Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Problem Is: Men.

Ok, not exactly. But sort of. :-)

The problem I want to discuss here is actually quite complex; ancient; and widely misunderstood. Which means what follows below may seem rambling, and irrelevant from time to time. Hang in there- it all comes together eventually.

There was a really good discussion about the "informal economy" over on Sharon's. Some of it got sidetracked into a little discussion on feminism, and some into problems with nomenclature. I got well tangled up in both of those, and even stirred the pot a bit. So here we are, with a little expansion and pot stirring on my own recognizance.

Sharon's post title was "Reinventing the informal economy", and has loads of thoughts that are well worth pondering. There's little she says there that I would quibble with. Part of the subsequent discussion though got off into definitions and names- and there I have something to add, I think.

Names are important. Really really important. We've all seen what a total disaster "Global Warming" and "Swine Flu" have been. They allow endless attacks and diversions from the parties whose interests are threatened - or excursions into nonsense. The people responsible for those names are, ultimately responsible for a great many human deaths. Sorry- but that's true. People are dying right now (300,000/year, according to one estimate) - because obstruction was facilitated by the bad name. And farmers, and all middlemen, have lost millions because of the idiot repetition of "swine flu" for a human disease.

Could it have been done better? Of course. "Climate Change" is much less open to attack; and "New Flu" would serve headlines perfectly. The Climate Change alternative has been around since the outset- but it was too late, the "journalists" (ha) had already fixated on Global Warming! which sounds sexier. And the CDC tried to implement "Novel influenza A (H1N1)", but again, too late, and in this case that was an idiot alternative, doomed to failure as any marketing wonk could have told them (that, I'll guarantee, is a name chosen by a committee of scientists- with no public relations personnel present.)

Names are important. In the present case, I started off by gratuitously mentioning in the discussion at Sharon's that I'm launching a movement (YOU are invited!) to eradicate the word "consumer". It reduces, actually, to "Hi! I'm an alimentary tract! Holes at both ends! Eat and sh*t, that's my life! And I love it!"

It's a pretty stunning insult, but one we've just accepted without evaluation or protest. At this point, though, I'll be damned if anyone will call me a consumer. Call me "citizen", if necessary to point out my most basic role in the community.

Where does the word come from? From the fantasy world of "economics", which everyone should understand by now is a world of wish fulfilment, rationalization, dream, and nightmare; with no actual basis in any reality. Except we have somehow allowed these self deluded charlatans to become "professors", and establish "departments" in universities. So way back there, they started talking about "producers" and "consumers". And we just accepted it- they must know, right? They're professors!


Which is where "the problem is: men" comes in.

What follows is my own analysis, built up over years of pondering history, human behavior, and anthropology. I think it has a lot to recommend it; though inevitably, some will not like it.

Can we agree that much of the history of Christianity has strayed quite far from anything the founder(s) of the religion intended?

The evidence, I think, is pretty good that original Christian communities were quite egalitarian- and women were included on an equal- power- basis. But that changed.

The most common situation among primal peoples (that word choice, vs "primitive" was explained to me by my friend Jack Gladstone; Blackfeet troubadour and storyteller, and double philosophy and anthropology major...) is that men and women have nearly equal power in the community- but- men's power, and women's power are different, based on different "magic".

I think that in primal situations, equal power of men and women is the situation that will most often win out, in competitions between cultures. Generally- equal partners will compete harder, and contribute more, than any arrangement where one sex is subjugated.

But in settled "civilized" circumstances- other factors may come into play which make that aspect of the culture less compelling. With the rise of the cities- women started to be subjugated more and more- and military power rose in importance.

The trend is older than Christianity; but most visible there, I think. Judaism also shifted in antiquity from a matriarchal system to patriarchal (thank you, oh lord, that you did not make me a woman...! feel free to correct me, Sharon!). And Islam also; while women still have great power in the household; they are allowed no role in larger community concerns. And yes, I'm talking just about Western cultures here- because that's the one most of the readers here live in.

As Christianity moved into the Middle Ages, women's power was stripped from them by the Church- and "women's magic" became a matter of warfare- "wise women"- witches - were systematically eradicated, in very ugly fashion.

