It all started because of my love and concern for my man. It was only the first week in March and I knew something had to be done. Love for my man, and the desire to protect him from a serious threat led me on an adventure I never would’ve chosen. (You’ll need a little background for this story to make sense. Well, even with the background info, this story will probably sound a bit crazy.)
We live in the South. And in the South, we have a treacherous enemy every spring, summer, lasting even into the fall. They can be relentless, only hiding out for a few months during the coldest season. I’m talking about a real enemy.
Spoiler Alert: If you have a weak stomach, are disgusted by the rigors of rural life, or have a fear of insects . . . you may want to skip this post; it’s definitely a bit off the beaten path for this blog.
When LeRoy first starting having his weird symptoms, the doctors tested him for Lyme’s disease. Several times. Thankfully he doesn’t have it. Lyme’s is a tick-borne illness, caused by a certain bacteria carried and transmitted by these pesky blood-sucking critters. Sounds like a horror movie, doesn’t it? I hate them. There, I’ve said it. I know hate is a strong word, but I hate ticks.
Because of his lack of mobility, LeRoy doesn’t get out a lot, but when he has an occasional “good” day, he tries to take little “walks” around the yard (using his forearm braces). We hope that eventually this will be a daily activity and he can increase the amount of ground he covers. But the first time he was out in the yard this year, I found three ticks that had attached themselves to his legs!
Lyme’s disease can be a life-altering illness.
I have a dear niece and friends who struggle with the effects of this disease. With LeRoy’s depleted immune system, and the rare neurological disease he suffers with already, Lyme’s disease could cause additional serious problems for him. He already has one life-altering disease, I sure don’t see the need to risk getting another one!
Finding ticks in early March, I knew this was going to be a problem year for these critters. I started investigating what it would take to have an exterminator come, but found out that would be expensive and require several treatments (big dollars each visit). While I was working on a solution, LeRoy mentioned that when he was growing up, his family had Guineas that took care of their tick problems. (They had livestock and lived in an even more rural, remote area than we do.)
According to LeRoy, they had Guinea (fowl) around the yard and pasture area, and they were free-range tick-eating machines that slept in the trees at night and required no real care. That sent me on a quest for answers. I’ve never been around Guineas, and the ones I’ve seen look kind of goofy or scary—like a bad mixture between an overgrown chicken and a small vulture.
But the internet is well acquainted with this type of fowl, originally from Africa, that backyard farmers use for pest control. A friend sent me a link to an article comparing chickens to Guineas and it kept referring to Guineas as the “low maintenance” fowl. That sounded good to me. I certainly didn’t need to add anything else to my plate. And the idea of using a natural deterrent to take care of our growing tick population sounded much more appealing than using strong chemicals.
And so, with only a dab of knowledge, and a naïve idea that Guineas could be raised out in the wild with little need for care-giving, I set out on a Guinea-buying adventure. From what little I’d read, I learned it’s best to start with babies (keets), so Esther and I picked out some cute little day-old fluffy balls and took them home to a small “coop” on the front porch. We secured a chicken light above the little flock, put out food and water, placed shavings under them for comfort and a cleaner environment, and I thought, “That’s that. Got that taken care of!”
I went inside the house, and was pleased that a little hoard of tick-eaters would be ready to go to work in the yard soon.
How naïve I was.
Remember this: “One thing leads to another.”
It was a cool March afternoon when I brought them home and put them in their plastic tub on the front porch. When I went outside to check on them, they were all huddled close together. Now, I’m no fowl expert, but to me they looked cold. So, I moved the chicken lamp closer to their huddle and Googled for more info. If I’d researched keeping day-old keets earlier, instead of just researching Guinea fowl, I probably wouldn’t have plunged into the adventure of mothering a clutch of babies. The more I read, the more I realized—taking care of these guys was going to be a lot of work the first eight weeks!
Within an hour of leaving them out on the porch, I was frantically trying to find a spot for them in the laundry room and fixing up my own homemade “brooder.” Getting them inside, and under a heat lamp in a heated home environment, revived them. If I’d waited another hour, I might’ve lost the whole group of little guys to the cool weather and wind on the front porch.
One thing leads to another, so before you start with that “one thing” it’s best to be prepared for what’s to follow.
Over the next eight weeks, I reminded myself several times why I bought this flock of birds. Only five dollars apiece, not too costly an investment for tick removal, I thought. And I’d heard that they can live up to almost two decades (so, they may outlive us!). Rather than paying every year for an exterminator (or buying the chemicals and doing it myself), this seemed like the wisest option.
But, I soon found out that purchasing these little guys was the easy part.
It would take too much of your time, and too much blog space, to chronicle for you the past couple of months caring for these guys: cleaning the cage, feeding, and watering, twice a day when they were babies and living in my laundry room their first five weeks! It’s been a stinky job and labor of love. Oh, not love for the keets, but love for my man. I keep reminding myself that it’s because of the danger of him getting Lyme’s disease that this all started.
