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Ginny’s Guineas

Yesterday, we went with friends to the flea market in Dalton (an hour’s drive). Mark had gone the week before with his good friend, Ronnie, who had let it slip that they had guinea hens for sale for only 4.00 a piece. That is a remarkable price for game hens, so I asked Mark to be sure to buy me some. It rained that day, so very few vendors showed up and alas, no poultry was for sale. Mark came home with 2 1/2 huge flats of strawberries instead, for a grand total of 20.00. This isn’t like Jack in the beanstalk, when the mother sent jack to sell a cow and he brought back beans.  I actually have been wanting a ton of strawberries all summer, if only we could find them for an affordable rate. The strawberry gift eased the disappointment of “no-birds today”. But I was determined to go back later and see for myself if there were birds to be had.
I made 4 batches of jam from those strawberries, two different strawberry cordials, and even ended up freezing a few pints for our health smoothies. I already have strawberry wine in the works -(I KNOW that announcement has Boonsfarm quaking in their boots.)  Having exhausted my strawberry exploitation, I was back on the quest for game chickens.

So, we decided to try the flea market again yesterday, and I got lucky. I bought 6 young traditional guineas for a song, and spent a bit more on three additional silver adults (one rooster and two hens – to reproduce).  I took a picture so you know what I’m talking about – above.

Guineas are rather ugly, looking like a vulture in face with a huge round body. They have horns on their head, and what looks like red gills.  They have white faces, like the joker in Batman.  Mark looked over my shoulder as I was downloading my camera and said, “Those pictures don’t do them justice. They are FAR uglier than that.” 

What does he know? I think they are cute. The babies have been pecked so much in their small cages at the market that they are bare on the backside and they look the worse for wear, but what do you expect for 4 bucks? At our feed store, these same birds are $10-20 a pop, and that adds up if you want to buy a half dozen or more. In time, my scraggly babies will feather out and look healthy. I have a way of bringing out the best in animals.

The guineas make a weird sound, like a raspy flute. They are loud- the female makes a two syllabus sound and the males only one.   They lay eggs like a chicken, only the eggs are smaller and pointier and these birds will usually lay in the bushes, so I’ll have to hunt the eggs down if I want to cook them. I’m more interested in the birds reproducing anyway.

Why, you may wonder, do I want ugly birds that make a loud annoying sound? 
Does the fact that I’ve never had a guinea chicken and they are interesting to observe sound reason enough?
I also know that they eat bugs with remarkable efficiency. They say people with guineas don’t ever get lime disease and their dogs come home clean because the birds clear away all the ticks for a mile. Yippee. I already adore my chickens because they spend every day in the pasture eating the fly larvae, and this year I have almost NO flies near the horses. That is amazing! Last year, I couldn’t stand being near the horses in August because the flies were so thick. Fly control alone is reason enough to keep chickens. Guineas will top off the job perfectly.

Guineas also are game birds, so they can stay outside and they will fend for themselves and stay alive despite all the wildlife around hunting my birds as fast as I can raise them. They also make a racket when a dog or other danger comes around, so they are considered “watch birds”. They are hearty, so they can handle the winter well. You can eat the eggs (or the birds, if you are into that kind of thing.) The only problem that I may encounter is if the guineas discover my bee hive, some distance away. Apparently, guineas will park themselves at the entrance of a hive and eat all the bees as they fly home. They can gobble up your entire bee population in a few days if you don’t watch it. I figure winter will soon be here, and my bees will be hibernating. My guineas will not be interested in an inactive hive, and if they ever do wander towards the bees, I can build a fence around the hive or something.  I’ll cross that bridge when (and if) I come to it. 

The point is, I think the guineas are fascinating and as you know, I like learning about new things. I’m set up for a variety of livestock now, why not explore different creatures?

The hardest part about raising guineas is keeping them around after they are let loose. They say it is best to keep them in a pen for a week, then let only one out each day (flock birds want to stay together, and this keeps the loose one close by) Through this process the birds will learn where home is and stay. The way I see it, I spoil animals  so badly with food and treats, few would ever wander far, so I am confident they will hang around when I finally let them go. For now, they are cooped in the chicken pen. I let the chickens out in the day, then put them all back together in the night. They get along famously, although they stare at each other a great deal- it’s fun to watch them interact. 

I also bought 6 game chickens, just because they were available and I was in a chicken buying mood. I didn’t know this, but Ronnie taught me that you can always tell a game chicken because her legs are green. It is odd looking. Sure enough, the top of them looks like a chicken, but down below, it looks like Dr. Seuss had a field day. They are rather ugly as chickens go, sort of lean and wirey and they run fast, but they add diversity to the flock.  I’m all into mixing it up for a lively, interesting show each time I pause to watch them go about the business of chicken living around my barn.