About the same time, two new endeavors arose- "universities"- and "history". These arenas, I contend, were launched entirely as men's enterprises- no women allowed. And they dealt solely with men's "magic"; or power, concerns. "History", for most of its course, has been just a list of men's power achievements; wars and governments. "Universities" became machines to train men for power- and to develop new paths to power; that is why kings built and funded them.

Medicine; typically a women's magic in the West, was stolen by men, and installed in the universities. "Doctor", in fact, is not a term originally applied to physicians; but to professors. When barbers sought higher credibility, they stole the term for the respect it conveyed. The theft has been so complete and successful that PhD's now can be heard apologizing that they aren't a "real" doctor, but only a PhD; not even knowing the history of the term themselves.


What does this have to do with the "informal economy" question?

When "economics" was launched, universities were still entirely men's enterprises- and it was so unquestioned as to be unnoticed (by men...)

Consequently; when men first started to think about analyzing how resources move in a culture, and what is important, and what is not- they thought, of course, entirely in terms of men's concerns.

Of course their own parts were the most important- and the bits that had to do with what are traditionally women's enterprises were - not important.

Hence- they named the monetary economy "formal"; and the household economy- "informal" - which means, in case you can't tell- unimportant; negligible; not worth thinking about. And for lack of any alternative analysis- we still call it so today.


Back to anthropology for a moment.

I am one of those who always looks to the primal peoples; the hunter-gatherers; for clues to our present behavior. Homo lived as hunter-gatherers for the great majority of our existence; all species of Homo lived that way- until sapiens. That would mean some 2 million years as hunter-gatherers, and perhaps 15,000 as pastoralists and agriculturalists; even less time as city dwellers. Our genes are full of adaptations for the hunter-gatherer life.

While huge variations in cultural specifics exist among hunter gatherers, there are a few things that stand as reliable generalities.

Men hunt- women gather.
Women bear children. Men don't.
Women run the household, tend the fire- anchored by small children.
Women contribute most of the calories, in small game, vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains.
Men contribute most of the protein, much of the fat, in huge chunks when a kill is made.
Men contribute protection for the family- to the point of cheerfully dying when necessary - to protect - the household.

Now think about that. The household- is worth dying for.

Most of this is generated by the fact that men are never pregnant, nor nursing- thus much more capable of unencumbered hunts or fights. The division quickly becomes a positive-feedback loop, and turns into sexual selection yielding males that are a good deal larger than females, with thicker skins and bigger muscles.

There is one other thing men contribute, but it's less well known outside the inner circles of anthropology; so, another little diversion here.


Men, it turns out, are often jealous of women's power. Women alone create life- and what a huge power that is.

My Anthro 101 prof gleefully told us of a tribe in Africa; where the jealousy was so strong that the men made up a power of their own, to be able to compete better with the women.

When the men reach puberty; part of the coming of age ceremony included inserting a wooden plug in the anus. And the initiate never poops again, in his entire life. Cool, huh! Huge magic!

And it is, of course, a huge lie; you can't not poop. The reality is; the boys learn to go out in the bushes and do it secretly, and they pretend they don't. The women- of course - know all about this. But they pity the men, so they don't publicly expose the lie. They do laugh about it in the Women's House, though. A lot. And many of the men, while they of course know it's all a lie; do believe that they actually have the women fooled. Self-serving delusion- a phenomenon currently on display on Wall Street.


Partly as a result of this ancient inferiority complex, and partly as a matter of biology, the other thing men contribute to their household is- status.

It's been demonstrated in many different species, from domestic chickens on up to humans, that high-status individuals have stronger offspring, and the status passes to them.

For humans, men have for millennia spent great amounts of energy to acquire status. In my own mind, I reduce that goal to - "ostrich feathers". The more ostrich feathers you have; the higher your status- the more successful your offspring.

Ostrich feathers today can easily be read as "money", and "power". Among other things, of course. A Nobel Prize is a really big feather. Etc. Women of course seek status too, and nowadays can seek it in what used to be men's arenas; but I think women have status mechanisms that are solely their own, as well. Female status has also been shown by research to contribute to offspring success.


Back to formal/informal economy. What I hope to have shown by the long discourse above is that this terminology was set up by men- for men's purposes- and to increase the number of ostrich feathers available to men in this arena. The terminology has no other reason for existing- and is not the result of dispassionate investigations into reality.

