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Raising Keets

Saturday February 19

We haven’t had many cucumbers this season. One of our guinea fowl hens had been sitting on a clutch of eggs, having decided that the perfect nest for her was under our cucumber plants in one of our raised veggie beds. As our guinea fowl over the years haven’t demonstrated the best child rearing abilities and this one seemed very keen, we didn’t have the heart to try and move her and it hardly seemed fair to let the reticulation run as normal…hence…few cucumbers…

After weeks of diligently sitting on her eggs through the occasional shower and many, many hot days I worried that all her hard work and care might not eventuate in keets (baby guinea fowl). Every day I would keep her company for a few moments and would save a handful of water soaked wheat to place nearby so she could continue to feed without needing to leave her eggs. I would quietly talk to her and let her know what a good job she was doing. She seemed to accept me in some way and as the days approached when I knew her eggs were due to hatch I continued to hope all would be well…

…and then yesterday…we came home to two cracked eggs, a rather agitated guinea fowl hen…and no keets! I panicked and tried to soothe the mother hen, I could see further eggs around and under her so hopefully others would soon hatch. I assumed the worst had befallen her new babies…we live near an eagle rehabilitation centre and foxes are often seen in our area…not to mention a gang of local crows…all who would easily make a meal of newly hatched keets…but then…a fluffy body attached to a tiny beak peeked from under it’s mother’s wings…Tienne and I smiled and smiled…what a beautiful sight. And soon we spotted another…they were safe; our guinea hen had her babies.

Later we counted 5 tiny keets and in the morning two further eggs could be seen…seven babies in total.

I went to work filled with the wonder of life, feeling so much lighter knowing the guinea hen had her babies but also knowing that there were great dangers ahead and that all the keets might not survive.

I arrived home late afternoon to an excited husband and daughter…keen to fill me in on the guinea’s adventures (and misadventures)…not to mention their own. Tienne had a rather nasty scratch down one side of her face…

It turned out mother guinea fowl had set off with the five strongest keets, with a sixth smaller, weaker one struggling to keep up…the seventh was seemingly happy to laze in the sun in the original nest up in the raised veggie bed. Tienne had tried to place the seventh guinea fowl with the others and been charged by the guinea mum. A frightening experience I imagine for both her and Dad. Although in retelling the story Tienne was far more concerned about the baby’s welfare and excited to tell me that she had then been looking after the two smaller guinea fowl that had not been kept under their mum’s wing.

The problem now, with the sun slowly setting and the warmth of the day fast disappearing was what to do with the two abandoned keets? They wouldn’t survive a night outside on their own. While its summer here, the nights are still cool and they required a constant 95 degrees Fahrenheit to remain as warm as they would have if kept warm by their mother.

I searched the internet while Tienne cuddled them to keep them warm and Dad retreated to his much loved shed to construct some kind of incubator. We all convened soon after armed with information and on Dad’s part a very reasonable looking warmth providing contraption!

Several hours in the home made incubator seems to be doing the trick and the two adorable fluffy keets, nick named Trouble (the weak keet who had struggled to keep up with the others) & Stripe (the one  that Tienne had tried to return to the rest of the group) are doing okay. It is Trouble we are most worried about as he is so small and still seems very weak. He doesn’t look like the other babies either, with a dark fluffy body and white stripes on either side of his beak; no stripes like the others…he is very unsure with his steps and rarely opens his eyes. I wonder if he can see properly. I love him already. Stripe has taken to Tienne like she is his mother…perhaps he somehow understands that she tried to return him to his mother, that she was harmed in doing so and yet still managed to keep him safe and warm. Tienne already calls him ‘my little cutie’ and at the moment with her scratch (or stripe) they are not so dissimilar. Thank goodness she is okay though…no one should mess with a protective mother.

I worry that Trouble may not make it through the night and while not religious in the most commonly thought of sense I will still be sending lots of positive thoughts and hope that he will pull through. If he gets through tonight I think he has a reasonable chance.

