Raising Guinea Fowl for Meat
Raising Guinea Fowl for Meat

More than Watchdogs and Tick Eaters:

Raising Guinea Fowl for Meat

by Wesley Hunter of Seymour, MO

We raised our first batch of guinea fowl in 2015 as part of a Poultry CSA we initiated that year. Truth be told, the guineas were a large part of the reason we decided to offer the Poultry CSA in the first place. We had read positive things about the guinea as a table bird and wanted to raise some ourselves, but being unsure how they would be received by customers at the farmers market we figured we could essentially ‘hide’ them in a CSA share and thus more easily get them into people’s hands; that is, our hope was that we could get people to try guineas simply by joining our CSA, without requiring them to make a conscious decision to directly buy something they had likely never eaten before.

Whether or not that ploy made a difference – I now suspect they would have sold just fine by themselves – that year did convince us of the superlative nature of guineas as table fowl. Guineas have, year in and year out, proved to be a customer favorite, and if we were forced to choose only one bird to raise and eat from here on out (we also raise heritage chickens, ducks, and geese) we’d have a hard time not choosing guineas. Now, though we have mostly abandoned the particular CSA model we began with, we continue to raise guineas, and intend to for the foreseeable future. They are a great fit for our farm, are easily integrated into existing enterprises, require little infrastructure and, with the exception of processing, require very little labor.

To refer to guineas as “domestic” birds is generous. I like to tell people that we don’t really raise guineas, they just sort of live here too. But that’s not to say that they cannot be trained, or that a system of production cannot be implemented which makes use of them as more than semi-wild birds that just roam the farm. The first step, then, is probably a mental one: rid yourself of your experience with that flock of guineas – maybe they were yours, or your neighbor’s, or maybe it was on grandma and grandpa’s farm – that just did whatever they wanted, roosted in the trees, made that horrendous racket, were kept primarily for insect control or as watchdogs, and eventually were all eaten by foxes and coyotes and hawks and owls. That sort of model certainly has its place, and I don’t mean to denigrate it in the least, but intentionally raising guineas for meat is a different ballgame entirely.

So let’s start at the beginning.


Like other poultry, there are guineas that have been selectively bred for meat production, and these will likely take a little searching out. As table poultry the guinea is much more common in France, and so it comes as no surprise that the folks undertaking most (if not all) of the genetic work are French. The birds best suited to meat production, then, are often marketed (in the U.S., at least) as “French guineas.” These are the same birds and have the same pearl coloration (dark purple with white spots) as the commoner barnyard guineas, but they grow at a slightly faster pace and attain a somewhat greater weight. They have not been manipulated to the degree of the Cornish-Rock Cross chicken or the Broad Breasted turkey, but they are certainly more suited to meat production than your average hatchery bird. I’ve not searched extensively, but the two hatcheries I am aware of that offer French guineas are Metzer Farms in California and JM Hatchery in Pennsylvania.


Brooding guineas is much the same as with chickens, though their semi-wildness means they tend to be more skittish. A little forethought in the brooding process goes a long way: though it is not absolutely necessary, we have found it far preferable to brood guineas in the same shelter that they will occupy for the duration of their grow-out period, as they learn from the very beginning where home is and are trained from an early age where to roost (more on this later). Like other baby birds, guinea keets need it warm and draft-free. A temporary barrier, kept in place for the first few days, to prevent them from wandering too far from the heat source is a good idea, too.


Most “game” birds require a feed with higher protein content than domestic fowl, but our guineas have always done well on normal chick rations. We start, appropriately enough, with a starter ration, of about 21% protein. After four or five weeks we switch them to a grower ration of about 18% protein, and in another four or five weeks we’ll drop it down to 16% protein. Then starting about 14 weeks of age we switch them to a finishing feed of only mixed whole grains.

