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We have a broody duck, Peepling, who sat unsuccessfully on a clutch of eggs for over a month, but nothing eventuated. So a few weeks ago, I replaced the eggs with keets, which are newly hatched guinea fowl. I reached under her with a concealed keet and withdrew an egg, then switched another, then another until she had a brood of five. Presto--instant motherhood! Now, when I reach into the little coop housing her and her charges, she greets me with a cautionary peck on the hand, super watchful, proudly protective.  

Guinea fowl are notorious for being bad mothers, although they are said to be good “setters." Once their eggs hatch, they tend to take off, leaving the young birds vulnerable. As a result, they lose a high percentage of young. This is where Peepling comes in. The young birds really need to be in a warm place, preferably around 30 degrees centigrade, for the first week or so of their life, and her downy underside fits that definition. Today I am adding another 20 new ones, aging from one to three weeks old, in the hope that she will provide that same warmth to these new birds.

These particular birds come from three different bloodlines. My aim is to create diversity in the flock, and hopefully when they interbreed, the resulting flock will perpetuate itself with great vigor. I will continue building up their numbers for about a month longer, at which point I will shelter them in the vineyard, where they will be allowed to “free-range” during the day, but will be locked in at night. After several months, they will be turned loose to roost in the trees and they will be on their own.  

I call them the pester-eaters--they thrive on insects, including ones like weevils that can potentially damage the grapes. They forage as a team, moving through the rows like search parties scouring the landscape. They also like to peck at weeds, but mercifully leave the grapes alone. And they are hardy, can live outside year round, roost out of harm’s way in trees, and are relatively disease free. What’s not to like?

Well, they are gregarious and they wander. The previous flock was fond of crossing the road, sometimes getting in the way of car traffic. They are also very “conversational” and keep up an incessant patter of honks and clucks, a noise which can be irritating. Generally though, they make me chuckle--they have these comical red wattles and amusing expressions and they frenzy up at the slightest provocation. And their feathers are so beautiful. 

I remember being interrupted in the vines by the screech of tires. A prolonged car honk and an unprintable curse were met by their unrelenting scolding. I can still hear them clucking, “Slow down why don’t you! You’ve got a lot of nerve to speed like that – I’m waddling here, I’m waddling here!”