Regardless, they would not have survived on their own tonight. I have tried to prepare Tienne and she seems to understand that while of course we hope the babies survive and we can continue to rear them until they have feathers and can join the rest of the guinea fowl gang who reside on our property…there is a possibility they may die, but that we will all try our very best.

I have been having difficulty dealing with any death since Saskia died. A beautiful butterfly flew into my windscreen two days ago – one moment so graceful, the lightness of life…the next, all life force gone. I crumbled and had to pull over, thoughts of Saskia, her beauty, the fact that she was healthy, all set for arrival in the big wide world…and the moments that changed everything…I so hope these keets survive…

Late Sunday February 20

Nature can be so cruel…

Last night was restless for all but Tienne. I got up several times to check on the baby keets and all seemed okay until just after 2am when I woke sensing something was wrong. The light had blown in the incubator although it couldn’t have been blown long as there was still some warmth within the box and the keets were huddled in the cotton cubby I had made for them. I wrapped them both up and scooped them into my hand and cuddled them close while Frank found a replacement bulb. Soon their incubator was warm again and we carefully placed them back, they seemed none the worse for their early morning adventure but Trouble (who was no trouble) still seemed too quiet and weak and I lay awake for some time worrying until finally drifting back to sleep.

I awoke around 5.30am, checked on the keets, still huddled and asleep and then instantly thought of the mother hen and her five keets who had spent the night outside. I hurried outside…but as I opened the back door I already knew something was wrong as I heard the familiar caw of several large crows and the distressed call of the mother guinea. I ran but not quick enough…as the mother hen rushed at one crow another swooped down and grabbed one of her babies. There was only one left, I can only assume the crows took the other three also.

I cried for the mother and her lost keets, I know it is nature playing out but sometimes it seems just plain unfair. I hung around in order to keep the crows away for half and hour or so and then heard Tienne awake and call out to me. I hurriedly explained what had happened to Frank who ran out and took over crow deterrent duties. Fifteen or so minutes later he came rushing up the stairs with the keet, seemingly abandoned by its mother. Frank had run inside for 30 seconds and on return there was no mother or keet to be seen. He assumed the worst until he heard the keet’s cry, alone in long grass.

It was cold but we soon warmed it and Frank gave it the name ‘Overnight’…and so there were three in the home made incubator. Stripe was doing well, Baby Penguin (formerly Trouble but who looked just like the tiniest of penguins rather than a guinea fowl) and Overnight seemed to rally and while I still worried about Baby Penguin due to her differences and size we really hoped that we could give these three keets the chance of life…

Sadly Baby Penguin died around 9am and I sobbed like I haven’t for months, it all just came up and out. Frank too was affected…and it was Tienne who took the sunny approach…picking the most beautiful flower she could find in the garden to bury with Baby Penguin and saying something along the following lines as I gently placed the baby bird in the ground, “Baby Penguin was very cute. Maybe he will come back as a bigger penguin” She looked up at the sky and said she could imagine him up there. How I love children, how I love my eldest daughter.

And then there were two…and so far so good. Stripe in particular is thriving…he cheeps until you go up and stoke him, talk to him or scoop him up for a cuddle and seems particularly fond of Tienne. Overnight is a bit more hesitant with us but is growing in strength by the hour also. We initially gave them water via a pipette but they already drink from a shallow bowl and have started to eat their chick raiser pellets. One day at a time but it is nice to have baby animals in the house, despite the responsibility that goes with it.

I can hear Stripe again so I’ll go up for another cuddle. Yes, nature can be cruel but it can also be wonderful…

Further Reading:

If you are thinking of raising guinea fowls we found the following website helpful

Post Script

Two weeks on Stripe and Overnight are thriving. They have literally doubled in size and are well on the way to growing their feathers. They shy away from Frank and I but still respond very well to Tienne’s gentle cuddles. When they are not eating (they do love their food!) we can usually find them snuggled sweetly together in the  nest I made them within their new & completely revamped state of the art home made incubator (my husband does love making things!) or trying to fly using their recently acquired wing feathers!