Mr. Bower has a small, varied orchard of fruit and nut trees, which he raises organically. For his SARE project he raised guinea fowl. He allowed these to wander freely through the orchard, in the hope that they would prove an effective control for plum curculio and Japanese beetles, by uncovering and devouring their larvae in the soil. He was also interested to see whether it might be profitable to raise and market guinea fowl for their meat and eggs.
Mr. Bower provided the birds with a mobile henhouse, which he kept in the orchard. The orchard was surrounded by a fence. He gave the birds supplemental feed once a day, and provided a water source. Both the water and the feed were moved to various locations to encourage the guinea fowl to scratch around in the soil in all parts of the orchard, except for an enclosure of six trees, which served as a control.
Mr. Bower reports 68% mortality among his guinea fowl. Many died as chicks when, on one occasion, their bedding of wood shavings got wet, and a few got hit by cars. Mostly, however, they fell victim to predation; Mr. Bower suspects raccoons as the likeliest culprits.
There were many problems handling the guinea fowl. Mr. Bower left some of them with their wings unclipped, so that they would be able to fly up into the trees to forage for insects there. They tended however to roost only in one particular tree. Some of these birds would also fly over the fence; they were a great deal of trouble to retrieve, even though they appeared to want to get back inside. Some would fail to return to the henhouse at night, and some refused to lay their eggs in the henhouse, preferring instead nests that they’d made in hidden places in the orchard. Because of all these problems, the guinea fowl did not prove a profitable venture in their own right.
As for their suitability as a means of controlling insect pests, Mr. Bower reports finding scarcely any trace of either Japanese beetles or plum curculio in his orchard. Unfortunately the control trees were equally unaffected; whether the absence of insect pests is attributable to the guinea fowl or to some extraneous factor, such as the drought that afflicted much of the northeastern U.S. during the summer of 1999, is not clear. Similarly, because of poor fruit set throughout the orchard, and including the control trees, it is not possible to make a correlation between insect control by the guinea fowl and yield.
Mr. Bower does not intend to pursue his experiment with guinea fowl any further. Besides the problems cited above, he reports that his neighbors, and his wife, found the noise that these birds make objectionable.