Guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) are native to the more arid areas of the west coast of sub-Saharan Africa, but are currently found in India, and after chickens and ducks, are the most numerous poultry species there. They have featherless heads and the helmeted varieties are normally domesticated and often kept for ornamental purposes.
Guinea fowl like to be in small groups. There are three common varieties: pearl, lavender and white. The adults weigh over 1 kg. When about 35 weeks old, they start breeding in the spring with one male to five to eight females and are kept for up to three seasons or more. Average egg production is 55 to 100 per year, and each egg weighs 37 to 40 g. Guinea hens can be crossed with a domestic cockerel but the offspring are sterile. They are not good sitters and a domestic hen may be used instead or an artificial incubator at 37.2°C. Keets (chicks) hatch at 26 to 28 days and weigh 24 to 25 g and need artificial heat for up to 6 weeks. They are difficult to sex except by their call, but the adult male has larger helmet and wattles. They are either free range or housed and managed like meat chickens except for a more generous floor space of about 900 cm² per bird. They are ready to eat at 14 weeks with a dressed weight of 800 g to well over 1kg and conversion of feed to gain is about 4:1. The meat is very lean and breast meat yield is about 25% of live weight. One sensory evaluation indicated very little difference between chicken meat and guinea fowl meat. However, this may depend on the diet as there are reports of a ‘gamey’ flavour. Their meat is darker than chicken meat.
Little is known about their nutritional needs. There is debate as to how many diet formulations they should receive up to 8 weeks of age, and how much energy and protein should be contained in the diets.
In Australia there is a small guinea fowl market, which is likely to stay small. Production is less than 40,000 birds processed per year with an estimated market value of around $6.2 m. Guinea fowl can survive in the wild and in some areas they are such a nuisance that they have had to be culled. Hens lay about 50 to 60 eggs per year and hatchability is about 70% with a mortality of up to 15 %. Breeders (the lavender and pearl) are kept for 2 to 3 seasons and both adults and growing birds are generally allowed out-of-doors, although breeders are penned from September to January and sometimes for longer.
Keets are kept for about 6 weeks in pens with rice hulls or wood shavings for floor bedding. They are fed a pre-starter turkey diet which is changed to a turkey starter and grower diet as bird’s age. The guinea fowl are usually killed at about 20 weeks and often processed at an off-farm processing plant. Although dressed guinea fowl can be purchased fresh in season, they are usually frozen in weight categories that range from 850 g to 1.2 kg. Baby guinea fowl (400-600 g) and various carcass portions are also available. Demand is irregular, especially from restaurants, and as guinea fowl are not difficult to raise, opportunists enter the market from time to time thereby creating a glut. This does not encourage the established guinea fowl producers to expand their operation. Some producers often keep other game birds such as partridge and pheasants. Fly fishermen purchase feathers for tying flies for fishing.
Bio-security is not high priority. Olson Game Birds at Swan Hill, Victoria for example, caters for tourists and has a number of attractions including a restaurant. They promote their farming practices of game birds (guinea fowl, pheasants and partridges) to be ‘according to strict organic principles’.
Information kindly provided by Dr. David Farrell