Lonely No Longer: A Story of Our Guinea Fowl

I believe this story stands on its own, however if you would like the background of the stories of our guineas, click here: #1--It's a Bird, It's a Pain; #2--Parenting Problems; #3--All Good Things.


A lonely Edna patrols the lawn.
It was sad, really. Watching our guinea, Edna roam through our yard by herself just didn't seem right. Her entire life had been spent in the company of Hank, her companion and mate. Hank had met an unfortunate end in an encounter with a pickup on the road. Now she roamed the yard, searching as always for insects, but stopping now and then for a futile call to Hank. "Sorry, Edna, he's not coming back," I would tell her.

We wondered what to do. Was she going to be okay? Would she leave in search of another guinea or just keel over with grief? We wished we had not sold her offspring. After a week of contemplating we decided to get another adult guinea. We contacted the person who had purchased young guineas from us in the past. She told us to come by her farm about dark. She explained that many of her guineas roosted in the rafters of the barn where she milked her goats. After the guineas were settled for the night, we could turn off the lights, climb a ladder, shine a flashlight on the guinea we wanted and then grab it. And that's just what happened. Mike picked a pearl with a few stray white feathers from what appeared to be a row of young bachelors (he didn't want to split up any couples) and we had a young cockerel. The conversation about what to name him was brief. "His name is Hank, Jr.," said Mike, quite firmly. Well, okay.


Hank, Jr. and Edna had an uneasy first meeting.
Introductions took place soon after. We put Hank, Jr. in the chicken pen so he couldn't try to return to his former home. The chicken pen is about 7 feet tall and is covered except for a small opening in the roof. It contains the chickens very well. I guess we imagined that Edna and Hank, Jr. would get acquainted through the fence. While gardening the next morning, I heard a great guinea commotion coming from the vegetable garden. Hank, Jr. had somehow exited the chicken pen and a meeting was in progress. Like two people marooned on a desert island, they seemed to understand that they shared a common destiny. Perhaps it was not their first choice, or their second choice; but wait. They were each other's only choice.  

Through the next few days we saw the guineas around the yard. Sometimes they were together, often they were not. It appeared that Hank, Jr. was going to stick around. One evening we noticed that Edna had not returned to roost in the cedar tree above the chicken pen. It kind of bothered me to think that she might be off somewhere else roosting with Hank, Jr. in another tree. But that wasn't the case at all. Edna was setting on a nest! She had picked a place in the daylilies next to the vegetable garden. It had not even occurred to us that Edna had been laying eggs for several weeks. A little bit of the original Hank still remained among the twenty or so eggs in the nest. 
Only if you know where to look can you find Edna's nest in the daylilies.

During the four weeks that Edna sat on the nest, we occasionally saw Hank, Jr. We saw him often enough to know that he was still around, but who knew where he spent his days or for the matter, where he roosted at night. The gardens suffered from the lack of "bug patrols." And then, one marvelous day, success! Once again, Edna was able to hatch a clutch of keets.
Edna seemed enormously pleased with her babies.


Now what should we do? We had heard that guineas are not very good parents. One experienced guinea farmer says on her web site that in all the years she had raised guineas, she had "yet to have a guinea hatch a clutch of keets and bring any keets home alive on her own."  Wet grass (which can chill and kill the keets), wildlife, neighborhood cats and an guinea parent that moves at a fairly fast pace all makes life precarious for tiny, vulnerable keets. They would be safer in a box in the garage. 


Does this scare you? It scares me. Don't get too close to Edna's babies!

You could tell that Edna was thrilled to be a mother. She led them around the vegetable garden with pride. The vegetable garden seemed like it was a good place for them. The asparagus patch with its tall plants and shady hiding spots seemed ideal. If she would just keep them in the vegetable garden, maybe they would be alright. Then in swooped Hank, Jr. He wasn't riding a white horse, but perhaps he saved the day. Did he know that these keets were not his biological offspring? If he knew, he didn't care. He certainly took a vital interest in this little family. He sprang into action. A gentle chirp or cluck brought the chicks to him. Evidently he thought we were too close and he began to lead the chicks and Edna out of the garden, towards the neighbor's yard. I ran around to head them off and they returned to the garden.  We backed off. There was no more discussion about taking the keets to raise them ourselves.
Always together--the family wanders through the yard in search of insects.

