And then there were none
Our last guinea hen is now gone.
Painfully, for the last few weeks the numbers have declined steadily. At the end of the day we would check the coop and sometimes they were all there, but typically one was missing. We were down to a mere four when my father, who was visiting for the weekend, spotted a fox running across the yard chasing the flock. A few escaped, one went up into a tree, and one disappeared into the underbrush with the fox in hot pursuit. Later that day, seemingly to taunt us, a head-less disembowled guinea was left right in front of our gate.
Another two disappeared that week we were down to just two – an adorable couple that were inseparable. The couple lasted almost a week, during which time they had seemingly given up on the coop and were spending the nights outside. Each morning we would wake up and they would be on our side porch, sunning themselves. A few days back there was a horrible screaming, it went on for almost an hour, apparently it was the remaining hen in mourning. It was utterly heart-breaking. The last one (we decided it was a she, without doing any formal verification) remained a few more days at which point we had to leave town. When we returned, there were no more.
We could have probably saved the hens if we had kept them locked up, but the entire reason we had them was to kill ticks – and they can’t do that from inside a cage. Additionally some animal had been burrowing into the coop. We’re not sure why, because clearly the intruder had gotten into the coop – whatever it was dug a 6 inch deep trench under the fence and moved 2 cinderblocks to get in – but didn’t actually kill any hens. Maybe it was just interested in the bird feed, but even that seemed undisturbed. If it was one of the hens that had moved the cinderblocks and dug the trench you would think they could defend themselves against a fox, but who knows.
The most tragic thing is that the experiment was actually working. We have had a massive reduction in ticks, the dogs used to come in with 10 or so ticks each, that has dropped to zero. We’d like to try again in the future. Maybe if we surround more of the land in electric fence it may help keep out the intruders. Or we could get a .22, which is what everyone else has recommended for dealing with predators, but we are still both a little too squeamish about shooting animals – even the predatory ones. Personally, I’m thinking we just need to further round out the local food chain. The guineas eat the ticks, the foxes eat the guineas, if we just get something to eat the foxes and we can reach a sort of equilibrium – maybe some kind of trained mountain lion or a large python.