Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Guinea Saga; A Post-Peak Parable; part 1

The bumps in the road-

I sometimes think half my life is spent delivering one form or another of "sorry this is late, but..."

After that last post, I was intending to zoom off and write the brilliant story of the guineas, so far- and, as happens so consistently around here, zoomed instead into a bump in my road; requiring me to spend all my energy elsewhere for several days.

The biggest problem with bumps, for me, is that they put you behinder than you were, on your previous plans.  More catch-up to play.  I have to keep raising the limit on my National Chores Debt- but what the hay, if an extra trillion here and there doesn't bother Congress, I should be able to do it too, right?

At the moment, I'm chasing the urgent chores that desperately needed to be done 4 days ago, and alas, writing about the guineas isn't right up at the top of the hyper-urgent list.

So although I'd rather write this as one piece, I guess we'll do it in short chunks, as I can get it done.  Here's the first bit of the Guinea Saga; A Post-Peak Parable-

Building the Chicken Dungeon (otherwise known as the part-earth sheltered, part sod, poultry house) has been taking a loooong time.  As good solid permanent structures are apt to.  Meanwhile- the year progresses, and the ticks do not abate- so we ordered the guinea keets anyway.  Maybe, we thought, that will make us build the Chicken Dungeon faster.

See, now I need to explain why we're calling a guinea housing facility a Chicken Dungeon.  

Adding guineas to our operation here is not a whim, nor a single -purpose project.  Yes, we need to do something about the tick explosion.  (The geese, incidentally, didn't stick- they both appear to have been "homing geese" - and when they got the opportunity; they went home.  Someplace else.)  But; far far beyond the ticks; we really need to have animals- of a variety of kinds, become a part of our crop operations.  We have bugs that need to be eaten- in the apples and other crops; and we have way way too much grass- which we cannot afford to just mow forever.  The guineas are intended to be the start of all that- chosen because they are more able than most to take care of themselves; and they have the reputation of being excellent "watchdogs" - alerting everything else on the farm to the presence of predators; four-legged, two-legged, or winged.  And they eat ticks, and weevils, of course.

We quickly discovered, though, that our real farmer neighbors do not take guineas seriously.  Many have a few- as pets, for amusement.  The idea that we're contemplating a future with maybe 300- 500 guineas on the place- just freaks them out too much.  But somehow, the fact that we're building a sod poultry house- is mildly amusing, but not as threatening.  And, we do intend to add chickens- as foster parents for the guineas, at least- pretty soon, so it's not a prevarication, much.

Back to the guineas.  The keets (chicks) are cute little devils.  They came in the mail; 33 of them; and at 2 days old, were avidly chasing the laser spot from the infrared thermometer we used to make sure they were at the right temperature- a hopeful sign for our fantasies about them becoming real tick controllers.  Somehow this video came out soundless; they peep, at this stage, just like chickens.

They are closer to wild than chickens, though they were kept as domestic fowl by the ancient Egyptians.  Which means, among other things; they fly; strongly.  And, it turns out; very very soon.  We discovered (no, the web information did not really point this out!) that guinea keets grow full wing feathers, and start flying, at the ripe old age of 3 weeks.  Which meant they really needed to get out of their brooder box- now.  And the Chicken Dungeon was far from ready.

Ah- temporary construction.  

Basic advice- don't ever, ever, ever build something temporary.  For one thing, you're wasting resources and time that should go into the real, permanent solution for your need.  For another- the overwhelming tendency is for temporary structures to slide, sneak, and lapse into permanency.  Because they're "good enough"- at the moment- and something else is now more urgent.  So you are stuck with what is an admittedly inferior, inadequate structure- for all eternity.  Temporary structures never die- you just add wire, and duct tape.

Knowing that fully, I set out to build a temporary guinea pen.  It was a matter of life or death for the guineas, literally, and here I was on the farm, all alone- Spice off gallivanting- allein, und abgetrennt, von aller freude.  (holy smokes, my spell checker speaks German, I had no idea.)  Anyway- I was stuck; no choice; temporary is necessary in this case, and I hate it.

