|Microlivestock - Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future (b17mie) |
|Part II : Poultry|
For Third World villages, the guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) could become much more valuable than it is today. The bird thrives under semi-intensive conditions, forages well, and requires little attention. It retains many of its wild ancestor's survival characteristics: it grows, reproduces, and yields well in both cool and hot conditions; it is relatively disease free; it requires little water or attention; it is almost as easily raised as chickens and turkeys; and it is a most useful all-round farm bird.
The guinea fowl's potential to increase meat production among hungry countries should be given greater recognition. The birds are widely known in Africa and occur in a few areas of Asia, but they show promise for use throughout all of Asia and Latin America and for increased use in Africa itself. Strains newly created for egg and meat production in Europe - notably in France - show excellent characteristics for industrial-scale production. Also, many semidomestic types in Africa deserve increased scientific assessment as scavenger birds.
Meat from domestic guinea fowl is dark and delicate, the flavor resembling that of game birds. It is a special delicacy, served in some of the world's finest restaurants. Several European countries eat vast amounts. Annual consumption in France, for example, is about 0.8 kg per capita.'
Guinea fowl also produce substantial numbers of eggs. In Africa, these are often sold hard-boiled in local markets. In the Soviet Union, they are produced in large commercial operations. In France, guinea fowl strains have been developed that not only grow quickly but lay as many as 190 eggs a year.
Outside Europe, virtually all guinea fowl are raised as free-ranging birds. These find most of their feed by scratching around villages and farmyards. Their cost of production is small, and they yield food for subsistence farmers. In Europe, on the other hand, most are raised in confinement, with artificial insemination, artificial lighting, and special feeding. In the main, this is to produce meat for luxury markets.
Guinea fowl production is beginning to increase all over the world. During the last 20 years, for example, many of Europe's chicken farmers and breeders, wishing to diversify, have switched to this bird. The United States is now studying ways to establish industrial production, and both Japan and Australia are increasing their flocks. Nonetheless, there is still a vast untapped future for this bird.
AREA OF POTENTIAL USE
Worldwide. This species is robust and resilient and adapts to many climates.
APPEARANCE AND SIZE
Guinea fowl are somewhat larger than average scavenger-type chickens: adults weigh up to 2.5 kilograms. They have dark-grey feathers with small white spots. Their heads are bare with a bony ridge (helmet) on top, which makes them look something like vultures. The short tail feathers usually slope downwards.
The chicks, known as "keels," resemble young quail. They are brown striped with red beaks and legs. The sexes are indistinguishable until eight weeks of age. After that, the males' larger helmets and wattles and the cries of the different sexes can be identified. Both sexes give a one-syllable shriek, but females also have a two-syllable call.
Like the chicken, the guinea fowl is a gallinaceous species and possesses the characteristic sternum with posterior notches and a raised "thumb."
Among domestic types are pearl, white, royal purple, and lavender. Pearl is the most common, and is probably the type first developed from the wild West African birds. Its handsome feathers are often used for ornamental purposes. The white is entirely white from the time of hatching and has a lighter skin.
Europe dominates industrial production. France, Italy, the Soviet Union, and Hungary all raise millions of guinea fowl under intensive conditions, just as they raise chickens. Elsewhere, guinea fowl have become established as a semidomesticated species on small family farms. Native flocks are found about villages and homes in parts of East and West Africa, and free-ranging flocks can be seen in many parts of India, notably Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Madhya Pradesh. During the slavery era, they were introduced from Africa to the Americas to be used for food. In Jamaica, Central America, and Malaysia, the birds have reverted to the wild state and are treated as game.
Guinea fowl are abundant; in most places even wild populations are not threatened.
HABITAT AND ENVIRONMENT
Guinea fowl are native to the grasslands and woodlands of most of Africa south of the Sahara where they occupy all habitats except dense forests and treeless deserts. Being native also to temperate South Africa, they appear to have an inherent adaptability to both heat and cold. However, in cool climates, regardless of daylength, they will not begin egg production until temperatures exceed 15ÝC.
Guinea fowl accept many foods: grains, leaves, ant eggs (for which they will tear anthills open), and even carrion.
Normally, they lay their first egg at about 18 weeks of age. Unlike many wild birds, which produce a single clutch a year, guinea hens lay continuously until adverse weather sets in.2 Free-range "domestic" guinea hens lay up to 60 eggs a season. And well-managed birds under intensive management lay close to 200. The eggs weigh approximately 40 g. Shells are stronger than those of chickens and are usually brown, but can be white or tinted.
