Guinea fowl keep watch for insects and intruders at the Grovertown Fruit Farm in Indiana.

Guinea fowl keep watch for insects and intruders at the Grovertown Fruit Farm in Indiana.

Betty and George Dotlich, at Grovertown Fruit Farm in Indiana, have kept their pesticide costs down by letting guinea fowl roam in their orchard.

The Dotlichs have about 90 acres of woodland and obtained a flock of guinea fowl about ten years ago to control deer ticks in the woods. Later, when they planted their 22 acres of peaches, plums, apples, and pears, the guinea fowl began to roam up and down the tree rows looking for food.

Betty said they feed on Japanese beetles and also on grasshoppers, which had been damaging the bark of their trees. "It’s much better than buying a lot of pesticides," she said. "We do supplement with some pesticides, but not anything close to what we would need without the birds. We don’t use anything that requires a pesticide applicator’s license."

Guineas are sometimes touted for weed control. Betty said they will eat weeds, but she hasn’t found them very effective. "When they eat the plants, it’s when they’re just sprouting, so I would not consider them a weed control option."

The Dotlichs house the guinea fowl with their chickens. Newly hatched guineas should be enclosed for 16 weeks so that they learn where their home is. The enclosure needs a top on because the birds fly very well. After that, they can be allowed to roam, and they will usually return at the end of the day to roost—as long as they haven’t succumbed to some predator, such as a raccoon, fox, coyote, or stray dog. They like to perch and roost high in trees. The birds are about the same size as chickens but weigh only three to four pounds. Betty said they are hardy, and tolerate the cold well in winter.

The females don’t nest in nesting boxes, but like to nest in sheltered places on the ground, which makes them vulnerable to natural enemies. They will lie in the same spot until they have laid a large number of eggs.

The Dotlichs have about 70 to 80 guineas, and at one time had as many as 150. During the summer, the birds find much of their own food, but in winter they need to be fed. Betty estimates that a flock of 100 would need 25 pounds of game bird seed per day, at a cost of $13 to $14 per 50-pound sack.

"It can get fairly expensive," she said.

To help pay for the food, Betty raises and sells guinea keets during the summer months and keeps some to replenish the flock when birds are lost to predators.

Watch fowl

Guineas are not particularly friendly birds, and in fact do guard duty. They emit a loud screeching noise whenever they see something in the yard or orchard that doesn’t belong there. That usually scares away the intruder. "There have been many times when they’ve saved our chickens," Betty said.

But they are a good conversation piece. The Dotlichs sell most of their fruit at the orchard, and, often, customers arrive to find the birds are running around in the driveway. "That brings up a conversation of what they’re doing and why we have them," Betty said. "It’s a good selling point."