But one thing leads to another.
The little guys started growing and changing quickly, and I was getting anxious to move them from my laundry room to the wild, when I had an enlightening conversation with LeRoy’s mom. Remember how LeRoy told me their Guineas weren’t any trouble, really low maintenance? His mom told me that their Guineas didn’t survive long when they roosted in the trees, something picked them off one by one.
Again, Google was helpful. I found out the disappointing news that if the Guineas aren’t housed in some type of coop, shed, or barn at night, they won’t last long—predators will find them and they don’t do well out in the rain or cool weather at night. The Guineas I’d read about that stay alive for two decades are the ones who’ve been well cared for by being brought into a coop at night.
The problem is: we don’t have a coop. Or a shed. Or a barn. And by week four, I was ready to move the large vulture-looking birds out of my laundry room! The smell was starting to make its way to the rest of the house, even though I was cleaning their cage twice a day. Not only am I the full-time care-giver for my dear husband, but now I’d added the responsibility of caring for a flock of messy fowl. Every time I cleaned that cage, I had to remind myself how this started and why I was doing it.
A friend had some PVC pipe left over from a past project. She brought it over, and we started constructing a frame for an outside pen that would be a temporary shelter and a “portable run” that can be moved around the yard. Another friend had an old roll of chicken wire. It only took a few days of work to construct the temporary shelter, and by week five, I moved the almost fully feathered Guineas outside. That was a relief.
But one thing leads to another.
The PVC pipe-pen was only a temporary solution. We needed a shed, or an outhouse, large doghouse, or something to house these guys at night, when it rains, during storms, and when the cold weather hits. (Did I mention that there are seven of them—and they’re much larger than chickens?) The temporary “run” is good for a quick fix while they’re still growing, but isn’t really predator-proof and definitely not a good protection from the elements.
Again, we turned to Google for research. My friend bought a book titled “Building Chicken Houses for Dummies.” We started drawing out shed designs and building plans. I made calls to several Habitat for Humanity Restore stores to come up with some inexpensive building supplies, plus friends started donating left-over things they had to contribute to our insane plan. And we found some discarded building materials stored under our house.
My friend deserves the credit for taking on this ambitious project—she’s the builder.
She brought over power tools and building supplies and dove in full force to shed-building (with me as her inexperienced helper). We cleared a wooded area (with a chainsaw, pick-axes, heavy rakes, and loppers) and I carried what seemed like hundreds of wheelbarrow loads to the growing brush pile. All of this, while keeping close watch on LeRoy, making sure to get his meals ready and meds on time. “Why am I doing this, again?” came to mind repeatedly and I kept reminding myself how this all started: Protection from Lyme’s disease!
But one thing leads to another. What started as a “low maintenance” way to protect LeRoy from ticks turned into a major building project!
We started the building process in early April, putting floor joists on top of (donated) heavy cement blocks (obviously we didn’t go to the expense of pouring a slab for a Guinea house) and two sheets of (damaged but cheap) plywood on top of that for flooring. We covered those sheets with scraps of left over pine flooring stored under our house. Friends came over to help us assemble the exterior walls and put on a roof with some tin roofing they had left over from a building project.
More than just housing Guineas, half of the shed will have room for a work station and storage for garden tools, feed, and other “Guinea fowl necessities” (hope you’re laughing a bit at this).
Hopefully, before the next big thunderstorm, we’ll have this “Guinea Garden Home” ready for the birds.
We’re almost finished now, but at times I thought we’d never get it done and through this process I’ve had this Scripture come to mind several times: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28). I didn’t really sit down and “count the cost” because I thought I was just going to spend a few dollars on some birds and put them to work in the yard—done deal.
But that wasn’t the case, because one thing really does lead to another . . .
The Guinea project has been a large time-eater. And I’ve wondered several times if I made a big mistake by diving in and purchasing “low maintenance” fowl. But a dear friend who came to help us told me that she thinks this project has been a good thing. It’s been a healthy distraction from the heaviness we’ve been walking through. I must admit, these guys are hilarious to watch as they wander through the yard picking up creepy crawly critters!
I’ve enjoyed doing hard physical labor, even though I’m exhausted by sundown. But it’s not the same kind of exhaustion as the depletion that comes from constant care-giving responsibilities. And LeRoy is amused and enjoying watching us tackle something we never would’ve dreamed of doing. Thankfully, my friend’s father was a builder, her son is a builder, and she’s had a bit of building experience. She has some of her father’s tools, has added to her own tool collection through this, and her son has helped us as well. She’s loving the challenge of putting this together. I’m being stretched to learn new skills (and to be patient with this kind of project) as I help her.
What started as a real need, protecting my husband (who is very ill already) from the threat of a tick-borne disease, has led to a major construction project in the woods beside our home. It’s been a different type of adventure. It’s definitely hard work to raise keets, and now prepare them a safe shelter. But the work has not been from love of Guineas, but love for my man.
Because one thing leads to another . .