Over on Sharon's original post, two respondents had excellent suggestions for alternative names; MJ suggested "essential economy", and Leslie suggested "natural". Both of those are true, and correct. However, from my long training in marketing- I can foresee difficulties down the line for both. Briefly- "essential" suggests too strongly (intended or not) that other aspects of the economy are not- and will make enemies. "Natural" - sounds too "green" (intended or not); and you'll lose a good deal of audience there. Let me repeat- they're both absolutely accurate.

Finally!!! My suggestion:

The "informal" economy IS; and should be renamed: "the Primary Economy".

Primary does not necessarily imply more significance- just that it was first. Which is totally undeniable, I think. I also think it unavoidably sounds important; unlike "informal".

That would make the "formal economy" the "Secondary Economy". Built upon the first.

Another brief aside- what is the purpose of the Secondary Economy? Why do people leave the home, to go to work outside? Manifestly- to bring resources back to the household- and put them into the Primary Economy. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that the entire Secondary Economy was created specifically to serve the Primary Economy. I think the nomenclature is appropriate; could be acceptable to many, and far better designates the relationships.

As a humorous addition- the Wall Street wonks refer to the Secondary Economy as "the real economy." You know, the one where people make stuff, and do things. As opposed to what they do on Wall Street, the "financial sector of the economy".

I will propose, in facetious/serious tones, that the "financial sector" of the economy be renamed the "Sandbox Economy". They just push piles of stuff around, from one place to another. Make nothing; do nothing, achieve nothing of tangible value. And squabble. Over ostrich feathers.

One other point in favor of Primary Economy. As many of you already know- the words "economy", "economics", and "ecology" all stem from the same Greek root: oikos.

Which means "home"; or "household"; or "family". I maintain- the household economy, and all its "informal" connections; is the Primary Economy. And should be so designated.


If you like this suggestion- please do start to use the terms, and refer people to this post for an explanation of why. It might go viral, who knows- and it would only be a matter of justice. At this point, as you can probably tell, I find the term "informal" to be actively offensive. And outrageously misleading.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Unreliable, That's What You Are...

You're supposed to be humming that to the tune of "Unforgettable", of course.

I've been away from the farm for a bit, traveling/talking.  Got back a few days ago, to the usual stack of urgencies, old standards and new surprises.

One of the few nice ones was this:

Click the pics for bigger.  The best crop of morels we've had in quite a few years.  I knew they were out there; and all 3 of us (minus any mushroom stomping dogs) went out looking this morning; with just this one basket.  What we have here is the yield from just 2 patches, one grey morels, and one brown (or white and yellow, depending on your vernacular.)

Unreliable; is what they are.  I don't have a clue how to predict the morel yield; it's just wildly variable, from year to year.  We have no shortage of dead elms, ever; so that's not it.  I think I do remember a year when we had nearly so many per tree, but it was decades ago.

So how is this a problem?  There's all this food out there- just screaming to be harvested.  Irritating, disruptive, and pretty much impossible to ignore.  My guess is we'll wind up freezing some.  It's a little hard to dry things here right now- we're off wood fuel for cooking and on propane; and the weather is frequently cool/cloudy.  One mushroomer friend dries his - on the dash of his car.  But I'm a little too afraid of bad plastic stuff in cars- you know, that lovely "new car smell"- which is in fact toxic.

So; work, work, work.  On top of regular chores.  :-)

Then; there's the cat/kitten problem.

Our regular cat is missing in action.  He's been gone for 3 weeks, and we're guessing he's not coming back.  He was (or is) an intact tom, and extraordinarily sweet and well behaved; which is why he was intact; we were thinking about arranging for kittens one day.  But he would, like most toms, take off occasionally; usually for 2-3 days.  He'd come back a little scarred and scabby; but happy.

Not this time.  It's very sad, of course; we'll miss him.  He was part of the family.

We also have mice, however; and we need a cat.  I casually discussed this with Spice a few days ago, basically saying "we'll probably need to think about a replacement eventually..."

The result, one day later:

Two black orphaned kittens.  2 weeks old- a dicey age.  Spice took Smidgen to her end of school picnic, on the teacher's parents' farm- and there the 30 pre-schoolers were confronted with a dead momma cat, and 6 dead kittens.  Shocking, and fascinating, of course.  Spice noticed that 2 of the kittens, cold and very hungry, were in fact still moving slightly...

