When can I let them free range?

Discussion in 'Guinea Fowl' started by Chickhick, Nov 11, 2012.

  1. Chickhick

    Chickhick Chillin' With My Peeps

    519
    1
    131
    Apr 17, 2010
    North Alabama
    My Guineas are 4 1/2 weeks old and have been in the same area of the barn since they were a few days old. I just put roosts in there last week and they love the roosts. How long do I still need to wait before they can go out and forage in my pasture? The barn room is 8' x 12' and the pasture is about an acre. I have 32 guineas.

    Thanks!
     
  2. JLeigh

    JLeigh Chillin' With My Peeps

    965
    26
    133
    Apr 19, 2012
    North Georgia
    My opinion is that at 4.5 weeks old, they're too young to free-range and should still be under a heat lamp in a brooder at about 80/75 degrees, but if they're let out, they are especially vulnerable to predators being so small.
     
  3. Chickhick

    Chickhick Chillin' With My Peeps

    519
    1
    131
    Apr 17, 2010
    North Alabama
    They definitely don't need a heat lamp still. (Not in my Alabama climate, at least!) They are fully feathered out, and we aren't very cold here. I guess I should have worded my question more clearly. I'm also not really concerned with predators either... Free ranging here isn't truly free ranging because there is a fence around the whole pasture. (6 foot wooden privacy fence with 3 strands of barbed wire at the top and barbed wire at ground level to discourage digging. My concern is that I want to make fairly sure that they will come back at night to roost in the barn. Have they lived here long enough to know that this is home?
     
  4. PeepsCA

    PeepsCA Chillin' With My Peeps

    4,732
    179
    243
    Mar 28, 2011
    Big Oak Valley, CA
    If you can keep an eye on the keets while they are out, then you can free range them as early/young as you want. Just keep in mind Fort Knox fence or not, hawks/birds of prey can swoop down and snatch you keets without even a poof of feathers left behind. Neighborhood cats have also been known to make snacks out of keets too, even if you only turn your back for just a second.

    Whether they have feathers or not, keets are not fully feathered and able to regulate their own body temps until they are 6 wks old... if they were raised on high protein starter feed, but if they were raised on lower protein starter feed then it takes them even longer to be able to keep themselves warm. If they get wet/chilled from rain and wind they may not recover. It does not take much time at all of being wet, cold and shivering for a keet to deplete it's energy and die from hypothermia. So if you start free ranging them before they are at least 6 wks old you'll defintely want to make sure you get them in at night before the sun goes down.

    Keets have to be conditioned/worked with to know where their coop is, and that they need to coop up at night. If you want them to return to the coop each night then a consistent coop up routine will need to be established with them... you cannot just count on them to reliably return to the coop to roost. More often than not they won't return on their own, until they are used to doing so. You will consistently need to herd them in, and make a routine of it... and for the first few weeks try to get them in a approx same time each time they are out. (I use the sun starting to set as a visual cue for them). Giving them a treat when you get them in helps them figure it out much quicker, and eventually if you are consistent enough they will start going in on their own, waiting for their treat. Otherwise they will usually just bed down in the grass, bushes, trees... wherever they might be as the sun is going down. They are blind in the dark and won't move once it's dark...until of course a predator nabs them.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2012
  5. Chickhick

    Chickhick Chillin' With My Peeps

    519
    1
    131
    Apr 17, 2010
    North Alabama
    Thank you so much... that is great info and exactly what I needed to know. I think I will wait a couple more weeks just to be safe, and then I will herd them back in each night. (They sure are a lot more work than chickens!)

    I try to give them treats, but they won't eat bread like the chickens, and they wouldn't even try the white millet till I mixed it in their feed. What do you suggest as treats for them?
     
  6. PeepsCA

    PeepsCA Chillin' With My Peeps

    4,732
    179
    243
    Mar 28, 2011
    Big Oak Valley, CA
    Meal worms rate #1 with my keets... they prefer them fresh/live, but the packages or jars of the freeze dried meal worms work fine too, once they get a taste for them. They also like the freeze dried krill that are for feeding to large aquarium fish but they are pretty expensive. Make sure your keets have access to some chick grit or can find their own grit on the ground so they can grind up the treats and digest everything they eat while out free ranging (grass, bugs, seeds etc). If they get used to treats before you let them out that's an ace in your pocket for when you do start letting them out.

