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How do your guinea fowl stand up to extreme weather in your area?
By Chris Lesley.
One of the main appeals of guinea fowl is their general hardiness and durability. But like any animal, the guinea fowl can struggle to regulate its body temperature in harsh weather and can suffer serious health consequences as a result. Fortunately, all of this is easy to avoid, and a few simple measures will protect your birds from the worst the weather has to offer.
Guinea fowl are native to Africa. The helmeted guinea fowl, the species most commonly kept as livestock, has a range that covers most of the African continent south of the Sahara, living in the savannas and scrublands. As such, these birds have a much higher heat tolerance than domestic chickens and are much less likely to overheat. However, there are still risks to keeping them in high temperatures, especially keets.
The highest temperature that you can comfortably keep guinea fowl is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, though they can be safe in higher temperatures if appropriate precautions are taken. The ideal temperature for young keets is 95 degrees.
Humidity can also make a big difference in how comfortable your birds are. Keets, in particular, can become ill if they’re exposed to too much dampness in the first two weeks of their lives, and this includes atmospheric humidity. Keeping your birds somewhere with adequate ventilation is key for reducing the humidity they’re exposed to. If you have a young batch of keets during the hottest and most humid parts of the year, you may also want to invest in a dehumidifier for their space.
Birds in high temperatures should always be kept in the shade and in a well-ventilated area with a strong breeze. Guinea fowl aren’t generally noted for their self-preservation instincts, so they may need to be confined inside on particularly hot days.
Water is another key tool for keeping your birds cool. In extreme temperatures, check their waterer multiple times a day to make sure it’s still full of cool, clean water — guinea fowl can get picky if their water isn’t clean enough. If you have adult birds, consider giving them access to a shallow pond to dip into if they want to cool off. This is best avoided if you have keets, though, as they can easily drown, even in a too-deep water dish.
Because of their African origins, guinea fowl do much worse in cold temperatures than hot ones. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t keep guinea fowl in colder climates; it’ll just require some extra planning and precautions.
In any weather cold enough to produce regular frosts, it’s important to keep your guinea fowl inside, at least at night. Once the ground becomes covered in ice and snow, they may need to stay inside all the time, especially if the temperatures don’t rise above freezing. Guinea fowl are extremely susceptible to frostbite and other cold-related illnesses, all of which are exacerbated by dampness and moisture.
In a well-built shelter, guinea fowl can do well at outside temperatures down to 32 degrees. Counterintuitively, it’s generally preferable for their shelter to be uninsulated, as this reduces the amount of moisture that builds up in the air and thus, helps protect your birds from common respiratory infections.
Although any poultry shelter should always have some ventilation to keep air circulating and limit respiratory diseases, this ventilation should be limited in the winter months. You’ll need to ensure that your vents aren’t blowing drafts directly onto your birds. The best way to do this is to place two vents near the top of the structure, high enough that the draft will blow above the birds’ heads when they’re sitting on their perches. This way, your guinea fowl can both stay warm and have fresh air in their shelter.
Although it’s for their own good, guinea fowl generally don’t like being confined and may struggle with the lack of space. At least 3 to 4 square feet of floor space per adult bird is best to keep them from getting restless or aggressive.
Heaters are an option for guinea fowl shelters, but they also come with a number of concerns, most notably that they can be a major fire hazard. Depending on where your shelter is in relation to your house, a heater fire might not be noticed until it’s too late for the birds. A heater fire can even endanger your house. If your birds’ water repeatedly freezes over, consider investing in a heated waterer or water heater, or a fountain that keeps the water continuously circulating, preventing freezing.
Guinea fowl may need extra food in cold weather, as they’re burning more energy trying to keep themselves warm. This food should be continuously available, and you might consider adding high-energy foods, such as alfalfa, corn, or oats, into their regular mix to give the birds an extra boost. If your usually free-range guineas have to be confined inside, consider giving them extra treats or interactive foods (such as hanging a cabbage head in the shelter from them to peck at) to make up for the variety and stimulation the birds usually get by foraging.
Guinea fowl are hardy birds, but they can still be threatened by extremes in the weather. Luckily, carefully considered care can protect them from these dangers and ensure that they stay happy and healthy all year round.
CHRIS LESLEY has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is the Chickens and More poultry expert. She has a flock of 11 chickens (including three Silkies) and is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens. Her book, Raising Chickens: The Common Sense Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Chickens, is available in paperback and eBook form.