She proceeded to rescue them, right in front of the kids.  Just like in the movies.  "I'll need a sharp pen knife, and a ball-point pen..."  

Ok, what she actually said was, "I'll need an egg, condensed milk, sugar, water, and some kind of syringe with no needle."  Which was not quite right, but close enough to revive them.

You can buy "kitten formula"; which is wildly expensive, and not quickly available out on the farm.  Or you can make your own.  This formula works for most young mammals; I've used it for baby cottontail rabbits, too; quite successfully.

Actually- condensed milk is not the right thing- you want to use dry milk; it's more digestible.  So; something like this; 1/2 egg yolk (only) counts as "1 part"; then add 3 parts reconstituted dry milk, 1 part cooking oil, and 1/3 part sugar.  Get it into them, somehow.

It's time consuming as all get out.  They need to eat frequently, including in the middle of the night; and kittens this young need help just to pee; you have to massage their tummies.  Their eyes are open; vets give kittens this young a 50-50 chance.  So far, we've been tending them 2 days; and they seem to be doing ok; one coughing a little.

But it's rewarding, too, of course.

Both males.  Probable names, Snowball, and Henri.  Smidgen loves saying "chat noir".


Update, 5/23.  We started giving Snowball, the cougher, a pinhead's worth of antibiotics yesterday- and today he is a good deal more active.  Both still with us; seem to be thriving.

And the morels?  Ha.  Unreliable is right.  Just got back from looking at another 60 or so reasonably appropriate dead elms.  2 of which had appreciable numbers of morels.  My first statistical sample included 10 elms; 2 of which were absolutely loaded, and another 3 of which had moderate crops.  So much for statistical predictions.  Hm.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Guinea Saga 3.1


That, incidentally, is what you ask your subjects to say when you are photographing people; not "cheese".

Works every time.  And some of the resulting photos are good for blackmail.

So far as I have been able to tell, all the guinea experts out there keep saying that distinguishing male from female guinea fowl is just plain hard.

What they come down to is; the males "tend" to be a little bigger than the females.  The males' wattle "tends" to be bigger than the females.  And only the female makes the distinctive "two-note" call, variously described as "buck-wheat!"  "good luck!"  or "come back!"  I'm afraid it sounds to me like "ba- gawwk!"

All of those things seem to be true- but rarely will they let you look at a bird for 10 seconds, at 20 feet, and say "that's a male."  Or female- since they definitely are not ba-gawwking all the time.

There are multiple reasons why you would like to know the sex of your birds; if you're keeping them primarily for eggs, it's simple- the males don't lay any.


Or if you're keeping them for meat- you want to know which are the young males, so you can regulate the sex ratio in the permanent flock.  Etc.

They don't grow a noticeable difference in size of wattle or size of bird, until after you may be wanting to choose some for meat.  And the ba-gawwk is very temporary.  "That one is female!"  you know.  Until you turn your back, and she mixes into the flock, and stops calling.  Plus, the fact that this one is female, does not mean that one is male.

It would just be really nice to be able to tell.

I once did a summer-long formal ethological study of black terns- a circumboreal freshwater marsh nesting species.  I'm also the only person I know who has ever raised common terns to adulthood from the egg; or who has fledged, raised, and released a clutch of chimney swifts.  Point being- I've spent a lot of hours looking intensely at birds.

The more I watch the guineas, and read up on them; the more convinced I am that - nobody has ever spent much time looking at the behavior of these birds.

Lots of people call them "dumb"- and I see no evidence of that whatsoever.  They aren't people- or chickens.  They're guineas, and pretty darn good at it.  Probably better at being guineas than chickens are at being chickens.  If you can follow that.

So- I was saying this to Spice, and discussing what we know and don't, and got her looking for new clues to the guineas too.

And probably because she is NOT a trained bird person- she saw one.  She described it in a silly, unprofessional, girly way- "I think the females have this hump on their back!" - which made no sense at all, to me.

After some weeks of trained, professional observation, I can state- the females have this kinda hump, on their back.  :-)

Here is a bunch of guineas - and as you can see, there's not much to differentiate.

Below is a male.

And here, below, (Fanfare noises)  is a female; showing the "hump".

