Livestock Research for Rural Development 17 (9) 2005 Guidelines to authors LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Guinea fowl production by indigenous farmers in Zimbabwe

H Saina, N T Kusina#, J F Kusina, E Bhebhe* and S Lebel**

Department of Animal Science, University of Zimbabwe, P.O. Box MP 167, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe
*Department of Paraclinical Veterinary Science, University of Zimbabwe, P O Box MP 167, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe
**CIRAD Zimbabwe, 9 Balmoral Road, Borrowdale, Harare, Zimbabwe
Present address: #Corresponding author, Animal Sciences Laboratory, 1207 W Gregory Drive,
University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA


The production practises used to rear thirty guinea fowl flocks in a semi-arid zone north of Zimbabwe were evaluated from September 2002 to May 2003. Data were collected using participatory research appraisals techniques.

Helmeted Guinea fowl was the predominant type of fowl prevalent in the study area. A total of 2039 eggs were recovered and incubated using surrogate hens. Mean egg production was 42 ± 26 of eggs/hen with egg weights ranging from 24.7 grams to 41.3 grams. Mean hatchability observed was 71% but many keets were weak at hatch resulting in 489-day-old keets surviving to two weeks but only 175 keets survived to the weaning age of 6 weeks. Day-old keet weight ranged from 22.7 grams to 28.6 grams per keet and achieved live weight of 1.48kg at 16 weeks. Losses incurred were due to several factors including external parasitic infestation, predation, starvation and theft, among many. Few eggs were consumed while others were lost through breakage and predation by snakes, wild cats and dogs particularly from hens that layed among bushes.

From the results it was inferred that guinea fowl productivity was compromised by a low hatchability of eggs, excessive mortality of keets and general mismanagement. Improved attention to egg collection, storage and proper care of keets would substantially enhance productivity.

Key words: guinea fowl, keet, egg, mortality, productivity, semi-arid


Guinea fowl has ubiquitous distribution in Africa where it has distinct popularity among smallholder farmers (Microlivestock 1991; Nwagu and Alawa 1995). Its attractive plumage and value as a table bird with game-type flavour and high meat to bone ratio has led to its worldwide acceptance (Embury 2001). Evidence of acceptance of guinea fowl is shown in the mushrooming of scattered sites around the country today that are now engaged in fowl rearing (Kusina and Kusina 1999). Despite this renaissance of interest in guinea fowl production, it is important to take cognisance of the fact that there exists a dearth of information on guinea fowl production, in contrast to indigenous chickens where extensive research now is available (Kusina and Kusina 1999; Maphosa et al 2002; Muchadeyi et al 2004). This anomaly might be ascribed to problems exemplified by the factor that when reared in close proximity with feral fowl, the domesticated fowl frequently responds to the calls of their feral counterparts thereby resulting in desertion and joining feral flocks. Additionally, guinea fowl are very strong fliers that make for difficulties in catching and holding them and may lead to injuries and accidental deaths when the birds are frightened (Oke et al 2004). The latter create management problems in some flocks manifested by tendencies to lay eggs in bushes instead of designated cages.

Despite the abovementioned concerns, there is general acceptability of guinea fowl and guinea fowl products due to their quality and limited cultural barriers on consumption. Furthermore, when compared to village chicken, the guinea fowl's advantages are numerous. These include low production costs, premium quality meat, greater capacity to scavenge for insects and grains, better ability to protect itself against predators and better resistance to common poultry parasites and diseases (for example, Newcastle disease and fowl pox) (Microlivestock 1991). Its foraging ability, hardiness and minimal production input requirements would ensure a reasonable profit for the poor resource farmers that are the main custodians of the fowl. Faced with the economic meltdown prevailing in Zimbabwe today, logic dictates that farmers adopt agricultural enterprises and production practises that ensure low input demands but sustainable. Guinea fowl production provides one of the best alternatives for the rural populace to access meat and eggs as well as potential for revenue generation through sales of live fowl and/or eggs. Therefore, the objectives of this study were to examine guinea fowl production systems and productivity by indigenous (local) farmers in a semi-arid rural community in Zimbabwe.

Materials and Methods

Site description

The study was conducted from September 2002 to May 2003 in a semi-arid communal are in Lower Guruve District of Mashonaland Central Province. It lies 400 m above sea level within 30018׀E and 30º 45 E and 16º 00׀S, 16º 22׀S. Annual rainfall received in the area varies from 500-600 mm and mean maximum and minimum temperatures were 400C and 250C, respectively. The vegetation is savannah woodland dominated by Colophospemum mopane and acacia species. It has been opened up mainly for cotton production and residential areas but the site is endowed with conservancies with a diversity of wildlife and tropical plants. The agricultural production system in the district is primarily crop-livestock based following the effective control of tsetse in the 1980s and poultry management is mainly semi-intensive and extensive (Kusina et al 2000).

