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“Just how long do guineas live?” asked my husband, Emil, as we watched Wilda the Widow slip by the south side of the house on her way to check the grasshopper-free perimeter.
At six years of age, Wilda was the remaining survivor of the 15 day-old chicks I brought home in Moulton, Texas on May 13, 2003. Our friend, Duckie Baetz, had taken the eggs in 28 days earlier, and, as a special favor, she said they could be ours for the price of 50¢ per bird that was to be paid to the gin for hatching them.
What a deal! Sick of seeing the pests destroy everything in sight, I was ecstatic at the thought of a grasshopper-free summer. I was right about that but almost nothing else we’d heard about guineas applied to our flock.
Perhaps it was the way ours were raised.
Most of the way home, the guineas chirped, reminiscent of the Leghorn chicks Mother bought every spring when I was a child. We set their box in my office out of harm’s way and gave them food and water. Katy, the cat, had to have guinea orientation because she assumed we’d brought her a live extra-special treat. The next day, when I caught her putting a paw through the handle of the guinea box, I scolded her, not convinced when Emil said she was only counting them.
Meanwhile, Emil was adapting a huge dog cage with a cover over top and several roosts for the guineas’ comfort and safety. They moved in on day seven. Within three weeks they were roosting and crowding the front of the pen when I took their morning treat – a handful of live grasshoppers that I picked off a little cedar tree beside the house. The guineas shared the big ones as if they were eating a pizza, while they wolfed the little green ones down selfishly. Yes, indeed, our guineas had the grasshopper gene!
They made their initial grasshopper foray on June 18, 2003. We herded them back into the pen late in the day and the next morning they took up their steady jobs. Our vast grasshopper population never knew what hit them and neither did our nerves.
When our guineas weren’t working, they liked nothing better than to keep us company. Their peculiar singsong, Kapich! Kapich! Kapich!, at the top of their lungs filled our days. The guineas followed Emil around the yard as if he was the rock star and they were his groupies. They lined up outside his shop and competed with the volume on the radio for attention. When I was working in my office, I’d muffle my voice but they’d hear me and rush over to the door and, Kapich! Kapich! Kapich! I’d have to tell my client that I would call him back.
On a Sunday afternoon, Emil and I would watch TV. The guineas missed us so much that they would hop up on the bench outside the window and stare in. Picture it, 15 little bird brains watching us, only to leave messy white calling cards when we chased them away.
We had been told that guineas act like watchdogs and would let us know when a stranger came arrived. Our guineas, though, may have thought they had enough responsibility with the size of the grasshopper population on this hill. At any rate, they elected to let people come and go as they pleased.
One summer, a guinea hen hatched more than 32 eggs in the machine shed. What transpired minutes later was the guinea leading a fast-paced, hard-core forced march around our yard in which the chicks who couldn’t keep up were left to die. Panicked, I picked a little guinea up that was still alive. The next thing I recall is a black torpedo hurtling toward me before the guinea drove her claw in above my eye. Plenty of blood flowed and it was all mine.
And then there were the roosting wars. Again, we had been told by those who knew that our guineas would roost in the tallest trees in the yard in an effort to camouflage themselves. Not ours! They thought it would be great if all 15 lined up on the metal roof of our house like a bunch of buzzards. When that didn’t work out, they considered the tailgate of Emil’s pick-up the next best thing. ‘All right, all right,’ they seemed to chirp when we drove them away, they’d roost in a tree at night but that didn’t mean they had to like it.
Over the years, predators from the sky and the field unfortunately both wreaked havoc on the size of our flock. By last fall, we were down to just Willie and Wilda. Then one day our new pup got excited and, much to our chagrin, Willie met his demise. Wilda, though, was still out there hustling grasshoppers. Every so often on a Sunday afternoon, she took a break and hobbled up on the bench to watch a little TV with us. Kapich! Kapich! Kapich!
I rather miss those guineas.