There is, of course, no "hump" (silly girl, birds don't have humps!)  What you are seeing is that the male folds his wings high; on top of the rump feathers (that's their technical name), so the the rump feathers are concealed;  and the female tucks her wings under the edge of the rump feathers; so the rump feathers fluff up and are - if you're looking- emphasized.

Above is a lavender male, and his purple female mate;

And above here is a pearl male, and his lavender female.  Obvious as all hell, ain't it!  Except, as far as I can tell, nobody has ever noticed it before.  Until Spice did.  I was busy looking at their heads- because that's commonly where gender differences appear.  Spice didn't know any better so the damn fool just looked at the whole bird.


:-)  Smart girl, my Spice.

Next question- yeah?  And how consistent is this?

The answer seems to be- pretty darn consistent.  Depending.  In the morning, when the birds are first let out of the coop- it's 100%.  Really.  At noon, it's around 90%- a few males are holding their wings lower.  And in later afternoon, it starts to look like all the birds may be female.  But if you watch; you'll see some birds shifting their wing position from female to male- and some birds that keep their wings in the female position.

Once you're used to seeing it- it's really obvious; and extremely useful.  Take a look at photo number one up there now- 3 females; 3 males; really obvious; interesting formation.  You can learn to automatically factor in the time of day, state of the birds.  Since seeing this; I'm now of the opinion that when the birds are first released, they do not form pairs immediately, but rather spread out kind of chaotically, with a huge amount of male-male chasing going on.  A few hours later, I see all the birds in male-female pairs.  Female in front when calm; male in front when agitated.  A couple hours later- I see a lot of single sex small groups - 3 females foraging together; 4 males and one female off in a different direction; no chasing or fussing.

I'm kind of longing for a day when I could just take my binoculars, and notebook, and watch them all day; seriously.

Looking at some older movies of the guineas, it seems that before the helmet and wattles appear, they're not showing this sexual variation in wing position; so how useful it is for sexing young birds remains to be seen.

It varies with the time of day.  And age.  I'll bet it varies with the season, too.  We'll see.


Update on the eggs; we're still getting 3-4 new eggs a day; and it seems they are spending more and more time sitting on the nest; today, the eggs have been quite warm when checked, all day.  Yesterday- not so much.  As soon as they are sitting seriously, we're going to swap in a set of fresh eggs; all guineas; and all laid in the coop after the sitting started.  Doing a little selection for laying where it's convenient.  I'm pretty sure some of them are laying in another nest- not in the coop.

It's possible it's our fault they started going "broody".  Somehow I didn't get it that one of the reasons for collecting eggs multiple times a day can be to help interrupt broodiness.  We did, when they first started to lay, collect 3 and 4 times a day.  It was such fun!  Then- of course it got to be a chore.  And we wound up collecting once a day, a couple days in a row.  Why not?

Because- visual cues are known to cause hormonal shifts in birds.  When we collected 3 times a day; mostly the birds were looking at 3 to 6 eggs.  When we collected once a day- for most of the day they were looking at 8-12 eggs.  And that might quite easily be enough to trigger broodiness.  "Full clutch; time to sit!"

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Guinea Wench In The Works.

Oh, Mama Nature can get ticked, once you open you mouth and say "I kinda think I understand this..."

Our avalanche of guinea eggs is down to- a trickle.  Maybe.

Here's the actual daily numbers for the last 12 days; 8,6,9,7,9,7,8,9,7,7,4,4...?

Because.  We've got a guinea hen, "setting".  Right on top of the one and only nest they were laying in.

Now what?  Well, two things; I've set up two other possible nest tub type thingies in the coop, though it makes it crowded; and put nest eggs in there.  So far, no luck; and the nest eggs are often found 1 or 2 feet away from where I put them.  And; it seems the other guineas are continuing to successfully add eggs to the clutch in the nest- though not the 7-9 we were seeing before.

I'm afraid I have reason to suspect the other eggs are going into "stolen" nests- hidden somewhere.

The female doing the real "setting" so far seems to always be a "royal purple" (what we have now are 6 lavender, 5 pearl, 4 purple).  She is NOT on the nest all the time; but she has come back and started setting a couple times, after we found her off the nest.  Maybe she's warming up?

(click for bigger)

This is a really crappy photo, through the wire, so as not to get too close and spook her.  She sometimes sits tight, and sometimes spooks, right now.