For all our poultry we order a custom grain blend from a local mill that consists of 900 lbs whole corn, 600 lbs wheat, 350 lbs oats, and 150 lbs black oil sunflower seeds, which we order three tons at a time. There is nothing particularly special about this blend. We arrived at it after consulting a few sources on poultry nutrition; this mix gives us a diversity of ingredients, stays below recommended limits of the small grains, and comes in at a price that works for us. We grind it fresh every day or two, using a mill we purchased from Premier One Supplies that is manufactured in Italy specifically for small farms and small flocks. To this base mix we add ground roasted soybeans, fish meal, a mineral premix, and salt, in varying amounts depending on the specific ration. The fish meal is used only in the starter ration, as it provides a protein boost with even small amounts; the soybean content is decreased with each ration change until it is eliminated entirely for the “finishing” period.

We prefer to soak the feed for a few hours prior to feeding, even up to 24 hours, though this doesn’t always happen. Soaking helps eliminate wastage of the “fines,” by binding them together into what is essentially a porridge, and during the warmer months the feed will even begin to sour slightly which provides a definite nutritional boost. It is our intention to eventually develop a bona fide feed fermenting process, but that requires a dance of sorts, and we’re farmers with two left feet. So for now we’re happy to soak most of the feed most of the time. Do be advised that wet feeds eliminate the possibility of using gravity-type feeders; we use homemade wooden troughs which have served us well and which are considerably cheaper than store-bought metal ones.


I should make clear from the outset that what follows is applicable precisely because we allow our guineas to roam freely during the day. As mentioned above, we have found it greatly beneficial to brood our guineas in the same shelter they will spend their lives in. Again, this way they learn from a young age where their home is, and become accustomed to roosting in the same spot night after night. Our guineas are brooded in a coop at the back of our barn. There is a lean-to built onto the south side of our barn, and the back (west end) of this lean-to is the coop. The coop is approximately 8’x12’ and—importantly, I think—has a particularly high ceiling. Once the keets have outgrown the need for supplemental heat, we remove the hover brooder and put in a simple roost bar structure that leans against one wall. Also—and I think this makes a world of difference—there are 8-foot-long roost bars that run east-west about 7 feet off the ground. I think this is important because it allows the birds to roost up high, as guineas are wont to do. These high roost bars, which are possible precisely because of the high ceiling of this particular coop, scratch their roost-up-high itch so that they don’t seek out trees instead. That, combined with the fact that they have slept in this coop since their first night on the farm, seems to all but guarantee that they return each evening after a day spent wandering far and wide.

I will, however, present two alternatives. First, we have had success brooding the guineas for the first four or five weeks in a separate brooder, then moving them to this particular coop where they were kept confined for about two weeks before finally being let out. That said, there does seem to be an age after which it is much more difficult to train them to return to a particular shelter, no matter how long they’re kept confined, so you could certainly hedge your bets by just having a dedicated guinea shelter that you could brood them in. Second, guineas can certainly be raised in mobile “chicken tractors” like many pastured broiler producers. We have done this with one batch that did not return consistently to the coop (because we had brooded them elsewhere and had missed our window of opportunity in training them to return), and with one batch that was getting decimated by our local fox and coyote population while they roamed around for the day. But there is something unfortunate about taking a half-wild bird like a guinea and keeping it confined to 100 square feet or so all day, every day, when its every inclination is to roam far and wide. We have done it, when necessary, but we have never liked it. If you’ll pardon my bluntness, that is a second-rate way of raising guineas.


Our free-roaming, stationary shelter method works precisely because we intentionally train our guineas. For the first few weeks we keep feed in front of the birds at all times, and starting about three or four weeks we switch to twice-a-day feeding. Then at about five to six weeks of age we transition to feeding the guineas once a day, in the evening about half an hour before sundown. This is another line of defense against never-returning guineas—not only have they grown used to sleeping in this same place since they were just a couple days old, now their hungry bellies incentivize them to be in this place at this time.

