6 and 12 eggs, which she should incubate for 24-28 days. If the female is tame and steady, and if she is prepared to sit well, it is good to allow her to incubate and raise her own young. If she is wild and flighty, or if she refuses to sit, the eggs are easily hatched under a bantam or in an incubator.
Like domestic chickens, the young feed themselves as soon as they are hatched. A simple diet of Avi-Plus Game Bird Starter for the first two or three weeks, followed by poultry growing meal and supplemented with finely chopped green food is all they need. Should the chicks be reluctant to start feeding, the movement of some small live food mixed into their food will get them started. Another trick, which works well, is to put one or two day-old domestic chicks in with them as ‘teachers ‘. The most important rule of all is to keep them warm and dry. Damp is a killer!