And I just saw a lavender; and the pearl below- hanging around the nest looking very suspicious.   Or auspicious, perhaps.  Yesterday when we first saw purple setting, I found she was only on 7 eggs; so I added 3 more fresh ones to make 10, which looked to me like enough to sit on.  Our guinea eggs are really not that small.

10 eggs above-

(click for bigger)

If you look really carefully under the pearl momma, you can count 9; (again, crummy photo- didn't want to use flash, so wound up with slow shutter) and in another, even worse photo, you can count 11; and it's pretty clear there are more hiding behind the bird.

All of which means- we have more to learn about managing guinea egg production- over the entire season, and integrating hatching some into it all.

I guess I'm not really surprised, or disappointed.  But dang, it was nice when it all looked so simple.  


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Guinea Saga, Part Trois.

In order to understand this post, it might be a good idea to go back and read the earlier bits;  The Guinea Saga, Part One and Part Two.  And maybe the bit about where have all the chickens gone.

In a quail's eggshell; we've been experimenting in a modest way to see if we can integrate guineafowl into our other operations here.  The potential benefits: they may eat a lot of ticks (which we were having huge problems with), they can eat weevils, once grown they need little care, they nearly feed themselves, they serve as watch-dogs for all others on the farm, they can lay useful eggs, and might provide meat; potentially enough for serious sale, if we really scale up.  Like to running a couple flocks of over 100 birds each.  No problem marketing, we've already had pleas from top white-tablecloth restaurants.  Everybody who eats them says they taste like you wish chicken tasted.

The known downsides to guineas: they strongly tend to hide their nests, so you can't gather eggs without a lot of work; you can barely tell the sexes apart for flock management; they can be difficult to catch when you want to; they can be NOISY- i.e., think a flock of 40 geese.  And I'd add; there's a dearth of local experience to draw on; lots of old farmers kept a few guineas around here, but they never bothered to look for eggs, and are shocked that anyone would eat them.  Originally they were kept as hawk watchers for the chickens, but gradually they just became ornamentals and pets, in a way.

Cutting to the chase- we've solved all these "problems."

(click for larger)

We've got 100% of our guinea hens (which would be 7) laying daily- all in one nest- in the coop.  Our two chicken hens lay in the same nest, somewhat less reliably.  There are three hens eggs in the photo above; the white one is from the last commercial eggs we'll be buying for a long time; and was graded "Extra-Large".  The egg from our one remaining Dominique is plain to see; the egg from our Banty Brahman is less easy to pick out; virtually the same size as the guinea eggs, but less pointy.

And this is our situation, a week later.  We've got more eggs than we can eat.  This is 3 dozen guinea eggs, our current arrears.  For the last weeks, the birds have been totally consistent.  Every day; every egg; in one nest; in the coop.

If you know anything about guineas, you should be a little surprised about that- we sure were.  Most guinea operations which collect eggs work with birds that are totally confined to coops or fenced runs.  Our 15 birds are turned loose every morning- and are completely free range all day; plenty of opportunity to lay eggs far away- yet they come back to the coop to do it; mostly between 9 AM and 4 PM.  They wander freely over about 25 acres; grass, brush, and forest; and could wander further if they wanted to.  Yet they come back to lay.

When they first started laying this spring, they did not all lay in the coop.  I enticed them; using that most powerful tool- homework.

Ok, I'm kind of stretching on the homework, since I'm including all the work I did for my PhD(idn't) minor in Ethology- but basically, I took what I knew, and put it together with what other people knew, about other birds, and tried it out- and it worked.

There are hints about most of what you have to know kicking around; but they're really sparse hints, and not all in one place.  Basically- a nestbox built for a hen does not suit a guinea.  They want more cover.  Some recommend a triangular box, and creative placement.  I went a little further, and dug out information on what wild guinea nests look like.  No photos I could find of true wild birds; and scanty descriptions- and contradictory ones.  Normal.

Taking everything I knew about guinea nests, and general info about how animals view "security", I gave them something simple- and lucked out.  But it was an informed lucked out.  :-)  I gave them a propped up, inverted tub.  They have to duck to get in- but once in, there's a lot more room- and, there's a second exit, which I think is a big deal, security-wise.  Chips and mulch for the floor, a minor depression for the eggs.  The straw I've put in won't stay there.