We allow the young guineas outdoor access gradually, over the course of about a week. When the guineas are around seven weeks old, we start by opening the door only for the last half hour or so of daylight, corresponding to the time at which we feed them. A few of the more enterprising guineas will venture outside, then back in again, then out and in again, and so on, and eventually, as they have since they arrived, they all call it a night inside the coop. Repeat for the second day. The third and fourth days, we open the door about an hour before dark, then go back to feed them about 30 minutes later. Again it is the enterprising individuals that first venture outside, because this whole being-outside thing is still new to them. (I will note that the coop has two doors: a solid wooden outer door and a chicken wire inner door. At about two weeks of age we start leaving the outer door open all day, depending on weather, so although being outside is new to the birds, they’re at least already well aware that there is an outside.) Then on the fifth and sixth days we open the door around noon, but feed them on the same schedule. More of the birds will go outside, but they are initially cautious and prefer to hang around the coop and its familiar environs. Finally, on the seventh day we open the door as part of morning chores, and our training work is done. By now they’re accustomed to roosting inside the coop and to being fed near sundown, and evening guinea chores consist of simply feeding the birds and shutting the door after they’ve all gone in, occasionally herding the more reluctant individuals. (Thankfully guineas have a strong flocking instinct and want to stay together as a group, so herding is typically very easy.) With time, the birds will venture further and further away from the coop, until eventually they spend large portions of their day entirely out of sight and earshot.

Raising Guinea Fowl for Meat

Daily care, maintenance, and other notes

Once this training has been completed, then our daily guinea chores consist of opening the coop door in the morning, putting in the feed and shutting the door in the evening. That’s it: about two minutes’ worth of work. There is occasionally extra work that consists almost entirely of chasing guineas out of areas you do not want them to be, like the garden or, especially frustrating, the county road that too many people drive far too fast on. (Many, bless them, will simply stop and honk, but of course a guinea has no idea what a car horn is and isn’t concerned with learning why it’s being implemented.) These things, can, of course, be mitigated with appropriate fencing, and may or may not even be an issue if, for example, your guinea housing is far enough from the road. (Our barn is right next to it.) The saying holds true that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” in this case because preventing a habit (of getting into the garden, say) is far easier than trying to break an established one.

In their roaming, guineas forage extensively, which is a strong contributing factor to the depth of flavor their meat provides. A wide diversity of diet translates into deeper, richer flavor. That is to be desired, of course, but in their roaming they can also get themselves into trouble. We budget a 20% mortality rate, a certain part of which is to predators—in our case mostly coyotes, foxes, and hawks. Perhaps you’re thinking that’s rather high, though there are a few things to note here. One, that number is the worst-case scenario, and most batches fall more in the 10-15% range. Two, many of those mortalities budgeted for come early, either in the brooder (baby birds of all kinds are notoriously fragile) or in the first couple weeks of their roaming about, so the actual economic loss is relatively low. Three, our predator pressure, if not unique, is probably at least higher than it might otherwise be owing to the nature of our farm, which is rather broken up topographically and provides plentiful cover for predators of all sorts. Four, in any case we think a mortality rate of upwards of 20% is a worthwhile tradeoff for raising guineas in this way. They are allowed to roam freely, expressing their nature, and this method creates in them a distinctive flavor and texture that is inimitable by other methods. And, in the market we’re selling into at least, even at that rate they’re plenty profitable and a worthwhile enterprise.

Because of their strong flocking instinct guineas tend to stick together, which helps guard against predators—there are more eyes on the alert, and predators seem to have more difficulty picking one bird out of a crowd—but there will still be losses. (Chickens raised in the same manner, in my experience, suffer much higher losses under the same circumstances.) But sticking together doesn’t necessarily mean they all stick together; out of a batch of 100 birds, sometimes all 100 will move about as one group, and sometimes they’ll split into something like four groups of 25. (That’s a rough average; they don’t, of course, divide themselves so neatly.) Why this varies, I don’t know, but we seem to suffer fewer losses when they all stick together. This can change over time with one batch, as well, where they might all stick together at first but splinter into smaller groups as they age.

Though the intention in raising guineas for meat is to actively get them to grow efficiently and not to just keep them on a maintenance diet, don’t underestimate the value of their foraging. One year we processed our birds in three batches, slaughtering them three successive weeks. After processing the first batch, we simply stopped feeding the remaining birds because they had little apparent interest in the feed. The average weight per bird actually increased week to week, so that the second batch was larger than the first and the third batch was larger than the second. Though we would have expected the older birds to have grown larger anyway, this is still of course a testament to their ability to forage for a large part of their keep. When processing those birds I cut open a few of their crops and found them full of what was apparently lambsquarters and/or amaranth (pigweed) seeds, both of which are high in protein. They knew what they needed and knew how to get it. For consistency’s sake we feed them regularly now, though we still expect they’ll get a fairly sizeable part of their nutrition from what they can scrounge up from around the farm.

