Guinea Fowl for Tick Control

Rebecca Randall Gilbert

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2012, 17(3):7

Guinea fowl are sometimes called African Pheasant. I have read that 80% of the pheasant under glass one can buy in Paris is actually Guinea fowl. I cannot confirm this, having never eaten even one pheasant, in Paris or anywhere. I have eaten a few guineas though, and they are very tasty, all tender dark meat somewhat like the thigh meat of chickens. We do not usually eat our Guinea fowls however, because we use them for tick control.

Martha's Vineyard, where our farm is located, is a brushy island off the coast of Massachusetts. Because of its insular nature, ticks have boomed and interbred, resulting in one of the highest populations of ticks anywhere. Furthermore, the diseases carried by the ticks mushroom as well, so that our ticks have a much higher likelihood of carrying infection than those on the mainland. At least six serious diseases have been identified in our ticks. Lyme disease is the most prevalent and feared, a spirochete closely related to syphilis with many similar effects when untreated, and difficult to eradicate once established. Babesciosis is an organism treated with antimalarial drugs, usually under hospitalization. Erlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are also found, plus two or three as yet unnamed diseases.

Why has this suddenly become such a problem? Some believe it is a government conspiracy, or that Lyme was a bioweapon that escaped. Others point to changes in land management practices, such as no more burning of fields, increases in woody areas, and less deer hunting. Others remember when our woods and fields were full of grouse, pheasant and quail; all gone now.

We are naturally concerned for ourselves and our children, and also for our livelihood, since our island is an international tourist destination. People have reacted to the threat by spraying poisons of various kinds, but the long and the short of it is: it doesn't work. The ticks are too tough; different life stages are resistant to different pesticides, and they are too dispersed within a delicate ecosystem. They ride on deer, pets and birds from place to place and they become resistant to poisons rather quickly. The poisons end up killing off the very predators that want to eat the ticks!

I wish I could bring back the native ground nesting, bug eating birds, but I can't; at least not single-handedly. By introducing guineas into our farm ecology, I feel I am helping to fill this niche, at least somewhat. In their ancestral homeland of Africa, guineas follow the grazing herds and can reputedly eat four thousand ticks per day! Here, they eat a little chicken grain in the morning and then follow our herd of pygmy goats or just run around aimlessly. Some roost in the trees, beyond the reach of raccoons, and some roost in a tall wire pen where they were raised from keets. Don't try to import adult guineas as they will wander off in different directions. Don't try to raise guineas in the woods as they will migrate to a nearby open area, whether the road or your neighbor's lawn. Your neighbor is your biggest obstacle to getting guineas. They squawk a lot (guineas, not the neighbors). People find them endlessly amusing or incredibly annoying. Get your neighbors on your side before investing in a lot of guineas.

So, do they work? YES! Of course they do not eliminate every tick on our property, especially the tiniest and scariest deer ticks. They have, however, made an enormous difference. We almost never find ticks in the open, grassy areas where they were once common. Now we only worry about them when we go off into the woods and brush. When we took a year off from guineas, about a decade ago, we could not believe how many ticks we found on ourselves and our dogs, even just walking across the lawn from the truck to the house. We had thought that maybe our fifty free ranging layer hens and flocks of heirloom and Muscovy ducks might do as well, but they did not. Guineas are specialists in tick control, and our farm will never be without a sizable flock again if we can help it!



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