Which reminds me, I promised pictures of the progress – here is the current state of the barn as it is today — the upstairs looks roomy and nice, but I have no stairs to get up there to get all excited about it yet:

When we got home from the flea market, Ronnie made arrangements to pick up April, our baby horse. He did decide to buy her and will finish the task of raising and training her. I know she is going to a good home and a great, green pasture (and I can visit her) so I am happy with this arrangement. He anticipted needing some help (and rightly so), because April is young. She was born here and has never been loaded into a trailer. Sure enough, she put up quite a fight. I was heartbroken watching her struggle to remain home with her “herd” – even if that herd is just her mom, Peppy and some reject members, (donkey and two llamas). The fact is, they are a happy group and this is a happy place for an animal to live.   

Ronnie asked a horse trainer/breeder friend help pick her up, and this guy commented that she looked like a great young horse (my heart went pang) and when he found out I was selling Dixie ,he said he could find me a buyer or would take her himself and might be willing to trade if I want to look at a few of his better pintos. (I almost couldn’t take anymore of this horse selling stuff- it was so heart rendering a thought to cold heartedly trade up)
. I told him I’d let him know. True, I am shopping now for a higher-end horse to take the place of the three I’m letting go, but still, I want to make this transition graceful and kind to all the animals involved. This is harder for me than you know.

Anyway, it was a day of big changes. 

The flea market was interesting too, with miles of vendors selling everything you could imagine. They had produce by the buckets going for so reasonably I wanted to buy a car full. I was enthralled – touching everything, asking questions. Most of the vendors were Mexican growers -selling things like cactus leaves and aloe and all kinds of fruits I’ve never seen before – things that look like it grew in Jurassic park. I kept pausing to ask what these different plants were and how to cook them, but because of the language barrier, I couldn’t’ grasp the answers. I am planning to do some research, then go back another weekend to shop for all those things I am totally unfamiliar with. A cooking experiment, so to speak. Ronnie kept laughing at me, saying he will be wary if I bring anything down to feed the boys at the barn (he and his sons are building it for us, and I tend to like to feed unsuspecting people – especially when my family has run screeming from the kitchen.) Ha – I just won’t tell them what it is they are eating. 

I also fell in love with some dwarf goats (and I promised Neva she could get one after we sold the buildings… by the way, we sold the second FLEX building this week. Big, relieved sigh.) so now I’m swaying in that direction.

Anyway, that is the update on animals at the Hendry preserve. One less horse. 8 new guineas and 6 game hens. A goat, maybe, on the way. 5 peacocks in the making. No partridge in a pear tree as yet, but then, it isn’t the season for that yet, now is it?

By the way, the ducks I hatched myself have finally fully feathered out and they are a delightful addition to our creek. Here is what they ended up looking like. Pretty, hun? The white one just got whiter.

Three hours later: 
As I was writing this, I saw someone had pulled up to the driveway. It was the very same fellow who transported our horse yesterday and he knows I am shopping for a new steed. Uh oh. 
He brought me a chicken. He heard me complaining that my chickens just don’t lay much, so he wanted to give me a gift of a good laying chicken. Uh oh.  A bribe.
He took me, Neva and Kent to look at some horses. Just happened to show me some PINTOS – one of which was the sweetest mare I’ve ever seen, a fully registered Pinto Saddlebread with light blue eyes. A very arresting face, and the most personal horse I’ve seen in some time. Uh Oh. out of 20 horses in the field, I pick the one that the trainer was going to buy for himself. What can I say? I fell in love. 

Then, they hit me with the fact that she is probably pregnant because they bred her just three weeks ago, and so I’d be getting a two for one. Uh Oh. (Mark would KILL me – this is supposed to be about getting RID of horses not accumulating more.) They did say they’d purchase the baby back, because it’s father is another high end pinto and it is pretty dang certain the baby will be drop dead gorgeous and I can register it too. They then offered to take Dixie in a trade to make this affordable for me. And if I sold the baby, I’d probably be about even with what I got from selling the others. Convienient. Uh Oh. 

I said I have to sleep on it.
Like I can sleep now.


About Ginny East Shaddock

Ginny is the owner of Heartwood Yoga Institute. She is an ERYT-500 Yoga teacher, C-IAYT Yoga therapist, RCYT & Ayurveda Counselor who loves nature, gardening, and creative arts. She has an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and a BA in Business Administration from Eckerd College. She teaches writing and is the creator of the memoir writing program, "Yoga on the Page" combining the teaching of yoga to writing personal stories with integrity, intention, and heart.

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