The first egg we got was in this box.  Chicken.  Then, a couple guinea eggs a day; certainly not all we should have had.  And we found an egg outside the coop, under a door lying propped up on the permanent coop construction site.  We knew there were more eggs being laid, and we weren't getting them.  The idea that we'd have to hunt for them- even for a few to provide hatching eggs to build the guinea flock, was not appealing; we have way too many places to hide nests around here.

Thinking cap back on.  Back when I was studying ethology, I read a huge amount of Niko Tinbergen's work on nesting in terns and gulls, and his dissections of how birds perceive eggs.  He did spectacular work, incidentally.

So.  I've got a social nester here; a species known to lay eggs promiscuously in many nests... hm... any nest with other eggs already there...

We'd been leaving one egg in the nest.  Then two.  Not much change.  Then I mandated we leave three eggs.  I had to have a long discussion, and cite Tinbergen extensively to get Spice to go along- why should we waste another egg; leave it exposed to spoilage, etc.

Bingo.  Three is the magic number- next day; 8 new eggs added to the nest.  And 100% since then.

Another aspect to it is that we've trained our birds to come back at sundown, to be closed in the coop at night; they do see the coop as "home".  Yes, guineas will cheerfully roost in trees; but we've got owls out the wazoo here, and I know we lost a guinea or two that way last summer.

How did we train these "half wild" birds this way?  Two tricks, gleaned from the information already available.  Feed them only once a day- at the time you're closing them in.  And manage the feed so there is none left by mid afternoon.  The guineas are fantastic foragers (our feed use is down to 1/2 scoop a day from 1.5 a day in winter); but they do love a little easy regular chicken feed.  And- a cup of white millet, inside the coop, at closing time.

Only one site recommended white millet; and we tried it a few times on our adolescent birds, who were totally unimpressed with it.  But, we tried it again in spring- and the older birds now did indeed clean it up very rapidly when it was offered.  It has definitely made it easier to get them all in and happy; for quite a while there, it took two people to herd them inside; now it's a one person job, "getting the birds in."  White millet seems to be guinea candy; and the chickens dive for it too.  We had to search around for it- finally found it at a local elevator.

What are we going to do with all these eggs?  Eat quite a few- and hatch quite a few.  Somehow.  Someday, if we really wind up with hundreds of birds- we'll sell them, too; both as hatching eggs and to eat.  Hey, the feed is better than free- a lot of it is bugs we want eaten.

They're mostly fertile, as we can see when we crack them.  We've cooked them daily now for a couple weeks- the euphemistic term for how they taste is "more delicate than a hen's egg".  Which means- they don't have a pronounced "eggy" flavor; they're quite mild.  They're not bland, though; they taste- and feel like- food.  Very satisfying on tongue, and in tummy.  Cooking behavior is indistinguishable from chicken eggs; since they're smaller they tend to cook a tad faster.  The shell is indeed much stronger than a chicken egg, you have to get used to whacking them to get them cracked.  On the other hand, you can drop them on a hard floor, with no consequences... usually.  And I now recall my father telling me about boys playing catch with guinea eggs.  And eventually swapping a chicken egg into the game.  Sometimes a really old chicken egg.

Like other free-range eggs, the yolk is bright yellow; and one good aspect of the mild taste is that Smidgen now eats the yolk of her "egg-in-a-basket" as well as the white; with chicken eggs, she'll usually refuse to eat the yolk.  Lots of egg and cheese breakfast quesadillas; lots of egg salad sandwiches, something we never had before.  Intending to make our own mayonnaise before long.  And cakes- whenever we have an oven available.

We're seriously wondering about the real nutritional content of these eggs.  Digging on the web hasn't produced much hard info- and what there is is hard to compare.  The really good news is- one site measured guinea eggs as having the lowest cholesterol number of all eggs tested - and they tested everything from geese to doves.  Guineas had 12.77 mg/g of yolk; doves were the worst, with 21.99 mg/g.  

Anybody out there have the ability (and desire) to do a thorough analysis of our free-range guinea eggs?  We'll cheerfully ship you the eggs to work with- and publish the results, both here and elsewhere.  Would be great to know.

More on guineas- like, the sex stuff- next time.

Hang in there.