The bloody thing consumed about 4 days of my life, and should have taken about 4 hours.  First I had to clear some ground for it- and the mower wouldn't start.  So I had to fix the mower.  Then I went in to town and bought chicken wire- only to have Bruce present me with a big weasel the next morning (not an Ermine, as I first thought, but a Long-Tailed weasel; a significantly more powerful predator, but still slender enough to maybe just walk through the mesh in chicken wire).  So- back to town- a different town, a farther town with a bigger farm store... which still did not have the "right" wire...  

Another reason not to build this way;  if I hadn't been under such pressure to build something now, I could have ordered the right wire, through my nearby store.  Now I'm stuck forever with 50' of half inch/half inch hardware cloth that is not, and will never be, exactly what we need.

Then spend a morning gathering the steel T posts (pulling old ones by hand, buried in sod...) then an hour searching for the post driver- which is missing in action...  All of this in deep Equatorial African Jungle sweat conditions; hot, windless (all these damn trees I planted cut all the wind) and 290% humidity; blink, and you sweat- and the sweat drips onto and over and fogs your glasses- incessantly.  Drive a post in that, please.  Wrangle tightly wrapped 4' wide x 50' long rolls of wire onto the posts, and stretch it, alone... then chicken wire over the top, so the little bastards can't just fly out and turn into Instant Owl Chow-

Heroic work, I assure you.

Finally, the bloody thing is functional- I hope.  Time to put birds in.  At this point, we have, I think, 28 keets, after a few "failed to thrive" and passed on.  They need, really need to be out of the brooder, but- does the new pen really work?  Will it be safe?  Will it actually keep the birds in?  Don't put all your eggs in one basket, right?

So I moved 10, I thought- and put them into the pen.  Except, when I let them out of the transfer box- there were actually 11.  You cannot count more than 10 guineas while they're moving around, I guarantee; impossible to be sure if you've counted that one, or that one- or twice.  Just counting 10 usually requires 4 tries, to be sure.  And when you're stuffing them into a little box, some of them squirm back out again.  (Once in, and the box is closed, they're actually very quiet and comfy.)

Sure enough- there was one little place where the wire didn't sit right tight on the ground- and one of the keets immediately ducked under the fence- and was out.  Who knew they were half mouse?  It doesn't mention this anywhere in the references I could find.  Immediately- zip- up in the apple tree, way up in the top (my apple trees are not dwarfed).  No way I'm getting that bird back.  Sigh.  This is why you start with 30ish- they're not all going to make it, no matter what.

Tune in tomorrow (I hope) - for the next episode- it gets more exciting, I guarantee-


Anna Marie said...

Mom got guineas several years ago. Within months (I don't think it took even that long), they had started roosting up in the alder trees; totally ignoring the fact that they were domesticated, except to steal bread from the geese.

They roost in those trees, and nest on the ground, but as soon they are baseball sized, we see them roosting with the keets up in the trees. Works pretty well to, most predators can't get them up there.

e4 said...

Ah, those dependency chains. Can't do A until B is done, but B requires a trip to the store for C, which requires vehicle D to be unloaded of materials for Project X, but that needs thunderstorm Y to pass by and pretty soon it's a week from next Tuesday.

I'll be following these guineas with great interest...

EJ said...

We looked in guineas too. But have opted for the following animals chosen carefully for being easy keepers, good mothers, hardy, not too wild or too bred.

6 Icelandic sheep (1 ram, 5 ewes): eat weeds, provide meat for dog and people, could be milked
1 llama: watches over sheep (easier to keep than other guardian animals)
a small flock of muscovy ducks: fly control when keep with sheep (I've seen one kill a mouse in the coop), work thru sheep bedding
handful of chickens (more come spring when proper chicken coop and tractors are built): eat scraps, share pasture with sheep, dog and people food - eggs and meat
1 dog: keep bear and deer out of the yard, decorative
2 cats: eat mice and packrats

Sheep, llama, ducks and chicken all provide manure.

Nancy M. said...

Your guinea never came back? Mine stick so close together! They are very skittish, but seem to be getting a little calmer.

I finally let mine out a couple days ago. They slept on top of their house and the chicken run, but, the next day they went back in their pen.

