The Small Farm Field Day held at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s Common Ground Education Center in Unity in late May offered a wealth of information and inspiration for those who want to raise fowl.

In an amusing and informative presentation, Dana Manchester of Shady Hollow Farm in Morrill (shadyhollowfarm.com/) described the care and behavior of guinea fowl, a term that includes guinea hens (the egg layers), cocks (adult males), pullets (young females) and cockerels (young males). Shady Hollow Farm raises the widest assortment of guinea fowl in the United States.

These African natives are especially valuable in Maine and elsewhere now, as they use their sharp beaks to eat seeds, tiny insects and ticks, and, said Manchester, they range farther than chickens do. “It is true that they do a good job on ticks,” he said.

“They love millet seed,” he added. “Give them wild bird seed or millet as a treat. For some reason, they love little things — black flies, mosquitoes.”

Shady Hollow sells more than 60 varieties of guinea fowl — more than any other hatchery in the world, said Manchester. The adults eat chicken layer pellets.

They are simple to care for and “are probably the most cold and heat tolerant bird in our climate,” Manchester said.

When a potential predator is nearby, the males make a loud alarm call. “They will certainly try to hold their own against predators,” said Manchester. These alarm calls could be irritating to someone raising guinea fowl or to their neighbors. Manchester said the birds calm down and are quieter when they get older, and restricting their view might help keep them quieter. Females make a quieter sound, but they make it almost continuously throughout the day.

Hens don’t build nests but scratch a depression in the sand and lay their eggs there communally — i.e., all the hens in a flock lay in that one depression. “They don’t let you collect eggs as easily as chickens do when they’ve gone broody,” said Manchester (i.e., when they’re incubating eggs). Once you do collect them, however, they’re safe while en route to your kitchen because of their tough shells. Manchester lobbed a guinea hen egg a good 20 feet in the air and let it land on the lawn several times without breaking it.

In fact, if you have chickens that are pecking at their own eggs, Manchester suggested putting guinea hen eggs in the chickens’ nests. The chickens “won’t be able to crack the eggs; they’ll get bored and will give up.”

Guinea hens will lay eggs year-round if they have supplemental light when the day length shortens. The eggs have thick yolks and are great for scrambling, said Manchester.

Guinea fowl meat is darker than that of chickens, and it’s oilier but not gamey like pheasant meat. Guinea fowl have a higher percentage of meat to body weight than chickens do.

Guinea fowl live for seven or eight years. Manchester said three to six birds would be a good number for a one-acre site.

You can house guinea fowl with chickens, turkeys, pheasants, pea fowl and geese, said Manchester. Visitors at Small Farm Field Day could see some beautiful poultry houses, too, as Roots, Coops, & More of Augusta (rootscoopsandmore.com) displayed its movable pens and coops there. Their well-designed coops make feeding, cleaning and egg collecting as simple as possible. For more photos of these structures and the company’s cold frames, rabbit hutch and raised bed garden frames, see the Roots, Coops, & More Web site.

For more information about raising guinea fowl and other game birds, see Shady Hollow’s Web site, and Dana Manchester’s article on the subject at backyardpoultrymag.com/issues/2/2-2/Dana_Manchester.html.