Shortly after my husband and I moved to our 5-acre slice of heaven, I saw the most amazing sight. While looking out in our field, I was startled to see odd-looking polka-dotted birds wandering through the tall grass. I stared for a little while at them trying to figure out what on earth they could be.
Were they some kind of wild turkey? Were they vultures? What on earth were these basketball-shaped birds that moved at amazingly fast speeds for their rotund shape?
As it turns out, they were guinea fowl. I was immediately intrigued and wanted to learn more. I found that guinea fowl are very beneficial to farm life. Unlike chickens, they do not scratch or eat established plants. That isn’t to say they won’t have a sample now and then, but they prefer the insects, grasses and seeds to the plants.
As I read more, I learned that they kill snakes, eat ticks, and, when allowed to free range, are fairly self-sufficient in terms of feed. I was hooked! I wanted my own flock to help me with gardening and pest control.
Last year I got my first guineas as day-old keets. I raised them with day-old chicks. They were quite adorable, I must say.
They grew up healthy and happy. Then, this spring, two of my Guineas had five offspring.
They came out chipper and looking like their mommy and daddy. One went to my neighbor, and we kept the other four.
Having raised keets already, we used our original setup to raise our second group. We did everything the same … almost. I will explain more on the change in routine later.
I was surprised to see around 10 days of age my keets started walking oddly. They were walking on their haunches. It would be like humans walking on their knees with their feet out in front of them at a ninety degree angle. I also noticed at this same time they were sometimes sleeping with their legs stretched out. I did not have much experience raising keets, but I knew this was not normal behavior.
I began frantically searching Google and posting on forums for causes and cures. I read it was possible that wire floors could make them start walking funny. I tried making “Hobble Braces” out of band-aids to see if it helped. However, I saw no improvement.
I then checked possible diseases. I came up with possibly botulism or a vitamin/mineral deficiency. My instincts said it was a deficiency, since they had started off very perky and alert. Since there were so many possibilities, I was not having great luck finding the elixir for my birds. I went to my local pet store and bought vitamin/mineral supplements for their water. However, their condition did not improve.
I thought back to what I had changed from the first group of keets the previous year and realized I had different feed. I normally feed organic chick starter, but I had some game bird starter I had just purchased while bird-sitting my neighbor’s poults. I had thought it might be nice to start with the higher protein feed in game bird starter since I had just purchased some and had some left over. However, I decided, this may not have been a wise decision.
While not conclusive, I further validated my suspicion when I spoke to my neighbor who had my other keet, and she said it was happy and healthy. She makes her own feed, ground daily.
As I was trying my cures, valuable time was passing. I had changed back to my organic chick starter, but the keets were looking listless. I lost my first keet within a couple of days of the first symptoms. A second keet’s health was declining rapidly. I had posted on forums but the responses focused on hobble braces.
I then remembered a woman in Burnet, Texas, who specializes in raising guineas. I immediately contacted April with H and H Poultry and received a prompt response from her:
"This [condition] is very common in Guineas. It is a vitamin deficiency. Can you please try some Red Cell? The deficiency is selenium (vitamin E). In the summer, when it is very, very hot, feed goes through a loss in selenium because the oils in the soy have a tendency to go rancid, much like grocery store vegetable oil does. ... Additionally, commercial feeds are heat processed. Heat causes oil to be unstable. ... Red Cell is for horses but can be used at the same strength for keets. … [Another good remedy is] wheat or wheat berries ground up fresh and fed to them. Also, wheat germ from the grocery store [can help]. The vitamins in the water are [useful]. You can't reverse the problem but you can stop any more from having problems. Sometimes they will live through it and straighten out a bit and do okay as adults. "
I hurried out to the grocery store and bought wheat germ to get started. I also snipped open Vitamin E capsules and dipped the tip of the keets’ beaks in the oil. Keets can be testy, but these were more willing to accept the treatment in their weakened state. I planned on getting some Red Cell the next day from the feed store.
I was amazed at the change in health within 24 hours. The two remaining keets (1 died the morning of the initial treatments) looked like new birds. They were chipper, alert, and walking on their feet, not their haunches. While this may be old hat for seasoned farm people, this was a miracle to me!
It has been another day since the miracle transformation. I have no guarantees that the keets will survive, but I have great hope based on what I have witnessed. While I wish I had stayed with my chick starter feed, I am hoping my sharing of this experience will help others learn from my mistake. You cannot underestimate the importance of good nutrition.