The Guinea Hens 1

Part One of Two

Sometimes well-meaning friends are unintentionally cruel.

“Get guineas!” This in response to my complaints that foxes had carried off five of my chickens. “Guineas don’t miss a thing! They’ll sound the alarm so your chickens can hide.”

I was unconvinced.

“And they eat ticks.”

Well, okay then.

Not one to waste time with exhaustive research, I dove into craigslist and immediately found three guinea hens for four dollars apiece.

Score!

Afraid someone else would scoop them out from under me, I called the seller and insisted I could pick them up that night and pay cash.

She seemed surprised.

I dragged my husband along, of course, and I babbled about guineas for the entire drive. “I saw a YouTube video where they chased away foxes! They’re gonna fix everything.”

Jim didn’t say much. Instead he had the resigned look of someone who’s been through this sort of thing before.

When we arrived, I was stunned by the size and strength of the enclosure that housed the three birds. With substantial posts, sturdy crossbeams and heavy-gauge box wire, it looked as if it were capable of housing a small rhinoceros.

This wasn’t necessary, right?

The guineas themselves were speckled, dinosaur-footed creatures with wispy violet neck feathers and faces covered in pancake makeup. Bald heads were crowned with red plasticine helmets, while bulbous wattles dangled at crazy angles from their cheeks. Unlike our friendly bantams, the guineas crouched like lupine shadows.

“They’re a lot bigger than I expected.”

The owner was a girl in her teens. She shot a furtive glance at her father. He looked at his shoes. I stared at the guineas. The guineas paced back and forth on a wooden roost, whistling and rasping like an old hinge with a sore throat.

“They do seem flighty.” I was starting to babble. The guineas, happy to corroborate, hurled themselves to a nearby shelf and piled atop one another. Still whistling and creaking, they scrabbled against the wall and began a staccato honking that made me think of a thousand geese being held down and poked by toddlers.

Jim gestured to our little wire cage. “They’re not going to fit.”

He was right, of course. Even if we did manage to stuff them in, they’d quickly escape. Loose guineas in a Honda Accord didn’t seem like a good idea.

The dad was quick to offer a solution. “Take the dog kennel.” His voice sounded a lot like pleading as he gestured to a medium-sized, molded plastic container with a barred metal door. “Just take it.”

If I were a suspicious person, I might have thought twice. Instead I gratefully accepted the stronger, larger cage. Drawing a deep breath, I slipped into the guineas’ enclosure in order to attempt to capture them.

It’s easy to subdue a frightened chicken, but these weren’t chickens. As soon as I cracked the door, they crashed as one into the opposite wall. The whistling and honking grew in volume until it was difficult to hear my own thoughts. And the stench from the sudden increase in poop hit my nose like a slap on the face.

I was used to the smell of chickens and horses and cows, and I’ve cleaned my share of clogged toilets and vomit. But this left them all in the dust. Holding my breath and blinking the sting from my eyes, I closed in on the first guinea and trapped her in a corner. With a little rush of triumph, I gathered her into my arms.

Now, when you catch a chicken and gently pin all her moving parts to her body, she will go limp and docile. But guineas are not chickens. They don’t give up.

The hen clawed at me with giant feet, gouging my bare arms and throat. She beat my face with wings that obviously had clubs beneath the feathers. My glasses flew across the barn, bounced off the wall, and landed with a plop in fresh guinea poop.

I lost my grip. The guinea flapped and clawed her way to freedom, and retreated to the alcove beneath her perch while I inspected my wounds.

At least now I knew what I was up against. I had to up my game, grab tighter, refuse to let go.

I retrieved my very expensive, just purchased glasses (with transition lenses, scratch coating and seamless bifocals), gave them a quick wipe on my shirt and placed them, only slightly blurry, back on my face. The guinea watched, sizing me up, preparing for the next round.

I cornered her again and caught her up, a lean bundle of uncontrolled panic. This time I grabbed both feet in one hand, clamped one wing against my chest, and pinned the second wing to her body with my free arm.

She writhed and flailed and nearly pulled free. I hauled the darn thing across the enclosure, shoved her in the dog crate, and slammed the door behind her.

One down, two to go.

The second bird was even stronger, and I wondered, given the opportunity, if she might get the best of a fox. She added new scratches to my already bloody forearms, but I was getting the hang of guinea capture, and moments later she joined her friend in the kennel.

The third bird, apparently keen to end it all, tried to knock herself senseless against the barn wall. Then she took to the air, graceful as a Thanksgiving turkey. Honking and projectile pooping, she scraped my face as she scrabbled her way to freedom, knocking my glasses lopsided and leaving a bit of guinea poop plastered to my hair. Lucky for me, she landed in a corner, and moments later she seemed relieved to be tossed into the cage with her friends.

It isn’t everyone who can feel smug with poop in her hair and oozing scratches on her arms, but I pulled it off. Giddy with success I paid the twelve dollars. I lifted the cage, heavier than I expected, and a tidal wave of guineas dashed themselves into the opposite wall, sending it flying from my arms.

Jim took one end, and I took the other. With the frightened birds flinging themselves against the sides and threatening to tear the crate from both our hands, we carried them, step by agonizing step, to the car. The cage wouldn’t fit in the trunk, so we put it in the back seat. I covered the barred door with my jacket, hoping the dark would help to keep the birds calm.

Three terrified guineas in a Honda Accord are quite a treat. Every corner brought with it a barrage of screams and smells that might drive a cesspool cleaner to tears. The stink was overpowering. It swelled with every corner rounded and every pot hole hit, until our eyes stung and our breath burned past our throats. We rolled the windows down and hung our heads out like dogs, lapping the air and praying the miles would pass quickly.

The thunder storm was just plain cruel. When the first drops hit the windshield, I wondered if either of us was foolish enough to roll up our window. We weren’t. We drove through driving rain, me shivering without my jacket, Jim with his eyes fixed straight ahead.

I’m sure he knew I’d done it again. I always manage to sucker him into something involving animals, something that sounds reasonable, but is, in fact, stupid.

Yup, I’d done it again. But where the guineas were concerned, the worst was still to come.

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3 thoughts on “The Guinea Hens 1

  1. Oh my gosh I think you are my twin! I, too, had foxes take my precious hens & my “friends” also said to get guineas. I usually research things better but they were so intriguing & sounded so “perfect” that I brought 5 home home. Yesterday. Yes they stink! I don’t think even the foxes would want them. Thinking of letting them out to “free range” etc. Wish I had read your post 2 days ago!

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