We built a temporary pen also. I know what you mean! It will probably be their only pen. Poor things.

Unknown said...

Oh - the guineas are so cute! This is something I have been wanting for my little one acre - mainly because of the ticks and bugs they eat. I'm looking forward to the rest of the story!

jewishfarmer said...

I'm watching this with fascination, since Guineas are on our list of possibilities as well.

I've actually become fond of the temporary straw bale animal shelter - we use them for the goats and have used them for geese and chickens. The thing is, they can't become permanent (since they decompose), are easy to set up, and then are compostable. I use the same metal fence posts, corrugated roofing and hardware cloth over and over again, so all I need is straw, which is widely available here.

There is, of course, always the temptation to put up yet another temporary shelter when this one decomposes, but so far we've mostly resisted ;-), which gets us the time we need to deal with the critters themselves and figure out what kind of housing they actually will be needing.


Anonymous said...

I'm betting that the tree guinea will come back down and go back with his or her pals. They do like to hang together.
A good rule for livestock and plants is to have the pens or territory VERY ready before any introductions.
I know that way of tricking oneself into the urgency of making the pens since the animals are there already and giving you the evil eye as they come to the realization that a crazy human has adopted them. Goats do the evil eye thing really well, guineas are nicer about it.
But, being older and tireder I no longer wish to fool myself that way. And I feel bad for the critters too. Plus that feral evil eye bugs me.
Just be sure that your pen is not right near the house and maybe downwind. They can cackle loudly and the wind will carry the sound.
They are very good at sending an alarm.

Greenpa said...

Just trying- so do your guineas hatch their own eggs, and raise the keets to adulthood? That's supposed to be very uncommon! Can I get some?

e4 - you've got a good handle on it.

e - very cool! It looks to me like you've got more time available to tend your critters than I do, at the moment. The muscovy ducks do sound interesting, I know they're need a bit less work than regular ducks. But they don't roost in trees- yes? Another angle for me- I think my local market for guinea fowl is better than for excess muscovys. Maybe. Do they eat grass?

Nancy M- how old were yours when you let them out? I hear 6 weeks is good.

Bobbi - they ARE cute little dickens. Still pretty cute, though growing towards gawky. I've always thought adult guineas were - well- a little ugly. We'll see.

Sharon- "so far we've MOSTLY resisted.." HA! lol. Where does your straw come from? It's quite hard to come by around here- and expensive. Corn and bean country.

RC - yeah, I'd rather be ready, too. Just stuck with it, this time around. Don't worry, the pen is a good 100 yards from the house, but right next to the site of the Chicken Dungeon. Didn't want it too close; and in any case, I understand the guineas are not enthusiastic about real woods; rather be in savanna type situations.

Anonymous said...

About the guinea mien. They are kind of goofy looking, although the coloration of the type we have here is a black and white polka dot outfit and the females are white. But there are other breeds. They DO look and even act kind of like they are in a slapstick comedy, but they are not unintelligent. They resemble small turkeys, but again, smarter. In 29 years here I have never seen a guinea road kill and have seen plenty of all the other fowl in the pancake state.
I do not know anything about how they deal with winter. I am curious about that. Yes, they do lay eggs here. All the fowl do.
Yes, guineas like open grassy areas, the height of the grass up to 18 inches, after that, they don't like it so much.
I do not have any guineas at the moment, but most of my neighbors do. They are very good to eat in stew. Very popular.
I was talking about this the other day with Cucu and he said, well, the reason you never see any road kill guineas is because if someone hits one, they jump right out and take it home and stew it.
But neither he nor I have hit one, so that's just a a funny theory.

AKfitknit said...

I totally understand about NEVER building something temporary. We are totally caught in this trap, in a big way. We built (are building) a little cabin to live in while we are building our real house so we could quit paying rent. The little cabin isn't anywhere close to being finished, we are living in it anyway, and all our money and time is being sucked into it. We are hoping to finish the cabin this winter, and start the real house next summer. IF the economy doesn't completely tank, IF I don't lose my job, IF a hundred million things. It is looking much more likely that we will be living forever in our temporary cabin and we could have been significantly on our way to building the real house if we had just got started on it instead. SIGH.