In our system, it takes about 18 pounds of feed to raise a guinea from hatch to slaughter weight. Feed efficiency is typically 3.5:1 to over 4:1; it increases as the birds age and devote more of their feed to body maintenance and less of it to growth. The earliest we process our birds is 15 weeks, and they can comfortably be raised to 20 weeks before risking tougher meat from older birds. With “scientific” feeding and keeping the birds confined to a “chicken tractor” (where they’ll burn off a lot less energy roaming around) they could probably be finished at 14 weeks or sooner at an even lower feed conversion ratio, but then you start risking a less distinguished product because of the shorter grow-out period and the compromised housing system.

Live weight at processing, in our system, ranges from about 3.5 to 6 lbs. Guineas have a dressing percentage of roughly 75% (including neck, heart, and liver), so salable weights range from about 2.5 to 4.5 lbs each. Naturally, the birds processed at 15 weeks tend to be smaller, and the birds processed at upwards of 20 weeks tend to be larger.

Here I’ll share an idea that isn’t necessarily a recommendation, but is worth considering. Two years ago, on our last processing day of the season, we had one male guinea escape the crate when I was extracting another bird. Rather than try to chase him down and corner him, I granted him a reprieve, and for these last two years he has become known as “the daddy guinea,” since he takes the new batches of keets under his (figurative) wing. He is already well acquainted with the routine of returning to the coop at night, and it seems that he transmits this knowledge to the current year’s birds, which makes training them that much easier. During the rest of the year, he hangs around the barnyard with the laying hens and some miscellaneous Muscovy ducks and geese. He also provides entertainment: since guineas have such a strong flock instinct he is constantly on the lookout for fellow guineas, and tends to find them in the reflective bumper of my pickup.


We process our birds over a three to four week period, starting at 15 weeks and finishing at 18 or 19 weeks. Because we process on-farm, this spreads out the labor and ensures that we never have a day dedicated to doing just that one thing. Our entire farm is diversified, and so is the work of our individual days; processing in smaller batches means we can do that work and also get on with other farm work that needs to be done at a busy time of year.

This schedule also helps with marketing. Probably our most enthusiastic customer is a chef with a well-earned reputation whose menu changes weekly. Through his skill set he has earned the right to be more than a bit picky about his sourcing, and as far as it concerns us he uses, almost exclusively, only fresh meat. By spreading our processing out, then, we have a guaranteed sale to that particular restaurant for four or five weeks, and that might account for 25-40% of the guineas we raised that year.

The actual process is scarcely different than for chickens, with perhaps the one exception that guineas are more likely to propel themselves out of a killing cone in their death throes. (Our deeper-than-normal homemade cones help guard against this.) Guineas do have finer, more delicate skin, which may make it more likely to tear. It is essential to gather the birds while they are still on the roost, either the night before or early the morning of. If you wait until daylight they will be much harder to gather up, and are more likely to injure themselves while trying to evade your grasp.

Guineas do have the interesting trait of having feathers that are much more easily removed than chickens, at least while they’re alive. I have, at times, tried to catch a guinea in the garden and, failing to ensure that I had a very secure grip on it, ended up with nothing but a handful of thigh feathers. It is almost as though they eject the feathers. My suspicion is that this is a “wild” trait that has been bred out of chickens, either intentionally or simply incidentally since they’ve been domesticated for so much longer than most other poultry. (Turkeys, also a relatively recently domesticated bird, do much the same thing.) In practice, this means that if, say, a coyote is trying to nab a bird, it is more likely to end up with little more than a mouthful of feathers as the guinea runs away. Whether or not this makes a clear difference in the actual plucking of the guineas during processing, though, I can’t say.

