Taking on responsibility for lives, as we do when we contemplate farming at any scale, means confronting losses. I'm a person who dislikes taking 13 rosemary cuttings (the number that will fit in jam jars across the kitchen window sill) and losing two before I get them into soil.
So it's hard not to feel it's somehow my fault when recently, we lost three of the guinea hens.
I didn't mean to let them die. But I can recount for you what may have been missteps, and hopefully your luck will be better.
Day 1 of changed guinea behavior: Temperatures dropping. Hens wouldn't return to open pen at night. I moved them to a chicken tractor with two sides of windbreak and some nesting boxes.
Day 2: Cold and very windy (34F low). I gave them a pound of corn to eat.
Day 3: Colder, but less windy (26F low). Found first body. Told self, well, maybe that's the one that wouldn't hang out with the others, and she's paid the price. Fed remaining four more corn, who were starting to rush me for it.
Day 4: Colder still (22F low). Found second body. Remaining three rushing me hard for corn. Thought, 'screw the training, they've got instincts, let 'em use them' and opened the tractor. Left guineas alone all night.
Day 5: Warming (36F low). Found two triumphant and happy guineas on top of quail coop, and one dead one in original small pen.
First, ignorance and overconfidence. We got some young guineas not knowing really anything about them, and just assuming what we knew about chickens would transfer. This mistake is what bites the hardest. We wanted to become the vision faster than we were ready, and living creatures pay the price for our hubris.
Second, not listening to the creatures. The guineas were doing really well free-roaming the yard and coming back to their pen. I didn't fully weight the "worth of free-roaming". They seemed to outgrow their pen, and eventually didn't want to come back to it. Guineas being pretty wild creatures, probably didn't still need the pen. I thought they did, so I put them in a chicken tractor, intending them to learn a new night home, as chickens do. They clearly suffered in confinement.
Third, very cold weather for us. Not controllable, but if less ignorance and hubris had been on the table, might have been more manageable. I think that the birds were very stressed by being confined.
I'm curious to see how long the last two will hang on. I think the right thing to do is keep them free, and let them shelter themselves as needed. We do risk predators, but I would rather keep away the certainty of bird confinement depression and take my chances with the coyotes. And now that there's a dog outside, that risk may be reduced.