The little family seemed inseparable. They did not stay in the vegetable garden very long, but wandered throughout our yard and neighbors' yards.  If you saw Hank, Jr., Edna and the little ones were not far behind.  The only time I would see Hank, Jr. without his family was in the early evening when Edna evidently tucked her youngsters in quite early and Hank would wander around for awhile before heading for his own roost.


I'm feeling just a little snubbed--Hank, Jr. and Edna lead the keets away.
A few days after the keets hatched it began to rain. It was a fairly warm day and the rain was gentle. When you raise keets you keep the temperature at 90-95 degrees with heat lamps for its first two weeks. No way would they be that warm in the rain. And yes, Edna was leading them around in the rain, but she would stop occasionally and the keets would crawl underneath her and warm up. All the keets survived that day.
The guineas know every square inch of our property. 

Hank, Jr., especially, did not allow the keets to get close to humans. Should we happen to meet, he would whirl around and head in the opposite direction, chirping and clucking his directions. He did not make it easy to get many good photographs of the family. But he was an excellent father and Edna was doing great as a mom, too. Mike watched from the barn on day while Hank, Jr. and Edna caught insects and brought them to the youngsters. Soon they would be catching their own meals and learning to fly. Looking out across the lawn you could see little birds popping up a few inches above the grass. Soon they were flying to the top of railroad ties, the middle rung of the fence, the picnic table and finally the top rung of the fence. Surely they are now roosting above the ground by now.
They can fly! Often the little guineas line up in a row.
They're growing up! The little guineas show up for grain and let me take a photo.
After about a month, I think we would consider the keets adolescents. They are fully feathered now. They move extremely fast. They come running along with their parents when Mike feeds them grain in the evening and eat enthusiastically. The family is always together, but I've noticed that now they spread a little further apart. Looking at the guinea family, I wish all children could be raised this way under the watchful eye and constant presence of both parents who teach them to get their meals and then to fly. 

Thinking about the two Hanks reminds me of the two Susannas in our family's history. The first Susanna was married to Heinrich Benjamin Becker and the mother of four young sons when the family immigrated to the United States as part of the Mennonite immigration in the fall of 1874. Shortly before boarding the ship, she gave birth to a daughter. After a grueling voyage which included engine trouble, a near shipwreck and an outbreak of smallpox, they arrived in the United States and finally in South Dakota in the spring. Before them stretched a wide open prairie of green grasses. There were no towns or roads; no fences or plowed ground. Here they would start their new life from scratch. But Susanna died in September. She was 28 years old. Shortly afterwards the baby girl died, too. 

Those were difficult days when families needed each other with a fierceness we don't understand. A few months later Benjamin  remarried. Her name was also Susanna. She was perhaps 16 or 17 years old and an orphan. Let me hasten to add that I believe that 17 was much more mature in those days than in our current time of prolonged adolescence. Still, it is very young for so heavy a responsibilty. Benjamin was 31 years old and of course there were the four little boys. Almost 140 years afterwards it is not possible to know the heart and soul and emotions of people who are basically names in genealogical record to me. It's hard to believe that this was either one's first choice. Perhaps they were each other's only choice. Still they seemed to have made a good life for themselves. Eleven children were born to them (one died in infancy) and a farm was established. Toward the end of his life my great-grandfather, Jacob Becker, the oldest of the those little boys, looked back on the arrival of his stepmother and said, "With God's help things went better again." 

Here's a salute to all the Hank, Jr.'s and Susannas out there who make the best of only choices and care for youngster that don't share your DNA. Thank you. I'm sure you've found that with God's help things do go better. The difference you make may impact generations.

 









2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading the continued saga, Bev, and the connection to your family history. Nicely done!

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  2. What a great story, Bev! Thank you for sharing it! I will be anxiously awaiting the updates!

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