Friday, October 22, 2010

Giving up guineas...hard lessons learned

Today I sold my four lavender guineas to a lady who answered an ad I posted on craigslist yesterday.

The last few days have been crazy with the birds.

For a couple of days, we tried putting injured guinea in the chicken run with his uninjured guinea buddy. We would kennel the hurt one at night, but the other one would fly out of the chicken netted run and perch on the roof. Okay. We were keeping them separate from the chickens and other guineas, but then, somehow the chickens ended up in with the two guineas, but everything appeared to be okay. Until it wasn't.

I went down to catch injured guinea and put him in his kennel for the night, and noticed he had blood on his back. I took him into the house and yelled for Richard, who happened to be on his work break from his telecommuter job. With his help, we examined the bird and were horrified to discover he had been pecked so extremely that he had a bloody hole in his back. Richard immediately thought we should kill the bird, put it out of its misery. But there was no time...he had to go back to work and I had no idea where my camp hatchet was, and we didn't own an ax. Plus I still had two little kids to take care of and get ready for bed.

We bandaged up the bird with makeshift items, took off his splint (the poor thing was probably going to die anyway, one way or another) and stuck him in his kennel in my office. I gave him food and water as usual.

In addition to injured guinea, I had another hen who was acting "funny." We had brought her in the house earlier in the day and cleaned her dirty rump to find she had an egg stuck. Great. What do you do with that? Well, give the chicken a warm water bath, which Richard did, holding her hind end under the bathtub faucet. After she dried a bit, we put her back in the coop with the other hens. I noticed she had some plucked feathers too.

I suspected the lavender guineas, especially the two males, who ruthlessly attacked our poor rooster Charlie, on more than one occasion. I had seen the mean birds attacking some of the hens and even one of their own females. But the injury to the already hurt guinea was more than I could take.

That night, I grabbed my broom when I went to put the chickens to bed. When I closed up the coop for the night, I chased every one of those guineas out,  leaving them to fend for themselves until I could figure out what to do the next day. I knew they'd find a roost in one of the trees and be back in the morning. They were.

The next day, we bathed the egg stuck hen and I added her to the bird infirmary that was formally my office. And, that morning, the injured guinea looked at me with perky eyes, seemingly oblivious to his horrible injury.

This was when we decided to get rid of the guineas, for the safety of our chickens, who also had signs of being  plucked and pecked. Now that the game birds had the taste for blood, would they continue to terrorize the hens and rooster until they killed them? Not a chance we wanted to take. With a heavy heart, I put an ad on craigslist, knowing my dream of having wandering guineas to amuse me was all but over.

I found an old tank top I could turn into a bird sling and stitched the bottom closed and we went to find bandages. We talked to the guy at the feed store who said to put ointment on the wound and the bird would probably be alright. I was more interested in buying first aid than in buying an ax, and decided to give the poor bird a chance.

We bandaged the guinea (this guy needs a name), cut holes for his legs in my "chicken sling" and stuck him in, hanging the sling from a two by four balanced across the old baby corral. The idea is to keep him off of his injured foot, which I think is a broken foot and leg, by the swelling, and keep him from pecking at his wound.I put some food and water on a box in front of him, and he started to drink the electrolyte boosted water like crazy. Then he knocked it over.

When I went to put the chickens to bed, the other guinea was hiding in a corner. One of the hens went over and started  pecking at his back, where the feathers look like they have been worked on for a while. Crazy. I caught that guinea and took him inside too. The two female lavender guineas managed to work their way back into the chicken run by flying onto the bird netting until they fell through. I let them stay. The males were wandering back and forth outside the fence.

Later when I was reading the kids stories before bed, I heard the unmistakable sounds of unhappy guineas, and it sounded like it was coming from right outside the living room windows. I flipped on the porch light, and sure enough, one male guinea was standing there, looking so forlorn, squawking at me. "Mama, let me go in the house, " he said. The other guinea was "roosting" on the front step. They were so cute. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I should keep them. Someone was coming to get the four of them in the morning.

After I got the kids settled into bed, it was back to the hen with the hang up. I took the chicken into the bathroom, filled the tub with warm water and held her, making sure the water was covering her abdomen and egg vent. This was some advice I had found online. Keep her there for an hour, they said. Really? Who has that kind of time? I tried, massaging her vent and splashing water on her rear. She'd push so hard, letting out wails...just like a woman in birth, and I knew Richard and maybe his clients on the phone could her her in the room next door. It turns out she had a broken egg stuck in her and I had to help her get it out. After that, she went right to sleep back in the bird infirmary.

The next morning, we redressed the injured guinea, cleaned his bed and moved the healthy guinea into his own outdoor bird run, until we can figure out what to do with him. After much hullabaloo, we caught the four lavenders and put them in a kennel, where they waited until their new mama came to pick them up. I hope they can find happiness in their new home. There aren't any chickens on that farm, but they do have goats. I will miss the idea of them more than I will miss them.

I learned that you can't keep guineas with llamas (uncastrated males) or chickens, and that injured creatures must always be separated from the rest of the flock or herd or whatever.

These have been hard lessons this week and I'm not happy with any of the outcomes of this mess. I hope injured guinea gets better (he's eating seed today), but I'm not sure what his life will be like if he's crippled. Will his buddy pick on him too because he's the weak one? Do I now have a guinea as a house pet? I wonder if he'd get along with Luna, my Amazon parrot. They could live in the same room--in separate cages-- and yell at each other. Guineas kind of sound like parrots screaming.

I have to address my fear of killing the animals if they are suffering. If I'm going to be a real farmer with livestock, I'm going to have to face these situations, and be prepared for them. I have to find my ax. A responsible farmer would take care of the matter in the best way to ease the suffering. But I can't really tell if the guinea is suffering. You'd think he would be. But he's perky, alert, eating and just hanging out. Is it possible that his little pea brain has somehow disengaged from the pain? I know animals live purely in the present moment, regardless of what has occurred before. I can only hope the little guy is not in too much pain and that in a short time he will be back out raising trouble with his buddy.

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