This story has a happy ending! Promise!
This is so strange. Everything I've read says guinea hens are notoriously bad mothers. I've read they don't stay around for all their eggs to hatch, they take their babies out and about even though they are too young, and you have to take their babies away if they are going to survive.
Our story here at The Mother Ranch is a little different:
It begins around September 10, at least that's when I took the first photo of Millie (the light grey one) and Georgette (the dark one) sitting on a clutch of 20ish eggs.
Brad built a cage around them out of some bendy wire fencing so we could lock them in at night. They would have been coyote food otherwise.
5 weeks (we thought it was 5 weeks but it must have been 4) went by and Brad and I just figured that the eggs weren't going to hatch. It's fall, we've had our first freeze or two and we thought it had been more than 30 days since the hens had started laying on their eggs. Darn. No luck. Bummer, because even though I don't want to raise baby birds of ANY KIND, these moms had done an amazing job. They worked together, which I loved and were so committed! (Don't worry, I have someone who will take any babies that hatch.)
Yesterday evening Brad found the nest without the mamas (which happens, they do go out and eat sometimes), checked the eggs and they were all very cold. 2 dead baby guineas were under the eggs. He took out all the unhatched eggs and saw that one was trying to hatch! He put the eggs in a box and took them into our now empty chicken house (all the chickens were processed a week and a half ago), turned on a heat lamp and left. He was worried that the hatching one would get too cold without the moms laying on it.
What the heck do we know?!? This was a BIG heating bulb, and unbeknownst to us, 250 watts. Sigh. The poor eggs were screaming hot when we went to check them. :-(
So, we killed all the guinea babies. That was sad and to top it off, Georgette was nowhere to be found when it was time to lock the guineas in their coop for the night. She must have gotten swiped by a coyote. Not a happy day.
However! The story has a happy ending!
This morning, no Georgette.
Early afternoon and Brad announced that Georgette was back! Hurray! And later he found our flock of 5 guineas (3 girls and 2 boys) wandering around with 5 tiny babies stumbling after them! Georgette must have been keeping them safe and warm somewhere overnight!
Seriously, how did that happen? Where in the world did those babies come from and how did we not see them? When Georgette and Millie left the nest yesterday did their babies jump out after them? It's about a 12" drop to the ground but they must have! Tough little babies. I wonder if the moms would have gone back to sit on the remaining eggs?
I called my guinea guru to see what we should do. I set up their pen according to her instructions. When I was all ready I found the moms in a sheltered spot with the 5 babies and Millie came out with her feathers ruffled out so she looked about twice her normal size. Okay then. She was being protective. Good.
Later, I noticed they were out with the flock again. This time there were only 4 (we searched by never found number 5). We watched them wandering around after the adults and noticed them shivering. Nothing more pathetic than a 3" tall bird shivering! Brad and I scooped them up and put them in the adult's coop in some straw under a 150 watt heat lamp. The babies immediately burrowed down into the straw and disappeared. Once we left, the whole flock came in to be with them! Millie and Georgette are continuing to keep their babies warm by laying on them! I'm so surprised!
So back to all I've read:
•They don't stay around for all their eggs to hatch--we don't know if this is true or not yet. They did leave and take their hatchlings with them but would they have come back? If they had what would have happened to the hatched out babies? They couldn't reach the nest.
•They take their babies out and about even though they are too young--this is true but they seemed to stop and find a place to warm them up every so often.
•You have to take their babies away if they are going to survive--this remains to be seen but I'm very impressed with their willingness to work together, to protect, and to continue to lay on them to keep them warm!
I think The Mother Ranch guineas have earned pretty good marks in the mothering department. I know I won't question them again!
I will however, question the wattage of a heat lamp from now on :-/
|This evening: Millie and Georgette laying on the babies. Manfred and George look on from the right. Angelica (the white one) has always been a bit scattered since her mate was killed by a coyote.|