Tuesday, June 19, 2007
We're Down to Eleven
Cats, that is! Yes, truly nuts. But they are outside the majority of the time. The last two kittens - Templeton and Fern - are spoken for and will be leaving here in July.
Friday night, Theresa from West Hartford and a knitter who has taken workshops with me picked up our sweet little kitten Toby. Theresa is the mother of 3 boys - ages 16, 14 and 11. She has been "cat-less" for seven years. She had a black cat when she was young and so Lily Pons' handsome black kitten Toby will join her family and hopefully get control of the rodent situation and keep her company at night while she is knitting.
Julia and I went to the Greenfield Farmer's Coop Exchange after mailing some emergency packages at the post office. I had to buy a new garden fork (I broke mine the other night while attempting to start weeding my garden). While we were there, we picked up 6 guinea hen keets (or baby guineas in regular language).
We chose 3 "Pied" - they have white chests and right now stripey backs and 3 "Lavender" which as Julia says are not really lavender - they are a light greyish-purple shade. Click here to learn more about guinea hen colors.
Our first official spring here in this farmhouse, I decided to order guinea hens from Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. The minimum order was 35 keets. I did it, even though I really didn't need that many, nor did I have adequate housing for that many birds since they would be living with my chickens. I was just desperate to experience guinea fowl. It's the polka dot feathers that truly get me! The 35 guinea keets arrived after my initial order of 25 exotic chicks. In the past, I had had a lot of experience with raising chicks and figured guineas would be the same. Surprise, they weren't. First of all, they are much wilder and more like game birds. They fly very well. They escape and have more "wild" sense than chicks. They need different food - that which has a higher protein content.
We raised them in the kitchen until I was tired of them - it seemed like we had chicks in our kitchen that year for at least 2 months that spring. With a year old, not yet toddler named Julia, and a border collie puppy, and two new kittens, it was all a little more than I bargained for. One morning, I decided, that was it. The guinea keets were flying all over - they were ready for the real world.
At dusk, The Farmer helped me move them to the official chicken pen which had recently been fortified to stop hawks, raccoons, and whatever else might find my poultry tasty. It is best to introduce new birds to a coop in the evening. That way, the established population is better able to accept the new birds (chickens can't see very well at dusk).
Guinea keets are very nimble and wild. They've got much better "wild" survivor instincts than chickens. We let them go inside the confines of the pen. The Farmer and I watched as all the keets escaped the poultry fence. Off they went into the deep grass that had not yet been mowed. My investment was fleeting before my eyes with Julia in my arms, not able to walk nor crawl yet. It was a madhouse.
I set Julia down in the grass, much to her annoyance. The Farmer and I herded and gathered as many keets as we could. It was very hard to find them. We had released about 30 keets. We caught 19. We put them on our screened in porch and there they stayed for about a month until they were too large to escape the chicken wire netting. It was a nightmare I hope never to repeat just cleaning up after them. All for the sake of keeping poultry.
I have loved keeping guineas. First and foremost - they are as noisy as all get-out. In the middle of the night, they alert me to wild animal trespassers. During the day, they let me know if a stranger has driven up. And when I am expecting company, I just need to wait for their interesting alarm. When I occassionally let all my chickens free range, it's the guineas who go the farthest. They fly into trees or roost on top of the coop. Eventually, they return. I think they know the coop is the safest place for them with all the wildlife out here.
We'll never know where the 11 keets ended up. Our neighbor Alicia swears she saw feathers last summer of a guinea. Hard to believe they could have survived that long in the wild.
So, we lose a kitten and gain 6 guinea hens. Am I up or down? What do you think?
p.s. Got a distraught call from Theresa this morning. Her overzealous large dog wanted to kill Toby so he has moved across the street to a large Victorian owned by a crocheter and her family. They lost their cat two months ago and so are happy to have Toby.