The guinea hen goes broody after laying, which can be overcome by removing most of the eggs. A clutch of 15-20 is common. The incubation period is 27 days.
These birds never become "tame," but neither do they leave the premises. Although they stray farther than chickens do, they always return. They like to hide their eggs in a bushy corner, often in hollows scratched in the ground. They can fly, although even in the wild they do not fly far. They prefer to roost on high branches and (unless pinioned) can be hard to catch during the day.
Although wild guinea fowl live in groups, they are monogamous by nature and tend to bond in pairs. However, in domestication a single male may serve four or more females.
As noted, guinea fowl are valuable sources of both meat and eggs. They can also be used to control insect pests on vegetable crops.3
Guinea fowl are good "watch animals"; they have fantastic eyesight, a harsh cry, and will shriek at the slightest provocation. Their agitation on sighting dogs, foxes, hawks, or other predators have saved the lives of many a chicken, duck, and turkey. They are brave and will attack even large animals that threaten them.4
Guinea fowl can be kept in confinement using the methods for raising battery chickens. In this system, breeding stock are housed in cages and artificially inseminated. It gives the best egg production and fertility but requires housing, equipment, and skilled labor.
These birds can also be kept in a semidomestic state in and around the farmyard. In such cases they are penned until they are 12 weeks old. Unaccustomed to foraging for natural food, they constantly return to their artificial food supply. Eventually, however, they learn to subsist by scavenging.
The birds have been called "the worst parents in the world," and are almost incapable of looking after their keets.5 Because the females are such indifferent mothers, the eggs are best hatched in incubators or under other birds, to avoid the keets' being lost by their natural mothers. In many African countries, eggs are hatched under chickens.
Keets are often kept indoors until they are 3-4 weeks old to protect them from predators and wet weather. Sexual maturity can be delayed to as late as 32 weeks of age by holding the birds in windowless housing and controlling the lighting. This improves egg size and hatchability and reduces early mortality.
GUINEA FOWL AND THE ANCIENTS
The earliest reference to guinea fowl can be found in murals in the Pyramid of Wenis at Saqqara in Egypt, painted about 2400 B.C. Aviaries were quite fashionable at the time, and wealthy landowners maintained guinea fowl within their walled gardens. A thousand years later, by the time of Queen Hatshepsut (about 1475 B.C.), the junglefowl (the ancestor of the chicken) had arrived, and from then on it was raised on a substantial scale. Records of this period refer to "walk-in" incubators, constructed of mud bricks and heated by cameldung fires. The largest could hold up to 90,000 eggs (mainly from junglefowl but some from guinea fowl) and hatching rates of up to 70 percent were claimed.
By 400 B.C., guinea fowl were well established on farms in Greece. Later, they rose to importance in ancient Rome. Pliny the elder (in his Natural History, published 77 A.D.) stated that they were the last bird to be added to the Roman menu and that they were in great demand, both eggs and flesh being considered great delicacies. The emperor Caligula offered them as sacrifices to himself when he assumed the title of deity.
The guinea fowl then died out in Europe but was reintroduced by the Portuguese navigators returning from their African explorations in the late 1400s. They gave it the name pintada or "painted chicken" and this changed to pintade in French, while the name "Guinea fowl" (fowl from Africa) stayed in English, and gallina de Guinea in Spanish. Coincidentally, guinea fowl and turkeys were both introduced to England between 1530 and 1550, and the English, smitten with the original French misnomers, were left sorting out "Ginny birds" and "Turkey birds" for the remainder of the century. Both birds were adopted with great enthusiasm, and within 150 years they had utterly displaced the peafowl and swan as the major table birds for festive occasions.
Adapted from R.H.H. Belshaw, 1985 Guinea Fowl of the World
Compared with the farmyard chicken the guinea fowl's advantages are:
- Low production costs;
- Premium quality meat;
- Greater capacity to utilize green feeds;
- Better ability to scavenge for insects and grains;
- Better ability to protect itself against predators; and
- Better resistance to common poultry parasites and diseases (for example, Newcastle disease and fowlpox).
Surprisingly, this semidomestic bird, which has been farmed for centuries, retains the characteristics (feather morphology, hardiness, social behavior) of its wild ancestor - even when subjected to the most modern intensive-rearing methods employing battery cages and artificial insemination. Thus, it thrives under semicaptive conditions and needs little special care. The birds forage well for themselves and do not require much attention; their meat is tasty and they produce substantial numbers of eggs. Unlike chickens, they don't scratch to get insects out of the soil, so they are less destructive to the garden.