Guineas do reach sexual maturity sooner than chickens, and by 18 weeks of age there will usually be upwards of a handful of females (out of a batch of 100-150 birds) that are already laying pullet-sized eggs. Intriguingly, these birds also tend to be rather well fatted, and even have livers that can probably be best described as guinea foie gras.


Though effective and profitable farm enterprises will always of necessity be directly linked to consumer demand, it is my contention that we make things remarkably easier on ourselves by first producing things we genuinely like. A consumer-driven approach would say, “If customers want guinea fowl, raise and sell guinea fowl.” This is not the approach we take. In our case, we start with trying something new (almost entirely because we want to eat it), typically decide we like it (because it tastes good, fits within our farm’s constraints, and we enjoy the work), and then figure out how best to sell it. This approach can come with some steep marketing learning curves—exactly how do you sell something that most folks have never eaten?—and some enterprises may fail entirely, but the upside is that our own genuine interest is conveyed to our customers. That is, this is clearly not farm prostitution (I am grateful to Louis Bromfield for making that connection), selling whatever people will pay for, but something we’d be doing whether or not there was a market. We believe in it. Though I don’t know how to even measure it, I really think that customers can see the difference, and I think that’s especially true when it comes to niche/novelty production. When our interest and desire is what drives our farming, it is clear to customers that we’re not just in it to make a buck.

If there is any common thread regarding who buys guinea fowl, I’ve yet to find it. Excepting the aforementioned chef, we sell all our birds at a local farmers market, to a wide variety of people. There is a small handful of customers that buys a significant portion of the birds we offer, who would most easily be classified as “foodies.” These are the folks who show up at the market with a handful of baskets and reusable cloth bags and leave with them full, the ones who really put their money where their mouth is when it comes to local food economies and quality ingredients. But those aren’t the only ones buying. Some of our customers are people who have been infected with the tick-borne alpha gal disease, an allergy to red meat, and are hungry (both literally and figuratively, I suppose) for something other than chicken and fish. Some fall under that ambiguous term “ethnic” customers: maybe they’re from Africa, native home of the guinea; maybe they hail from Europe, where guinea is more common; or maybe they’re from about anywhere else in the world where chickens have actual flavor and, failing to find that sort of bird in most American markets, are casting their nets a little wider and trying something else entirely. And some of them are just people who seem to want to try guinea because, well, why not?

The most common question we hear is, as expected, “What does guinea taste like?” My go-to is to tell people that, as turkeys are more richly flavored than chickens, so guineas are more richly flavored than turkeys. They’re in the same “flavor family” and share a lot of the same traits, but the guineas are just more so. For some folks, it helps to tell them that the guinea is a cousin to the pheasant, and has a hint of gaminess. For others, I repeat a line from the chef mentioned above: “Guinea is what chicken wants to taste like when it grows up.” Whatever the angle, the point is that guinea is a richer, more deeply flavored meat, and that it’s a perennial customer favorite.

At our farmers market booth we have a sign made of a 2’ x 4’ piece of ¼” plywood, painted with black chalkboard paint, for each of the primary things we offer (ducks, rosé veal, and guinea fowl). I have found that a combination of visuals and text works best. We want enough words to explain clearly what we’re selling, how we raise it, how it’s being sold, and what the price is, but there are a lot of market goers that don’t read signs, so a visual of some sort is essential. Consider it a shortcut, a quick at-a-glance explanation of what is being offered. In the case of guineas, our sign has a chalk drawing of a guinea, with the words “GUINEA FOWL” constituting the actual body of the bird. (So the sign has “GUINEA FOWL” written in the shape of a guinea, with a head coming off the top, a tail coming off the back, and feet coming off the bottom.) This tells shoppers that we’re selling guineas, but also gives them a clue, via the visual, as to what exactly a guinea is. (This guinea sign is still a work in progress, and needs some tweaking. Our other signs are actually permanently drawn with acrylic paints of different colors, though we use chalk to write in the prices so we can change it as needed.)

Once that first sale is made, the second makes itself. No, most people aren’t going to buy and eat a guinea every week, but nearly all of them will be greatly impressed with how delicious these birds are, and they’ll remember it. They’ll take no further convincing.