5.16.2010

SLOW ME UP! Guinea fowl

I can't stop thinking about guineahens. I went to visit my friend Jeremy who has quite a crowd of them living in his garden. He's made a house for the girls, as he calls them, with a gangplank and fencing, and a door that closes at night so that they are safely tucked in. To his surprise, three of them have nested in the little house, laid eggs, and are now sitting on them, refusing to budge. (I don't know why that would surprise him, I mean, they are feathering their nests, right?) Guineafowl make the most charming noises all the time; they're either clucking madly or sort of chuckling in this enchanting, liquidy way. And those feathers! When I was a child I found an old hat at the back of a closet. It had belonged to my grandmother, and tucked into its side were a few of the most surprisingly polka-dotted feathers. I thought they were magical, and I couldn't begin to imagine the kind of bird they belonged to. I was stunned when, years later (actually not so long ago) I saw the feathers on their rightful owners. Extremely chic. The hens stroll about the lawns, eating ticks, and being alternately useful, sociable, skittish, and, well, peckish. In my own garden, I've been hearing all sorts of strange sounds, particularly when I weed near the stone wall. This afternoon I flushed a ringneck pheasant out--I don't know which one of us was more startled. He was brightly handsome, a real dandy; he sailed off a few feet and then, as if mortified to have been caught off guard, he cooly strutted away. This is the time of the year to find all sorts of little eggshells lying about; yesterday's treasure was half a blue robin's egg. Safe flights, little ones!

13 comments:

Marcy said...

Those feathers are delightful! I agree that they have a magical quality to them.

I first saw Guineahens roaming on Nantucket where they were keeping the ticks at bay - I think it is a smart way to address that problem and have the benefit of watching the Guineafowl wondering around.

I'm looking forward to your presentation in Fairfield tomorrow!

Donald Wolberg said...

Any chance your book tour will make its way West or to a C-Spn interview?

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I was on a garden tour yesterday and was delighted to visit a garden with chickens. They resided in the most charming, hand-crafted coop... too fancy, I suppose, to be called such a name. More like a chicken manor house. They were all so lovely, each one a complete individual, with marvelous colouring all her own.

I was immediately, and sorely, tempted to acquire a brood of my own as soon as possible. But then I remembered that I have two large furry dogs with sheepdog ancestry and realized that the combination of large dogs and chickens might be more that I would wish to handle. Maybe some day.

justbarb said...

We have been thinking about "chickens" for about 2 years now and have researched a variety of breeds. These guys hadn't reached our radar until seeing your blog today. They're wonderful! And you describe their voices so nicely!

Carol Bass said...

We have had our hens for about a year. As a group, we refer to them as The Dixie Chicks. Individually, they are named after old female country stars: Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl, Loretta Lynn, etc. That is except for the Rhode Island Red and her pal, a red sexlink. They are Lucy and Ethel respectively. I love to see them jaunt around the yard doing their chicken dance. They are so entertaining. I think you would love to have a few!

Suzy said...

I loved my guinea fowl when I purchased them as tiny hatchlings two years ago. When they were large enough to live outdoors, they spent the entire summer eating every tick in sight and were a godsend. I loved them and many in my neighborhood enjoyed their antics, especially those who walked by the house. Often the guineas would follow them up the street and quickly realize what they had done and bolt back home. They were so charming, and, as you described, finding their lost feathers as I gardened was always a treat.

But, the guineas were also messy and had terrible bathroom habits. They relieved themselves everywhere, including the neighbor's deck where they often liked to roost in the afternoon. This did not bode well for my feathered tick-eating machines and I had to take them to a farm about a year ago. I was heartbroken, and as quickly as they were gone, the ticks returned. Certainly keeping them in a large fenced area was an option, but they are unable to forage for insects when confined.

I have thought of keeping chickens who are happy to remain in an enclosed space, and may someday keep some sort of fowl in my beautiful custom-made coop.

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

I grew up with guinea hens (my great-uncle, a taciturn Economics professor, raised "exotic" birds for a hobby....so, we also grew up with black swans, pheasants, and peacocks). All in all, it was a very l-o-u-d place.

I'm the only Tennessean I know of (besides, obviously, my brothers)who'd regularly eaten all of the above throughout childhood. My great uncle was markedly unsentimental about them.

you neglected to mention guinea hens' most un-nerving habit....which is that spookily robotic way an entire flock, clustered together, will swivel their heads in precise synchronization (like neon-tetras in an aquarium) before they begin hollering.

My great aunt and mother hated the guinea hens, primarily because my father kept a kennel of beagles and foxhounds.

ANYTHING would set-off those guinea hens (who apparently weren't equipped with a "stop" switch)....and then all the damn dogs would start baying and yelping....and every evening began with peacocks screeching (theirs is the sound that, for some reason, is always heard in Tarzan movies) from their various perches.

It's a good thing that my mother and Great aunt loved their husbands, since the place was, generally speaking, an absolute, auditory hell-hole nightmare for two Southern ladies already-prone to migraines.

I should mention that my great-uncle was pretty-much deaf-as-a-post, which explained a lot about his attitude towards every one else's dismay over the menagerie.

And, yes....once he had gone, the birds soon followed him.

thanks for jogging the memories,

David Terry
www.davidterryart.com

david terry said...

P.S. Lest anyone waste his/her time in "correcting" my previous comment concerning migraines?....

(1) I can assure you that my female relatives would assure YOU that no one really knows anything about REALLY having migraines unless:
a. the person is female.
and b. is Southern.

Given the circumstances of my upbringing, I learned long-ago that a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g (including guinea hens) could/just-might bring on a migraine.

Asserting otherwise constituted what was referred to as "having a smart-mouth on you"...which, in turn, led to even more harrowing consequences....

Advisedly yours as ever,

david Terry

tdm said...

Oh my!, your post on the fowl brings back memories of the banty chickens we had on our land - a pint sized rooster and two hens. They would follow me through the acreage as I did my chores ( I fed them). To walk through the garden and suddenly be accosted by three wing flapping creatures who would appear out of nowhere, clucking and crowing, did not endear my sisters to them (pesky smelly things... was one of the kinder complaints). Mind you they did lay wonderful miniature eggs that were eagerly claimed for lunches. Thanks for jogging soem amusing memories!

Anonymous said...

What a surprise to find myself sitting here at work (snitching a little break) with that pricking behind the eyes feeling as I read about your guinea hens and feathers and gardens... The delightful treasure of a half a blue robin's egg. Reminded me of my yearly teaching visits to the lovely little yoga retreat in the Catskills - Heathen Hill. (heathenhillyoga.net - many of my photos featured.) As a native Californian, mid-Summer in the East Coast hills is an unimaginable delight of green and moisture! And chickens and gardens and peace. Oh, how I love the place although the owner, Lippy says its a bit "Ethan Frome-ish" in Winter.

Your blog has become a welcome short respite from my work day. Always something delightful to get me through until I can once again retreat to my "real" world of gardening and art. And then there are your commentors - David Terry and co. A delight! Thank you.

One Woman's Journey said...

First, so pleased to find your blog. I have your books and while reading - had the thought - how similar we are.
Guinea hens - I would love to have some since relocating to my country property. Since I am downscaling and simplifying - do not need a hen house.
Now my time is spent creating another garden, writing my journal and reading.

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Anonymous said...

last week our class held a similar talk on this subject and you illustrate something we haven't covered yet, thanks.

- Laura