Farmer selection

A total of 30 farmers involved in rearing guinea fowl were selected at random to participate in this monitoring study during the breeding period of 2002 to 2003. The selected number constituted 19% of the guinea fowl farmers identified during a baseline study conducted prior to the commencement of the study.

Data collection

Qualitative data was obtained through use of participatory rural appraisal techniques (PRA) as outlined by Chambers (1993). Quantitative data were obtained through the use of data sheets supplied to each participating farmer. Data recorded on the data sheets included: flock size and structure, number of hens laying and non-layers, number of eggs produced/hen/day during the laying phase, type of housing, feeding and health management as well as sales and consumption. Some eggs were collected and incubated using artificial incubators at a Research Station in close proximity of the study site and at University of Zimbabwe, Department of Animal Science Laboratory Hatchery.

Data analysis

Data were processed using SPSS software (1998) to depict descriptive statistics. Calculations were computed and expressed as proportions for fertility and hatchability. In this study, fertility is defined as the proportion of fertile eggs of all eggs laid over the breeding period by single hens or groups of hens. Hatchability was calculated as the proportion of live keets hatched from the total number of hatchable eggs incubated.



The guinea fowl demographics are depicted in Figure 1 while overall performance is summarized in Table 1.

Figure 1. Mean flock size and composition of guinea fowl during the 2002-2003 breeding season

Table 1.  Summary of production performance of helmented guinea fowls under smallholder farmer management in Zimbabwe


Mean ±SE

Egg production/hen

42 ± 26

Length of breeding season, months

5 ± 1

Hatchability, %

71.2 ±14.3

Survival rate, %

36 ± 10.3

Reproductive performance

The pattern of egg production, number of eggs incubated and hatched are illustrated in Figure 2 while survivability results are summarised in Table 2.

Figure 2. Pattern of egg production, incubation and eggs hatching and total number of layers according to month from October 2002 to March 2003.

Table 2.  Mortality of breeders and keets from November 2002 to March 2003


Mortality, %















1Keets - < 6 weeks of age
2Breeders - >6 weeks of age

A total of 2039 eggs were incubated naturally using broody guinea fowl and a mean of 71.2% hatchability recorded. Summary of causes of mortality is presented in Table 3.

Table 3. Summary of causes of mortality and proportion (%) of losses of keets under the two brooding systems


Proportion (%)

Brooding system

Free range

Movable cages

Cause of mortality



Not sure
























Feeding and health management

The main feed source comprised scavenging although, when available, breeding fowl were offered supplementary feed constituting mainly sorghum, pearl millet haphazardly. Housing comprised a variety of artisan structures made of wood, mud, bricks, meshwire, plastic with or without roofing. Average floor size measurements approximated 6 m2 with an earth (71%) or raised (29%) floor type. Some keets were brooded in movable cages mainly kept in the kitchen during the night and moved outdoor during daytime while others were allowed to forage during day and then kept in the poultry house together with surrogate hens at night and allowed to free range during the day.

Keet growth performance

A total of 489 day-old keets were successfully hatched but many were weak resulting in only 175 keets surviving up to weaning age of 6 weeks. The growth performance of keets on station under intensive production is summarised in Table 4.

Table 4. Growth performances (grams) of guinea fowl from hatching to 16 weeks of age (means and standard error (SE)

Age, weeks

Mean ± SE


28.5 ± 6.8


68.4± 8.5


384.0 ± 71.6


678.0  ± 73.8


1480.2 ± 59.8

1SE –standard deviation
20 day 1

Marketing and consumption

Approximately 230 eggs were consumed by at least 12 farmers during the course of the study and 985 eggs were sold to local community and research personnel.


Despite the enthusiasm exhibited by the producers in this study, productivity of the guinea fowl flocks was sub-optimal. Considerable challenges confront future improvement efforts in productivity mainly due to low hatchability, excessive keet mortality and predation losses that might account for the major losses observed. For example, there were problems in egg collection as some hens tended to lay eggs in the bushes instead of designated cage thereby exposing some eggs to predation. Notwithstanding the difficulties encountered, the level of productivity reported here was lower than that reported in a study in Nigeria by Nwagu and Alawa (1995) where guinea fowl flocks produced on average 50 to 170 eggs per hen during the breeding season. There are numerous possible causal factors that might explain the differences between these studies. The level of productivity is partly modulated by feed availability, which is the case of this study was mainly scavenging. Any differences between studies might be partly attributed to differences in quantity and quality of the feed resources available to the guinea fowl during the breeding season. It is also highly conceivable that the male-to-female ratios were an important contribution to the differences between these studies.

