Nova Scotia

Meet the tick-eating hens that Nova Scotians like to love, or hate

Guinea fowl are loud and not too bright, but they're also helping with Nova Scotia's tick problem, according one farmer who has 35 of them.

‘Every single day there’s somebody calling or emailing or Facebooking me looking for guineas’

Guinea fowl are helping some people control ticks in Nova Scotia. (Natalie Dobbin/CBC)

Guinea fowl can be annoyingly loud and they're not always bright, but they have one thing going for them right now in Nova Scotia — they eat ticks.

That ability is gaining them some serious country credit at a time when there's concern that blacklegged ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, are popping up in the province.

Heather Squires bought guinea fowl shortly after moving to a property near Mahone Bay to start Sweetwood Farm four years ago. She keeps around 35 at a time. 

"I think they're marvelous," Squires said. "They look like dinosaurs, in a very small form."

Heather Squires didn't think about ticks before starting Sweetwood Farm outside of Mahone Bay four years ago. (Natalie Dobbin/CBC)

But it's not their looks she's after.

"Occasionally we see a tick, but the entire purpose of the guineas is to eat ticks," she said.

That's important to Squires, given volunteers and workshop-goers frequent her dairy goat farm.

'People either love them or hate them'

While Squires has nothing but praise for the birds, not everyone does. 

Andrew Hebda, zoologist at the Nova Scotia Museum, said guineas evoke strong emotions.

"People either love them or hate them," he said. "Nothing in between."

They can be annoying because they squeal loudly. That quality comes out when there's something new in their environment. They're a bit like guard dogs.

Sweetwood Farm's guinea fowl help keep the goats clear of ticks. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

They also like to wander far, and sometimes end up on the street.

And their intelligence is slightly questionable.

"Sometimes it's incredibly frustrating to see the same bird, you know, casing a fence line unable to understand that if it walked another three feet it could get out," Squires said.

'Biblical plague-type grasshopper situation'

But the one thing they're not is picky eaters.

"If it will fit inside its mouth, it will go for it," Hebda said. "If it's moving, so much the better."

Ticks. Snakes. Grain. You name it.

Cindy Gibson, the president of Guinea Fowl International, knows all about their omnivorous tendencies.

There's not so much a tick problem where Gibson lives in Texas. But there are grasshoppers.

"Like biblical plague-type grasshopper situation," she said over the phone, with guinea fowl and roosters squawking in the background.

Guineas help her out with that.

Looking to buy

Squires said there's definitely a demand for guinea fowl in Nova Scotia.

"Every single day there's somebody calling or emailing or Facebooking me looking for guineas," she said. 

She doesn't have any hens for sale right now, but she does have hatching eggs. 

Hebda said while research shows guineas do help control ticks, Nova Scotia has a particular situation. There are 14 different types of ticks here and only one can carry Lyme disease, Hebda said.

So guineas would be more likely to find a wood tick or a dog tick. Also, guinea hens would probably only spot adult ticks, Hebda said.