In backyard production the guinea fowl is supreme, but when produced intensively it costs more to raise than chickens. In Europe, for instance, day-old keets cost about twice as much as day-old broiler chicks. (The major reason is that guinea fowl produce fewer hatching eggs and require a longer feeding period.) Guinea fowl are also more expensive to feed. Their feed conversion (for meat production at the marketing age) is about 3.3-3.6 as compared with a broiler's feed conversion of 1.8-1.9. Moreover, guinea fowl take about twice as long to reach marketable size: they are marketed for meat at age 12-14 weeks, compared with 7-8 weeks for the broilers. Therefore, the selling price of guinea fowl in the Western world is up to twice that of broilers.
Guinea fowl are nervous and stupid. They can be difficult to catch' and when panicking they can easily suffocate their keets.
They are susceptible to some of the common diseases of chickens and turkeys. Salmonella is the most prevalent, but others are pullorum disease, staphylococcus, and Marek's disease.
THE GUINEA FOWL'S WILD COUSINS
The domesticated guinea fowl is descended from just one subspecies of the family's seven known species and numerous subspecies. Some of the others may also have promise as poultry. They, too, generally occur in flocks in bushy grasslands and open forests in Africa. All feed on vegetable matter such as seeds, berries, and tender shoots, and on invertebrates such as slugs. They rarely fly except to roost. They acclimatize well are easy to maintain in captivity, and can survive long periods away from water.** Their disposition is tame and nonaggressive, and they mix well with other birds.
Wild subspecies closely related to the domestic guinea fowl that might make future poultry in their own right include the following:
- Gray-breasted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris galeata). This subspecies is the principal ancestor of domestic guinea fowls. It is found throughout West Africa and probably has many valuable genetic traits. There is much variation in the size and other characteristics among the various individuals. People along the Gambia, Volta, and Niger rivers have long traditions of breeding these birds.
- Tufted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris meleagris). This subspecies is quite large and has black plumage thickly spotted with white dots. It is the probable ancestor of the birds reared in ancient Egypt and in the Roman empire (see page 120). Hill farmers in the southern Sudan sometimes breed them in captivity.
- Mitred guinea fowl (Numida meleagris mitrata). Probably the most popular game bird in East Africa, this type has a bright blue-green head and red wattles. It was once a common sight in the wild but it has now been decimated by overhunting. It is now most numerous in the Masai lands of Kenya and Tanzania. It has been kept in a semidomesticated form in Zanzibar for several centuries. Zoos and aviaries around the world have imported it, and it has bred well for them.
Wild guinea fowl that are different species from the domestic one but that are still worth considering as potential poultry include the following:
- Black guinea fowl (Phasidus niger or Agelastes niger). This bird of the tropical rainforests of West and Central Africa is the size of a small chicken. It has sooty black plumage, a naked head, and a pink or yellow neck. It is seldom hunted because the meat tastes dreadful but this is probably because of a particularly pungent fungus they eat in the forest. Raised on fungus-free forages, these birds are probably very palatable.
- Crested guinea hen (Guttera spp.). Three species. These strange-looking birds have a thick mop of inky black feathers above their black, naked faces. Widely distributed in the thickly forested areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Unlike the other species, they prefer the rainforest. They have a musical trumpeting call. At least one species has bred well in Europe. For example, a flourishing colony has been established in the Walsrode Bird Park in Germany.
- Vulturine guinea fowl (Acryllium vulturinum). The largest of all guinea fowl, this species is found in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, and East Africa. One of the most striking looking of all birds, its head is bare and blue, its body black with white spots, and its breast bears long bright cobalt-blue patches on either side. This has been reared as an aviary bird in both Europe and America and might make a useful domesticate.
RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION NEEDS
Agencies involved in international economic development should undertake guinea fowl assessment trials, evaluations, and coordinated introductions to stimulate programs for small farmers and for industries in dozens of countries.
Breeders have been working to improve guinea fowl only since the 1950s. There is a need for more information on growth rate, health, egg production, feed conversion, body weight, carcass yield, laying intensity, fertility, hatchability, and egg weight - especially under free-ranging conditions.
Husbandry research should also be directed towards feeds and feeding systems for growing and breeding stock. Other efforts are needed to increase the hatchability of eggs under natural conditions (under guinea hens or surrogate mothers), and to identify the best lighting regimes (both sexual maturity and rate of lay are influenced by changes in daylength).
The guinea fowl that has become an important domesticated bird throughout the civilized world is descended from just one of seven known species in the family. These birds generally occur in flocks in bushy grasslands and open forest in Africa and Madagascar, and some of the others may also have promise as poultry (see sidebar opposite).