Breed type of guinea fowl as in any other livestock species has been reported to be important in determining the size of egg with larger body size of fowl resulting in larger eggs (Oke et al 2004). In a very recently published report, Oke and co-workers (2004) reported egg weights of guinea fowl ranging from 29.1grams to 38.4 grams whereas in our study the weight of guinea fowl eggs was variable ranging from 24.7 grams to 41.3 grams per egg. Our observations are similar to those reported by Ayorinde et al (1988).

An important factor that determines viability and economics of fowl production enterprise is fertility of eggs. Fertility result of 75% was higher than that reported by Nwagu and Alawa (1995) in Nigeria of between 49-58%. This could be explained by differences in sex ratio, which was higher in the study while the various sizes and parity of breeders managed by the farmers could explain the variability of egg sizes recorded in this study.

The mean hatchability of guinea fowl eggs incubated naturally (71%) was higher than that reported by Nwagu and Alawa (1995) and Saina et al (2003a) of 67% and 65%, respectively and was found to lie within the ranges reported by Galor (1983) and Binali and Kanengoni (1998). Nevertheless, hatchability results from eggs incubated using the artificial incubators were variable (36-82%). A comparison of survivability among fowl managed on farm and those that had eggs hatched on station showed that the survivability of the hatched keets was significantly higher on station compared on farm (71 vs. 41%). Such an observation provides evidence that management might play a critical role in enhancing opportunities of survival of keets following hatching.

On the other hand, guinea fowl keet survival is essential for successful guinea fowl production. A study carried out in the Zambezi Valley revealed that the mortality rate of about 64% occurred in keets managed under the traditional management system (Saina et al 2003b). Nwagu and Alawa (1995) and Bessin et al (1998) also reported that more than 50% mortality has been recorded in guinea fowl from day old to eight weeks. The mortality had been attributed to the susceptibility of guinea fowl keets to adverse weather conditions, diseases and parasites, and poor management (Embury 2001; Frits Farm 2001; Saina et al 2003a). Proper brooding of guinea fowl keets for at least three weeks improves their survival rates (Embury 2001). Galor guinea fowl breeders managed to reduce mortality of guinea fowl keets to 3-5% under an improved management system (Galor 1985).

A critical practise impacting on viability of any guinea production enterprise is survivability of keets once hatched. In this study, in contrast to hatching results, survival rate of keets under smallholder farmer management was substantially lower (36%) when compared to those under artificial brooding (82%). The disparity in performance between the traditional system and artificial brooding was the attention provided to keets that was more advance under brooding (on station) than that under smallholder management. Under smallholder farmer management, keets were not provided with sufficient feed; housing was sub-optimal and veterinary attention not available in contrast with on station practises. Proper brooding of guinea fowl keets for at least three weeks improves their survival rates (Embury 2001). Galor guinea fowl breeders managed to reduce mortality of guinea fowl keets to 3-5% under an improved management system (Galor 1985).

Few health problems were observed on the breeding guinea fowls but mortality was high in keets. Adult birds were lost due to poisoning, predators (snakes, dogs, wild cats), fighting, theft and floods while in keets mite infestations, malnutrition, cold and scotching heat, predators (snakes, dogs, wild cats and predatory birds), floods and physical injuries were the main causes of death. Losses of eggs were through breakage, predation, floods and spoilage. Disease treatment and prevention was through the use of erthnoveterinary practice.

In the current study, the weight of keets at day old ranged from 22.7 to 28.6g/keet. These weights are similar to those reported in other studies but the weight gain from 2-16 weeks obtained on this study was higher with average live weight of 1.5 kg attained at 16 weeks of age under semi-intensive management system on station (Ayorinde et al 1989; Mundra et al 1993).

A most surprising observation was the minimal consumption (approximately 230 eggs) and/or sales (985 eggs). The result was at variance with the hypothesis that improvement in fowl production would translate into increased household protein intake due to more fowl meat consumption. Similarly, there was no corresponding enhancement of sales for revenue generation. Although the results appear to be unexpected, it might indicate farmer intelligence and priority with emphasis to ensure sufficient breeding stock in view of the excessive keet mortality compounded by egg losses.


From the results it is concluded that low hatchability of eggs, excessive mortality of keets and general mismanagement of both eggs and keets compromised guinea fowl production. Increasing the number of hatching eggs and reducing keet mortality might improve productivity substantially. Therefore there is need to closely monitor egg production, egg collection, incubation, hatching and improve keet management practises. To enhance survival of keets, it is advisable that the brooding period need to be extended upto 6 weeks of age as now commonly practised for village chickens in some communal areas of Zimbabwe.


The Smallholder Agricultural Research (SHARE) through Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) funded the study. We thank the department of Household Agricultural Project (HASP) for assisting in logistical support. We also acknowledge the farming community of Lower Guruve for the support for the study and making it a success.

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Received 14 January 2005; Accepted 22 March 2005; Published 5 September 2005

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