Thursday, August 22, 2013
Building Unity Farm - The Guinea Fowl are Born
It's August in New England and although everyone in healthcare IT is consumed by Meaningful Use stage 2, ICD10, ACA, the HIPAA Omnibus Rule, and various compliance initiatives, it's also the time we try to take a few hours off before the busy Fall. Although I'm not taking any vacation this year, I have reduced my writing schedule (hence fewer blog posts this month) and spent more time at Unity Farm.
This week our first 20 guinea fowl hatched and the keets (the name for young guinea fowl) are running around the brooder, eating, drinking, chirping, and sleeping.
Here's how we did it.
Guinea fowl are terrible parents. They lay eggs in a community pile and one female incubates them all. Unfortunately, they tend to lay in the forest near fox dens, fisher cat habitat, and coyote trails. We've lost several females this Summer but luckily found the nests and gathered the eggs before they were too chilled to be viable.
We placed them incubators at 100F and 50% humidity. The gestation period of a guinea is 26-28 days.
Automated egg turners slowly moved the eggs for the first 23 days. Then we laid them flat in the incubator, making it easy for the chicks to peck through the shells.
On day 25, one of the larger eggs started to roll, crack, and chirp. A few hours later, a piebald keet was born (Keets come in pearl black, white, grey, and piebald).
On day 26 and 27, the rest of the eggs popped like popcorn with little keets running around the incubator. About an hour after birth we moved them to the brooder, a larger space kept at 100F with ample food and water.
Three of the 23 eggs did not hatch (hence the expression don't count your chickens before they're hatched), which is typical for game birds. After verifying that there were no signs of movement, I carefully opened the 3 unhatched eggs and found that all had developmental issues and an early demise.
The 20 keets that hatched are amazingly active, large, and robust. Our batch of keets last year arrived in the mail and we had quite a lot of attrition. There are definite advantages to hatching your own poultry.
Animal husbandry is hard and Guinea Fowl can be challenging, as illustrated by this great article in the Atlantic.
At 4 weeks, we'll move the guineas to the coop, but keep them from free ranging until 12 weeks. We find that 2 months in the coop gives the guineas a chance to mature and be able to defend themselves agains predators. It also firmly establishes the coop as their home and they'll return to sleep there every night as adults after a day in the forest.
We've gathered nearly 100 guinea eggs from forest nests and all are in our incubators. Although we can keep 50 or so in our coop and sheds, we'll sell the others to local farms. Given the significant increase in tick-borne disease across the country. we believe that guinea fowl, nature's most efficient tick eater, will be very popular with homeowners in the rural areas west of Boston.
Guineas have become such a regular part of our lives that I cannot imagine a day without them. Looking out my home office window, I expect to see the guineas running by on their quest for food and camaraderie.
Posted by John Halamka at 3:00 AM