Commercial farming of guinea fowl is at its infant stage in Kenya and this type of farming is generating a lot of interest. Guinea fowls are raised mainly for their flesh and eggs. The meat of guinea fowl is tender and nutritious with a fine flavor similar to other game birds. It is lean and rich in essential fatty acids. Other people raise guinea fowls for their unique ornamental value. One limitation is that the guinea fowl is an extremely noisy bird and cannot be reared near to residential houses.
What are the advantages of rearing guinea fowl?
- Guinea fowl meat is rich in vitamin and low in cholesterol
- They are hardy birds suitable to a wide range of climatic conditions
- They consumes all non-conventional feeds not used in chicken feeding and have excellent foraging capabilities
- They are resistant to many common diseases and more tolerant to mycotoxin and aflatoxin
- They do not require complicated and expensive housing
- The hard shell of their eggs provides minimum breakage and low keeping quality
Breeds of guinea fowls
Of the three domestic varieties (the pearl, the white and the lavender), the purplish colored pearl is the most common. There are several breeds of guinea fowl, but the most common are:
- Numida meleagris, the common or red-wattled guinea fowl is a domestic strain of guinea fowl that is widespread throughout the world.
- Numida ptilorhyncha, is common found in Madagascar and Reunion, both in the domestic and the wild state.
The common guinea fowl weighs about 2 kg when mature. The male is slightly smaller than the female making it less possible to differentiate between the two sexes.
Rearing systems of guinea fowls
There are three common methods of rearing guinea fowls.
This is the main rearing method and drinking water is provided.
In this system a starter house is provided during the first three weeks of life. The chicks are then transferred to a rearing house equipped with perches and finally into an aviary. The structures communicate with a spacious enclosure made of a wire fence 1.5 to 2 m high. Restraining of keets intended for breeding is done to prevent the birds from flying away.
Intensive systems give better performance. Low light or dark houses are preferred to reduce possible flightiness and allow large number of birds to be raised. Darkness and presence of perches reduce the bird’s timidity where it likes to hide and to remain motionless when afraid. The housing can be made of earth floor or in batteries. If on earth floor the densities are from 3 to 5 birds per square metre. In modern breeding units guinea fowls are usually reared in batteries and artificially inseminated.
Guinea hens lay eggs for about 6-9 months. The egg laying period can be extended by using artificial lighting. Breeding birds can be put on free range or confined in houses during the laying period. Guinea fowls mate in pairs if males and females in the flock are equal in number. Some breeders practice artificial insemination to the birds where the birds are kept in cages with males being individually caged. Domestic roosters (Gallus sp.) are often crossed with guinea hens. The offsprings of the cross called “Guin-hens” are sterile.
High fertility rates are obtained in flocks where male to female ratio is one to 5 or 6 females.
Feeding breeding stock
A layers mash containing 22 to 24% is given to the birds, beginning about a month before they start laying eggs. It is recommended that birds for breeding should be allowed to grow more slowly and naturally. Clean fresh water should always be available.
Under good management a hen reared on soil can lay 100 or more eggs whereas caged guinea hens can lay 170 – 180 eggs over a 40 weeks laying period in one year. The hen can produce eggs for 2 to 3 years. Guinea fowl begin to lay eggs as early as 16-17 weeks. Laying occurs during the rainy season and few weeks that follow. A clutch size of 12 to 15 eggs is common. The eggs are smaller than that of chicken and weighs 40 g on average. The shells are very hard making it difficult to test for fertility by candling and may cause problems with artificial incubation.
Hatching egg collection
Hatching eggs should be collected four times a day. However, under extremes conditions more frequent collection is recommended. Eggs should be stored in a temperature range of 15.5-18.5oC and a relative humidity of 70-80%. If held for over 7 days before setting, hatchability declines progressively with increasing storage time.
The normal incubation period for guinea eggs is 26 to 28 days. Eggs can be hatched either naturally or artificially. Natural methods of incubation are generally used in small flocks. For larger flocks, incubators are more satisfactory. Because guinea hens are usually too wild it is common to use chicken hens for hatching a small number of guinea eggs as they are more adaptable.
As soon as some of the guinea keets hatch and begin to move about, the guinea hen is likely to leave the nest, abandoning the eggs that are not hatched. These eggs may hatch if, while still warm, they are placed under another broody hen or in an incubator. Twelve to 15 eggs may be set under a guinea hen. It is necessary that hens are treated for lice before they are set. Forced-draft incubators should be operated at about 37.5 and 37.2oC and 57 to 58% humidity. During incubation, eggs must be turned regularly (minimum of three times) each day for the first 24 days for pure guineas and 21 days for crossbreds.
Rearing and brooding
Guinea chicks are known as keets. Keets need to be brooded for about 4 weeks to avoid mortality due to chilling. Day-old keets should be stocked at about 20/m2 allowing enough space to move away from the brooder if temperatures are too hot. Give access to outside pens by 10 weeks of age for birds reared under free range.
All types of poultry brooders are suitable for keets and should operate between 37oC and 37.5oC from day one and reduced by 4oC each week. Keets can be weaned at 4 weeks if the weather is suitable.
The stocking density for guinea fowls in intensive rearing is 10 birds / m2. Guineas raised in broiler-style housing require about 900 cm2 of floor space per bird up to 14 weeks of age. Use wood shavings if brooding is on the floor. Place a rough cover over the wire mesh if keets are brooded on wire floor to prevent them from falling through. A smooth cover such as paper is not good because it can lead to leg problems.
Feeding guinea fowl
The starter diet should contain 24% protein and should be fed for the first 4 weeks. Grower ration of 20% protein should then be fed until 8 weeks of age and a finisher diet containing 16% protein fed until market age (14-16 weeks). At this age they should have reached average live weight of 2 kg.
In its lifetime, the guinea fowl consumes an average of 43 kg of feed, which is 12 kg during growing period and 31 kg during the laying period. The nutritional characteristics of guinea fowl feed is close to those for chicken, but percentage of lysine and methionine recommended for growth and laying are slightly higher.
Domestic guinea fowl do not suffer from many pests and diseases as compared to chickens and other poultry. For example, guineas are more tolerant to NCD virus than chickens. Generally, most diseases of chickens affect guinea fowls.
Guinea fowls are sold alive or dressed if sold to the hotels and restaurants. The birds are usually dressed and scalded in the same way as chickens. Guinea fowls are ready for the market at 16 to 18 weeks of age. At this age their live weight is 1.25 to 1.47 kg with dressed weight of 1.02 and 1.25 kg. A guinea fetches Kshs 1000 to 1500 depending on the weight of the bird. Producers need to be certain of the demand before embarking on large-scale production.