reading time: 7 Session minutes
Make your own guinea sitter and learn how to troubleshoot her hatching.
Story and photos by Audrey Stallsmith Having incubated genies three times now, I can attest that—despite the hard shell on their eggs—they are no more difficult to hatch than chickens. Not even when using a cooler to keep them warm like I do!
On the homemade front
About ten years ago, I decided that the instructions for making your own incubator that I found on the Internet sounded more fun than buying an already boring incubator. Of course, my idea of fun left a lot to be desired, because it involved having to constantly check the thermometer and adjust the lid over the course of 28 days to keep the temperature inside the cooler-turned-incubator “perfectly.”
My success in hatching 20 out of 24 eggs can probably be attributed to my elderly mother who was still on hand at the time. It was she who figured out how to turn the computer fan so that it could be attached to the inside of the cooler. She was also there to turn eggs and monitor the temperature whenever I had to get away.
Therefore, if you also choose to use a homemade guinea sitter, you will be more successful if you have family members willing to help. Although I discovered how much attention this type of nursery takes, I continued to use the homemade setup for my later attempts as well. I’ve heard, from people who’ve used “real” brooders, that sometimes those brooders don’t produce vents at all. So I decided my hands-on method might have advantages after all.
What you will need to succeed
In addition to a large, easy-to-read thermometer, you’ll need a Styrofoam cooler with a lid that measures about 14 1/2″ x 12″ at the top, 12″ tall, and tapers to 12 1/2″ x 10″ at the base. A 15-watt incandescent aquarium light can generally keep this size cool at roughly the right temperature of 99 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Please note what I said shining. This type of bulb can be hard to find these days, but it has to emit heat, which fluorescents and LEDs won’t do.
You will also need a utility knife, super glue, the type of light socket set used to make household lights, a 6″ x 8″ sheet of glass for the window, a power strip, a cup of water to provide the humidity inside the cooler and the aforementioned computer fan that has been converted so it can be connected to the power strip your.
Not to mention the eggs, of course. For my first nursery, I bought two dozen on E-bay from a farm in Texas. For the second time, I bought a dozen from a local seller. And for the third, I used a pile of eggs laid by Guinea – about six eggs at that time.
You should choose eggs that haven’t been refrigerated if you can, although I suspect the eggs you bought locally saw the inside of the fridge and half of them still hatched. Those genes were my best disposition, so maybe that initial cooling helped them keep their cool!
Made a Guinea Scratch incubator
Use the utility knife to cut out a window in the front of the cooler, slightly smaller than your pane of glass, and super glue to secure the pane over that opening. You’ll also need to drill two small (pencil-diameter) ventilation holes in each of the three remaining sides of the incubator, and attach the computer fan to one of the interior walls, with its wires running up top of that exterior wall. (I did this by attaching the wires to the wall directly above the fan).
Finally, you’ll need to fit the light socket together, following the instructions that came with it, and cut a hole in the radiator cap large enough that this socket can be inserted securely – with the light on the inside of the box and the switch on the outside. After plugging both the fan and light socket into the power strip and setting the thermometer and cup of water inside the guinea incubator, you should be good to go.
Mark the spot and hit the mark
Before placing the eggs on their sides there too, draw an X on one side of each with a pencil and an O on the other side. You’ll need to turn those eggs three times a day, making sure that the pointed ends are always lower than the round ones, and the icons will help you tell when you’ve finished that task.
You should stop turning eggs three days before the eggs are due to hatch. In theory it would be on day 25, but my experience has been that keets are impatient and want to get out about three days early – often starting to hatch on day 25 instead of day 28.
During all of those days, you will need to monitor the temperature and try to keep it between 99 and 100 degrees. If the incubator gets too hot, crack the lid slightly. If it gets too cold, cover this one with a blanket.
Don’t despair if the temperature occasionally rises a few degrees above or below the ideal 99 to 100 degree mark. I’ve seen it happen during every incubation and still have keets at the end of them all, even though my success rate is about 1/2 to 5/6. After all, as my dad likes to point out, hens don’t keep their eggs at a constant temperature all the time either.
House and dry
You will need a box lined with paper towels ready for kitting. Since I keep them indoors when they’re young, I can heat a box to 95 degrees by hanging an old-fashioned incandescent bulb over it. You should try to maintain this temperature for the first week and then lower it by 5 degrees per week – by gradually raising the bulb.
Allow the newly hatched guinea bugs to dry out a bit in the brooder before moving them to their box. They probably won’t feel hungry or thirsty for a while, but you should provide them with a shallow bowl — like an upturned jar lid — filled with shiny marbles and water. In theory, the pellets prevent them from drowning in that water and encourage them to tap on them. Feed the keets turkey starter into another shallow container.
If the keet seems to be having difficulty standing due to his split legs, you can easily fix this with a medicated bandage about 3/4 inch wide. Cut the bandage in half lengthwise before using one of the halves to create a lame. Place the pad between the keet’s legs with the sticky ends of the bandage wrapped around her legs just below where the “fur” begins. Your keet will probably fall on its face a few times to begin with, but it should quickly learn how to get back on its feet!
Three notes about guinea fowl:
– No Keep your keets completely closed. We used a large TV box for our first flock, but made the mistake of leaving the lid off when we weren’t feeding them. The halls were jumping and scattering every time we opened the box because they didn’t see us coming. So they were much more high-strung birds than those I kept in open cages or dog cages later, though I did tape cardboard on the sides of those cages to make them less exposed to the wind.
– No Genes hatch alongside other birds, unless you plan to keep them separate afterwards. I made the mistake of including some duck eggs in my last incubation. Two of these hatched, and the kittens seem to regard the large birds as the mother. This, of course, caused some identity problems! Also, the ducklings always wanted to splash in their water dish, making a soggy mess.
The less friendly player insisted on taking over and letting all the youngsters know he was. Fortunately, they eventually rebel against their overbearing “father”. Even then, they were not taught to sit, as ducks do not.
– No Try to hatch eggs in late summer. I did this for the incubation just mentioned because I didn’t want the pile of guinea eggs we found to go to waste. However, there was no time to properly eject the feather and properly imprint it on its circumference before releasing it.
As a result, we lost a couple to the cold in early winter and most of the others drifted off sometime during the following spring. However, we still have the genes from the second incubation, who have been given time to affect their surroundings as detailed in my previous article. So the ideal time to start incubation is usually around the middle of May. By the time they have molted enough to move them outside, the weather should be at its warmest.
Audrey Stallsmith is an author I will say thyme A series of gardening-related mysteries, one of which received a starred review in Booklist Another of the best selections from Romantic times. Her e-book of country comics is titled Love and the other madman. She lives on a small farm in western Pennsylvania.