    A little secret to help with their coop up training that I've learned over the years is to let my young birds out a little hungry when I first start free ranging them... I'll take away their food about noon and then let them out for just short periods in the late afternoons at first (if all goes well they get let out a little earlier the next day. I also close their coop/pen while they are out so they don't have free choice to food (my birds also have water source outside the coop/pen as well as inside). That way if they aren't crazy about treats yet they do indeed know what it sounds like to have their feeder refilled, so you can use that to your advantage if the treats don't work. Believe me tho, once they figure out you are the source of the yummies they become quite pesty and can always be underfoot!
     
  7. Chickhick

    Chickhick Chillin' With My Peeps

    519
    1
    131
    Apr 17, 2010
    North Alabama
    How do you hand out the mealworms? I'm suspicious that my keets won't take them from my hand. Do yours eat from your hands? I go into their pen everyday and squat down and just watch them, but they won't come near me and they freak out if I move, let alone approach them. If I am still they go about their business and I really enjoy listening to their "talking."
     
  8. PeepsCA

    PeepsCA Chillin' With My Peeps

    4,732
    179
    243
    Mar 28, 2011
    Big Oak Valley, CA
    Guineas are skittish by nature, that's just how they are hardwired and it usually takes them a long long time to feel comfortable enough to come close enough to me to get a treat or take them from my hand. Some of my birds will eat out of my hand without a second thought, or the feed scoop/bucket that I am holding, but not all of them will... it mainly depends how hungry they are and if there is still food in their feeder when I offer them treats, lol. Getting them to this point takes some major time and patience time tho, they don't just automatically trust that what I have for them is worth the risk of them possibly being touched or heaven forbid, caught.... (except if I have been brooding them with a few Turkey Poults, who are naturally little piggies and MUCH tamer so the keets quickly learn to ignore my hands and come running to grab the worms before the big piggy Turkeys get them all). But this method below, for just a batch of keets has worked pretty well for me, many times...

    Once I am in the pen with them and they have calmed down, I move slowly and sprinkling the worms/treats in a metal treat pan, it definitely gets their attention (even if they are just manically piling in the corner and screeching at the time, acting like I am going to eat them, lol). I try to use the same treat dish each time and I'll also repeat the same call over and over each time that I give them treats or food (like a broken record) so they get to know that noise and that particular call means food/treats (If I have hatched the keets myself then I'll actually start using the treat/food call from day one, in the brooder... and this call will be the call that eventually brings them running to me or to the coop when I call them, so stick with the same call if possible). Keets will freak out over anything new, even over a silly harmless pie tin/treat pan or new food dish, so you may want to give them some time to adjust to whatever you plan on using for treats and just offer some treats/feed in that each day, calling to them as you sprinkle the treats in and then walk out and let them investigate on their own comfort terms. I'll keep doing this a few days in a row so they get used to treats being in the pan before I actually decide to stay/sit in the pen with them and work with them. And sometimes at first I have to be completely out of their sight before they will go see what the new scary thing in their pen is. Dorky birds.

    After they consistently start eating the treats from the pan I try to spend as much time in the pen with them as I can, (and this is another situation where them being a little hungry can work to your benefit)... I'll let their feeder go empty for a few hours, then go in, get settled, let them calm down and then put some treats or feed in their treat pan, and call their food call to them. Then I'll move back and give them some space to come get the feed/treats, but I'll stay in the pen. I don't ever reach for them or try to pet them, I just stay calm and work on getting them used to me being there and to not be so skittish about coming close to get the yummies. Pretty soon after doing this a few days in a row I can usually move the treat pan a little closer to me, then a little closer the next time etc... they will eventually figure out you aren't so bad after all, AND that you bring them yummies. Eventually the little pigs will want the treats so badly that they will start to eat out of the scoop/bucket before I even get a chance to put it in their treat pan. When they start doing this I just use the bucket and get sneaky, having my hand in the bucket lifting up a handful of feed for them (still in the bucket tho). Some will run off once they realize AHHH it's a HAND!!!, but eventually most of them decide it's ok to eat from my hand hand if there's no other choice for getting treats. Most, not all.

    It'll take some time to gain this much of their trust, so don't expect this to happen the first try, or even the 2nd or 3rd... and as hard as it is resist trying to reach out and touch/pet them, because that just causes your progress to backslide. Guineas really do not like being touched or petted, period... but the tamer/calmer they get being around you the more chances you'll have later on to sneak in a few pets here and there, lol. If you have no luck with getting them to calm down enough to eat from your hand or anywhere close to you then at least keep working ion their food/treat call over and over every time you feed them or give them treats. As I mentioned that call will be a great lure to getting them in each night, or even just getting them to come back closer to home if they wander too far. I like to call my birds throughout the day at random times for treats... it keeps them guessing and also keeps them a little closer to home.

    Hope that helps, best of luck.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2012

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by