One Spring afternoon Buff, Duff, and I went for a walk. The wildflowers were in bloom, and the tall grass lush and green. Suddenly Buff stopped, ears pricked up, tail wagging, looking at something under a low shrub. I knew it wasn’t a rattlesnake from his actions, but thought it might be baby rabbits n a burrow, or a burrowing owl. But when I investigated, I found a guinea nest with eight guinea chicks that were no more than a day or so old. They are beautiful, black with white chest and chin—look like they are wearing little white bibs! They look very much like quail or pheasant chicks, and are much smaller than chicken chicks.
I knew they would fall prey to skunks, snakes, or weasels, so I put them in my hat and took them back to the house.
The “laying” flock of chickens at the ranch were White Leghorns—averaging from 150 to 200 chickens, but about a dozen Rhode Island Red hens were kept as Mother hens. The Reds are good laying hens, too, but are the best for sitting hens and for raising baby chicks. Too often the White Leghorns will change their minds about sitting and leave the nest after about two weeks—it takes three weeks for the eggs to hatch. Or desert the chicks when they are still too small to fend for themselves.
I knew one of the Red hens had been sitting for a couple of days. So that night we put the Guinea chicks under her in the nest. She didn’t seem a bit surprised to find she had “hatched” eight chicks after sitting just two days on an eggless nest. And proudly and happily accepted the little chicks.
The next morning we put her and the chicks in a coop. The coops were especially made for the Mother hens and chicks. An “A” type frame with closely set boards on the sides and ends to keep rain out, with air holes near the top of the ends like this. The coop is set on a plant platform to raise it above the ground in case of rain—cold dampness will quickly kill young chicks. The platform extended out several inches all around the coop like a little porch. In the daytime the coop was raised about 2 or 3 inches so the chicks could go in and out, and closed at night. The extended platform prevented small animals from digging under the coop at night to get at the chicks. Fresh clean straw was put in the coop each day. The Mother hen was kept in the coop for about two weeks until the baby chicks were old enough and strong enough to be outside with her. At night the Mother hen would always return to her own coop, and they were closed up for protection. The coops were under big shade trees to protect the hen and chicks from the hot sun. The Texas sun can be awfully hot in the Spring and Summer—not at all unusual to be 107o—110o.
Guineas are exotic, semi-wild fowl. Almost all ranches had a small flock of these kept for “watchbirds.” They will not roost in hen houses, but in trees. They fly almost as easily as birds. Absolutely nothing can come around at night without them hearing it and giving the alarm, a peculiar chattering which the whole flock takes up. This certain chattering is used only as an alarm, and the ranchers knew what it meant—something prowling around.
Guineas are a gray color, which tiny white polka dots. Their heads are blue, with rose color markings, and have top-knots,
They are smaller than chickens, their meat very dark and bluish, their eggs about half the size of normal chicken eggs.
They are not eaten, though they could be.
They stay to themselves in a tight little flock, apart from the chickens, and are always rather wild. I never heard of a pet one.
They will not lay their eggs in the chicken nests, but always hide them out in the brush. And for that reason few of the eggs or chicks survived. Snakes and small animals usually found and destroyed them. We always searched for the nests and retrieved the eggs and put them under the Red sitting hens.
But we had to be very careful in removing the eggs from the Guinea nest, never touching the nest or anywhere near it—they can smell or in some way detect that a human has touched the nest, and will abandon it. We used a long stick to rake the eggs away from the nest several feet, then they would be picked up by a wooden spoon which we were careful never to touch the bowl of. We kept this wooden spoon hanging outside the house so there wouldn’t be any human odors on it.
We had to use the same procedure with turkey eggs, except that a wooden spoon all their own was used.
The ranch turkeys were the Buff Bronze type. They were white with wings and markings of a bronze-buff color. There were usually a hundred or more in the flock.
This color was so hunters wouldn’t mistake them for Wild Turkeys, which are black. And also this breed of turkey is larger and doesn’t wander so far from the ranch house, so is less likely to be killed by coyotes. They roosted in the grove of oak trees near the hen-houses.
Part of the turkey flock was marketed in the Fall for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Many ranches had Peacocks, but there were none at the Milam 6 Mile Ranch at the time Ray and I were there. There had been some earlier, but they had been sold. They are very noisy.