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Peepling

Guinea Fowl Update

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Guinea Fowl Update

Of the original keets, a total of 11 survived out of the 20 placed with our clucky duck, Peepling. All the little ones mysteriously perished.  Luckily, we kept a newly hatched keet in the house in a cardboard box with a hot water bottle that my son assiduously filled and refilled, eventually replacing it with a desk lamp bearing a sixty watt bulb. He was pretty tiny and very weak. My wife suggested we put him out of his misery, but he recovered and slowly put on weight and feathers.

One day I came in from the vines to find him strutting proudly around. He had learned to fly and made it out of the box. Then he started following me around.

I didn’t get it at first, but after awhile I understood that I was his Peepling. This amused me no end, and I was happy to let him perch on my shoulder while I puttered around. But eventually finding his “messes” got to me after long days in the vines and I decided to cage him in a lovely little birdcage I found in the shed.

Bad move. This infuriated him, or made him anxious. He’d call and pace in clear frustration. Whenever he could see me, he’d calm down. When I’d leave, he’d tweet and peck and carry on incessantly. So I’d take him out of the cage, plop him on my shoulder, open my laptop, and he’d calm right down. The moment I tried to place him back in the cage, though, he’d squawk a blue streak, and as the days proceeded, and he devoured his feed, it became increasingly difficult to get him through the narrow cage door. 

So I built him a pen, utilizing a couple of pallets, chicken wire and some leftover tin for a roof. I positioned it adjacent to the Guinea Fowl pen so that the flock would get used to him and he to them. We had one last sweet night together.

The next day, I rose at dawn and popped him into the enclosure. He raced back and forth piteously calling for me. Peepling waddled over and whistled and scolded at him and tried to peck at him through the wires. Uh oh. I suddenly had some misgivings about Peepling. This wasn’t gentle mothering -- it looked entirely like something else.

So I decided to look for some companions for him and found three “teenagers” from a nearby grower. I consigned one to join him in the cell and placed the other two in with Peepling and the flock. Instantly Peepling flew at the newcomers, pecking and harassing them. Oh boy. I opened up their enclosure letting all the guinea fowl out into the fenced orchard, along with Peepling, and herded the two newcomers back into the vacated enclosure. Peepling tried to peck at them through the enclosure. Uh oh again.

After a few days of separation, I took my child guinea fowl, (who purposely doesn’t have a name so that I don’t reciprocate any attachment, being the hard hearted farmer that I am), along with his cellmate, I mean new boon companion, and tossed them in with the other two. These four spent the next several days pacing the perimeter of the pen, only to be pecked or billed by Peepling who set herself up within range of the pace track.

Today, when I was feeding them, though, I saw Peepling reach through and grab my child fowl and shake him, and that was enough. I chased her into a corner and grabbed her before she could flee, unlocked the enclosure and shooed the four young birds out into the flock, then tossed Peepling in alone and locked the door.

All day long she has alternated between a sentry position on the little shed and a sniper pecking position at the fence when her charges, augmented by the four, come by for a chat. She is still determined to harm the four newcomers.

Meanwhile my child fowl is not faring particularly well. I have seen him get pecked by random jealous chickens, and he definitely is the runt of the crew, lagging behind the others and seemingly not an attentive feeder. I call out encouragement to him and importune him to feed, to watch out for beaks and spurs, but he is ignoring me.

At one point I felt I needed to rescue him, but he eluded me and fortunately joined the flock where there’s a modicum of protection.

I must “release” him, he has left my nest, but even now, sitting in the farm kitchen with windows wide, my ear is bent and I’m interpreting every squawk, chirp and call like a nervous sad parent.

In retrospect, Peepling must have murdered the other little ones. Next time I’ll put those eggs under a clucky hen.

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Encouraging Fowl Play

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Encouraging Fowl Play

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!”

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