July 25, 2011 by wcobserver
Let me tell you about the guinea. He appeared on this hill one spring, pacing along outside the chicken pen and making such a racket that I ran out with the rifle thinking some varmint was into the chickens. I greeted him cursorily and went back to my business, assuming he’d soon wander off to whence he came. Later that afternoon, I found he had flown inside the pen to peck along happily with the chickens. And when I went out that night to lock up the chicken house, there was guinea perched on the top roost with the hens.
So began a tentative relationship. Each morning when I went out to open the chicken house and throw out scratch grain and food waste from my kitchen, guinea presented himself for a share. He would size up the desirability of a particular batch of scraps and if it met his criteria (and just about anything did), then he’d chase off everyone else by lowering his head, spreading his wings, and charging toward them until they scattered. At such moments of unacceptable hoggishness, I would throw sticks and lecture him about guest behavior and sharing. “After all …” I would begin.
Not that I normally talked to the chickens. One must draw the line somewhere and I draw it at fowl. Yes, they are a useful bunch. Dinner on legs, egg and meat. Tick hunters and garbage disposal. But most of all, Bird Brains.
And guinea’s head was every bit as small as any chicken’s even though his appearance was more unusual, something like a Victorian banker in a fine herringbone suit. His smoothly rounded body was covered by dark gray feathers each spotted with white. He walked in a stately manner, peering about with black eyes that stood out against the wrinkled white flesh of his bony, red combed ridged head. There were accents of exotic blue on his forehead and more stiff red comb along his cheeks. Taking authority where one can, his gaze seemed calculated to remind observers of his species’ ancestral link to dinosaurs. His piping call, best described as my mother always said, was “pot rack, pot rack.”
He decided to stay and I went along. The winter had been mild allowing the tick population to explode, so I began opening the chicken pen gate and letting the flock cruise our large woodland yard. I noted that while the chickens managed to tear up every flower bed with their boisterous scratching and dust bathing, guinea simply strolled along pecking with discrimination at microscopic critters on grass stems. After awhile, determined to have one coleus left standing, I kept the chicken pen closed knowing that guinea would fly into the yard to continue his meticulous tick patrol. One summer night I came home late and distracted. I bypassed the trip to the chicken yard to lock up the house. What difference would one night make? Next morning when I went out with the scratch grain and scraps, my answer lay before me. Carnage. Blood and guts in the straw. Two roosters and two hens dead, two more dying—throats ripped open, heads chewed. (To be continued)